§ Mr. DUKES
I beg to move:That, in the opinion of this House, pensions adequate for the proper upbringing and maintenance of children should be paid to all widows with children, or mothers whose family breadwinner has become incapacitated, such pensions to be provided by the State and administered by a committee of the municipal or county council wholly unconnected with the Poor Law.It is with much pleasure that I rise to move this Motion. In doing so I feel happily circumstanced inasmuch as all parties represented by hon. Members in this House are, so far as their election programmes and pledges are concerned, committed to the principle of this motion. I wish at the outset to call attention to the policy of the Unionist. Party. At their conference held on 27th October, 1923, at Plymouth, the following resolution was passed:That it is desirable to grant pensions to widows left with young children.In the Liberal Party manifesto at the recent election the following words appear:Liberal policy concentrates upon lifting from the homes of the people those burdens and anxieties of the old, the sick and the widow with young children which the community has the power and the duty to relieve.I repeat that I feel happily circumstanced inasmuch as I do not anticipate, in so far as those pledges have committed hon. Members of both parties, any opposition to the principle of this Motion. Therefore I desire to make reference to the limitation of the Motion, and I do so specifically for the reason that when this Motion was before the House on a previous occasion Members from the other side of the House who opposed it, extended its scope, deliberately, in my opinion, to magnify the cost and defeat the spirit and substance of the Motion. So to-night, at the outset of my remarks, I intend to limit its scope, and to rely on hon. Members not to widen the intent of the Motion for the purpose of increasing its cost. The intention is as stated in the Motion itself. The words show that it is not intended to cover the unmarried mother, the undeserted wife or the divorced woman. Consequently I hope that we are not going to hear any argument with regard to the cost of maintenance of those three categories as being involved in the Motion, and, therefore, I ask that no 1885 reference should be made to them in the discussion, and that hon. Members should confine themselves to the terms of the Motion itself.
The Motion has been before the House on two previous occasions, and it is interesting, particularly to me who has the pleasure of moving this Motion tonight, to read of the opposition which it then received. May I for a moment or two call the attention of hon. Members to the underlying principle of this Motion? In the case of the widow and the dependants of the man who happens to fall fighting for his country, or who died as a result of injuries received, the State has recognised its obligation to his dependants. [HON. MEMBERS "Not all!"] I admit not all. I am dealing with the principle, and not. with isolated cases of neglect, which are irrelevant to the spirit of this Motion. I desire, therefore, to remind the House that the State has accepted that responsibility, and I fail to understand the mind which can differentiate between the man who dies as the result of war services and the man who dies either in mine, field, factory or workshop equally in the service of the community. I suggest that it is not the accident and means whereby a man meets fatality that must be considered. It is that by death the economic foundation of the family is removed and dependency becomes obvious.
Pensions are designed, I take it, not as a reward for services rendered but because there is dependency for which no other body save the State can make adequate provision. Therefore I suggest, purely from the economic aspect of this problem, that there is no difference between the dependants of the man who loses his life in the service of the community, either in mine or workshop, and the man who by the accident of circumstances may have to sacrifice his life as a result of war services. I would call the attention of hon. Members to the consequences of not having made such a provision. It must never be assumed that, because such liability as occurs in consequence of the passing of this Motion will fall on the shoulders which ought to bear it, the State, that amount of money is lost by it. It should be regarded in the sense of all other services, as an investment. It is an investment. We have recognised the right of the aged and the 1886 right of innumerable sections of the community to come upon public funds, and while I have no desire to differentiate, I think it but justice to point out the obvious fact that while, at one end of the scale, the pension to the aged is regarded as a reward conceded for services rendered to the community, at the end of the scale which this Motion is intended to affect there are the young of the State who will suffer injury if they are neglected. It is not a waste of money; it is a very wise investment for the State to prevent the inevitable effects of negligence.
Neglect to make reasonable provision has resulted in creating our weedy youths, our emaciated girls, to whom no one will give employment, who ultimately become a drug on the labour market and fall on Poor Law funds or unemployment funds or some form of charitable assistance. If we realise, what I hope everyone here would realise, namely, the responsibility for the widow left with dependent children, and if we realise also that such a woman should not be forced by economic circumstances into a labour market where the sheer pressure of the necessity of the child life in her home drives her very often to accept intolerable wages and conditions of work, then we shall make progress. This woman is the kind that is exploited by the sweater. She is the kind upon whom the industries of this country are often maintained and fostered. Those of us who have had trade union experience know only too well the impossibility of dealing with the woman who has been driven to accept any conditions that may be offered to her. There is the question whether any form of provision can be made. To that I would refer, because it is very easy, on paper, to talk about insurance. I want to bring the attention of hon. Members to the limited earning capacity of the menfolk of these widows and children. Before anyone talks of insurance against the calamity which creates this dependency, I want him to think of the wages that these men are receiving to-day.
I shall quote one or two typical instances taken at random. The facts I can personally vouch for, because I have been connected with some of the negotiations. We have the ironworks labourer at 34s. 10d. a week, if he is lucky enough to work a full week. But thousands of these men to-day are working only three 1887 days a week, and are taking home less than £1. Will anyone pretend that such a man can make provision for insurance out of that limited earning capacity—[HON. MEMBERS: "Or buy houses!"]—or buy houses, or even bread? The fact is that our industries are largely becoming subsidised organisations, subsidised through the Poor Law, or some form of charity. Another wage common to-day is for an engineering labourer 37s. a week, for a chemical works labourer 47s. a week, for a leather worker 50s. a week. If he happens to be a skilled engineer a man will get 54s. a week, but, inasmuch as the skilled men represented by these wages are a minority of the manhood of the country, no one can argue that the majority are in any way fitted to pay insurance premiums to meet such a liability as I am discussing.
There is a further factor. I am told that the number of widows who have become chargeable to the Poor Law during the last two years has increased by 30 per cent. During the Christmas holidays I had the opportunity of visiting a Poor Law institution. Some of the people I saw there ought to have been at home with their children, creating for them and giving to them that home life which we know is essential to the building up of virile manhood and healthy womanhood. The place was wonderfully decorated, as these institutions are about that time of the year. Nothing that I am about to say will in any way cast a reflection either upon the boards of guardians or upon the officials responsible. The truth is that the circumstances are not of their making. On entering the female ward, in which were the mothers of many children—the children were separated from them—I found the women whiling away their time. Over the door was a motto which read. "Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home." I ask hon. Members to think of the irony of it. It is no laughing matter to me. We have built up institutions in which the management and directorate can be so immune from ordinary impulse that the very people who are ground under their tyranny can be insulted by a mockery of that kind.
I shall not argue the finance of this question. The more you go into finance the more confounded you become, because 1888 every authority has an estimate of his own. If you read previous Debates you will find that the people who opposed this proposal quoted a maximum figure in the hope of killing the scheme. That is the reason why, at the outset, I deliberately limited the scope of the Motion to the two particular sections represented by widows with dependant children and mothers whose breadwinner has become incapacitated. Putting these widows and their dependants upon the same scale of allowances as the widows and dependants of men who fell in the war or died as the result of injuries received, as nearly as it is possible to estimate it, the obligation would amount to £20,000,000 a year. That may sound a big figure, but I ask hon. Members to offset against it what is a liability we have to meet to-day in the case of those who have not benefited by such a proposal as this. If, in the past, we had adopted wise Measures of this sort, these people would have received the upbringing and the sustenance which would have given them virility to take their places as men and women of independent standing. I conclude by asking that this Motion shall not be voted out from any narrow consideration as to the financial obligation involved. One million pounds this way or that way in no wise interferes with the principle of the Motion, and inasmuch as each and every one of us, by our election speeches, built up the hopes of these widows and their dependants, I trust we shall have the courage of our convictions and march into the "Aye" Lobby and vote for the Motion.
§ Mr. BAKER
I beg to second the Motion.
