§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. W. H. LEVER (Cheshire, Wirral)
, in moving the Second Reading, stated that the fact that he had the responsibility of performing this duty was due entirely to the fortunes of the ballot. This was a most important measure, and if effect were given to the proposal it would involve the expenditure of enormous sums of money. He acknowledged that he had derived great advantage from having the opportunity of referring to previous Bills on the same subject brought forward by the hon. Member for East Northamptonshire. The measure was drafted on the lines of those Bills. Some slight alterations had been made, the most important being the introduction of the principle of graduation 471 —if he might use such a term—in the commencement of the pensions. The object of the Bill was to provide old-age pensions for all persons over sixty-five years of age, but in order to bring the scheme into operation it was proposed that in the first year it should only apply to persons of seventy-five years of age and upwards; in the second year to persons of seventy years of age and upwards, and in the third year to all persons of sixty-five years of age and upwards. This graduation would serve two purposes. It would enable the President of the Local Government Board to perfect the machinery of the Department without friction, and it would enable the nation to provide the means for paying the pensions. The Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Government were favourable to the scheme, as was shown by their declarations on the subject, and he asked the House to affirm the all-important principle of universal old-age pensions. The financial burden on the nation should be started in the way that people were best able to bear it. The position of Chancellors of the Exchequer in the past with regard to old-age pensions reminded him of the husband who was always complaining that his wife's continual cry was "Money! money! money!" A friend asked him, "What does she want it for, and what does she do with it." "I have not the slightest idea," answered the husband, "but I take precious good care that she never gets any." Chancellors of the Exchequer had certainly taken precious good care that no money was ever available for the purpose of old age pensions. This was not a Party question, for all sides of the House were agreed that it was desirable to do something in this direction. The hon. Member for Preston, however, was going to oppose the Bill on the ground that the country had not had an opportunity of expressing an opinion in regard to old age pensions. He (Mr. Lever) maintained that there was no topic on which the country had so often and so emphatically expressed an opinion. Prime Ministers and Cabinet Ministers had dealt with it in their election addresses for more than ten years, and the country had clearly and unmistakably expressed its satisfaction with the principle. The reason actuating the hon. Member for Preston was that he believed not so much what was in his own Amendment as that 472 which he expressed in a recent speech, where he declared that old age pensions should be provided by employers and employees jointly, by habits of thrift and by insurance. There were, however, grave objections to the hon. Member's proposal, for it was a very difficult thing to say who were employers and who were employees. The direct employer of labour was the servant of the public, and was really the employee of the consumer. At the dictate of the public the employer engaged or dismissed men according to the demand for his goods. He was no more than a straw floating down the stream of demand. Then there was only one fund out of which the employer could pay old age pensions, that being the long service and devotion of his employees. A great many firms and some railway companies had provident schemes, but small employers had no fund out of which old-age pensions could be paid. The demand from the public which regulated employment made such a system of pensions as that proposed by the hon. Member most unfair and most unjust. There was an obligation on the part of the State to do for individual citizens what individual citizens could not do for themselves. Then again the employee's position was to be considered. He might have done his duty to the State and he might have a large family. The placing out in life of all his children had to be considered, and for that reason alone he might be compelled to give up his old employment with his firm. He must not neglect the future advancement in life of his children, and he might not always be able to keep up the insurance money. With regard to thrift he was not quite sure that that was the largest virtue that could be asked of citizenship. He believed there were many virtues far more useful to this country to cultivate than that of thrift. The man or woman endeavouring to save for themselves would at one period or another of their lives have to consider their children from the point of view of sickness or advancement in life. Was a father or mother going to say "We shall hold on to our old age pensions, we cannot call a doctor, and we will at all costs, whether the children get on in life or not, keep up the old age pension premium, so that in old age we may have something to fall back upon?" No father or mother worthy of the name would take that view. The 473 narrow margin there was between income and expenditure in so many occupations for those who had children to maintain made the thrift line or the insurance line impossible, and to put such a problem before the people of this wealthy country was not right. He knew of a case in a, village in England which illustrated his point. He would not use any name, but he would give the woman to whom he referred the name of Betty Jones. She and her husband were of the agricultural labouring class and never had more than 16s. a week. At one period the husband had no more than 12s. a week. They brought up twelve children. The girls went out to service and the boys to work on farms. They were reared in a little cottage consisting of a but and a bon and all were doing well. For thirty years of her life this old lady declared she never set eyes on a sovereign piece. Now the husband was dead, and friends and neighbours had to keep her from going into the workhouse. Could she have saved anything for an old age pension? All would agree that she and her husband had done their duty to the State. From a national point of view she had fulfilled her duty to the State in a higher manner by bringing up a family respectably than if she had saved any amount of money for thrift and exercised all the virtues in that direction. He remembered one remarkable example of thrift in the case of a wealthy man who was never known to give anything in his life. One day, however, he met a man in the village poorly shod and told him that if he went up to the house he would be given an old pair of boots which he had discarded. A few days later he saw the villager wearing a remarkably good-looking pair of boots, "Ah, John," said he, "where did you get those boots from?" "Oh, sir," was the reply, "they are the pair you told me to go and get!" "Well, I never," said the rich man, "I thought they were past mending! What did they cost you to mend?" "Half-a-crown," replied the new owner with satisfaction. "Look here then," rejoined the donor, "here is your half-crown and you can take them back to my house." They might say that Betty Jones was not thrifty and that the rich man was. He was not sure that they could defend the positions they had taken up in the way they had been accustomed to do oven if it were possible 474 to get people to keep up payments for insurance money during the active period of their lives. It was an exceptionally costly method. It was much more costly for the working man than for the master, because the premium was smaller and the collection was made weekly. The master could pay by cheque twice or four times a year, and the cost of the bank account and the price of the cheque practically represented the cost of collection. The insurance method by weekly payments was an extravagant one and one which ought not to be forced upon any person against his will. They looked to the State for a great many things, and he thought they must look to the State for old age pensions. He did not know if even the Member for Preston would say they had done wrong in giving children free education. There were duties devolving on the State, which were that the State should do for the individual citizen what it was out of the power of the individual citizen to do for himself. So soon as they arrived at the point where the citizen could not do a certain thing which was necessary for his future welfare and happiness or his present welfare and safety, at that point the State ought to step in. As children grew up they paid back to the State in the form of rates and taxes the money that was spent on their education. Free education was no gift; it was excellent business for the State to bring these children up, to make them good citizens and able to carry on the work of the State. There was a great obligation upon the State to give old age pensions—an obligation to a manly, independent nation which respected itself, and was not going to be under any obligation to any section of its citizens. The Bill provided that the pension should be personally applied for every week, and that, he thought, would settle who would receive five shillings per week. To the poor man five shillings a week was all important, and he would not mind how long he had to stand at the end of a queue in order to get it. On the other hand, the man whose time was valuable, whatever his position was, was not likely to go every week at a certain hour and apply for his five shillings. From that reason alone it was a little difficult to tell what the scheme would cost. Commencing at the age of seventy-five years and upwards, excluding paupers and criminals 475 and making some allowance for those who, it was believed, would never apply for pensions at all, he calculated that it would cost something between £5,000,000 and £6,500,000; commencing at seventy years of age and upwards it would cost from £12,000,000 to £13,500,000; while commencing at sixty-five years it would cost from £18,000,000 to £20,000,000 per annum. He did not vouch for these figures; he only gave them by way of illustration. How was the money going to be raised? In considering this matter he had come across the very curious anomaly that there were only two classes of people in the United Kingdom who paid exactly the same rate in the pound in Imperial taxation. The one was the man with 20s. and under per week, and the other was the man with £1,000,000 capital and over. When they found such was the case he thought it was clear that something was wrong. That sprang from the way in which taxes were collected, from the system of indirect taxation through customs and excise and direct taxation through the income-tax. If they supposed that the working man, his wife and children, had as good appetites as the well to do, and, as they knew for a fact, that the working classes had larger families on the average, they found that the 30s. per head, which was the Government revenue from excise and custom duties, was £7 10s. per family, provided that the man was not a teetotaler and liked his pipe, and that the wife and children liked a cup of tea or coffee. If it was right to assume that their consumption of these things was equal to the average, then it was clear that these men paid £7 10s. a year in excise and customs duties, which was 3s. in the pound, or over. The millionaire paid 1s. in the pound. He also paid death duties—10 per cent. on £1,000,000—and insurance for these death duties would cost about another 2s. in the pound, making a total of 3s. in the pound. These two classes, therefore, paid the same amount. How were they going to get the money for this scheme? He did not advocate tariff reform. If they were to have tariff reform he believed it would increase the; 3s. paid by the working man to 5s. or 6s., and decrease the 3s. on the millionaire to 1s. or 1s. 6d., or less. To apply a form of taxes on food would simply act as if they took these poor 476 people by the throat and held them and said, "Either pay these taxes or starve." No section of the community could be made permanently prosperous and happy or successful by any unjust system of taxation. All the Government ought to do was to see that the methods of taxation were fair and just to every section of the community, and that every citizen had equal opportunities by the application of the principle of payment of taxation in accordance with ability to pay, and in proportion to the wealth of the individual. The logic of that was that wealth required the most protection—by armies, navies, and so on—and therefore must pay the most. Therefore, he suggested that they should take a step away from indirect taxation, and rather extend the system of graduated income-tax. He was firmly convinced that that was the proper thing to do. If they wanted to provide money for old age pensions they should commence with an income-tax of twopence per pound on incomes of twenty shillings per week. By that measure the people of the country would know for all time what they were paying for. They did not know that at present. It was the only way they could make the system of taxation fair to all classes. Then there was no reason why they should stop at one shilling in the pound for a rich man. He did not desire to press it to its utmost limit, but he did not think a one-shilling tax would cripple rich men in their industries, investments, and so on. He believed if they omitted links in the chain of the graduated taxation, if they tried to leave one section of the community out, and did not embrace all, the whole fabric would fall to the ground. By omitting one link from the chain it would be possible on that account for the rich to pass the burden on to the poor, and so in the end to crush the poorest. They ought to recognise the principle that it was a fair method of taxation, in fact the only fair one, and that by no other means could they lay the burden equally on every section of the community. His desire was to make this Bill as simple as possible, and free from all taint of pauperism. It should be administered by the Local Government Board or the Registrar-General, who had an intimate knowledge of the question. The money must be paid through the Post Office or through the Registrar-General. But all 477 these details could be discussed in Committee; what they desired was that the House should express its opinion on the Bill, so that when the Chancellor of the Exchequer came next year to fulfil the pledge he had given, he might know exactly the views of the House upon this great subject; and that when they approached the question they would do so with a desire to settle it, and get a great principle established for all time. It was not benevolence. If it were he did not think the manly independent working man would have anything to do with it, nor that the House of Commons would force it upon him. It was neither benevolence nor philanthropy. Benevolence and philanthropy were only a system of charity, and charity was the mother of pauperism. They wanted this scheme on a strict system of business. It was mere justice to the great masses of the people of the country, and he believed the Government was going to show what it meant. This Government had been returned on a programme of social reform. The country was ripe and eager for social reform. He was certain the result of the scheme would be to produce better citizens; he believed this 5s. a week would encourage thrift by giving a stimulus where at present there was blank despair. He moved the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ *SIR F. CHANNING (Northamptonshire, E.)
