§ Sir JOHN MARRIOTT
I beg to move,That this House views with apprehension the growth of National Expenditure on Public Assistance, and in particular the extent to which the several services overlap, and urges upon His Majesty's Government the necessity for the adoption of the recommendations of the Betterton Committee on Public Assistance Administration.During the last week or so, this House has been engaged in making provision in the Committee of Ways and Means for the public services of the year. We have been wholly concerned with taxation. To-night I propose to present the other side of the picture. It will be agreed that the opportunities given by the procedure of this House for anything like a comprehensive review of expenditure, are exceedingly few and far between. I agree that in Committee of Supply we do have the opportunity of considering the items of expenditure and the expenditure of any particular Department, but, as every hon. Member knows, that opportunity is very often turned to another and very different account. I would like, if I may, in this connection to draw the attention of the House, and in particular, if I may with great respect say so, of those hon. Members who are relatively new to the House, to the Report in 1918 of the Select Committee on National Expenditure. It is a Report on the financial procedure of the House of Commons drawn up under the Chairmanship of Mr., now Sir Herbert Samuel. I was a member of the Committee when it was drafted, and I cannot but think that it is a document of very first-rate importance with which all Members of this House should be acquainted. In that Report we drew attention to the point which I am now impressing on the House, and we said:The Debates in Committee of Supply are indispensable for the discussion of policy and administration, but so far as the direct effective control of proposals for expenditure is concerned it would be true to say that if the Estimates were never presented and the Committee of Supply never set up there would be no noticeable difference.549 Of course that is a very strong statement, and many Members of this House would feel themselves in a position to negative the final phrase in it, but it does point to the fact that there are relatively few opportunities in this House for anything like a general or comprehensive review of the expenditure of the year on any group of public services. For that reason I welcome the opportunity which has been afforded me to-night by the luck of the ballot. May I, in passing, say that, though I have been a Member of this House for a good many years, this is the first time the luck of the ballot has given me the opportunity of moving a Motion and I mean to use it to call the attention of the House to a related group of objects on which public expenditure is exceedingly heavy.
I would first draw attention to the latest return—No. 26—of the present year, of the total expenditure under certain Acts of Parliament on what are now officially—I think rather loosely—termed "public social services." It is the latest of a series of returns which have been made annually for some years past and which are popularly known as the "Drage returns" owing to the fact that the first of these returns was granted on the proposition of Mr. Geoffrey Drage, who was then, I think, a Member of the House of Commons. Hon. Members will have discovered, if they have studied the return to which I refer, that the form of the return leaves a very great deal to be desired although it has been considerably improved since it first appeared. In recent years several improvements have been effected in the form of the return, but it seems to me that unless you bring very large leisure and very high intelligence to the interpretation of the return it is exceedingly apt to mislead. I do not question that every Member of the House brings high intelligence to bear on the question, but all Members have not got ample leisure.
I want to draw attention also to the report of the Inter-Departmental Committee on Public Assistance Administration which was presided over, if he will allow me to say so, very ably by my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Betterton), who will second this Motion, and which is known, consequently, as the 550 Betterton Committee. For the purposes of the discussion I define "public assistance" as comprising all beneficiary assistance from rates and taxes for which the recepient does not pay, or pays only in part. In making this Motion I desire, as a foundation, to obtain the assent of the House to four or five propositions on which I propose to base the case for this Motion. Those propositions are so self-evident that I think they might fairly be described as axiomatic.
The first, which I do not think will be denied, is that to-day we are spending an immense amount of money on various forms of public assistance. I do not say-rightly or wrongly. I merely state the fact that the amount is very large. In the second place, I suggest that this expense has grown in recent years with a rapidity which to some of us, at any rate, is appalling, but that it is very great is beyond dispute. The third—and this is a very serious matter which deserves the close attention of all students of social problems—is that expenditure in one direction, so far from diminishing, as might reasonably be expected and was certainly hoped, expenditure on similar or cognate objects, seems rather to have stimulated it. Those propositions will not be denied in any quarter of the House. My fourth submission is that this vast expenditure, though we hope it may have done something to raise the general level of comfort, has certainly failed to diffuse contentment even among the recipients. In the fifth place I shall submit that there is a very considerable amount of overlapping in the several services, due partly to defects of administration and due, in part, to ignorance, and in some cases to fraud on the part of the recipients. And finally, I shall ask the House to accept the proposition that better results might be obtained at considerably less cost, but that such results can be obtained only after very careful and comprehensive exploration of the whole problem of public assistance, which will demand deep thought and, above all, very high courage on the part of Parliament and the actual administrators of public assistance.