I am glad to have the privilege of seconding this Motion, not because I feel I can add to the information in the possession of the House, but because I wish to associate myself with the proposal under discussion. The Mover of the Motion expressed the hope, almost the certainty, that it would be carried. I believe he is correct in his anticipation. At the same time, I should like to remind the House that this subject has been de bated on four previous occasions, and on three of those occasions it was impossible to proceed because of the opposition directed against the proposal and on the last occasion it was defeated in the Division Lobbies. If it be true that to-night we are to secure a unanimous decision in 1889 favour of the Motion, I regard it as a remarkable tribute to the work of the Labour party in educating the people on this particular proposal. When this matter was last under discussion some of the opponents of the proposal were good enough to say that the Labour Members were vote-catchers in their advocacy of this reform. If I may speak for my party, I would say that this reform is advocated because we believe it to be essential for the well-being of the people and, so urgent is the need for the reform, that the people are willing to accord us their votes. I strongly favour pensions for widows because it is a further step towards the recognition of the collective responsibility of the nation for the wellbeing of every citizen. I suggest that the opposition which has been directed in the past against this and similar proposals, is not due to any unwillingness to expend money but is due to a reluctance to take any step upon the inevitable path towards Socialism. This is an instalment of Socialism. [HON. MEMBERS "No."] I am flattered that I should be interrupted on this, the first occasion I have addressed the House. I say again deliberately that this is the first instalment of Socialism. [HON MEMBERS: "No."]
§ Mr. BAKER
I get the point of the interruption. It is true this is not 'the first instalment of Socialism, but it is another definite step towards Socialism, and I hope the hon. Members who have interrupted me will be converted to the idea of the nation as a family, in regard to other Measures, just as they have been converted to it in regard to this proposal. The people are demanding instalments of reform such as this, and I am glad to know there is the possibility of a unanimous vote in favour of it on the present occasion.
§ The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Snowden)
It may suit the general convenience, as well as my own, if I intervene at this early stage of the Debate to make a few observations and to state the attitude of the Government on the Motion before the House. Before doing so I should like, quite sincerely, to congratulate the Mover and the Seconder of this Motion upon the 1890 earnestness, the ability and the sympathy with which they have submitted the question to the House. They have been happy in the selection of a congenial topic for their maiden speeches, a topic which, if it does not command the unanimous support of the House, will certainly command unanimous sympathy. As my hon. Friend who submitted the Resolution stated, thin is the third occasion upon which this Resolution, or a Resolution in similar terms, has been proposed from the Labour. Benches. I may say that whatever may be the length of the indictment as to, broken pledges which an hon. Member opposite is to submit to the House when a Resolution upon another subject conies to be discussed, he will not be able to include this matter among the broken pledges of the Labour Government. We supported this proposal in Opposition and we support it as a Government, and, if the Resolution be carried to a Division, which I can hardly believe, the Government will go into the Lobby in support of it. I doubt if there be one observation made by either the Mover or the Seconder of the Resolution with which I disagree, but I will be pardoned, and the House will understand me, if I make this comment about one remark of my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington (Mr. Dukes). He said he was not concerned in the least about the financial aspects of the question. Well, in more comfortable and less responsible circumstances, I might have given expression to the same sentiment of indifference. But, unfortunately, to-night I must pay some regard to the financial aspects of this question. If I do so, I am sure. the House will not misunderstand me. We are, to-night, as has been stated, dealing not with a concrete proposal embodied in a Parliamentary Bill, but with a Resolution which enunciates a principle and expresses a demand. With that Resolution I may say we are in entire agreement.
I doubt if ever there was a Chancellor of the Exchequer in a position more unfortunate than that in which I find myself. I am expected to do all kinds of impossible things. The miracle of the loaves and fishes was a comparatively trivial thing compared with what I am expected to do. Unlike a very eminent statesman who has often stood at this Box, I do sometimes read the newspapers, and I read in the newspapers, before I had occupied this position a 1891 week, very well-informed accounts of what I was going to do when I opened this year's Budget to the House. These newspaper writers must be possessed of very extraordinary psychic power, for they were able to read a mind which, at that time, was quite vacant upon these matters. I find, for instance, that I am expected to abolish the Tea Duty. My mind is quite made up upon that matter, and also on that of the Sugar Duty. The Entertainments Duty—that has already practically disappeared; the Income Tax is certain to be reduced; and I hear that the long suffering and the groaning Super-taxpayers are now happy that there is at the Exchequer at last a Chancellor who is in full sympathy with them! If I gratify all these expectations, I shall have to sacrifice at least a hundred millions a year of revenue.
But that is by no means my only difficulty. I am beset, on the other hand, by clamant demands of all kinds for an increased expenditure at the same time. We, as a Government, are committed—and we are glad to be committed—to an increase of expenditure upon certain schemes of social reform and amelioration. We are going to amend the Old Age Pensions Act, and that will take a considerable sum of money. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour is quite certain that I am going to lend a sympathetic ear to all the not quite moderate demands that I expect he is going to make upon me, and the same thing applies to the Minister of Health. We are committed to a Housing Bill, and a not inexpensive housing programme. I am quite willing—I am glad—to do all that I can to find financial provision to carry out these schemes, and if I had the money now, nothing would give me greater pleasure than to be able to include, in the financial provision of next year, even the very considerable sum stated by my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, which the adoption of this proposal would involve. I do not want to be regarded as unsympathetic, and I am simply pointing out to the House my difficulties, but I hope to be able to overcome those difficulties. Give us time. Give us a little time. Give the Government time. Give us time to get through, to pass into law, the 1892 Measures of social amelioration to which I have referred, and, above all—I have only been in this Office a month—give me time to overhaul the national finances, and get them into a sound condition. Then this will be one of the first Measures to which I shall apply the resources which will then become available.
My hon. Friend who moved this Resolution deprecated going into details. I do not know that I need quarrel with the figures that he gave with regard to the cost, for any estimate of the cost of this proposal at the moment must be only approximate, but he admits that it would cost, even on the limited scale he proposes, something like £20,000,000 a year. If I might digress for a moment, I will deal with one point which the hon. Member put before the House. He made a brief reference to the question of insurance, and he claimed that the average wages of the great mass of working people of the country were so low that they could not possibly afford additional insurance premiums to make provision for this contingency. With everything that he said about the low wages I wholeheartedly agree. But I would like to put this to the House: In spite of low wages, in spite of the difficulty of saving, the efforts that the working classes make, through fraternal organisation and by thrift, to provide against these possible contingencies, are simply colossal.
Let me give the House a few figures, and I shall be very much surprised if the House is not staggered, as I was staggered, by the magnitude of the contributions which are made by the working people of this country to-day, in one form or another, to provide for what we colloquially call a rainy day. First of all, let me take the sums which are being contributed by the State towards these purposes. Old age pensions cost the State—I give only round flgures-23,000,000 a year, and war pensions £72,000,000 a year; the Service pensions, for the Army, the Navy, the Air Service, the Civil Service, and the Royal Irish Constabulary, which is an Exchequer charge, amount to £20,000,000. That is to say, these State pensions require from the Exchequer an annual contribution of £114,000,000. Now I come to the contributions which are, more or less, of a voluntary character. Take unem- 1893 ployment insurance and health insurance. The total contributions, including the contribution of the State, to these services is £80,000,000 a year. Non-State-aided contributions, friendly societies, collecting societies, the benefit section of the trade unions, raise £57,000,000 a year. In workmen's compensation there is paid about £6,000,000 a Year, and the insurance premiums, of course, are very considerably higher. Let me give another example of a means of saving in the main adopted for the purpose of making provision in case of need. That is the aggregate investments in savings banks, Post Office, co-operative societies and building societies. Those contributions amount to £131,000,000 a year. Other examples can 'be given, and if we add all the figures together we get the colossal total of £430,000,000 a year, which is now being devoted to this purpose, and it reflects the utmost credit upon the working people of this country that they should endure such heavy charges for the sake of feeling that they may be able to maintain the spirit of independence when the time comes. My hon. Friend is anxious that we should not go into details of this question, and therefore I will not trouble the House with them.
There is only one further point I want to make. There is all the difference between enunciating principles and making a demand, and a legislative Measure. Now the Government accept the principle. We accept the demand, and, having done that, there is an obligation upon us to translate that principle into a practical legislative Measure. That, I may say, we have already begun to do. We have called in to help us some of the chief experts in our various Departments, and they are now going into this matter. The question will be considered in all its aspects, and I hope—indeed, I am confident—that, as a result of their inquiries, the Government will be able, in due time and with no unnecessary or undue delay, to have before them the outlines of a practical scheme, and I shall he much disappointed, indeed, even if the tenure in office of this Government is not very long, if we are not able to add to the record of our legislative achievements a Measure which will do justice to these very deserving people, whose claims ought to have been long ago met.