thought that they might all congratulate his hon. friend on his admirable speech; but still more that the ballot had given him the opportunity of placing before the House of Commons, so clearly the principle of a system of universal old age pensions, and he trusted that the House would have the opportunity of putting on record, onto for all, their opinion on that principle. It seemed to him that the form in which the hon. Gentleman had recast the Bill which he himself had drafted six years ago would give the Government useful suggestions for the Bill which they had promised to bring in next year to deal 478 with this question. The figures which the hon. Gentleman had given showed that the problem of dealing with the question step by step was not a very formidable one. Nothing had grown so rapidly as the intelligent public opinion on this question of old age pensions. He would like to draw attention to the immense advance which the subject had made as compared with the old days when it was discussed for the first time. Each debate had helped to clear away many fallacies. In the very last debate of importance on the subject before the general election, on 6th May, 1904, Mr. Cripps, who no longer sat in the House, made the frank admission that all the schemes for old age pensions based on the lines of inquisitorial investigation of past records or with income tests would be incentives to fraud, and that such tests and inquiries into private character were infinitely cruel and demoralising. He would allude for a moment to what had been the experience in New Zealand in regard to this question. In that country they had had an old age pension system based upon an income test for a number of years—since 1899—and even in that simple, almost idyllic community, where the application of such a test would be absolutely easy, compared with what it would be in the slums of London or great centres of population like Liverpool, Manchester, and Glasgow, it was found that it led to very serious frauds, which became so numerous that no later than 1905 an Act had to be passed which made the machinery of the Act much more stringent to enable the New Zealand Government to deal with those frauds. They were all aware of the differences between this country and New Zealand, but he would say that if it was found demoralising there, it would be found infinitely more demoralising here. What Mr. Cripps said in 1904 expressed the real point at which the House and the country had at last arrived, namely, that when they spoke of a pension they meant a pension which was to be given as 479 a matter of right and easily obtainable by the simplest machinery the State could provide. Many inquiries had brought us to that point at last, and now we were in this position, that we had a Government in power with an irresistible majority, pledged to carry out that principle in a manner which was wholly divorced from the Poor Law or, at any rate, to lay in the present year the corner stones of the finance on which it should rest. There was no question upon which a mandate was given by the electors, and by the working-class electors especially, more definitely than upon this question. They know that from Cabinet Ministers down to the humblest members of the Civil Service, they held their pensions, not as a charity or because of destitution, but as a right, and as a sort of deferred pay or annuity which was due to them. These men had turned their powers, possibly from more remunerative walks of life, to the use of the State, and this was the ground on which they received these pensions or deferred pay. Why not apply the same reasoning with infinitely greater force to those who worked with their hands? He wished to say, having studied this question for a very long period, that he had come to the conclusion that they could justify old age pensions on an economic basis and on the strictest economic grounds. Despite all the advantages which had been conferred by legislation on labour in its contest with capital, labour did not yet get its proper share of the wealth it created. They knew perfectly well that in all bargainings, whether it was for wages or whether it was for rent, the weaker side got the worst of the bargain and went to the wall. The worker, although he had the franchise and his trade organisation to help him, only got a bare margin over starvation and degradation in his struggle for existence with the united and entrenched forces of capital and landlordism. He never really secured the full living wage they wished to see. It was only the growing conviction of the more thoughtful and far-seeing employers that it was to their own interest, and that higher wages and better conditions paid for themselves in such an increased quantity and quality of work. It was therefore the duty of the State to redress 480 this unfair balance. Old age pensions meant not only the making good by the State of what was due for loyal service, but securing to the workers when their labouring days were over that reasonable share of the wealth they created which had been far too long withheld. He put old age pensions very much on the same footing as the equalisation of rates. It was not, in his judgment, because of destitution and suffering in the East End of London, that rates were equalised, but as a debt due economically as well as morally by the State. He did not deny, he was far too much of an individualist to deny, that the highest ideal of all was to give every man and woman—whether as small holders on the land or as members of prosperous productive co-operative societies, or whatever they were—the opportunity of earning wages or making profits sufficient to provide, not only for the healthful bringing up of their families and those dependent upon them, but also for laying aside something to make happy and contented their old age. Failing that opportunity, however, it was only justice that the State should make a provision, for its citizens as a right and therefore free of the taint of pauperism. In the old days he was a supporter of the scheme of Canon Blackley by which the young man was to be encouraged, not to say coerced, into putting by a certain sum—a nest egg which, when it grew would form an insurance for the provision of a pension for his old age. If such a scheme had been possible to adopt it would have been an enormous benefit to this country. In supporting the proposals of this Bill he wholly denied that they were acting contrary to the principle upon which the great thrift and friendly societies were established. On the contrary, they regarded the splendid work of the societies as one of the greatest assistance in this cause, and by this reform they wanted to strengthen and not to weaken it. He believed with Mr. Charles Booth, that if they gave a man some solid foothold of hope that if he saved he would have something in the end worth saving for, that hope was the greatest of stimulants to human motives. He had recently talked over this subject with one of the ablest social workers in this country who was now carrying on investigations in the North 481 of England with a view to laying the results before the Poor Law Commission, and was assured that these investigations tended to show that Mr. Charles Booth's view was sound, and that the endowment of old age by a pension given as a right would strengthen human nature and strengthen the motives for thrift more than anything else. What could help human nature to do the best for itself more than to lift from the human mind that demoralising and intolerable dread and sense of despair, that a man in middle life had the feeling that the was compelled to see little by little the destruction of his savings, to divest himself of every shred of the money he had laid by, in order to qualifiy himself by total destitution for the pitiable and degrading last refuge of human existence in the workhouse? His hon. friend the Member for Wirral had touched upon the question of the evils which could result from over-saving, and over-eagerness to put by money and the result it might have upon the physique of the family, and he did not wish to labour that point, but he did hope that hon. Members in every part of the House who were not familiar with Mr. Rowntree's book on Poverty in York and had not studied the facts he proved by analysis of the budgets of the poor in York, would do so. Hon. Members would realise what it really meant when they considered that in the case of a man who was of the very best type of the thrifty and deserving class of working man earning 20s. a week, and a teetotaler who paid 1s. a week for his friendly society, that man was only left with the sum for the food of his family of five of 11s. a week, or a sum which was 4s. 5d. below the sum which the Local Government Board insisted upon as the minimum dietary scale for the same number of persons in the workhouses in York. That showed the folly of insisting that these poor people ought to qualify themselves for an old-age pension by proving that they had made savings by thrift. He would also very respectfully suggest to Members of the House another source of information of great importance, and that was the valuable statement appended by the late Mr. Lecky to the Report of one of the Committee, in the course of which 482 he said what might seem a paradox, that saving in one sense might be the cruellest form of improvidence. They had to consider the position of the working classes of this country not under any ideal and theoretical conception of their position and conditions of employment and of the income they could earn and the savings they might make. They had to consider the actual social situation as it existed and to provide a remedy which in their opinion and in this opinion of some of the greatest thinkers and reformers would strengthen and not weaken manhood and self-reliance and give the highest encouragement to move towards a better social state. Two classes were not affected by this Bill at first. To those who were well off and would be better off by saving, or to the wastrel who cared for nothing but the coarse brutal indulgence of the moment, the guarantee of 5s. a week at the age of sixty-five would have very little effect one way or the other. The real thing to consider was the meaning of this Bill and its effect on the vast intermediate struggling class of small earnings whose employment was uncertain, whose instincts made them long for better positions and greater security; who were capable of having brought before their imagination a happier and more hopeful outlook. Would the certainty of a pension make them less industrious, or would it change the sense of hopeless struggling against despair, with the workhouse at the end, to the tangible foothold on modest happiness free from disgrace, and where the holiest influence of the world, family affection, would have full play? He was glad to second the adoption of this Bill. He regarded these social problems from the point of view that this House was endeavouring to throw open the doors for human effort. He was an individualist, and wished to see these people given an opportunity by self-help and enlightened education to build up a state of society in which this pitiful state of things was no more to be allowed to go on, but would be got rid of altogether by this system. He regarded an old age pension scheme not as a complete and final social solution for the country, but rather as a temporary expedient, a sort of crutch for 483 the urgent necessities of their social condition which might operate as a stimulus to well doing now and to a better use of the opportunities which he hoped an enlightened Parliament would place within reach in the future.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this Bill be read a second time."—(Mr. Lever.)
§ *MR. HAROLD COX (Preston)
in moving "That this House declines to proceed further with a measure which would enormously add to the national expenditure until the country has had an opportunity of saying whether it is willing to bear the necessary burden of taxation" said that he realised as every body must the immense importance of old-age pensions. But on this occasion the House had not to discuss an abstract Resolution in favour of old-age pensions, but the provisions of a particular Bill which if carried would go automatically to a Standing Committee. This Bill gave a pension of 5s. a week to everybody, whether rich or poor, deserving or undeserving. In order to mitigate the evil effect of the Bill his hon. friend the Member for Wirral had argued that the rich would not trouble to attend to draw their pensions. But in practice it would be impossible to compel enfeebled old people to attend every week to draw their pensions.
§ MR. W. H. LEVER
pointed out that there was a clause providing that if it were certified that it would be injurious to the health of an applicant to attend a substitute could be appointed to draw the pension.
§ *MR. HAROLD COX
said it was quite sufficient for his argument to say that personal attendance could not be enforced in each case, and therefore they were bound to assume that the vast majority of the people who became entitled to a pension of 5s. a week would proceed to draw it. After three years it would cost the country £26,000,000, and he would like to point out that it would 484 very quickly cost a good deal more, because it would soon be discovered that 5s. a week was quite insufficient to live upon, and also that people under sixty-five would also require pensions. All this money was to be paid by the taxpayer. No Member of the House had a mandate for such a thing as this. He challenged any Member to rise and say that he told his constituents that he was prepared to support a Bill for old-age pensions that was going to cost the country £26,000,000 a year.
§ *MR. HAROLD COX
said that at all events the Government were very careful about committing themselves in this matter. They abstained from committing themselves to old age pensions. They did commit themselves to a reduction of taxation, and if this Bill were passed there could never be a reduction of taxation. One of the favourite arguments used during the election was that the late Government gained the election of 1900 on a particular issue, and then pushed forward unpopular measures dealing with education and licensing. That was universally condemned. But that was a venal offence compared with this, because, though what the late Government did was outside their pledges, it was not in violation of them; but what the hon. Member asked His Majesty's Government to do was to pass a Bill which would prevent them carrying out their pledges to reduce taxation. On the basis of our present system of taxation every man who voted for this Bill voted for an increase on the income-tax of 50 per cent. and for doubling the duties on tea and sugar. His hon. friend below him wished the House to commit themselves on this particular Bill as an instruction to the Chancellor of the Exchequer next year.
§ MR. W. H. LEVER
said he asked the House to commit itself to the principle 485 of old age pensions. The House on this particular Bill did not commit itself to an expenditure of £26,000,000. It committed itself to £5,000,000, £10,000,000, and £15,000,000.