I do not think that anyone will deny my first proposition, that the aggregate amount of expenditure is colossal. In the Drage Report you will find that the aggregate amount spent during the last 551 year to which the return applied, generally 1922, for England, Wales and Scotland, was £371,750,000, of which we obtained from rates and taxes £277,750,000. From that sum I deduct £89,000,000, included as payment for War pensions, which ought not to be included in any return of public assistance, for War pensions belong to a different category of expenditure. That is one of the defects of the return. Making that deduction the sum left is £188,750,000. That includes poor relief, old age pensions, educational service and the State contribution (but not the employers' or the employés contribution) to Health and Unemployment Insurance. In order to make the picture complete, I ought to add, though it is a very difficult figure to ascertain with any precision, charitable assistance. Charitable assistance has added to this a sum of £23,000,000 in recent years, compared with charitable expenditure of about £16,000,000 before the War. In the light of those figures I do not think it will be denied in any quarter of the House that I am right in my first proposition that the aggregate expenditure is very large.
My second point is that expenditure has shown a very rapid increase in recent years. I do not want to weary the House with many figures, but I must be statistical to a certain extent. The Drage Return shows that in 1891 the total expenditure on Public Assistance was £22,500,000. That was, roughly, 30 years ago. By the year 1901 the total had risen to £35,000,000; by 1911 it had risen to £43,000,000, and by 1921 it had jumped up to £306,000,000. Again, I think the House will not deny that the increase has been very rapid, if not, as some regard it, appalling. My third proposition is an even more serious one. I have said that expenditure in one direction, so far from having diminished expenditure in another, has served, apparently, only to stimulate it. Take only two items. Take the items of education and poor relief. I suppose that LO one will deny that in 1870 and the years immediately after there was a very general expectation and hope that the establishment of universal education, followed by gratuitous education, would at least have the effect of equipping the rising generation against the chances and 552 changes of modern life—that they would be, at any rate, rendered less dependent on public assistance. The bald facts in that connection are exceedingly disappointing and disquieting.
From the year 1834, when the old Poor Law was reformed, down to the seventies, there was a continuous improvement in the situation, as regards the relief of pauperism in this country. In the year 1818, in England and Wales the expenditure on poor relief was nearly £8,000,000, or 13s. 4d. per head of the population. With the reform of the Poor Law after 1834 things began rapidly to improve. In that year, 1834, the expenditure had fallen to something over £6,000,000, or 8s. 9½d. per head of the population. In the year 1849 the mean number of paupers was only 1,000,000 giving a ratio of paupers to population of 6.3. Thirty years later, in 1877, the mean number of paupers had been reduced to 720,000, notwithstanding the great increase of population, and the ratio of paupers to population had fallen from 6.3 to 2.9, while from 1870 to 1879 the expenditure per head on poor relief was 6s. 5½d. After that we ought to have begun to feel the effects of better elementary education. But look at the facts. Whereas we were spending about £7,000,000 on poor relief in 1877, in 1891 we were spending £9,500,000, although at that time we were spending £11,500,000 on education. In 1901 the expenditure on education had gone up to £17,000,000, and the expenditure on poor relief to £11,500,000. They go up steadily together.
§ Sir J. MARRIOTT
I very carefully abstained from any such statement. I am giving to the House a bare recital of the facts, almost without comment, and I ask the House to make the comments and draw the conclusions. I thank the hon. Member for giving me an opportunity of repudiating that statement. I say there was a concurrence of growth of expenditure on education and on poor relief. I did not relate them as cause and effect. Hon. Members must draw what conclusions they please. As I stated, in 1901 we were spending £17,000,000 on education and £11,500,000 on poor relief. Ten years later the education cost had gone up to £29,000,000 and poor relief to £15,000,000. In 1922 education cost had 553 gone up to £80,000,000, and poor relief to £42,250,000. Without in the least adopting the suggestion of the hon. Member opposite, I do say that the mere concurrence of these figures presents a very great disappointment to the hopes of those who, in the seventies, believed that better education would lead to a diminution of expenditure on poor relief.