§ Mr. EDWARD WOOD
I am sure that a large number of Members will wish to take the opportunity of saying something in this Debate, and, therefore, I do not propose to detain the House for more than a very few minutes. I should like at the outset to associate myself most warmly with what fell from the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer as to the pleasure with which all Members in the House listened to the speeches of the Mover and Seconder of this Motion. I think that the House owes them a debt of gratitude for having brought this subject forward, and that in no quarter of the House will there be any disposition to complain of the manner in which they presented their appeal. Indeed, I think it was advanced in such fashion as to command an almost general degree of sympathy in all quarters. Before I comment upon some of the statements that have been made, I should like to preface those observations by one other of a more general character. I think it is broadly true to say that we have been witnessing in the last half century, and certainly in the last 25 years, a gradual translation into the field of legislative and statutory achievements, of a movement of national conscience with regard to State liability towards the victims of what I may call unmerited poverty. In other words, following an idea that the hon. Member has suggested, it has been increasingly the function of the State to recognise, and try to make provision for, the casualties of modern industrial and economic life. While saying that, and without any desire to be controversial, I would, however, like, in passing, to point out to him—I do not want to develop the point—that I am afraid I am one of the people who are able to see a difference between the recognition of the State's obligation to the dependants of those killed on military or naval service, and its obligation to the dependants of those who die in the course of industrial national service. I will not develop that point. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I only refrain from developing it in order to give large numbers of hon. Member opposite who wish to speak an opportunity of doing so. I could develop it, and I have no doubt I could carry conviction to the majority of their minds.
1895 I return to the main point. We have in the last few years been recognising the general obligation of the nation in the field of unmerited poverty. We have recognised it, of course, in the field of unemployment, in the field of sickness, and in the field of old age, and to each and all of those propositions, as and when they were made, I think I am right in saying that in every case there was a general assent on the merits of the proposal. Where there was a difference of opinion, if there was a difference, it arose on point of time, as to the date at which the reform should be made. Perhaps in that regard it is not improper to suggest that it is often easier to profess sympathy in a position of no responsibility than it is in a position of responsibility. But of the ground hitherto uncovered of what I may term unmerited poverty, the Mover and the Seconder were quite right in saying that this ground still remains uncovered, and that there is no case where the hardship is more real than in this part of the field with which the Motion deals. I think, indeed, that the case appeals to us all, for a reason that is one of the fundamental instincts of the British people—and that is a real spirit of comradeship not less warmly felt on this side of the House than on the other—
§ Mr. WOOD
—and which prompts those to whom life has been comparatively kind to stand in, if they may, with those who have seen life's harder side. I am bound, however, to take exception to the observation of the hon. Gentleman who seconded the Motion, in which he appeared to try to intimidate us by suggesting that this was a first instalment of Socialism. The only reflection I make is that if this is all that was intended by Socialism, I should be much less afraid of Socialism and much less opposed to it than hitherto I have been. Indeed, I can assure the hon. Member that if he and his friends limit themselves to action of this kind in the way which has been suggested, that they will cause an entire revision of the views entertained on these benches. I have often thought that it is rather an astounding thing that the State should have made a move in other directions, 1896 such as old age sickness, and so on, before attending to this matter. I will tell the House why. I think the case for this reform is in some ways logically stronger than for the others. Old age, however regrettable and however unpleasant, as the enemy of us all, comes to us if with relentless at least with regular tread. We know that old age is coming. Unemployment and sickness may give us little or no warning of their approach, but they are not generally permanent visitors to our homes. The evil with which this Resolution deals, that is death or permanent incapacity—certainly in the case of death—is apt to come to our doors unannounced, to be his own messenger, and from his summons there is no appeal. There is due warning of old age, and the possibility of recovery in the case of unemployment and sickness, but these are both lacking in the case of death, with which the Resolution is concerned.
The right hon. Gentleman who has just addressed the House is bound by his office to recognise that such reform as this eventually must depend for translation into practical form—as the form in which it is translated must depend—upon the sinews of finance. I confess I was somewhat astonished at the hon. Member who moved the Resolution when he said he was not going to argue finance. I think he expressed the view that those who did argue finance were apt to get more and more confounded. In view of that warning the hon. Gentleman who followed was perhaps wise not to argue finance too deeply. But wherever we sit we must acknowledge its importance. A reform of this kind, or any kind, involving the expenditure of large sums of money must, inevitably depend upon finance and upon the reaction of the necessary financial provision involved on the general recovery and the prosperity of the country as a whole. That is a financial fact to which I should imagine no one can take objection. It was because of that, for that reason, in view of the peculiar stringency of the time, that the then Government felt unable this time last year to pledge the then House of Commons to this reform, then moved in similar terms, I think, to those in which it has been moved to-night.
The Government, and the Government only, can speak with authority to the House, and give the House authoritative 1897 advice upon high finance. We have listened with great interest and attention to what the right hon. Gentleman had to say in that field. He emphasised, as indeed he was bound to do, the need for caution. He let us somewhat into the secrets and difficulties of Chancellors in such times as this, but he perhaps gave us wholly misleading hints of the way in which his mind was working. I had hoped that the life of the present Government would not be so short that he would have contracted large numbers of obligations and honourable debts in various good causes that he would leave his successors to pay! Of course he said that we were not dealing to-night with a Parliamentary Bill, but we were dealing with a Motion such as we are accustomed to debate in general terms in this House, but which does in fact little more than assent to a general principle, for translation of which into actual Parliamentary form of a Bill much more determination and review are necessary by those responsible for its introduction.
Moreover, the Motion we have had to-night, however the hon. Member who moved it defined it in some directions, is a Motion which is couched in, and is indeed unavoidably couched in, very general terms. I could, of course, if it were profitable, elaborate the directions in which, obviously, any scheme of the kind would require very full and very detailed examination before we could form an approximate idea, or, at any rate, an accurate idea, of what the cost is likely to be. I notice that on a recent occasion we had so wide a divergence of judgment as to what the cost of a reform of this kind was likely to be that it was estimated variously between £8,000,000 and £45,000,000. The Mover to-night and the Chancellor of the Exchequer have both apparently fortuitously hit upon a common figure somewhere near £20,000,000. That may be so, and I have no means of judging, but I should have thought myself that the ultimate figure must largely depend exactly upon the provisions of administration, and the actual detailed provisions of the scale when worked out. For instance, are you having any restriction upon means? At what rate are these pensions to be granted? Questions of that sort must suggest them selves to every Member. It is obviously quite impossible for any private Member 1898 of Parliament to pronounce with authority on the cost of any scheme such as this.
I find myself, and I think those with whom I am associated find themselves, in very much the same position as that which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has explained to be his own position. This is not, as the right hon. Gentleman reminded us, a Parliamentary Bill. The Government accept the principle of the reform to which this Motion is directed, and we accept it not less than they do. We, no less than they, recognise that its success in practice depends on finance and a satisfactory form being given to it by those responsible. Speaking for those on this side of the House, I say that if the Government, speaking with knowledge, see their way to accept this Motion, it would obviously be necessary to give very full consideration to the most appropriate method of giving effect. to such a general expression of feeling in the House of Commons. In that I include the desirability of a close examination of the question whether or not this is the best way of doing it. Subject to that, I can most certainly say we do not offer any opposition to a proposal that makes its appeal to our hearts no less than to the hearts of hon. Members opposite.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
On this my first opportunity of addressing this House, I am glad that I am able to rise and support a, Motion in favour of pensions for widowed mothers. I think hon. Members opposite, no less than hon. Members above the Gangway, agree that the provision of widows' pensions is an act of justice to those who are performing the service of motherhood, which is the highest service they could perform, and we feel that they should not be called upon to work as wage-earners and bread-winners at the same time. As the hon. Member for Warrington (Mr. Dukes), who moved this Motion, has pointed out, the principle that is under discussion at the present moment is no new one. I might remind hon. Members that this principle was embodied in the Poor Law Reform Report of 1909 and was there warmly commended. Therefore I think it may be said to date back long before it was included in the programme of the Labour party.
It is noticeable that, although this principle has been debated on more than one occasion in this House, it has usually 1899 been rejected on the score of the cost implied in its application. I want to make this suggestion with regard to the question of the finance of the provision of mothers' pensions. I speak with all diffidence as a new Member of this House, but I should like to suggest to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that it might be taken into account that unemployment insurance, which at the present moment has an annual revenue of something like £50,000,000, will, in normal times, require only half that amount to finance the unemployment charges under that Act. Therefore there will be a considerable surplus, amounting to something like £25,000,000, which could be applied to the provision of mothers' pensions, on the principle that the fund is built up as the contribution of the workers, and might well be applied to the provision for the dependants of those workers who die before their allotted span.