§ *MR. HAROLD COX
said it was clearly not the scheme which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had in his mind when he made his Budget speech, because the right hon. Gentleman had since stated that he hoped to reduce the income-tax in the future and abolish the sugar tax. The hon. Member for Wirral had told the House that he was in favour of extending the income-tax downwards. He agreed with his hon. friend as to the necessity of extending the income-tax downwards. Our present taxes on tea and sugar were grossly unfair to the poorest classes of our taxpayers, and personally he wanted to get rid of this unfair taxation on the poorest people. It was said recently by one hon. Member in the House that if they wanted old age pensions they must pay for them. The Labour Party had a scheme for the imposition of a super-tax on the incomes of the rich. But in the evidence given by Sir Henry Primrose before the Select Committee presided over by his right hon. friend the Member for the Forest of Dean it was stated that a super-tax on incomes over £5,000 ranging between 6d. to 2s. in the £ would only yield £6,500,000. Where was the rest of the money to come from for old age pensions? It could only come from taxes on commodities, and any general system of taxation on commodities meant inevitably the abandonment of free trade. Nearly all our taxes on commodities at present were partially protective, such as the taxes on sugar, tobacco, and cocoa. Directly hon. Members put this issue to the country the people would be led astray, as other nations had been, to choose the broad and easy path, rather than take the narrow and difficult path, and to plump for taxes on commodities instead of for direct taxation. The House was invited by an hon. Member who professed to be a free trader to steer straight for protection. He was quite certain that his hon. friend had no desire to lead the country to protection, but that would be the direct consequence of his proposal. He observed that this very suggestion had been kindly made to this country by one of our Colonial 486 visitors. The other day Sir William Lyne, one of the delegates from Australia to the Colonial Conference, suggested that we should tax foreign foodstuffs for the benefit of the Colonies, and incidentally to provide old age pensions at home. The House no doubt might be told that Australia succeeded in getting old age pensions under her protective system. No doubt Sir William Lyne would point to the success of their system in Australia; but it was very easy for Australia to pay old age pensions up to£1,500,000 a year, because they got towards the cost of their Navy £4,000,000 or £5,000,000 a year from free-trade England. Let them consider how the system worked in Australia. The Australian system tried to discriminate between incomes, and broke down in three Colonies where the attempt was made. In Victoria the system was on the whole carefully administered. They began with a pension of 10s. a week, but the burden on the taxpayer was found to be too heavy, and the pensions were cut down to 8s. They also compelled children to contribute towards the support of their parents. There was also the wise provision that pensions were not confined to any particular age; a pension was given to a man at any age when he needed it on the ground of infirmity. In Victoria there was a cripple twenty-seven years of age in receipt of a pension. Moreover, they refused pensions to drunkards. But this Bill would give a man a pension no matter how great a drunkard he was. It would give a pension to everybody, providing they had been successful enough to escape six months imprisonment with hard labour. Everybody would be entitled to 5s. a week, however vicious their lives might have been. In his Budget speech the Chancellor of the Exchequer said he looked forward to a reduction of Poor Law expenditure as a result of giving old age pensions. But that anticipation was negatived by the experience of Australia. The registrar of old age pensions in Victoria on being asked what had been the effect of old age pensions on the vote for charitable institutions, said it had made practically no difference whatever. The inspector of charities said—It has not affected the number of persons relieved in any way. The places of those who go out of the charitable institutions are filled up at once, and the average is exactly to same as it was before the Act was passed.487 Other witnesses went on to say—Old-age pensioners were far better looked after in institutions than when left to themselves. It is a cruel kindness to give some aged persons pensions. They are not fit to have pensions, there is no one to look after them, they simply go into the hospitals at intervals to get fixed up, and then go out again.The honorary treasurer of the Melbourne Ladies' Benevolent Society was asked whether poverty was increasing or decreasing in Victoria, and replied—We do not think that poverty is increasing, but we think the tendency to ask for assistance is increasing.They had the same story from New South Wales. The registrar of old-age pensions there stated that the anticipated relief to the pressure on charitable institutions had not been realised. The acting Government statistician of New South Wales had given figures showing a great increase in the expenditure on charitable institutions, and said—It was anticipated that when the old age Pensions Act was passed it would have the effect of relieving the pressure upon charitable institutions, but the figures given clearly indicate that such is not the case.Dealing with this matter in their Report the Members of the Commission made the strange statement that there had not been yet sufficient time to produce any marked evidence of the change; but unfortunately such evidence of any change that had occurred was wholly in the wrong direction, it was all towards an increase of cost. The officer administering the charity vote in New South Wales said—I wish to impress upon the Commission that many of the persons to whom we have granted assistance were quite satisfied to rely upon themselves until they were referred by the old age pensions authorities to our department. When they found they could not establish their claim to an old age pension they at the same time became aware that other means of relief were available to them.In other words the establishment of old age pensions in New South Wales had actually stimulated these persons to come forward and ask for Poor Law relief. It was interesting to find that the Australian evidence declared that the system there had not encouraged thrift. The superintendent of the Melbourne Benevolent Asylum said—I think that the payment of these pensions has a tendency to increase pauperism.488 One of the witnesses before that Commission, the registrar of old-age pensions for New South Wales, gave a pitiful instance of an old lady who had struggled on for many years trying to support herself, and did so until she had reached the end of her little capital. He said—She was a spinster, apparently with few or no friends, and had been fighting for life with her back to the wall for many years; she only came out into the open when she was driven to do so by necessity. She was refused a pension because she was not qualified by age.The system of fixed age and income inevitably led to dishonesty. There was overwhelming evidence of this. The New South Wales registrar, quoting from the New Zealand Report, said that New Zealand had to revise the whole of her pension list, on account of the undue confidence which was placed in the statements of pensioners at the commencement of the Act. Numerous instances were given of persons with large property pretending to be poor in order to get pensions. A woman received a pension on the recommendation of a man who testified to her moral and reputable life. It subsequently transpired that she was living with the man as his mistress, though married to another man. On the other hand many respectable people suffered in silence rather than undergo the humiliation of being cross-examined about their past and present lives. There was strong evidence also of children evading their obligation to keep their parents although possessed of ample means. That reminded him of the lady alluded to by the hon. Member for Wirral. She must have been extremely thrifty to have brought up so many children, and their obvious duty was to keep her now. The Australian Commissioners proposed that a penalty should be imposed for supplying an old age pensioner with intoxicating drink. Presumably, pensioners were then to go about marked in such a way as to make it known that they were pensioners, and must be deprived of the liberty of taking a glass of beer. It was impossible to urge that a man was entitled of right to a pension, and at the same time to deprive him of a liberty that other men enjoyed. What was the abstract case put forward by the advocates of this scheme? It was that as a pension was given to soldiers and 489 civil servants, so also it ought to be given to those in other employment. The Government paid those pensions because it was part of their contract as employers, and because on the whole by that means they obtained the service at a lower rate. It was part of the bargain between the State and their employees. The State paid a pension to its civil servants, simply because it was the employer. Many private employers did the same. He contended that the hon. Member for Wirral had an obligation to those whom he employed, but he certainly had no obligation to give an old age pension to those he did not employ. Let them take the case of two competing tradesmen in the same street. Not only were they not helping one another, but they were hindering one another. How unfair it would be that, when the time arrived for one of them to take a pension, the other should be called upon to help to provide him with that pension. The whole idea of old age pensions was to set up a right, but that must depend on the recognition of a corresponding obligation. If it was said that there was a right to old age pensions, then they ought to specify on whom the obligation to pay those pensions rested. If the obligation rested anywhere it rested on the employer. Certain people said—"Why do you oppose this; it is only a readjustment? You have got to keep the old people somehow." But let them see where that argument would land them. People also must have bread every day. Why make them pay for the bread they wanted? Why not readjust matters—buy the bread out of the taxes of the country, and then distribute the bread all round the houses? It was only readjustment. Why not carry the principle still further? We must all have clothing. Why put women to the trouble of choosing their own clothes? Why not put millinery and dressmaking bills on the Consolidated Fund and distribute the clothing to each house? Possibly a little more readjustment would then be necessary; and perhaps that was the reason why his hon. friend would postpone this proposal until women had votes. Again, how could there be a right to old age pensions if they were only to begin at the age of sixty-five? [An HON. MEMBER: Civil servants.] Civil servants were under contract to 490 receive pensions. The proposition was that up to the age of sixty-five nobody was to receive a pension, even though starving; but after that age everybody was to receive the pension of 5s. at other people's expense.
§ *MR. HAROLD COX
agreed that was so; but they had the right to claim it, and if it was a right, then he thought his hon. friend was perfectly justified in saying that the pension must be given to everybody. The absurdity followed that people with £50 a week were to have a right to claim an extra 5s. a week, if they wanted it. That alone condemned the proposal. Then again, if it was a right, it could not be dependent upon character. Everybody must be entitled to it, however bad a character and however bad a citizen he might have been. He might have spent his life not in helping his country but in injuring his country, by his own vicious conduct; he might have bean an idle, drunken blackguard, yet, when he reached the age of sixty-five, he was entitled to draw 5s. a week out of the pockets of hardworking, sober, and thrifty men. This was what his hon. friend called social reform. He contended that if they were going to establish old age pensions on the basis of right, they must also be established on the basis of contribution. There could not be a right unless there was contribution; and he was glad to say that the right hon. Member for West Birmingham had always insisted that old age pensions without contribution were impossible. He might also ask, if it was a right, how did they fix the pension at 5s.? When there was a contribution, then the right naturally arose out of the contribution. Each man paid in so much, and one got out in proportion to what he paid in. But if they were going to say that there was a right to old age pensions apart from contribution why fix the amount at 5s. any more than 10s. or £10 or £100? There was just as much right to the one as the other. Without contributions old age pensions were not a right but a charity. They were another form of outdoor relief. That brought him to the German system, which presented many great advantages. At any rate, as far as he had been able to ascertain, the 491 Germans were thoroughly convinced that it was a sound, useful, and popular scheme. The essence of the German system was compulsory insurance against the various risks of life. In conversation with the head of the Poor Law Department in Berlin he told him what was proposed in England. The head of the Department looked at him and said, "Will you repeat that statement? and he did. "Well," he said, "if I did not see you were so serious I would not believe that the English people would be so foolish as to give old age pensions without contribution." The essence of the German system, as he had said, was compulsory insurance, and it began with insurance for sickness in the year1883; compulsory insurance for accidents followed in 1884, and old age and infirmity insurance in 1888. The system had been tested for a sufficiently long period. The accident insurance was paid entirely by the employer; the sickness insurance was paid, one-third by the employer and two-thirds by the workmen; the old age and infirmity insurance half and half, with a subsidy of £2 10s. a year from the State to each pension. The old age pension, properly so called, did not begin until the age of seventy; the infirmity pension rightly began at any age, provided that the man was infirm and was unable to earn more than one-third of the average wage. The official description of the old age pension was that it "formed an addition to the earnings of the old, but not incapacitated, working people, and made some amends for the diminished vigour of age." "Infirmity pensions offered compensation for the loss of capacity to work." It was interesting to note that under the German system old age pensions properly so called were rapidly disappearing, and were being replaced by infirmity pensions. That was another proof that an old age pension at a fixed age was an absurdity and could not last, because some men were quite young at the age of seventy and others were old at forty. There was a surrender value in case of death to the benefit of one of the relations. The contributions of workmen towards their own old age pensions were invested largely in building workmen's houses. The system was sound in equity as well as in economics; it was better to compel an individual to pay for his own pension than to compel him 492 as a taxpayer to pay for somebody else's. He contended that it was part of the duty of life to make provision for old age. The State compelled education, surely it had also the right to compel thrift. He knew, of course, that a system of compulsion involved many difficulties, and a great amount of bureaucratic supervision, which Englishmen, many of them, resented. But he would point out to hon. Members below the gangway opposite that these forms of interference by Government were necessary concomitants of Socialistic legislation. They could not have Socialism without tyranny.
§ *MR. HAROLD COX
said that was why he believed that the English people, when they came to scan this question more closely, would be content to rely on their own system of private effort, combined with their historic system of Poor Law. As a matter of fact, the demand for old age pensions had become more brisk during the last few years, in which there had been immense progress made towards supplying old age pensions. Numbers of voluntary schemes had proved successful. The London and North Western Railway Company had a very valuable pension scheme.
§ *MR. HAROLD COX
said the pensions were paid; and he imagined that behind that insolvent scheme, if it were insolvent, were the shareholders of the company who would see that the pensions were paid. He might refer to two schemes, both of which were started by Members of the House, and both of which were paying large pensions at the present time. In Colman's many workmen were receiving pensions ranging from 8s. to 17s. 6d. per week; foremen's pensions ranged from 21s. to 55s. per week, and many widows also received pensions. Reckitt's paid pensions ranging from 10s. to 23s. a week. He would like to ask the House whether, if this Bill were passed, these admirable pension schemes would be brought to an end; or, in the other alternative, would the employers who were discharging this honourable duty be taxed in order to 493 relieve other employers who had not undertaken the duty? His hon. friend had pointed out that a great many people had not regular employment, which made the establishment of pensions in such cases impossible. It was just for those very people that friendly societies were so useful. Friendly societies and insurance societies were capable of filling u p the gap which was necessarily left by the fact of many men being irregularly employed. Many of the friendly societies were doing that work at the present time, though not so many as he would like to see, because many of them had unfortunately been induced to stay their hands in the belief that a Government scheme was coming. In the Orwell Lodge of Independent Oddfellows, 3d. per week paid by a man under twenty years of age gave him a pension of 5s. per week at sixty-five. There were very few men in this country who could not afford to pay 3d. per week. There was the Dunmow Society, which, in a purely agricultural district, had the names of 150 pensioners on its books. Were these men, who had themselves made provision for their own old age, to be taxed for the benefit of those who had not made that provision? He admitted that if they were going to treat the matter as a charity it was fair to tax the community in order to give relief to the destitute, but they could not say that the man who had squandered his substance had a right to the substance of the man who had not squandered it. There was no right. It was only a question of charity. Thus they came back to the Poor Law, which might be described as a form of collective charity to provide for cases of destitution; the Poor Law did not ask questions about a man's past, very properly; it said to a man, "You are starving; we do not ask anything about your previous career; we will take you as you are, because the community will not allow you to starve; we will keep you in reasonable comfort, and with reasonable regard to the money of the people who are supporting you, and, if you behave yourself, as you grow older we will try to make your life easier." He believed that system was more humane than any of the systems of State pensions. In conclusion he would point out that this claim for old age pensions had to a large extent arisen within the last fifty years, and that it was now too late, for the work 494 had been largely done. It was just because of the progress the country had made that these pensions were now demanded. That might seem a paradox, but he ventured to quote, in support of the statement, from the admirable speech made by the hon Member for the Ince Division in the discussion upon the Mines (Eight Hours) Bill. The hon. Member pointed out that miners in the past twenty-five years had immensely improved their position, and that it was just that improvement in their position which had stimulated their demand for higher things. He entirely agreed with that and he believed it was the scientific basis of all social progress. They all knew that in the last fifty years wages had increased. He knew, perfectly well too, that in many cases wages were still insufficient. But there was in this proposal nothing that would increase wages; on the contrary, the proposal implied that wages were to remain insufficient. Instead of saying "We will not allow this insufficiency of wages to go on," it was said "We will allow the insufficiency to continue, but we will supplement it with charity at the end of a man's life." Another example of the social progress at the present time was the increased expenditure upon amusements, and when he heard of a young man living in lodgings spending 5s. or 6s. a week upon personal enjoyment, he asked himself "Was it right that such a man should put forward a claim at the end of his life to be supported by other people who had saved their money?" His temperance friends estimated that the average expenditure per family upon alcohol was 6s. a week; surely they had there an ample fund to provide old age pensions? It seemed to him that demands like this would always be met with as the condition of the country improved. It was with nations as with individuals. When a man was very ill he was too weak to make many demands, but as he grew convalescent he felt more acutely the remaining evils from which he suffered, and his demands for relief increased. Let them take care in trying to gratify these demands to act upon the experience of the past. The lines upon which they had hitherto proceeded had secured progress; let those lines be followed to further progress, and let not short cuts be attempted at the risk of our being led back to the 495 Slough of Despond from which we had escaped. He begged to move.