§ Sir J. MARRIOTT
That is readily ascertained. I thought it was such an obvious fact that any hon. Member would supply it. I have only told half the tale—indeed less than half the tale. I again take poor relief, this time in conjunction not with expenditure on education, but with expenditure on a more closely cognate object, namely old age pensions. Everyone imagined that expenditure on old age pensions would, at any rate, to some extent, effect a diminution of expenditure on poor relief, but what has been the result? In the year 1901, when there were no old age pensions, we were spending £11,500,000 on poor relief. In 1911 we were spending £6,250,000 on old age pensions and the expenditure on poor relief had gone up to £15,000,000. In 1922 when we were spending £19,500,000 on old age pensions, poor relief had gone up to £42,250,000. Those figures refer to England and Wales. Meanwhile there has been legislation on health insurance on which the State is spending £26,000,000 a year; unemployment insurance, which costs £62,000,000, and War pensions, £80,000,000. I fervently hope this vast expenditure has done something to raise the general standard of comfort, but will anyone say that it has averted, or even diminished, unrest and discontent among the recipients? I think the letter bags of most hon. Members would supply a conclusive answer to this question.
I pass to the fifth proposition, namely, that which refers to the overlapping of these different species of relief, a point on which I hope the hon. Member for Rush-cliffe will be able to shed a considerable amount of additional light from his large experience on the Committee over which he presided. I suggest that this overlapping is due in part to defects of administration, and in part to ignorance 554 and, to some extent, to fraud on the part of the recipients. For example, the Denison House Committee—whose activities are well known to many Members of this House, and, I hope, very favourably known—cite the case of a man who was discovered to be drawing two War pensions, one in Kensington and another in Paddington; who was also obtaining relief from the Mayor's Fund; who was drawing something from an infant welfare centre; and who was drawing something from that careful body the Charity Organisation Society; who was in receipt of a police pension from Eastbourne; and who confessed to having defrauded the Paddington Guardians, as well. [HON. MEMBERS: "He was clever!"] He was a remarkably clever person, but I hope that species of cleverness is unique. At any rate, I hope it is not too widely diffused. There was one other case which I had brought to my notice only this morning, a case which occurred in the Clerkenwell Police Court in July of last year, when a certain person was convicted and sentenced to three months' imprisonment for having obtained by false pretentions from the borough council milk to the value of £1 13s. 6d. It was also found that the defendant was receiving £2 5s. 2d. treatment allowance from the Pensions Ministry: £1 2s. unemployment benefit; £2 5s., from the British Red Cross; 18s. 4d., pension; and 12s. 1d. relief from the guardians. I may add that the information about the British Red Cross and the guardians was supplied through the mutual registration of assistance, and if other public bodies had registered in the same way the fraud would have been very much more speedily detected. I referred just now to the very valuable report of the Inter-Departmental Committee on Public Assistance Administration, Command Paper 2011 of the present year. The Report of that Committee lays great stress, though in very cautious language, on this question of overlapping. They point out with truth that many critics have not drawn a sufficiently clear distinction between the two forms of overlapping, namely, the statutory duplication of services on the one hand and the defects of administration on the other. I quote from the Betterton Report:It appears to us that in much of the criticism directed against what is loosely 555 termed overlapping, a sufficiently clear distinction has not been drawn between those forms of duplication of provisions, statutory in their origin, and overlapping properly so-called, the latter being due to administrative defects which may result in the receipt by certain persons of assistance beyond the measure contemplated by Statute.This statutory duplication is to a very large extent the result of a long period of piecemeal legislation, in consequence of which several assistance services have developed each on its own independent line. The Betterton Committee point out that these services have developed on independent lines, and they classify them as follows:(1) Health and educational services. (2) State pensions and State-assisted insurance schemes. (3) Schemes providing cash compensation for disablement or death from service. (4) Emergency and special post-War provisions. The services in the first group have been designed for the special needs of the individual affected by a particular form of infirmity, sickness, or want, and not for general need. … Schemes in the second group have not been designed to meet in full all the requirements of any individual case which has actually sustained the risk against which any one of these schemes provides. Under schemes in the third group compensation is paid in accordance with the degree of the loss sustained. … Services in the fourth group may provide incidentally for full maintenance, e.g., during training, or they may provide for the payment of wages, e.g., employment on relief works.Those are what one would call the statutory services, and the Committee very properly emphasise the point that duplication of services is actually contemplated and is carried out by Statute. But, apart from that, there is the overlapping which arises from inadequate administrative arrangements. This may arise either from the existing chaos—it is nothing less—of areas and the conflict, or at any rate the collision, of jurisdictions. At present there are separate areas for Poor Law administration, there are different divisional and inspectoral areas for national health insurance, for education, for the control of war