There is one other question which I should like to make clear from the position of a Liberal Member of this House, and it is that I feel—and I think I am speaking for other hon. Members on these benches—that the provision of widows' pensions is part of the general principle of giving to the workers of this country greater security of life. It is in no sense the first step towards socialism. We have already had the national health insurance, unemployment insurance, and old age pensions, and this is the final step to make more secure the position of the great body of wage-earners. For these reasons and on these grounds I have much pleasure in supporting this Motion, which I hope will bring about the provision of widows' pensions in the near future.
§ Mr. PETHICK-LAWRENCE
I claim the indulgence of this House in rising for the first time to address it. I do so because this question of widows' pensions has been one to which for a very long time I have given great attention, and I was largely instrumental in bringing to this country Judge Neil who, as many hon. Members no doubt know, was the pioneer in the United States of the proposal to give widowed mothers pensions, and who has succeeded in carrying it out through State after State until the vast majority of the United States has now accepted this reform. He has from the first maintained this 1900 position, that not merely were mothers' pensions desirable in themselves, but they were actually the cheapest way of meeting a liability which must in any case fall on someone. It is universally admitted in this House and throughout the country that the case of the widowed mother must have our sympathy if for no other reason than this, that she has been called upon to fulfil an absolutely impossible task, because she is, in effect, required to be both mother and father to her children at the same time. If there can be anything to increase our sympathy on this question it lies in the fact that under our present system of taxation she is taxed exceedingly heavily to meet the food taxes at the present time. Assuming a widowed mother to have abandoned completely any hope of those enjoyments which cost money in the shape of, I will not say smoking, but of drinking, she is nevertheless taxed, certainly to the amount of le. in the £, and probably 2s. in the £, on the amount she has to pay, to meet the food taxes of the country. So, as far as sympathy is concerned. I think she has almost the unanimous sympathy of this House.
The question which has been raised, and which undoubtedly will be raised afterwards when this matter comes forward, is that the nation cannot afford: the charge. I should like to put another question. Can we afford not to give widowed mothers pensions? If we do not give pensions to widowed mothers, one of three 'things must happen. Either the widow herself will be seriously overworked and there will be cases, as there have been in the past, where the widow is worked to death; or the children will be under-nourished and under-clothed, or the family has to accept the stigma of Poor relief with all that that implies. Whichever of those alternatives comes about—and probably all three come-about in most cases to some extent in any case—the injury to this nation is very serious indeed, and I consider that whatever may be the argument as to-whether we cannot afford to give pensions, I say there is a very strong argument that we cannot afford not to give pensions. Now we come to the other side, as to the cost. Various estimates, as the right hon. Gentleman speaking from the Front Opposition Bench stated, have been given 1901 as to the cost. Necessarily in a Motion of this kind it does not go into specific detail and variation will be very considerable. We have not decided in this Motion. The right hon. Gentleman pointed out that even though it be confined to widows and certain other classes, nevertheless we have not decided whether it should be given to all or only a limited number in certain circumstances. We have not specifically stated the scale on which that pension should be given, so there is a very large latitude as to the amount of money to which those pensions will come. Large as is the latitude there is a still larger latitude as to the saving which this reform will affect. Of course it is commonly taken that there will be a saving in Poor relief and that is a saving which is obvious to everybody. I suggest there are other savings quite as important, though not so palpable. There are the savings of the cost in hospital both for the widows who go under under the present system and also for those children who, when they grow up, have not got the full stature that they would have had had they been properly cared for in childhood. There is a saving on the side of insurance for ill-health, again affecting both mother and children. There is a saving in the mental attitude of all the persons concerned which is bound to affect ultimately the revenue as it comes along
I would remind the House that whether these monies which the widow needs to support the children are paid for by the State or not, someone must foot the bill. Wherever it falls, there is a loss of revenue. If this money be found by the State, people sometimes seem to talk as though that money was gone. I venture to suggest that the money comes back very largely, not only through the kind of impalpable line of which I have spoken, but it also comes back into the trade and industry of the country, because the expenditure which will be undertaken by these widows will help the staple industries of this country and help to get a steady keel to some extent on unemployment. I would say another word to the Chancellor of thy, Exchequer and those who have to deal with finances. It has been pointed out that in some ways this is a difficult time to make this experiment. I would remind them that this is a particularly favourable opportunity for this reason. 1902 We have at the present time a very large number of widowed mothers already in receipt of pensions because they are Army widows, therefore the number of widows who would come under this civil scheme is a comparatively small number. If we make a start to-day with this reform, then, as the expenses on civil widows' pensions increase, the expenses on the military widows' pensions will decrease, and we shall not feel a sudden burden which we shall feel if we wait till the military pensions have gone down. The Chancellor of the Exchequer naturally gave no definite pledge with regard to what he was going to do in his Budget. He left us in suspense as to whether there was any prospect of introducing this scheme into his present Budget or not. I quite understand he may not see his way to introduce so large a scheme as is put forward to-night. I appeal to him to make a beginning, however small, in this reform. It is quite possible he could make a beginning by giving pensions, say, to widowed mothers of two children and upwards, or three children and upwards. You may say there is no essential difference in principle between a widow with one, two or three children. Of course, that is true. On the other hand, it is also true that it is very much easier for a widow with one child to make arrangements for taking care of that child or even of two children, and as the family increases so the difficulty becomes greater and greater. It would, to some extent, meet the case if the Chancellor of the Exchequer could see his way to make a beginning along those partial lines if it could be possible to do so in the present Budget.
If he does take that step, I appeal to the Members of this House on every side and in every party to give him their support, whatever effect it may have upon taxation. I am certainly not going to minimise the difficulty of making the Budget meet, and of meeting the demands for social reform and for the reduction of current taxation, so long as our enormous War Debt remains. Probably many Members of the House are aware of the attitude that I have long taken towards that question. I recognise the very great difficulty of doing what it is necessary to do unless we have a Capital Levy. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] I am delighted to hear hon. Members on the other 1903 side say, "No, no!" because it will help me in the argument that I wish to develop. But I would point out to the House that, after all, we are a rich country. Taking the countries of the world, there is only one which is really richer than this, and it does seem to be a very serious neglect of the facts of the case if we come to this problem, which all of us regard as one meriting sympathy, and say, "This is too poor a country. We are too poor to afford this simple matter of justice." That is why I appeal to the hon. Members who said, "No, no!" when I said it was difficult to meet the facts without a Capital Levy. I appeal to all those who take that view, whether they said "No, no!" just now, or whether they belong to the other party which rejects this proposal for a Capital Levy, not to leave it to us to say that we could not have these widows' pensions because they reject that proposal. If that proposal be rejected, what about the other forms of taxation?
§ Mr. PETHICK-LAWRENCE
That is an altogether different matter. I say that it is up to all those Members who reject the means which some of us believe to be essential for putting straight the finances of this country, to show, not only by their vote to-night, but by their vote when this reform takes concrete shape, and requires taxation in order to carry it through—it is up to them to show that, even without a Capital Levy, they are prepared to do justice to such a scheme as that which is at present before the House.
§ Major BIRCHALL
I desire to support the Resolution which has been proposed from the opposite side of the House, but first I should like, if I may, to congratulate the last speaker on the speech he has just delivered. Without doubt, he will very shortly attain within the walls of this House the reputation which he already holds outside those walls. While congratulating him, I do not for a moment propose to endorse all his remarks. At the conclusion of his speech he endeavoured to suggest that the Capital Levy was necessary in order to provide what we all desire—the money for this reform. I would remind him that the Capital Levy would—at least, we hope it 1904 would—be made once and for all, while this reform will entail an annual charge, whatever the sum may be, and that, therefore, the Capital Levy in itself would not find the money which is necessary to make this reform practicable.