§ SIR F. BANBURY (City of London)
said he rose with great pleasure to second the Amendment, which had been moved in such an admirable speech. He quite agreed that the subject of old age pensions had been before the country on various occasions, and that it was proposed that these pensions were to be given irrespective of the previous life of the recipient, who was not to be called upon to contribute. That was the popular notion of old age pensions which had been advocated from a good many platforms. As far as he was himself concerned, in 1900 he stated publicly that he was opposed to the system of old age pensions, and when he was returned in 1906, the question was never raised. The mover of the Bill had calculated that a family of five, of which the income was 20s. a week, each paid £1 10s. a year taxation—or a total of £7 10s. for the family—as much in proportion as the millionaire paid. He did not know whether the figures with regard to the millionaire were right, because he had no means of checking them, but the figures with regard to the man with 20s. a week were absolutely wrong. He had a statement made by the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1902, when direct taxation was higher than it was now, and therefore the figures which he was quoting were rather against him. Indirect taxation in 1902 was £1 11s. 2d. per head. Of that £1 3s. 11d. was for taxes on spirits, beer and tobacco, and the other 7s. 3d. was for other articles of consumption. Taking a family of five, and adopting the figure of £1 10s. per head, he calculated that the amount paid by the family—allowing 7s. 3d. for the wife and three children—was not £7 10s., but about £3 per annum in taxation. It only showed how easy it was to make popular statements which were absolutely unfounded. All the schemes of pension on the great railways were very much more important to the men than 5s. a week; and his hon. friend opposite had made a good point when he said that it was the shareholders who were behind these pension schemes in nearly all the railway companies. Were all these shareholders to be taxed for other pensions besides contributing to the pensions of the railway employees? Five Committees had con- 496 sidered this question. Two consisted of Members of Parliament, and three of experts. The three Committees consisting of experts reported against an Old Age Pensions Bill; the two which consisted of Members of Parliament, the majority of whom were already pledged to a scheme of old age pensions, more or less reported in favour of the Bill. He himself preferred to take the opinion of the Committees composed of experts. The cost of old age pensions would be very great. It had been put at £26,000,000, but it was very difficult to say accurately whether that was going to be the cost of a pension of 5s. a week at the age of sixty-five. Capitalised, £26,000,000 represented £850,000,000, a larger sum than the National Debt, and he could not conceive that the majority of electors in the country could have understood that the scheme involved a larger sum than the National Debt, or that it was contemplated by the House of Commons or any responsible Government. When they talked of 5s. a week at the age of sixty-five, was the limit of age going to remain at sixty-five? Granted that this Bill were carried, and that in the first year the age was seventy-five, in the second seventy, and in the third sixty-five, at which it was to remain, what, in the fourth year would be the result? Those who received the pension were not disfranchised, and, if a general election were to come, they would be in the majority. It was quite certain that a very large number of people at the age of sixty, and who would like to have 5s. a week would make a demand upon the candidate that if he were elected he should support the reduction of the age limit to sixty. He had gone through five elections, four contested, and he had a little knowledge of the elector, and he said without fear of contradiction that it was very likely to occur that the candidate would not have the courage to get up and say "I won't vote for it." The same thing would occur in regard to the amount of the pension. In a discussion on the previous day hon. Members below the gangway had said that 25s. a week was not enough to live on in London. If that were so, how could anyone live on 5s.? The natural consequence would be that they would ask not only for a reduction in the age limit but an increase of the pension. He was afraid that the 497 only result of a Bill of this sort would be to open the door to the greatest corruption that had ever been seen in this country, and that it would be very difficult to resist, because it would appeal to a very large number of people who would desire to obtain a better means of living out of the pockets and the industry of the hardworking and thrifty. It was for that reason he was opposed to the Bill or any Bill of a similar character. Any such Bill, to make it workable, just and honest, must be accompanied by a like contribution from the person who was going to receive the pension. His hon. friend who had moved the Amendment had said that the result of this proposal would be to discourage the organisations by which pensions were now given. He thought that was very likely to be one of the results of the Bill. It was almost certain that when a man thought he would recieve a pension of 5s a week, without in any way contributing to it himself, he would be inclined to say, especially in youth, "Oh, I will not put by that threepence a week which in forty or forty-five years would give me a pension of 5s. a week, but, on the contrary, I will spend it either on amusement, or on something that appeals to me at the present moment." The President of the Local Government Board stated recently that the Amalgamated Society of Engineers were paying 9s. a week to over 5,000 members who had subscribed to the institution. Was not that one of the ways in which pensions should be provided? Was not that a very great example of the good which this particular society had done, not only to its own members, but also to others in inculcating habits of thrift and saving? It seemed to him that their efforts should be devoted to encouraging thrift on the part of such institutions, instead of discouraging it by instituting a fund which would be available to everybody, including the drunkard and the jail-bird who had never done any good either to himself or to the State. The hon. Member for Wirral mentioned, by way of illustration, the case of a certain Mrs. Jones who had brought up a large family on 16s. a week. Of course, they were all perfectly well aware that there were a large number of people in the country who earned low wages, but it should be 498 remembered that this Bill proposed to deal not only with that particular class, but with every class in the country. If the hon. Member had said that the Bill was to provide in old age for people in the unfortunate position of Mrs. Jones who were earning 16s. a week, he could have understood the force of the argument, although not altogether agreeing with it; but the Bill was not limited to that class. The Bill would apply also to skilled artisans who were earning £2 or £3 a week, and who were in a position to put by a sufficient sum to contribute to their support in old age. He did not deny that 16s. a week did not leave any great margin for saving. At the same time he happened to know that there were working men who, though earning less than that, had saved considerable sums. He instanced the case of a farm labourer who had never earned more than 14s. or 15s. a week in his life, and who now owned five freehold properties which had been purchased out of his own earnings. That man had brought up a family, and, though now seventy-five years of age, he was still working, at his own desire, on the particular farm on which he had worked for fifty years. He was popularly supposed to be worth £1,000. He himself was rather inclined to doubt that. But, it was not impossible for people who were earning only small wages to save something for their old age. As had been said by the hon. Member for Preston, it had always been considered discreditable for children not to look after their parents in their old age. That was a feeling that ought to be encouraged. Even a pension of 5s. a week would be certain to discourage that feeling. He wished to point out that a great number of people who came to the age of sixty-five were really incapable of looking after themselves on account of the illnesses and infirmities incidental to life. What was the use of 5s. a week to persons of that description? The Daily Chronicle of 28th February, 1904, contained the report of a case in which a widow, seventy-three years of age, was found lying dead on the floor by a neighbour who went into her house to give her a cup of tea. It was stated at the inquest that she received 4s. a 499 week from the guardians. The jury found a verdict of death from natural causes, and the coroner remarked—This is something for the guardians to think over. What is the good of giving 4s. a week to persons in this position?A great number of the people who received 5s. a week under an old age pension scheme would be in that position, and the same result would follow. He called attention to the significant fact, vouched by a member of the New Zealand Legislature, that the Pensions Act had been co-incident with a great increase of drunkenness in the Colony. Many of those who received the 5s. would have something of their own besides, and the temptation to spend the 5s. in drink would, in many cases, be irresistible. Similarly the experience of other Colonies where penions schemes were in force seemed to show that there was a sufficient sum available out of earnings to be spent in gambling and betting and other regrettable ways. It was argued that old age pensions would lead to a material reduction in Poor Law expenditure. Possibly the £3,000,000 spent on outdoor relief might be saved, but he doubted very much whether there would be any saving at all in respect of the £10,000,000 spent in infirmaries and asylums, workhouses, and Poor Law schools. There had been a great increase in the amount of money held by friendly societies and savings banks. The return issued by the Chief Registrar for 1904 showed that the aggregate amount in these institutions was £402,000,000, as against £380,000,000 in 1902, and £306,000,000 in 1897, so it was evident that, instead of the means of saving having decreased, it had increased during the last few years. The House would make a very great error if, when this improvement was going on, it passed a law which would check thrift on the part of the people. It was absolutely necessary that thrift should be inculcated. As an example of the enormous advantage of thrift to a nation, he pointed to what happened in France at the close of the Franco-German war in 1871, when the people with their savings met the enormous indemnity claimed by Germany. He thought it showed that what was needed in this country was an increase in thrift, and legislation of the kind proposed in this 500 Bill would tend to discourage it. The House should also think of the injustice which the thrifty man would suffer when his savings were taxed for the benefit of those who had been frivolous, idle, and dissolute. It was a popular thing to promise from a platform 5s. a week to everybody who chose to ask for it, but working men ought to consider that in the end it must come out of their own pockets. Such proposals tended to drive capitalists out of the country, and to take their money with them.
§ *MR. CHIOZZA MONEY (Paddington, N.)
said they could not do it. How, for example, could they take the railways out of the country?
§ SIR F. BANBURY
said they could not take the railways out of the country, but they could take away some of the capital which was invested in railways. That capital amounted to £1,200,000,000 and it was not all owned by millionaires. The hon. Member would find, if he looked into the matter, that the average amount of stock held in railway companies by the owners was between £500 and £1,000.
§ *MR. CHIOZZA MONEY
said that the hon. Baronet forgot that many persons held stock in more than one railway, and that as a matter of fact the railways of this country were owned by only 180,000 people.
§ SIR F. BANBURY
said that did not alter his argument in the least. If capitalists took their money out of the country and invested it, say, in America, the income could be held in America if millionaires felt that they were being unjustly taxed here. They could go and live in America, and come back here for three or four months in the year and reside at big hotels. There was a very great misconception, not only as to this number of millionaires, but as to the way in which this money was employed. He had very great pleasure in seconding the Amendment of the hon. Member for Preston whom he admired for his courage in adhering to the old traditions of the Liberal Party, and in endeavouring to show that in personal exertion, industry, and saving lay the sound method of providing for old age.
To leave out all the words after the word 'that' and to insert the words 'this House declines to proceed further with a measure which would enormously add to the national expenditure until the country has had an opportunity of saying whether it is willing to bear the necessary burden of taxation.'"—(Mr. Harold Cox).