§ Major BIRCHALL
The hon. Gentleman who seconded the Resolution endeavoured to frighten us into opposing it by saying that, if we accepted it, we should be Socialists. Well, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ripon (Mr. E. Wood) has already said that we are not afraid to be Socialists on those terms. The first advocates of municipal tramways were described as Socialists, and if, by advocating widows' pensions, we join the ranks of the Socialists, then we shall join them, and with pleasure. This is only a first instalment of Socialism. If the other instalments are no worse than the first, we shall continue to be Socialists. I support this reform, in a word, because it protects the remains of a home that would otherwise go to pieces. If a home has already lost its breadwinner, its defender and protector, surely the very least the State can do is to come to the side of the widow and her children who are left, and do the best that it can—it can never replace the man who has gone—to keep the remains of that home intact, and to preserve the few amenities which are necessary for that purpose. In alluding to the main objection to the scheme, namely its cost, I should like to ask whether, in arriving at a figure of £20,000,000—which, personally, I think is probably excessive—any account has been taken of the present cost to the Poor Law in connection with out-relief for the widows and their children? Clearly, a very large sum would have to be allowed in respect of that as a set-off against the cost of these pensions. Again, I suppose it is impossible, but were it possible, has any account been taken of the enormously increased health of the children if properly provided for by means of a pension? Has any account been taken of the present cost of juvenile delinquency—one hardly likes to call it crime—which now occurs owing to mothers being forced out to work when they ought to be looking after their homes, and the consequent running wild of many of the children? Has any account been taken of the cost 1905 of that, and all that it means, as a set-off against the cost of these pensions? I venture to think that, when all things are taken into account, we shall find that the cost to the State is very small indeed, and that this is, indeed, one of the cheapest reforms that we can possibly imagine.
The other objection to this reform is that it will be so easily abused. Such abuse might arise from collusion or from fraud, but, whatever its source, I think the best way of avoiding it is to set up, in conjunction, possibly, with the health committees of the county councils and borough councils, voluntary committees, especially of women, who will undertake to take a personal interest in, and befriend in the best sense of the word, all the widows and children who are receiving pensions from the State. We do not want anything patronising, or anything of that kind, but we do want the real friendship that one woman can give to another who is in trouble, and I believe that that a lone would mean a very considerable improvement in the condition of our towns, if we can induce it by means of voluntary committees, something on the lines of the after-care committees, in conjunction with official bodies like the health committees, whose sole duty it will be to give sympathy and advice to the widows and their children when they most need it, and who will do that in an ungrudging way, simply because they will love the work they are doing, sad will put their whole heart into it. Therefore, I would suggest that, when this scheme becomes practicable, those responsible should seriously think, whether some organisation of that sort will not meet any opportunities of abuse or collusion that might otherwise arise if the matter were dealt with entirely as an official matter, as the granting of old age pensions and so on is to-day. I only desire to say one word more, and that is in reference to the wording of the Resolution. I am rather sorry that the deserted wife has not been included. To my mind there are few more deserving cases than that of the wife who has been deserted. Of course, I know that the probable objection is the danger of collusion, and one is bound to admit that danger. One is bound to admit that but, in spite of the danger, the deserted wife, I think, really deserves as much sympathy and assistance from the State as the wife who has 1906 absolutely lost her husband, and therefore I hope, when the time comes to translate this Motion into an Act of Parliament, the deserted wife will be included. I congratulate those who have had the good fortune to bring forward this Resolution, and I hope it will not be long before an Act finds its place on the Statute Book.
§ Mr. RATHBONE
It may seem rather unnecessary for a new Member to get up and say a word about this Resolution considering the unanimity in its favour on all sides of the House. But I should like to accept the challenge thrown down by the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Lawrence) when he said to those who denounce the Capital Levy that they must show their readiness to support this Resolution I do not support the Resolution because am against a capital levy. I support it on three grounds. I support it on the grounds of humanity and of economy, because, taking a long view, I believe it is an economical Measure. I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer was a little too pessimistic in putting the figure at £20,000,000. Various gentleman who have gone into the matter and who are accustomed to statistics are inclined to put it a great deal nearer £15,000,000. I support it also on the ground of thrift, because I believe, and I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer has shown that I am right, that these measures of social reform have induced thrift and not stopped it. There is probably nothing that makes the father and the husband more inclined to save than the thought of possible early widowhood and possibly a young family of children left behind with out a breadwinner. All of us who are able to make provision either by insurance or by marriage settlements must feel how terrible it must be for the man who cannot do either to feel that their widows and children are at the mercy of friends. If this Measure or some Measure of the sort is passed, it is much more likely to induce thrift, amongst the wage earners than to check it. I support it on one other ground—the ground of anti-Socialism. That may sound rather absurd. I should like rather to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Hobhouse) that he did allude to other Measures which surely are Socialistic if this Measure is Socialistic, and I should 1907 like to emphasise the fact that previous Measures were introduced and carried, not without a great deal of difficulty, by the party that now sits below the Gangway on this side of the House. We have all got so accustomed to these Measures that I suppose it is natural for the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ripon to speak of "us" as though it was "we" on the other side of the House. But I read the newspapers sometimes and I have read that there was a great deal of opposition to various Measures which were introduced in the earlier part of the century by the Liberal Government. To return to the anti-Socialist question, I support this Measure finally because I believe that, more than anything else, it will tend to preserve the family. I think it will be an ill day for England when we must give up the family as the unit of the State, and in our legislation make the individual the unit, which I take to be one form of Socialism. Therefore as a Socialist, from the point of view of the hon. Member for Leicester, I support the Resolution, and as an anti-Socialist I also support it.
§ Mr, S. HASTINGS
I am very grateful to you, Sir, for giving me this opportunity of making my maiden speech on a subject which is so near to my heart and which I regard as of such paramount importance in connection with the future welfare of this country. I look upon the children of the land as the most important capital we can possess. I therefore regard any economy which may result in injury to or loss of this valuable capital as contrary to every principle of sound finance. I therefore support this Motion, if for no other reason, because I believe it will result in a great saving of the child-life of this country. I believe the training and the loving care which the child receives in its home are of very great importance in fitting it for life. Nothing can take the place of a mother's care. Therefore I believe that a mother, if she is at home to look after her child, will have, other things being equal, a healthier, stronger and better equipped child than in the case of a. child brought up in a créche or a school. That is so for many reasons: in the first place, because a mother who is not forced by economic causes to leave her child and can look after it at home can feed it in the way nature intended. In 1909 the 1908 medical officer of health for Salford worked out the death rate of babies who were breast fed and those fed by hand, and he found that the death rate of hand fed babies was more than double that of breast fed babies. Again, the mother who has to go out to work and look after her family as well, or try to look after it, has a very impossible task before her. She cannot give the time necessary. She has to hurry up in the morning—
§ Mr. HASTINGS
He has not to look after the family. I take it it is the duty of the mother to look after the children. My great contention is that, in the case particularly of the young children, babies suffer very much if the mother cannot remain at home and look after them. The mother has to leave them and go out to work in the early morning and return late at night, and then, she has to attend to 'the family and do all the work of the house, and the result is that it has been found that the children she ought to have looked after suffer in many ways. This is not merely my own observation. It has been confirmed by some very important figures which were worked out by the medical officer of health for Dewsbury in 1914, and which I should like to give to the House. The medical officer of health for Dewsbury found that in the case of young children of one year, when the mother had to go out to work and leave them at home, the death rate was 4½ times the general death rate of the infants in that town. These figures seem very extraordinary, but one has to realise that you are pitting the mother who has to go out to work against the other mothers in the better-to-do and more healthy districts of that town who are fortunate in living in larger houses. "Very well," said the medical officer of health, "let us see what happens in some of the mean streets." So he took some typical mean streets of back to back houses in that town and found that where the mother had to go out to work and leave the children the death rate of the babies under one year was nearly four times as great as when she could stay at home and look after them. These figures seem to me very striking, and if such a proposal as we are debating to-night can 1909 result in improved health and in the saving of child life, we ought to support it. The question of the death rate is not the only consideration, because many of these children suffer owing to the conditions of their life and the lack of maternal care. Although they are not killed, they are maimed or their usefulness is impaired for the rest of their lives.
§ Mrs. WINTRINGHAM
I wish to support the principle of the Resolution, but before doing so I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. Hastings) on his very expert speech, the details of which he knows so well. This is a very unexpected Debate. I quite expected a great deal of opposition, and I can only think that the lack of opposition is due to the absence of the late Member for the City of London. I welcome the pronouncement which has been made from all sides of the House, and I particularly welcome the pronouncement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer on behalf of the Government, and also the pronouncement made from the Front Bench opposite. The arguments in favour of this Motion are the same as those that were used at the time of the introduction of the Old Age Pensions Act in 1908. The principle then submitted was that people should be kept off the Poor Law whenever possible, and that it was not possible for everyone to save enough for old age. The principle was also recognised, that it is an obligation on the national exchequer to look after old age. All those arguments can be applied to the principle of widows' pensions with even greater force. As one hon. Member said, old age is a thing that comes upon us not exactly unforeseen, but widowhood, especially early widowhood, is very often an unforeseen circumstance. In supporting the principle of widows' pensions, we are asking that the State should adopt the principle of looking after those who, through no fault of their own, are left in difficult circumstances.
The history of this Resolution has been gone> into in detail. It was in 1909 that the first interest was taken in the subject, after the publication of the Report of the Royal Commission on the Poor Law, which revealed the condition of the 1910 widows who at that time were receiving out relief. It described the physical condition of the children, and pointed out that very often a child of 14, whose widowed mother was receiving Poor Law relief, was only developed mentally and physically about as much as a child of 11 years of age in normal circumstances. Since that times the Labour party have moved Resolutions on the subject. They have twice introduced Resolutions into this House, and have twice attempted to bring in Bills. The Liberal party has had it on its election programme, and the Unionist party passed a Resolution at Plymouth in support of such a Measure. Surely, therefore, with such unanimity, we shall have no difficulty in getting a Measure through this House.
Some hon. Members think that it is necessary to consider the question of cost. I am glad that the question of cost has been mentioned, because we shall have to consider that. One hopes that if the Chancellor of the Exchequer finds that he cannot provide for a very wide measure to cover all the people mentioned in the Resolution he will not throw over the Resolution, but that he will include pensions for widows alone. Some people may ask why we should tackle this question at the present time. Why not leave it to be dealt with when the whole Poor Law is revised, which may come fairly soon. The revision of the Poor Law will not be done in a day, but this case of the widows must not be allowed to drag on, as it is very urgent. Other countries have adopted schemes for widows' pensions, and I know from personal knowledge of the tremendous benefit that has been derived by widows who have been left in difficult circumstances. In 1911, two States of America adopted it, and at the present time 40 out of 48 States have adopted such a scheme as part of their legislation. In Canada six out of nine States have adopted this principle, and in Australia four out of six. It is also the law in New Zealand and Denmark. If we contrast these countries with our own, we are very much behind.
The present position of the widow is that she is generally a deserving woman who would rather starve than rely on charity. She probably works very hard to maintain her home and her children, and loses her health and spirit rather than 1911 accept charity. Take a quotation from Sir Arthur Newsholme in his work on "Vital Statistics." He says:Widows in the aggregate have a much higher death-rate at all ages than single or married women,and he attributes this, in a later passage, to "their social misery." Probably they have married rather young, and they have four or five children; no savings, because of the expense of a young family; the furniture obtained on the hire system; and then the breadwinner is suddenly taken, and the mother has to perform the duties of both mother and father. Not only that, but she has to take up the work of being the daily breadwinner. The alternative for her is to accept poor relief, and every woman feels that this is rather a stigma. If she does not do that, she has to accept charity from an organisation or from relatives, and rather than separate from her children she accepts these various forms of relief. At the present time there are only about 7,000 children who are separated from their mothers and living in institutions. This shows that the majority of mothers rather than lose their children will undergo any hardship. Children belonging to these mothers, unfortunately, cannot be so well nourished or so well fed, or so well disciplined if the mother has to turn out into the labour market. She cannot discipline the children as well as earn her daily bread. From the industrial point of view one feels that the woman's condition is desperate. On account of her desperate condition she takes work almost at any wage and that means that she undercuts in the labour market.
I want this principle of pensions for widows established on the principle of an honourable allowance. We do not want it to be regarded in the light of a dole. We want national effort to preserve the home rather than the institution and we want the home to be a decent home. At present, very often before she can get relief she has to prove that she is destitute. One cannot help feeling that relief given grudgingly is a very difficult thing to bear. I know of one case where a woman belongs to a woman's institute in the village where she lives, for which she paid 2s. a year, Because she belonged to that institute the relieving officer of 1912 the district said she could afford to have less relief. Relief is given so grudgingly that the women have no pleasure in receiving it. The strongest reason for giving a pension to a mother is the right of the mother to bring up her children Motherhood is the greatest service that can be rendered to the State, and mothers should be allowed to bring up their children. I have found, in speaking on this subject, that there are none so keen on this matter as the men who are working on wages of 25s. to 30s. a week. It is a dreadful thing to see how these men feel that they are living from moment to moment without any provision for their future or for their children. It is a great joy and pleasure to me to feel that there is such unanimity to-night and that this Resolution is to be adopted. I hope when the Bill comes before Parliament that it will receive the same unanimous support.
§ Mr. A. YOUNG
I have observed since I have come to this House that there is hardly any necessity to ask for its forebearance for a new speaker. I feel rather diffident in talking on this question, but I also feel rather earnestly upon it, and if I introduce a personal note into what I say I hope the House will forgive me. The reason I feel so strongly on this question is that for over 40 years I was the headmaster in a school, the records of investigation of which has made history in this country. I was headmaster of North Canongate School in Edinburgh, and under the investigations made by the Government in 1901 on the physical training of children, the facts that were found there were so appalling that there was later a Committee or Commission set up to inquire into the degeneracy of the people of England, and out of these two Commissions there sprang that wonderful child's charter, the Act of 1908. All I rise to do is to try to show to this House the absolute necessity of something being done for these poor women who become widows with children. Investigation brought forth this fact, that the children in my school, between six and nine years of age, were 10 pounds lighter than children in a neighbouring school of the best type, that the girls between 12 and 15 were 12 pounds lighter than the girls in that other school. The conditions found there were so saddening that Sir Leslie Mackenzie, now 1913 medical officer of the Board of Health in Scotland, said it was simply pathetic to go into that school and see the children. One of the reasons was bad housing and poverty, but I think the chief reason was that 278 of the mothers of the children in the school had to go out to work, and it was that very largely which was the cause of the misery of the children.
I will only tell one incident, although I might tell many, that occurred to me during that long period of 41 years. One cold morning a little girl was brought to my room more or less in a state of collapse owing to the chill and the cold of the day. I put her before the fire, but as she grew no better I took her in my arms and carried her to her home. There I knocked at the door, but there was no answer. Later her brother, who was sent after me, came up and told me that he had the key of the house. I opened the door and entered, and there I saw a little child about three years of age sitting on the bed, and another little child about five years of age sitting in front of the fire. No one else was there. The mother, who was a widow, was out working. I took the child and laid her on the bed and sent for the officer of health. The officer of health came and prescribed for the child. There was no mother to look after it, and some of the neighbours took charge. Before the mother came home that night the child was, dead. That was merely an example of the many, many cases which one could give. I have always thought it most appalling that our poor unfortunate mothers with children should he left to the tender mercies of a rather ungrateful world. I am glad to see by the attitude of this House that there has been, at least in this matter, a revolution. I remember fighting for the feeding of the child many years ago, and to-day I notice a complete revolution in the attitude of the people of this country. If last century was the century of the man and the woman, I am certain that this century is to be the century of the child. The child is to us our most precious possession, and for that reason we who care for that child should act in such a way as to bring it up to be a healthy and capable citizen.
We are told that there is a well of good in things evil if men will find it out. Out of the evil of the Great War sprang this, that the State at last recog- 1914 nises that the widows and children of the men who gave their lives for the country should be looked after. That great principle has been established, and in this country nothing ever ceases, but goes on inevitably on its course of righteousness and goodness. I am perfectly certain that this House to-night will give this Resolution their unanimous support. The spirit here is to me remarkable. I came up here expecting another tone, and I find it very much different, and I am delighted to make my acquaintance with this House on this important occasion, when the cry of the children at last has been heard. We are a long way from the time when Mrs. Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote:Do you hear the children crying?and asked us to note how these poor unfortunate children were suffering. From 1842 to 1924 is a long way, but it is a long way in advance and in progress, and I feel that in the air there is a new attitude and a new spirit that are going to uplift us. It does not matter one jot to me what has been the name of the party so long as they are in the line of progress along which the spirit of man is driving them.
§ Mr. BIRKETT
The claims for the indulgence of this House have been so frequent during the past few days, and particularly to-night, and they have been responded to with such marked generosity on the part of the House, that I feel that in intervening in this Debate for the first time, particularly at this late hour, my natural nervousness in attempting this or any other subject is somewhat abated. I recognise, as everybody must recognise after the instructive, illuminating, and, indeed, exhaustive speeches which have been delivered already, that it is vanity to suppose that anybody could contribute anything original or fresh, but I feel that I have a certain special obligation with regard to this particular matter, and it is an obligation which, by the courtesy of the House, I shall be glad to discharge by speaking a very few words on the Floor of the House for this Motion, as well as recording my vote in its favour, if necessary. In my own constituency of East Nottingham at the recent election, a persistent effort, of which I do not complain, was made to confine the issue of that election to the state of the lace trade, and to the alleged benefits which would come from certain proposals. We 1915 felt at the time that it was necessary to put before the electorate a constructive social programme, and one which would have to be adopted by whatever administration came into power to carry on the Government of the country, and in the forefront of that programme we placed this proposal.