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ *MR. T. R. BETHELL (Essex, Maldon)
said he did not think the speech of the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London would be the means of changing his views in regard to the necessity of a scheme of old age pensions. He was somewhat surprised to hear doubt thrown upon the mandate of the country on this question. He thought if there was one question more than another before the electors at the last general election it was that of old age pensions. During the last twelve years the subject had been dealt with at almost every political meeting in the country, and had also occupied a prominent position in the programme of the Opposition, although the Opposition when in power had not made any attempt to fulfil the promises they had given on this matter. The question had also been discussed by friendly and other societies throughout the country, and the people had had an opportunity of discovering what the cost of an old age pension scheme would be. That cost would depend on whether the system was to be universal or not, and the age at which the pension would be given. He found himself in a difficulty in regard to this measure. He was distinctly in favour of old age pensions; but he did not think a universal pension scheme in this country was practicable on account of its cost. In the first place, it could not be put into operation for a generation; and in the second place, he thought that to give old age pensions to the well-to-do would be almost to reduce the system to an absurdity. He was in favour of beginning with a limited scheme, starting at the age of seventy-five. That might appear, no doubt, as a high limit, and probably seventy would be the better mean to establish. The Hamilton Committee reported in regard to the cost of a scheme of pensions at different ages; that a pension 502 granted at the age of seventy would cost, for the first year, something like £5,950,000, working up in twenty years to £9,550,000. That was a large sum; but it came within the range of possibility, especially in regard to the fact that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had made provision for a fund which would go towards that amount. He was exceedingly grateful to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for having promised to make a beginning with a scheme of old age pensions next year. In Germany the age limit was seventy, and the scheme in operation there worked remarkably well; so much so that it was practically impossible to find in Germany to-day any person over seventy years of age in actual want. In New Zealand, New South Wales, and Victoria their systems of old age pensions had been working well for some years, and from recent reports he found that there was a recommendation to extend the scheme to the whole of the Australian Commonwealth. He thought that the experience which had been gained in those countries went to dispose of the idea of any evil consequences which would arise from a general old age pension scheme. In the constituency which he represented they had an old age relief fund, supported entirely by voluntary subscriptions. It had been in operation for several years, and had done a great deal of good to the recipients. The only objection he had to find with it was that it had rather the appearance of charity. And he considered that a pension should be regarded more as a right than as a dole. About £500 a year was given away to a large number of persons over seventy years of age, and they had come to regard that relief as a means of their avoiding what they considered the shame of taking parish relief. He himself sympathised with that feeling of old people against going on the parish. He believed that a national system of old age pensions would do a great deal to end the difficulties in the rural districts in the country. If a farm labourer could feel assured that, after a life of continuous toil some provision was made for him in his declining years, he would regard life on a farm more contentedly, and would have less desire to move into the town. His conviction was that a national system of old age pensions, so far from pauperising the people, would do much to save them from pauperism, to lessen rural 503 depopulation, and to check the wasteful and harmful effect of our present Poor Law administration.
§ *MR. J. W. TAYLOR (Durham, Chester-le-Street)
said he regretted that the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London was not present, because he desired to compliment him on the ingenious manner in which he had brought before the House the pamphlet of the British Councils' Association on old age pensions. He ventured to say that very few private Members' Bills presented to the House had excited greater interest in the country than the measure under discussion, and that, he believed, was because this Bill was more in harmony with the spirit and sentiment of the present House of Commons than any other measure which had yet been brought before it. They all wanted, and this was the final object of the Bill, to bring a brightening and a sweetening influence into the declining years of our hard-working old people. That was proved by one or two facts. First of all, the struggle for existence was becoming harder for the working classes than in the past; and secondly, old age now began at a much earlier period than used to be the case. The fact was that public life was now quickened, and most people desired that the conditions under which our old people lived in their declining years should be improved. In spite of what had been said, there was no subject at the general election which had stimulated more genuine enthusiasm than that of old age pensions, and it was quite time that the Government came forward with their help. Since 1895, when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham promulgated his scheme for old age pensions, the subject had been discussed on every political platform in the country, and any wise and prudent Government must recognise the unmistakable and growing desire that the declining years of our old people should be made as comfortable and pleasant as possible. It was true that many men who had worked willingly until their strength and vigour had failed, in their declining years had a grudge against the State, because no provision was made for their old age. They felt that they had done their best, and yet had come to destitution and want. He knew it was stated that there 504 were other ways by which the difficulty could be solved than by old age pensions—by the gradual increase in wages, and by the cultivation of the spirit of thrift. But they knew from the frequent negotiations which took place between trade unions and employers how difficult it was to obtain for the workers a high rate of wages. The conflict between capital and labour was so keen that it took all the workers' energies, time, and persuasive power to exact what they thought was a living wage, and in many cases they were never able to save anything for old age. He knew how dangerous it was to admit anything, but he believed that truth itself was unalterable. He conceded that some working men had been able to save a little. He also admitted that very much of the hard-earned money of the working people went into a bag with holes in it; it frequently went the wrong way; but still there were many thousands of decent, honest, industrious working men with families, who after they had done there best could scarcely make ends meet, and who could not make provision for their declining years. That was no fancy picture used to play upon the credulity of the House. If there was one thing he had learned during his short experience in Parliament, it was that the House was not going to be bamboozled by anything like sentiment. What the House wanted was the truth of things, and it would then seek to discover a remedy for the evils of which they complained. In the county of Durham they had endeavoured, with much success, due largely to the initiative and zeal of the hon. Member for Mid. Durham, to provide 200homes for their aged people; and their friends in Northumberland were following their example, and he hoped that their efforts would be crowned with as much success as their enterprise in Durham. Those who had been in close contact with this particular movement had witnessed the sunshine which had gleamed into the lives of their old people in those counties; and they thought how much happier it would be if a similar scheme could be devised for the whole of England, and that was why they heartily supported the present Bill. There were a few provisions in the Bill with which they might be disposed to quarrel; but it was a Bill which went in the right direction, and they should 505 have some definite pronouncement from the Government that they intended to see that the lives of the aged poor were made brighter, better, and happier.
§ *MR. DUCKWORTH (Stockport)
said that the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget speech had made a conditional promise to deal with the subject of old age pensions next year. Some people might think that they should accept that promise, and wait till next year; but in spite of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, the matter of old age pensions was so urgent that they should lose no opportunity of pressing it on the attention of the Government and of the House. They were entitled to do this by two considerations. The first was, that many of them gave pledges in regard to the matter to their constituents at the general election. The Chancellor of the Exchequer might be able to say that he gave no pledge; but some of them, fortunately or unfortunately, could not hide themselves in that refuge. They did pledge themselves to do all they could, and as soon as possible, to establish a scheme of old age pensions. Another reason was the sad condition of thousands of our aged poor. He quite appreciated the sympathetic words which the Chancellor of the Exchequer uttered in his Budget speech on this subject, and if he criticised the Budget it was in no unfriendly spirit, because he thought it was a statesmanlike one, which if looked at from the right hon. Gentleman's point of view, and taking in as he did the next two or three years, was nearly a perfect one. But there was this very large "if." If they were allowed to have their own way this policy might be carried out; he hoped the Government would have their own way, and would continue in office till the end of their ordinary term, and that then they would be sent back for another seven years of power, a course which in his opinion was necessary to undo some of the mischiefs resulting from the extravagances of the last Administration. He hoped the Government would remain in office as long as they had work to do, but do not let them have a repetition of 1874 and 1892. Many of them had promised old age pensions at the last general election; but the cup might be dashed from the lips of the aged poor, 506 by war, by bad trade, by trouble in India, or by disunion among themselves which might cause their majority to dwindle. Hon. Members must be aware that Primrose League dames were proclaiming from every platform that there would be a general election next year. In this connection he remembered a story told by the proprietor of a steamer on an American river. It was his ambition to have the loudest hooter on the river, and when the one he ordered had been constructed the blast from it was terrific. But he noticed that when the hooter started the steamer stopped, and he went to the engineer and inquired the reason. The engineer replied that the hooter had taken all the steam. He hoped that would not be the case with the promises made by the Government. What he meant to convey was that one bird in the hand was worth two in the bush, and they should not put off till to-morrow what they could do today. Instead of reducing the National Debt by so large an amount this year, the Chancellor of the Exchequer would have done well to give half the sum he had devoted to that purpose to the reduction of the sugar tax and to making a beginning, if only on a small scale, with old age pensions. No doubt it was a proper thing to pay off Debt, and they must be just before they were generous. As a Party they said this was not Debt for which they were responsible, and the sooner it was paid off the sooner hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite would be able to run another scare and render the country subject to further liabilities. His opinion was that the Debt should be reduced by a smaller sum and reduced more gradually, and that would enable them to carry out the reforms which they had promised for the betterment of the poor and the oppressed. He wished to plead the urgency of this matter of old age pensions, although he would not trouble the House with figures which had already been given by previous speakers, who had shown how many of our old people felt that they would have to go to the workhouse in their declining years. The working population felt their position most keenly in that respect and had the strongest objection to applying for parish relief; many of them, indeed, would die in the streets before they would go to the workhouse. The idea to them of becoming a 507 pauper was more dreadful than death itself. They remembered the lines—Rattle his bones, over the stones;He's only a pauper whom nobody owns.These old people very often became dependent upon their relatives. Parents went to live with a married daughter or son or other relative and added considerably to the burdens of the breadwinner of the family. Let the House imagine what it meant to a man with from 18s. or 20s. a week, with three or four children, to have his aged father or mother put upon him. Let them also imagine what a difference it would make if that aged parent had 5s. a week coming in. It would make all the difference in comfort, and the old people would feel independent. He knew what he was talking about, and there were few things which appealed to him more than the subject of old age pensions.
§ MR. HUNT (Shropshire, Ludlow)
said he was in favour of the principle of old age pensions; but he could not see the use of giving a pension to a person who was getting £1 a week or more. The Member for Preston had said that 5s. a week was not enough for an old age pension, but in the country villages with which he was acquainted any old people could find a very comfortable home for that sum; indeed the villagers—and a very good sort of people they were—would be very glad to have them. The same hon. Member had raised the objection that protection was absolutely necessary if we were to have old age pensions. He hoped the Members specially interested in labour would take notice of that, because it was a great admission from such a source. He thought there was very great difficulty about this question, but the more he had been about the country the more he was convinced that there should be some system of the kind. He did not think, however, that the Bill went the best way about it. He thought the best way of beginning—and there must be a beginning in all these things—was to assist friendly societies to give benefits to their aged members. It was said that friendly societies were very much against this movement, but he believed that was not the case. On the whole he was bound to agree that he could not see where the money was to come from for old age pensions unless we 508 protected our own industries and our own working people against unfair foreign competition.
§ MR. J. M. ROBERTSON (Northumberland, Tyneside),
referring to the keen and searching criticism to which the hon. Member for Preston had subjected the Bill, said it was useful to have some one in the House who would play the part of devil's advocate against popular schemes of this kind, and he knew no one with a greater gift for the part than the hon. Member. The point of the hon. Member seemed to be that the system of old-age pensions was inseparable from Socialism but that did not seem to him to be the case at all. He thought his hon. friend the Member for Preston, with all his ingenuity, had failed to grapple with the central economic difficulty which was the constant inspiration of schemes for old age pensions. His hon. friend had declared it was a duty incumbent on all to make provision through life for their old age. That was to say it was the duty of all to save money for investment. It was absolutely impossible for the majority of those engaged in commercial life to save. The thing could not be done. It was unnecessary to prove that multitudes of poor people had difficulty in saving. To the thousands of people who could not save must be added the thousands who did save, and whose earnings were lost in bad investments. For every thousand pounds saved, a certain proportion was lost in unsound investments. The economic situation stood thus: profitable investment was limited by consumption, the profitable basis for investment was production, and if there was to be a continuous limitation of consumption, because of this thrift and saving, there could not be an increase in production. Among many of the German economists it had been clearly recognised that there was a limit to the amount of saving that could be done at a profit. He did not propose to trouble the House with any figures, but would say that the act of increasing the savings of the country this year by £100,000,000 would make the investment unsafe, instead of safe, because the consumption would be cut down. That was the crux of the question, and the reason the hon. Member for Preston did not disclose it was that he had on previous occasions given his adhesion to that argument. The 509 fact of the matter was that his hon. friend had grown so much afraid of socialistic tyranny that he had even left economic truth out of account and had put before the House an argument which economically was not sound. He was bound to admit that our scheme of old age pensions would have to be a limited scheme. In the enthusiasm of his youthful conversion to old age pensions he adopted the doctrine of Mr. Charles Booth that the pension should be payable to all, but when he found that the main difficulty of the House was to find money to do anything, he thought it would be absurd to go about and find money to give pensions to people who did not need them; therefore, the scheme must be limited. Pensions should only be paid to those who were poor. The hon. Member for Preston would then say if pensions were paid only to the poor it would discourage thrift, but as he had remarked before, if the economic impossibility of continuous profitable saving was true, it could not discourage thrift. A wise man had once said it was always safe to tell the whole truth; whether it was safe or no the did not know, but he ventured to tell it on this occasion. The House would have to recognise in regard to this matter that it was not its business to encourage thrift at all in the sense of economic savings for investment. One year he noticed by the admission of the Stock Exchange authorities that at least £100,000 had been lost in unprofitable investments. If it was true that there was this obvious limit to profitable savings, it could not be the business of the House to encourage thrift. The hon. Member for Preston had laid the main stress of his arguments against the Bill on the pictures he drew of the dangers we should have to face of seeing the thriftless wastrels, who contrived to live to the age of sixty-five without work, coming upon the country to be supported by the State. He did not doubt that when a system of old age pensions was started such anomalies would have to be faced. They were endeavouring to raise the people from a vast morass of misery and poverty, and the process could never be carried out without a great many of the existing evils accompanying it for a long time. Of course there would be fraud, the world was full of fraud, but the question was, which way the balance of good would lie. While the State 510 might have to carry along on its shoulders the thriftless persons and the wastrels, in the nature of things these persons would not be in the majority, and on the other hand, they would correct the present appalling evil to which attention had been drawn by the hon. Member for Wirral, that people might live industriously, thriftily, and with self denial, through a long life, even putting money into some sound investment, only to find at the end of their lives that that investment had been lost through some new process of competitive production having made the investment unsound. Unsound investments would always be provided, so long as the amount of saving that was done was beyond the amount of economical possibility having regard to consumption. The ordinary process of the expansion of commerce resulted in masses of capital being constantly destroyed by the bringing to bear of now methods on competitive production. What they desired now was to put social restraint on people not capable of looking after themselves. On the other hand, it was said that it would be impossible to raise the money without resorting to protection. The mover of the Second Reading had shown that the money could be provided by an extension of the system of a graduated income tax. To that system he might arid another—the taxation of land values. Yet another way of getting the money was to limit the present appalling and wasteful expenditure upon armaments. One would have expected the hon. Member for Preston to be disturbed and perturbed to the last degree at the amount which was expended every year in armaments, but upon that side he appeared to suffer no discomfort whatever. It was quite conceivable to everybody who had contemplated the socialistic problem that this House might one day contemplate the municipal provision of bread and clothing, but if that day came it would be because it paid to do it, because it made for civilisation. But that development would not happen in the time of any man now living, and the possibility of that ultimate development of society should surely not be allowed to influence a single member against a scheme which could be demonstrated to be sound in the present state of the community.
§ MR. BEALE (Ayrshire, S.)
said that both the mover and the seconder of this Bill were exceedingly apprehensive of the criticisms of the hon. Member for Preston, but he did not think that anything that was said in support of the Amendment altered the view in which they regarded the proposition put forward by the hon. Member for Wirral. The two reasons the hon. Member for Preston put before the House for not voting for the Second Reading were the fear that it would result in an enormous increase of taxation and the opportunity the Bill would give for fraud. He really thought the hon. Member knew exactly what the answer was to the increase of taxation. The hon. Member for Preston touched very lightly upon the argument that what was proposed to be done was not to put a new burden upon the people, but a readjustment of the existing burden. So long as we did not kill people sixty-five years of age, somebody kept them alive. The hon. Member had said that if they were going to apply that readjustment to the relief of old age, they might as well apply it to the provision of bread, which was just as necessary. They did not advocate an old age pension scheme merely because it was a readjustment of burden. They advocated it because it was a thing which was good in itself, and only dwelt upon the argument that it was a readjustment of the burden of taxation as an answer to the objection that they were now imposing a new burden on the community. He agreed with the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down that if they were so civilised that they could make out a national case for the supply of bread, or anything else, he could conceive a time when this country would not mind doing it. That was used as an answer to the attempt to hold an appalling picture before the House of the burden this Bill was putting on the people. The hon. Member for Preston had asked how were they to pay £26,000,000. The answer was that that £26,000,000 was now being paid by somebody, that 512 they wanted to readjust that burden, and that if it was rightly adjusted it would come back again to the State in other ways. Up to the present time this burden had been more or less unequally distributed among the people. The greater part had been borne by people whose incomes were over £160 a year. In fact, at the present moment, there was a burden equivalent to £30 a head upon 840,000 of the population. These people were in fact now paying this sum of money, and what he wanted to see was that those who were doing their share now should continue to do it, and that those who were not should have this taxation so readjusted as to have the proper burden put upon their shoulders. Until they faced the problem of how much everybody ought to pay, what was every person's share as a citizen, they could not get out of it by the general broad assertion that we could afford a war, and therefore could afford to pay old-age pensions. The argument of increased taxation was disposed of by shewing that the readjustment of the burden must be equitably considered, and he was quite sure that when considered in that light people with even the smallest income would cheerfully bear their share. He would not like to put any difficulty in the way of anyone getting a pension, provided that taxation was so readjusted that the persons who received it had paid their own share towards it. He would much prefer that the Bill should so work that each man bore, and in case of need, received his share. They were told that certain people were not to have this pension, because they had been in prison, or had become bankrupt, or for some other reason. That in his opinion was a mistake. There was no economy in it, it simply gave a good deal of trouble, and only militated against giving that man 5s. a week to keep him out of the workhouse. It was bad economy, and there was no reason for it. The only thing that was necessary as a test was whether the man 513 could live on the pension, and that could be secured, because as soon as a man came for relief his pension would fall into the hands of the Poor Law Authorities until he could show them that he could live upon it. An idea ran through the House that they were pampering these people, and giving them something which they ought to do for themselves to keep them out of the workhouse. It might be so, but if they had this clear power to discriminate between those who could live upon their pension and those who came to the workhouse, the conditions of the workhouse could be made far less agreeable. The argument that the pension would be spent in drink or misused in some way would be entirely gone if the guardians were given a first charge on the pension, because the guardians could take away the pension immediately a man applied for poor relief. He thought the financial part of the Bill had not been worked out, and no good would come until the financial problem was tackled in a very different way from merely throwing the matter over to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to see what he could do.
§ *MR. LUPTON (Lincolnshire, Sleaford)
said he was one of those who promised his constituents to use his personal influence, as far as he could, to forward a scheme of old age pensions. He considered election pledges the most important a man could give. He went to the people of his constituency who did not profess to have any knowledge of affairs; he did profess to have knowledge of affairs, and upon making certain promises was elected to this House. In his view there were two classes of old age pension schemes, one of which was impracticable and the other practicable. The class of scheme which proposed in three years to cost £26,000,000 annually was impracticable so far as this House was concerned. He himself would reduce the cost of the Army by £10,000,000 a year and the Navy by £10,000,000, but such drastic 514 economy could not yet be carried in the House nor in the country, and also neither this House nor the country would approve an additional 1s. on the income-tax, and extra duties on tea and sugar for such a scheme, and therefore for the present such a scheme belonged to the impracticable class. The author of the Bill had made a valuable and instructive speech, and the speeches of the hon. Members for Preston, Tyneside, and South Ayreshire were most learned and valuable contributions to a somewhat academic discussion, but he wished to make a beginning now, and after that beginning was made he would then gladly listen for the next ten or twenty years to a discussion on schemes requiring from the Exchequer £10,000,000, £20,000,000, £30,000,000 or £50,000,000, he cared not which, but let them begin it in a practical way. He had no wish to say anything about little by little, or step by step, but the only practical way was one step at a time. Some of those who had sent him to Parliament were the poorest in the United Kingdom, and if he went back to his constituents with nothing done on their behalf, they would say, "What is the use of him, he is no better than the old representative." He was prepared to vote for any practical scheme of old age pensions. He would point out that it was practicable to give old age pensions without a penny of extra expense to any mortal in the world. What was the difference between old age pensions and outdoor relief? The difference was that old age pensions did not pauperise, and outdoor relief did, owing to the disabilities which attached to it whereby the recipient lost his position as a citizen. Let them take away those disabilities from men and women of sixty-five years and upwards and it became an old age pension. Then the old people would have votes and be of political importance. He knew a lot of these old people, and they valued their dignity as much as anyone else. What did they want? They were getting now perhaps 3s. 6d. per week as outdoor 515 relief, which was not enough. These men and women would be rich, especially if two of them lived together, if they received 5s. a week each. And what would it cost? The cost in his division of increasing the out-door relief by 2s. a week from 3s. to 5s. for those persons of sixty-five years of age and upwards would come to a sum not exceeding another 2d. in the £ on the rates. If he proposed that it should all be put upon the rate, it would be probably thrown out by the ratepayers, but if the Chancellor of the Exchequer came forward and paid a 1d. of it out of the Consolidated Fund, that was a thing that would make it go down with a great many of the ratepayers, who would gladly pay the other penny. They had only to carry a scheme of that sort and the thing was done. It was something that the old people in his division desired very much. It was something that would bring comfort and joy to many houses all over the county divisions of England. The question was how it was to be done, and whether they had legal sanction for this improvement in outdoor relief. He contended they had that sanction. If they looked at the law and history of this country they found that men owning land held it on the distinct understanding that they kept the poor of the parish, otherwise all the rents went to the State. For this reason he objected to putting the burden on industry, that was to say, on the general taxpayers; but he was willing to make a compromise, and it was for that reason that he suggested that a penny should be given out of the Consolidated Fund. That would cost the Exchequer about £1,000,000 a year; the Chancellor could afford that much now. Year by year the grant might be increased, and hon. Members would not be stultified in their promise for a scheme of old age pensions, though eventually it cost £30,000,000 or more. He had said to the people in his division that everything about him was beautiful, delightful, and glorious, but there were some among them who were starving. 516 Was it necessary that that should be so? No, it was not, because there was sufficient wealth in the land, if equally divided, to give £200 a year to each family, but many labourers with families did not get £40 a year. All that was necessary was to apply some of our great and superfluous wealth in the way he had suggested. Although the pension would be payable through the Poor Law authorities, he thought no degradation would be felt in receiving assistance through that agency, when the disability in the matter of the franchise had once been removed. Such a great social reform would make this Parliament renowned in the history of the world.
§ MR. T. L. CORBETT (Down, N.)
said that as one who took an active part in the last Parliament when they introduced and nearly passed a similar Bill, he would like to call attention to the fact that the experience thon gained provided both encouragement and warning; It was possibly true that in regard to this matter, if they confined themselves to academic discussion, they might listen to such speeches as that of the hon. Member for Preston for five, ten, or twenty-five years. What they had to secure from the Government was that something should be done. The last Parliament voted for the principle of this Bill. The Second Reading was carried, but the Bill never got any further. Those who were really in earnest on this matter ought to try and bring pressure to bear on the Government to give some more definite pledge than had been given, that they actually intended to bring in a Bill and deal with this subject in the early future. A Bill had never been more ably or sympathetically presented, and they could not hope for more than would be given by this Bill. The hon. Member for Preston had said it was the duty of a man to contribute to his own pension. If he were a labourer at 10s. or 11s. a week like many in county Down, he would not find it easy to contribute largely to his own pension, and if he did it would be selfish rather than 517 otherwise to do so. He heartily seconded the Second Reading.