Because of the public discussion which took place in this matter, obviously, certain matters were brought out into prominent relief and there were two which I will mention shortly. The first was—because we discussed this proposal as a practical proposal—that one heard as one went about day by day at first hand the obvious benefits that would come to the recipients of such pensions as are mentioned in the Resolution to-night. They were benefits which, obviously, could be measured and seen, and they have been referred to by previous speakers and particularly by the hon. Member for Louth (Mrs. Wintringham). The preservation of the home, the better physique, the better moral, the better care for the children, could be measured, but there was one thing which transcended even that which could not, in my opinion, be measured at all, that just as in the lives of all of us there is a certain haunting insecurity which, if we are possessed of the slightest imagination, invades all our life and takes away elements of joy, so in the particular cases of the recipients of the benefits, which would come from a Measure passed under this Motion, they had in excelsis that sense of insecurity which destroyed for them the whole value of life. One observed this at first hand, because this matter had been discussed publicly and there were two considerations. There can be no possible question that the beneficiaries under the suggested proposals would have brought into their lives something which could not come in any other way. There was another thing. Wherever this proposal was discussed there was evidence, among a. multitude of people who could not by any conceivable set of circumstances benefit by this Measure, of an overwhelming desire that at once this matter should be brought within the realm of legislation.
The Prime Minister and the Colonial Secretary have said in this House that 1916 the one note they wanted to strike throughout the country, so far as the Government were concerned, was the note of confidence. From my own personal knowledge and observation in a limited sphere, I would say that there, is no Measure which would better serve the end of that confidence than a wise[...] far-reaching and beneficent Measure such as this. There are two points on which I would lay stress. I support this Motion with all my heart, because not merely will it remove the haunting sense of insecurity with which so many widows are faced to-day, but it is a very definite and practical charter for the children. If there was one note that received wide commendation, so far as I was able to judge, in my election, it was that which laid stress on better opportunities for the rising generation. There were many men who were prepared to stand up and say, "I never had much of a chance myself; I was always handicapped from the beginning; but if anything can be done to give a better chance to the children who are now coming on, I shall die satisfied." One hon. Member to-night emphasised the fact that the widow had to he both father and mother to her children. There is the aspect of the matter from the point of view of the children. A widow is left, and she has to shift and fend for herself, to go out to work, or, to use a. common phrase, "to manage somehow." In such a case the children have no father or mother at all. That is the point to be remembered.
Think of the effect upon the children, upon their physique. What chance has a child got if from the earliest days it is stunted. Moreover, on the question of moral, how easy it is for the child, without the control of father or mother, to get into certain habits and modes of life that all subsequent years can never take away. An hon. Member opposite spoke about juvenile delinquents. One sees something of that. How much of it is due to the fact that the children are handicapped by being without father or mother in such circumstances as I have outlined? I support this Motion on many grounds, but principally on the ground that a Measure of the kind suggested, wisely designed, would mean for great numbers of children the one chance in life which otherwise they would never get. I was glad to notice that in the framing of this Motion 1917 the hon. Member for Warrington (Mr. Dukes) made it perfectly clear that any benefit which was to come from a Measure of this kind was to be quite free from the taint of the Poor Law. I do not forget the remedial measures at present in operation, by which women, in these circumstances, con obtain assistance, but the natural reluctance of people of this kind to take any assistance from the Poor Law is, to my mind, commendable. I am sure the hon. Member for Warrington will not accuse me of trying to impede this proposal, of I say I am not quite certain that he was wise in limiting his Resolution to the two classes mentioned. I think there is a great deal to be said for the unmarried mother.
§ Mr. BIRKETT
I quite agree, and when we come to discuss the matter later on, we shall discuss it fully to decide what we can do in relation to that particular question. As a supporter of this proposal, if I thought it would be defeated because of the inclusion of certain things, I would not advocate those things, but., here and now, when we have the opportunity of speaking at large, I express the hope that consideration will be given to the unmarried mother, the deserted wife, and, in some cases, the divorced wife. At any rate, these are points for further discussion. When it is said that this will cost money, I must, with all respect, reply that when we have a. proposal of this character which commends itself to the sympathy, to the hearts and to the heads of people, we always find those who say, "Yes, we agree, but remember the cost." The Chancellor of the Exchequer was not quite free from that reproach, though I do not for one moment believe that he was otherwise. than in the fullest agreement with the proposal. As that financial caveat is always entered, may I suggest that the last thing. to be said on the matter of finance is that if these things are desirable—and they are—if these things are necessary—and they are—if new methods of legislation are to be adopted by the new Government, then new methods are required for raising money, and when the time comes to discuss that matter, we, too, will have our proposals. In the meantime, having 1918 thanked the House for listening to me so patiently, I desire to say again that I support this Motion as a wisely conceived and, in my judgment, a humane and beneficent proposal.
Lieut.-Colonel Sir WILLIAM ALLEN
It is customary to congratulate hon. Members on maiden speeches, and I desire to do so to-night in the most cordial way. The maiden speeches which we heard to-night need not have been prefaced by any apologies or by any calls for the sympathy of the House because they were most eloquent. I congratulate also the bon. Member for Louth (Mrs. Wintringham) upon making one of her usual cogent, well-reasoned and particularly convincing speeches—though convincing was scarcely necessary upon this subject. She, like another speaker, expressed surprise that there was not more opposition. Of one thing I can assure her. I am quite certain that neither she, nor anybody else, expected opposition from an Irishman to a proposal of this kind. There are possibly some things of which an Irishman is afraid, but he is never behind the door when a golden shower is going on all round. This is one of the benefits in which we can participate, because the pensions service is a reserved service, so I am glad of the opportunity of taking part in this Debate and of welcoming this proposal on behalf of those in Northern Ireland, whom it concerns.
I dare say many of us have been in a court of law, for one reason or another, but I think one of the most pitiable things that ever one sees in a court of law is when the school attendance officer brings forward a mother and prosecutes her for not sending her child to school, and the mother says, "Well, Sir, I had to go out to work, and I could not look after the children." I take it that that is one of the things that after this Bill passes we will never hear in a court of law again. Some weeks ago, when one took up a paper, one read of the possibility of the receipts by the Chancellor of the Exchequer not coming up to the Estimates, but just this evening I happened to lift an evening paper, and I saw that already the receipts exceed the Estimate by £10,000,000, and that the money is pouring into the coffers of the country. At all events, there is the half of your money already, and I think the Chancellor of the 1919 Exchequer should be congratulated on that prospect, more particularly when such a Bill as this is about to be brought forward.
Just one word more. I have a shrewd suspicion that the actuaries who are responsible for looking into this question are not confining themselves to these particular pensions. I have an idea that they are considering a very much broader subject, and the possibility not only of doing this, but of increasing the old age pensions and the pensions for everybody —an all-embracing scheme. It would not surprise me to find that the actuaries are looking into the entire question, and that when the Bill comes before the House it will not simply be a question of these mothers, no matter how necessary it may be for them, but that it will embrace a very wide scheme. In the meantime, on behalf of those whom I represent here—and I would be remiss in my duty if I did not say a word for them—on behalf of the mothers who must go to work in order to feed their children, often, as has been said, underfed, under clothed, necessarily under-educated, and the very children who to-day are perhaps going to school, perhaps not, many of whom will form the men and women of the future who are to look after the nation's welfare —I say that we shall not be doing our duty by them unless something like this is done. On behalf of these people whom I represent in Northern Ireland, and on behalf of my colleagues, I support this proposal and wish the Chancellor of the Exchequer all joy in bringing it in.