§ MR. CROOKS
said that this was a question very near his heart. It had caused him more trouble than anything else in his life. He felt that on a day like this they had much to regret the absence of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham, whose speeches on this matter had been repeated so many times. He was sorry he was not present, and for the reason which caused his absence. It had always been urged against this Bill that there were people in this world who would not try, who never could and who did not want to get on—who were thriftless, who were wastrels, and useless. He knew it, but they were not confined to one class; there were many of them strolling about in Rotten Row in silk hats and spats, looking very comfortable and not over anxious for a job; the world was full of willing people, some willing to work, and the others willing to let them. Some people thought this was a new question in the House, but as far back as 134 years ago the House passed a measure for old age pensions, and sent it up to the House of Lords, where it was defeated. They were now trying to make up for lost time. It was not an unreasonable thing in a discussion of this kind to show the position of many persons in the State. Hon. Members perhaps did not know that 42.7 out of every hundred people who reached the age of sixty died paupers. They could not all have been drunkards. It was bad enough for a man to get old without being artful enough to get rich, without being blamed for the fact, and being told that he would not have got old if he had not drank. The speech of the hon. Member for the Tyneside Division on thrift was magnificent. He remembered having that question with regard to thrift put to him when he was examined before the Royal Commission. He was asked whether he did not think the poor might exercise a little thrift, and he 518 said he thought they might exercise a good deal. It was very easy to be thrifty on £18 a week, but a bit of a job on 18s. Let a man be ever so thrifty it could only be while he was in work. They must remember that when they spoke of a working man's regular work, it was only regular so long as he was well. There was only one permanent situation, and that was in the cemetery, and it did not matter much about pensions there. How much self-control would a working man want if his wife was not well, and the children wanted boots, to allow his wife to go unattended or his children to run about barefooted while he saved that £5 towards his pension? The whole neighbourhood would be up in arms about it, and want to know what the blackguard meant by it. After all, the employer accumulated the wealth of the country, and it was the employer who should pay. He was told that one of the charges against him was that it was no part of the duties of a Member of Parliament to "adjust social inequalities." It was a delightful phrase; he could imagine the hon. Member for the City of London using it; it came so glibly from the tongue when one's stomach and one's pocket were full. One man was hungry. What of it? The other was full. If one gave the starving man anything, it was an endeavour to "adjust inequalities." The House of Commons was created for the express purpose, and for no other purpose, of adjusting social inequalities; that was its function from very earliest inception. They were its told that the Joneses, father and mother, were such excellent parents that it would be a crime if their children did not look after them in their old age. And they were told of the bad sons and the bad daughters who did not perform that duty. But were they ever told of the hundreds and hundreds of good sons and good daughters who faithfully helped their aged parents at sacrifices known only to themselves? There were sons with small wages who were heroic in what they 519 did for their parents. The world did not hear of these quiet sacrifices; decent pride kept them hidden. A case had come under his own eye, that of a young married man with 27s. a week. He took his money home on the Saturday, and gave it to his wife, who sat despondent. He put the money into her lap. "What am I to do with this?" she asked. "It's all I've got," he said, and she answered that the children were in need of boots. "Well, get them." "Yes, but what about mother?" Well, she had better see mother; and he went out to get a shave, as was the practice of a man when he saw how it stood with the wife. The children wanted boots, so the wife went and saw the mother, with what result? Why, the old grandmother merely said, "Get an order for the house." She could not stand in the way of her grandbairns going without shoes to their feet. And that was the way the poor made sacrifices for each other. Yet a man in these circumstances was told to be thrifty! He had been associated with the Poor Law ever since he could remember, for he could recollect that, when five years of age, he went before the Board of Guardians, holding on to his mother's skirt, and he recalled how he was pointed to as a little chap that ought to be getting his own living. He had been Chairman of the Board of Guardians for nine years, and he knew the condition of the poor in Poplar. Poplar was now dragged into every discussion; it had even been made to do duty in the debate on the Irish Council Bill the other day. He had heard old men and women who had out-lived their relations tell of their struggles, how they had paid into friendly societies, and how they had done their best to make both ends meet. There was the case of one old man who had applied for out-door relief; but in this enlightened and Christian country they were not allowed to give relief part of which might be spent on rent, so that they were obliged to order the decent old man into the workhouse. A bricklayer with a 520 pension of 6s. a week applied for outdoor relief, and he was told that some people thought that it was an adequate pension. The man replied, "Do they really; I should like to see them pay 3s. 6d. a week rent, and the man and the old woman live on the other half crown." This man had been thrifty, had done his best, and had got stranded. Thrifty and unthrifty, when they got past the age of sixty-five, had to live very largely on precarious charity or out-door relief. These men who had lost the power of work were the men who, in their days of vigour, created the wealth of the country, and were they going to turn their back upon them? Something like £28,000,000 a year were set out as for Poor Law purposes, but a large proportion of that sum went in directions which had nothing to do with the Poor Law at all. Of the total sum £13,000,000 went to the relief of the poor; or, to be accurate, a considerable part of the £13,000,000 went on furniture, pensions, etc., until all that was left of the £28,000,000 was £6,000,000 for the actual relief of the poor. If the system of old age pensions were adopted it would stop the recruiting ground for old people to go into the workhouse; they would gradually get rid of these workhouses, and they would increase the membership of friendly societies and trade unions. He had always said that once they affirmed the principle of old age pensions it would be the duty of the Executive to find the ways and means. If they wanted to increase the Navy they would not begin to argue with the First Lord of the Admiralty; the fact was if he wanted the ships the ships he must have, and all England would roar about the glorious Navy. But there was other expenditure necessary for the good of the State, and he put old age pensions on that principle; they were to save life, to preserve life, and to give aged veterans a better chance. He appealed to the House to affirm the principle of this Bill, and leave it to the the Chancellor of the Exchequer to find the ways and means.
§ *MR. F. W. VERNEY (Buckinghamshire, N.)
said he had listened with admiration to the extremely interesting speech of the hon. Member for Preston. There was, however, one fallacy running through it. The hon. Gentleman said that the pension must depend on contribution. Certainly, but it seemed to him and to a good many others, he thought, that the hon. Member meant a money contribution which left entirely out of account the contribution of work or money's worth, which was of much greater value than a money contribution. If they took the money contribution in proportion to income, it was very much greater from the poor man than it was from the rich. If they took the contribution in money, as well as in work which had a money value a very strong case indeed was established for old age pensions for poor workers. He was one of those Members of the House who, at the general election, had carefully guarded himself from any definite promise beyond saying that it would be the clear duty of the House to discuss this question with an open mind, to see how far they could go in the direction of giving to those who had worked for the State and country some return in their old age, exactly on the same principle as that on which they gave pensions to our generals and admirals, diplomats, people in high station, and Cabinet Ministers, to whom pensions were given, not because they had paid rates and taxes, but because they had contributed in work to the welfare of their country. It would of course, be said that this did not meet the case of the unthrifty, and those who did not contribute to the good of the country at large. The case of the idle and the vicious could never be met, and ought never to be met by old age pensions, and in the Bill before them, although he did not pin himself to every clause of it, and conceded that, on subsequent stages, it might be improved upon, yet he thought that they had got an indication that the drunkard, the un- 522 thrifty man, the worthless man, and the criminal were not to be set on a footing for old age pensions, and that was a distinction which it was quite right to preserve. The principle of old age pensions had been practically accepted by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who had also accepted the principle of graduated taxation, from which many of them hoped to get a great deal of the money which would provide for old age pensions. The other sources of income would no doubt result from a far less expenditure on what the country did not want. Again, another source of income would be the reduction of the expenditure on the Poor Law, which many of them had to lament to-day. Reference had been made to the German system, in which he thought there was a great deal that was admirable; but it must not be forgotten that the system was based on contributions from three different sources. The employers, the workmen, and the State contributed, and this system of triple contribution worked extremely well in Germany. But behind that system there was State compulsion. He very much doubted whether this country was ready to accept the system of State compulsion to the same extent as it was worked in Germany. In England they disliked compulsion in any form. Care must be taken not to arouse in reference to a system of old age pensions the same opposition to the principle of compulsion which had shown itself in regard to military service. As to what was frequently said about thriftless and drunken people amongst the working classes, the number was often put down as much larger than actually existed. The enormous majority of the working classes did work, and they would work not less but more if they knew that at the end of the long life of toil there would be something better than that bastile, the workhouse. A system of old age pensions towards which every working member of the community contributed directly or indirectly would rouse public opinion in favour of the worker 523 and against the loafer, and be an invaluable incentive reducing largely the numbers of those who now came upon the public funds as the direct result of idleness, improvidence and vice.
§ *THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. JOHN BURNS,) Battersea
I agree with previous speakers in thinking that the debate has been a most interesting one, and it has been taken part in by an unusually large number of hon. Members. In the absence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has to keep a public engagement, and speaking on behalf of the Government, I direct attention to the difference between the present debate and the many discussions which have taken place on the subject in previous years. This question is assuming a different shape now that it is being approached from the practical point of view. The economic doctrinaire is less insistent, and it is agreed that something must be done. Opinion is divided only as to the means and the time. The hon. Member for Preston has uttered a number of warnings that will certainly have to be remembered by any one responsible for a pension scheme. Schemes from other countries had been talked about, but I do not believe that the German pension scheme is adaptable to this country. I do not, however, think that it is necessary to go to Australia and Germany for experience, because, to a large extent, the conditions in those countries are quite different from the conditions here. No other country, for instance, has the enormous network of friendly society organisations that we have; and any scheme of old age pensions must take into account these 28,000 separate organisations, with 13,000,000 or 14,000,000 members, all of which 524 make some sort of provision for the old, the maimed, and the sick in the army of industry as well as for the various other ills which flesh is heir to. But the opposition to any scheme of old age pensions is growing smaller by degrees and beautifully less in this House, and with the exception of the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London and the hon. Member for Preston we really have no out-and-out opponents of old age pensions, although there are differences as to methods and as to how the money is to be obtained. The friendly societies a few years ago were opposed to any form of old age pensions, but they have now changed their views. It is safe to say now that neither friendly societies nor trade unions are opposed to some form of old age pensions. I am aware that some want contributory schemes, some have asked for subsidies to friendly societies, and a few want no scheme at all. It has been boldly said—and I think Labour members will recognise that there is some force in the suggestion—that a State pension scheme might be a State subsidy to low wages or to a low standard of comfort. It has also been suggested that the provision of an old age pension for a son's father or mother might, in some respects, diminish paternal or maternal regard, and sterilise some of those filial qualities which all of us wish to stimulate. It is generally agreed now that provision for the aged not now provided for is essential, and that it must come out of the rates or the taxes. But on the question as to who is to be regarded as eligible for pension there is a greater division now than a few years ago, and, as to the amount of the pension the advocates of a universal scheme are beginning to realise that differentiation must be made between urban and rural conditions as well as between person 525 and person. All must realise that if an old couple were to get 5s. each and 1s. or 2s. each week from a son or a daughter, the collective income to those people in the country would be of infinitely more value and good than 15s. or 16s. a week from a State pension fund to a man living in London or in any other large city. I agree with the hon. Member for Woolwich that if anything is to be done, it must be worked out, not by a committee, but by the departments of the State. There is a sum of £16,500,000 now spent on the Poor Law which may, in part, be diverted to the provision of old age pensions, and these two systems—the Poor Law and the pension scheme—must be run side by side for the mutual benefit of both. As to who should be qualified for a pension, experience indicates that, in the first instance, it will not be possible to lay down the rule that every man of sixty-five years of age should have a pension irrespective of character. There are an enormous number of people in a condition, mentally, morally, and physically, in which a pension of 5s. a week would do more harm than good. The Government accept the principle embodied in the Bill, though they differ from and cannot under any circumstances accept some of its proposals. I should be sorry, for instance, to see it made a condition, whatever the amount was, that after a man had become a recipient, he should have to go to the town hall or the parish room to ask for his pension. An hon Member has suggested that if there happened to be a long queue of applicants waiting for their pensions a busy man would not waste his time by hanging on to the end of the queue but would go elsewhere, and the pension scheme would profit to that extent. I think that kind of thing 526 would lead to confusion, irritation, and humiliation. There is another point in the Bill which ought to be taken into consideration, and that is Clause 12, which imposes a larger number of restrictions and disabilities than I expected to find in a universal Bill of this kind. Then there is Clause 17, which creates a form of claim, registration, and supervision of the distribution that the Government cannot, under any circumstances, accept, because of our knowledge of the difficulties of working this and similar schemes. Now I will pass from these details of the Bill to the question of the cost. Whether the House realises it or not, it is the fact that this Bill would cost from £26,000,000 to £29,000,000 in the next three years. That means on the present basis of taxation, increased imposts on certain persons or things. It means, perhaps, diminished revenue from other sources, and, as the demands on rates and taxes are rapidly increasing, my view is that the Government would find it financially impossible to promise that they would spend from £26,000,000 to £29,000,000. They cannot raise any of this money by increasing indirect taxation. The taxes on tea and sugar and other foods are high enough, and I am one of those who hope to see the day when they will be reduced. I do not think that, on the present basis, we can raise more money by minor readjustments, and if we have to raise £26,000,000 or £29,000,000 as hon. Members opposite want them to be raised, by taxes on food, the people, I think, would rather postpone the old age pension scheme.
§ *MR. JOHN BURNS
It has been suggested that this large sum could be raised by cumulative or graduated death duties. It might be said that we do not want to pay £26,000,000 or £29,000,000 at once, and that people would be content if there is a beginning, and a beginning soon. [do not hear that cheered.
§ *MR. JOHN BURNS
Does the hon. Member suggest that we should provide £26,000,000 or £29,000,000 at once.
§ *MR. JOHN BURNS
I am sorry that I have not yet heard how everybody is going to get an old age pension at the cost of nobody. Judging from the experience and the speeches of the last year or two on this subject, there seems to be a desire that something should be done, and I may remind the House that on the 18th of April last, the Chancellor of the Exchequer not only hypothecated but allocated £2,250,000 as the nucleus of an old age pension scheme. I promised the House upon a former occasion that I would get together all the information. I could on this subject, and I now have it in draft for circulation. I have collected certain data as to how we can begin, and I find that if we are to have a universal old age pension of 5s. a week at sixty-five years of age it would in July, 1907, cost £29,000,000. If, however, we are to make the deductions laid down by the Hamilton Committee and exclude paupers, casuals, vagrants, lunatics, and criminals, such a scheme would cost £10,780,000in 1907, £11,000,000 in 1911, and £12,000,000 in 1921. The 528 scheme, with these deductions, will, if the ages are placed at seventy, cost £6,119,000 in 1907, £6,273,000 in 1911, and £6,727,000 in 1921. On the basis of seventy-five years, and with the Hamilton deductions, the cost will be £3,030,000 in 1907, £3,140,000 in 1911, and £3,465,000 in 1921. Without the deductions the figures will be £29,000,000, £13,000,000, and £8,000,000 respectively. We have to recognise that to-day there are 250,000 men who receive £10,500,000 as pensioners in the Army, Navy, Civil Service, local authorities, and similar bodies. In addition to these 250,000 people there are also those who receive pensions from trade unions and friendly societies. We shall have to consider, in relation to any start they may make, and perhaps rule out, those whose pensions from these and other sources range from £34 to £94 per annum. These are practical details to which the Government are devoting their energies. We are told that we can save materially from the Poor Law. I do not believe it. I believe that at the outside we cannot save more than from one to two millions. The trade unionists and members of friendly societies who are now receiving superannuation allowance may object to being disqualified for a pension. If their objections are right, and, in the main, I believe they are right, the people who are receiving pensions higher would also take the same view, and the result will be that we should have a tremendous amount of friction and difficulty, re-organisation, and adaptability of means to end that would give any Department charged with this duty a considerable amount of trouble. The Government are pledged by the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer on April 529 18th, and on the strength of that promise which, I think, may be considered by everybody as a pledge, the Government, through me, accept the principle embodied in this old-age pension scheme now before the House, but we cannot be either pledged or committed to the plan, the details, the organisation, or the cost of the scheme introduced in this Bill. Subject to that limitation the Government support the principle and I trust that the promoters of this measure will be content with the promise
§ and pledge I have given on behalf of the Government.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided: Ayes, 232; Noes, 19. (Division List No. 165.)531
|Abraham, William (Cork, N. E.)||Delany, William||Howard, Hon. Geoffrey|
|Adkins, W. Ryland D.||Dewar, John A. (Inverness-sh.||Hunt, Rowland|
|Ainsworth, John Stirling||Dickinson, W. H. (St. Pancras, N||Hyde, Clarendon|
|Ambrose, Robert.||Dilke, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles||Idris, T. H. W.|
|Anstruther-Gray, Major||Dobson, Thomas W.||Illingworth, Percy H.|
|Astbury, John Meir||Dolan, Charles Joseph||Jackson, R. S.|
|Baker, Joseph A. (Finsbury, E.)||Donelan, Captain A.||Jacoby, Sir James Alfred|
|Baring, Godfrey (Isle of Wight)||Duckworth, James||Johnson, John (Gateshead)|
|Barker, John||Duncan, C. (Barrow-in-Furness||Jones, Sir D. Brynmor (Swansea)|
|Barnard, E. B.||Dunn, A. Edward (Camborne)||Jones, Leif (Appleby)|
|Barran, Rowland Hirst||Edwards, Clement (Denbigh)||Jones, William (Carnarvonshire|
|Beale, W. P.||Edwards, Enoch (Hanley)||Joyce, Michael|
|Berridge, T. H. D.||Edwards, Frank (Radnor)||Kekewich, Sir George|
|Bethell, T. R. (Essex, Maldon)||Elibank, Master of||Kelly, George D.|
|Bignold, Sir Arthur||Esmonde, Sir Thomas||Kettle, Thomas Michael|
|Billson, Alfred||Essex, R. W.||Kilbride, Denis|
|Black, Arthur W.||Esslemont, George Birnie||Kimber, Sir Henry|
|Blake, Edward||Evans, Samuel T.||Laidlaw, Robert|
|Boland, John||Fenwick, Charles||Lamb, Ernest H. (Rochester)|
|Bottomley, Horatio||Ferens, T. R.||Lamont, Norman|
|Bowerman, C. W.||Ffrench, Peter||Layland-Barratt, Francis|
|Branch, James||Flavin, Michael Joseph||Lehmann, R. C.|
|Brooke, Stopford||Flynn, James Christopher||Lever, A. Levy (Essex, Harwich)|
|Bryce, J. Annan||Gilhooly, James||Lewis, John Herbert|
|Burke, E. Haviland-||Ginnell, L.||Lloyd-George, Rt. Hon. David|
|Burns, Rt. Hon. John||Gladstone, Rt. Hn. Herbert John||Lundon, W.|
|Burt, Rt. Hon. Thomas||Glendinning, R. G.||Lupton, Arnold|
|Cairns, Thomas||Gooch, George Peabody||Macdonald, J. M. (Falkirk Bg'hs|
|Cameron, Robert||Grant Corrie||Mackarness, Frederic C.|
|Carr-Gomm, H. W.||Greenwood, G. (Peterborough)||Maclean, Donald|
|Causton, Rt. Hn. Richard Knight||Greenwood, Hamar (York)||MacVeigh, Charles(Donegal, E.|
|Cheetham, John Frederick||Griffith, Ellis J.||M'Callum, John M.|
|Clarke, C. Goddard (Peckham)||Gulland, John W.||M'Crae, George|
|Cleland, J. W.||Gwynn, Stephen Lucius||M'Laren, H. D. (Stafford, W.)|
|Clough, William||Halpin, J.||Markham, Arthur Basil|
|Clynes, J. R.||Harmsworth Cecil B. (Worc'r)||Marks, G. Croydon (Launceston)|
|Collins, Stephen (Lambeth)||Harrington, Timothy||Marnham, F. J.|
|Collins, Sir W m. J. (S. Pancras, W.||Hart-Davies, T.||Massie, J.|
|Condon, Thomas Joseph||Hayden, John Patrick||Menzies, Walter|
|Cooper, G. J.||Haz'eton, Richard||Micklem, Nathaniel|
|Corbett, A. Cameron (Glasgow)||Hedges, A. Paget||Money, L. G. Chiozza|
|Corbett, CH. (Sussex, E. Grinst'd||Hemmerde, Edward George||Morgan, G. Hay (Cornwall)|
|Corbett, T. L. (Down, North)||Henderson, Arthur (Durham)||Morse, L. L.|
|Cowan, W. H.||Henry, Charles S.||Morton, Alpheus Cleophas|
|Cremer, William Randal||Herbert, T. Arnold (Wycombe)||Murnaghan, George|
|Crombie, John William||Higham, John Sharp||Murphy, John|
|Crooks, William||Hobart, Sir Robert||Murray, James|
|Crosfield, A. H.||Hogan, Michael||Nicholson, Charles N. (Doncast'r|
|Dalziel, James Henry||Holden, E. Hopkinson||Nolan, Joseph|
|Davies, W. Howell (Bristol, S.)||Horniman, Emslie John||Norton, Capt. Cecil William|
|Nussey, Thomas Willans||Samuel, Herbert L. (Cleveland)||Walton, Joseph (Barnsley)|
|O'Connor, John (Kildare, N.)||Seddon, J.||Ward, John (Stoke upon Trent|
|O'Doherty, Philip||Shackleton, David James||Ward, W. Dudley (Southampton|
|O'Donnell, C. J. (Walworth)||Sheehy, David||Warde, Col. C. E. (Kent, Mid.)|
|O'Grady, J.||Sheffield, Sir Berkeley George D.||Wardle, George J.|
|O'Mara, James||Sherwell, Arthur James||Wason, Eugene (Clackmannan)|
|O'Shaughnessy, P. J.||Silcock, Thomas Ball||Wason, John Cathcart (Orkney)|
|Parker, James (Halifax)||Sloan, Thomas Henry||Waterlow, D. S.|
|Pearce, Robert (Staffs, Leek)||Smeaton, Donald Mackenzie||Watt, Henry A.|
|Philipps, Owen C. (Pembroke)||Smyth, Thomas F. (Leitrim, S.)||Weir, James Galloway|
|Pickersgill, Edward Hare||Spicer, Sir Albert||White, George (Norfolk)|
|Power, Patrick Joseph||Stanger, H. Y.||White, J. D. (Dumbartonshire)|
|Price, Robert John (Norfolk, E.)||Stanley, Hn. A. Lyulph (Chesh.)||White, Luke (York, E. R.)|
|Pullar, Sir Robert||Stewart, Halley (Greenock)||White, Patrick (Meath, North)|
|Radford, G. H.||Strauss, E. A. (Abingdon)||Whitehead, Rowland|
|Rea, Walter Russell (Scarboro'||Stuart, James (Sunderland)||Whitley, John Henry (Halifax)|
|Redmond, John E. (Waterford)||Sutherland, J. E.||Whittaker, Sir Thomas Palmer|
|Rees, J. D.||Taylor, John W. (Durham)||Wiles, Thomas|
|Richards, T. F. (Wolverh'mpt'n||Thomas, Abel (Carmarthen, E.)||Williams, Llewelyn (Carmarth'n|
|Ridsdale, E. A.||Thomas, David Alfred (Merthyr||Wilson, John (Durham, Mid.)|
|Roberts, Charles H. (Lincoln)||Thorne, William||Wilson, J. W. (Worcestersh, N.)|
|Roberts, G. H. (Norwich)||Tomkinson, James||Wilson, P. W. (St. Pancras, S.)|
|Roberts, John H. (Denbighs.)||Torrance, Sir A. M.||Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Robertson, Rt. Hn. E. (Dundee)||Trevelyan, Charles Philips||Yoxall, James Henry|
|Robertson, J. M. (Tyneside)||Verney, F. W.|
|Roe, Sir Thomas||Vincent, Col. Sir C. E. Howard||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—Mr.|
|Rogers, F. E. Newman||Walker, H. De R. (Leicester)||William Lever and Sir|
|Rowlands, J.||Walsh, Stephen||Francis Channing.|
|Rutherford, V. H. (Brentford)||Walters, John Tudor|
|Anson, Sir William Reynell||Fetherstonhaugh, Godfrey||Rawlinson, John Frederick Peel|
|Bowles, G. Stewart||Finch, Rt. Hon. George H.||Russell, T. W.|
|Carlile, E. Hildred||Lambton, Hon. Frederick W m.||Turnour, Viscount|
|Cavendish Rt. Hn. Victor C. W.||Lane-Fox, G. R.|
|Cecil, Lord R. (Marylebone, E.)||Morgan, J. Lloyd (Carmarthen)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—|
|Craig, Charles Curtis (Antrim, S.||Nicholson, W m. G. (Petersfield)||Mr. Harold Cox and Sir|
|Craig, Captain James (Down, E.||O'Neill, Hon. Robert Torrens||Frederick Banbury.|
|Dalrymple, Viscount||Powell, Sir Francis Sharp|
Bill read a second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House for Monday next.—(Mr. William Lever).