§ Mr. HAYDAY
The Members of all parties in this House must feel gratified to-night in the knowledge that their persistent efforts in the direction of securing an acceptance of the principle of pensions for mothers has at last reached a point where there is some hope that the mothers of this country may look in the near future for some easement of the terrible task that confronts them at the moment under certain circumstances. I do want to express a wish that the Government will not accept the principle alone, but that within some reasonable limit of time they will bring in a Measure that will embody the principle, for were that not so, instead of being a message of hope to the mothers of England, it would be a grave disappointment, if afterwards 1920 it were found that, by reason of the question of costs, the Government could not bring in an adequate Measure to deal with this point. Far from this principle having been accepted early. I am rather of the opinion that we are somewhat late in the day, because when one remembers that this great struggle of the widowed mothers has become intensified two-fold since 1920, I think every Member will join in urging an early realisation by an Act of Parliament of the principle accepted this evening, for the long period of unemployment has meant a greater degree of sweating, harassment and depression in the lot of the mother, who has to perform the double task of rearing her children, attending to her own duties and responsibilities, and having to go to employment when that employment was available to-her. Children up at 6 in the morning, two hours before it is necessary, scantily fed, turned on to the streets while mother goes to work; mother back again for the mid-day meal, hurrying the children off to school again, back once more to her work. At night, the children having had the run of the streets, she is expected to make up the, arrears of her household duties, attend to her children, and be mentally and physically equipped for her daily task the day following. It is asking too much; it is expecting too much, and it is acting in a brutish sense, if you allow such a condition of things to continue while you have the power to prevent its continuance.
I, therefore, ask the Government at an early date to take into consideration the promotion of their Bill. I was one who thought that when the health Ministry was brought into being this would be one of its first duties or responsibilities, for what greater task could a Health Ministry be engaged in than that of seeking to retain and improve the general health status of the nation as a whole? Instead of allowing these little black patches of distress, that bring in their train the undermining of the physique and the weakening of the mental outlook of children reared up in the circumstances, if it did its duty in that direction, it would long since have pointed out to this House the dangers of further neglect. The argument as to the interference with parental authority has 1921 only been touched upon by one speaker, who, to some extent, hinted in that direction. It was said at one time that if you intervened in this matter you would interfere with the rights, obligations, duties, and responsibilities of the mother. I repeat again to-night that the nation did not intervene with its compulsory Education Acts solely for the benefit of the individual. These were introduced in the interest of the State; in the interest of having an educated people who should generally apply a developed mind to its service, and would repay for any State outlay in the direction of compulsory education.
The State did not hesitate to enter the homes of the people during the War, and to say to the mother: "You have reared this boy to the age of 18, but he no longer belongs to you; he is the property of the State, he is ours, and we are going to take him." I say you have no right, therefore, to cause premature old age, premature death, desolation, and anxiety to the mother and expect her to rear satisfactorily her children to the age of 18, and then to step in and say, "The boy no longer is yours; he belongs to the State." In the interests generally of a good national asset we desire to wipe out the evil of the past so that a generation of our best shall be reared. If you are going to have these weak spots in our social life, you will rear a generation that will not be fit to take the place of the generation that has been wiped out by the War. That is an added reason. It is also as well to remind the House that in April, 1919, when this matter was discussed here, the present Lord Astor, then representing the Ministry of Health, gave some very interesting figures to the House. He took the census of 1911. I want to mention this because an hon. Member said he thought there was a possibility that the number of widows and their dependent children under the age of 16 might be much less in consequence of the State responsibility to the widows of the men who were killed or died in the War.
The 1911 census showed to us the magnitude of the problem we have been discussing. It showed us there was then a million and a quarter widows under the age of 70. Of these 900,000 belonged to the industrial classes. Of these 300,000 were returned as in employment, but there 1922 was no evidence to show what was happening to the other 600,000, whether they were getting out-relief, or had to depend upon charitable relations, or what was the source or avenue of their income. Four hundred thousand of these widows had children under the age of 16 dependent upon them, the total numbered 800,000. These 800,000 children were dependent upon the widows drawn from the industrial classes of this country for their general maintenance. I would just like to use one or two figures which were given by the Minister of Health in January, 1922, when a deputation of the British Trades Union Congress waited upon him asking that the Government of the day should institute some such Measure as has been promised by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He mentioned that there were 135,000 children of widows who were in receipt of out relief out of a number approaching round about 800,000. What was happening in the case of the other 670,000? Think of the great unknown quantity of suffering that must have been entailed in consequence of that. When one speaks of the cost in these matters, it is well to remember that it would cost anything from 15s. to£1 per week to maintain any one of those children in an institution.
The hon. Member for Louth (Mrs. Wintringham) mentioned the fact that there were only 3,000 children coming within the ambit of this Resolution in institutions, but they were institutions under Poor Law authorities or under some Government control. There are a large number of others in charitable institutions, here, there and everywhere. I agree with the hon. Member for Louth that there is no person on this earth better fitted to take over the proper responsibility of the tuition, rearing and giving advice to the children than the mother. She knows all their little failings, but if she is called upon to carry the double load that crushes her down by working in the morning, and if she is used as a piece of sweating machinery with an inadequate wage and only able-to provide inadequate food, we know the result.
We know that in many families where the earnings are too small to provide proper nourishing food the mother will very often keep a smiling face, although her heart is wrung on account of the children having to go short of food. It 1923 is there that you see the twinges of pain and the look that carries the conviction of suffering owing to the well-nigh collapsed state of the mother, who tries to keep herself up to high tension and remain pleasant in front of her children. We observe her weakened physical condition and her mentally distracted mind. If we wait much longer and pile up on the debit side this loss of life by reason of our inactivity, I think we shall deserve to go down to posterity as a people who paid more attention to interest on £s. d. than we do to this very deserving section of the community.
§ Dr. SPERO
It is customary when an hon. Member takes the plunge to ask for the indulgence of the House, and I do not want to be any exception to that rule. Just at this moment I realise why such a privilege is extended to a new Member. I do not think it is you, Mr. Speaker, who makes a new Member nervous, because although I have only been in this House a short time, I have already looked upon you as almost a father to protect me. Neither do I think it is the genial faces of gentlemen opposite, nor my friends on this side of the House. Maybe it is that at one end of this House there is the cold river, and at the other end the graveyard, and from here, though I cannot see either, I have the uncomfortable feeling that both exist. I have great pleasure in supporting this Motion, and I support it very keenly on medical grounds. I have had experience in working-class districts, and I have seen case after case where young children have developed consumption through want of adequate food and care and attention. The mothers have been left destitute. How could she be expected to support the future of England; not only the future of England, but our future Empire, unless she can produce a race healthy in both body and mind. Therefore it is with the greatest pleasure that I support this Resolution. I would also respectfully point out to the House that our truest civilisation, although it encourages the strong, never forgets its duty towards the weak.
Mr. GILCHRIST THOMPSON
I feel very happy to be given this opportunity, even at so late an hour, of speaking for the first time in this House on this Motion. It has been said that the plea for this 1924 Motion is a sentimental plea; that our hearts would lead us in one direction and our brains in another. I would like to suggest that it is very much more. It is a very practical thing for which we are asking this evening. It is a very extraordinary thing how very long it takes to get legislation on the Statute Book, and how very far that legislation lags behind public opinion. We have recognised as individuals for many centuries the principle that the fatherless and widows have a claim on our common humanity, but we have not, until quite recently, perhaps, realised that that first practical side of Christianity which we recognise as individuals has also an equally strong claim on the State. It is very encouraging to find this evening that the State realises this duty which is laid upon it, and that we realise the ins portance of developing a corporate conscience. In that I heartily agree with the sentiments expressed this evening by hon. Members on the benches above to[...] Gangway.
What is the position of a widow now? She has various alternatives. The children, when the husband dies, may go into an institution—one of those very admirable places where they are doing very fine work; but we know very well how different the institutional atmosphere is from the atmosphere of the home. Or they may be compelled to apply to the Poor Law. I do not wish to cast any reflection upon the way in which the Poor Law is carried out by the officials responsible. It is carried out in a very much finer and more humane spirit than it was some 50 or more years ago. But the fact remains that the underlying principle of the Poor Law is a deterrent principle, and for that reason resort to the Poor Law is loathed and dreaded by those who may have to avail themselves of it. A third alternative is for the widow to go out to work. Those who have had, perhaps, better opportunities of judging than I have, have already pointed out the appalling pressure that may be brought to hear on women, under these conditions, to go out to work, when, from the point of view of the good of the people of the country, the good of the State, they should be looking after their children. A fourth alternative is that which has been proposed to-night, namely, that the care of the children should he handed over to those who are 1925 intended by nature to exercise that care, and are best fitted to exercise it—the mothers of the children.
We are told that the institution of pensions for widows with children may discourage thrift, but we know perfectly well that the classes of the community who will be helped by these pensions are absolutely unable, under present conditions, to lay aside a sufficient sum to help them in an un foreseen emergency such as this.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That, in the opinion of this House, pensions adequate for the proper upbringing and maintenance of children should be paid to all widows with children, or mothers whose family breadwinner has become incapacitated, such pensions to be provided by the State and administered by a committee of the municipal or county council wholly unconnected with the Poor Law.