pensions, for Employment Exchanges, and for insurance, while the Old Age Pensions, as the whole House knows, are administered in areas decided by the Board of Customs. Overlapping may arise from this chaos of areas and conflict of jurisdiction, or it may arise from the failure of administrative 556 co-ordination in either of two ways. I want again to quote from paragraph 108 of the Betterton Report:On the one hand, persons may obtain by fraud assistance under two schemes simultaneously, where concurrent payments under the two schemes are directly or indirectly prohibited by Statute, e.g., under the health insurance and unemployment insurance schemes. On the other hand, persons may obtain by misrepresentation or by the concealment of material circumstances, assistance from a number of sources simultaneously, and in excess of the measure contemplated by Statute, e.g., excessive Poor Law relief granted by authorities in ignorance of assistance received from other sources.The Committee quote the results of a special test which was instituted in three typical towns, Beading, Halifax and Liverpool, a test of the potential value of arrangements for the registration of assistance. It was organised by the National Council of Social Service, and the Report says:The test revealed the existence of a number of cases where authorities whose explicit or implicit duty it was to know the resources of applicants for assistance—Poor Law authorities, education, maternity and child welfare, and tuberculosis authorities—were not aware of grants of assistance to the same individual or to the same household made by other authorities. Thus, out of 2,046 cases in which poor relief was given in Reading and Halifax there were 161 cases in which the Poor Law authorities were not aware that assistance was also being rendered under the maternity and child welfare service; 35 cases in which they were not aware that school meals were being provided by the local education authority, and 89 cases in which they were unaware of the grant of unemployment benefit.I do not wish to quote at too great length from a Report which is open to the House, but I must quote these concluding words:The suspicion remains, however, that overlapping of the type under consideration is widely prevalent and while the scope of the test described above was too limited to enable any final conclusion to be reached, its results do indicate"—and this is a very cautious Report throughout—that there is a lack of co-ordination in the local administration of certain groups of services.These are the propositions which I am going to ask the House to accept. May I, for a few moments, glance at some remedies suggested in this and in other reports? In the first place, the Better-ton Committee advised closer co-operation between the central authorities which 557 control public assistance and between the local authorities which administer it. The recommendations are numbered X, XI, and XII in the Report. They are:X. "That local education authorities … if they provide meals for the children of parents who are in receipt of poor relief, should only do so under arrangements with the Poor Law authorities concerned.…XI. That maternity and child welfare authorities in Great Britain and tuberculosis authorities in England and Wales, if they grant assistance in kind in relief of physical want to families in receipt of poor relief, should only do so under arrangements with the Poor Law authorities.…XII. That in each area representatives of the authorities concerned in the administration of assistance from public funds should examine in conference possible joint arrangements for the economical use of local administrative machinery, especially investigating machinery, and consider the standards adopted by the different authorities for determining eligibility for assistance in individual cases.First, then, they ask for closer co-operation between the central authorities, which control public assistance, and between the local authorities which actually administer it. Secondly, they suggest more comprehensive information in regard to the recipients of all forms of relief. Of course, the ideal would be a single relief register, but I am afraid the difficulties in the way of that are almost insuperable. It would be of very little use unless it were both complete and up to date, but to make it complete or to bring it up to date would—at least, this is my information—involve almost prohibitive expense, which is just what we are seeking to avoid. Thirdly, plainly the time has come—at least in my judgment, and I hope I may convince the House to that effect—for some comprehensive investigation into the whole problem of public assistance. We had, it is true, a very important Commission in 1905 and two very important Reports in 1909, but those dates are pre-historic to-day—I mean, in view of the subsequent volume of legislation, to say nothing of the great catastrophe of the War. Finally, I would suggest that the time has come to consider whether it would not be wise to set up a single co-ordinating authority for public assistance on the lines of the Commission of Inquiry and Control which was established under the Act of 1834.
558 I am afraid that I have rather sorely tried the patience of the House. I have imposed upon it a terrible mass of figures, mainly relating to national expenditure—the expenditure of the State and of local authorities—in various forms of public assistance. But I should be very sorry to sit down, having left on the House the impression that I am viewing, or attempting to view, these problems exclusively, or even primarily, from the point of view of national expenditure. It is, indeed, as I have attempted to show the House to-night, exceedingly serious in that aspect, but that is not the whole of my case nor the most important part of it. I am thinking even more I hope—and I trust the House will believe me—of those who are exposed—I speak advisedly—to the temptation of this spate of public benevolence. An hon. Member smiles, but I hope he will believe what I say in that matter is very sincere. We were told the other day by the Archbishop of York, I think it was, that the ideal of the conscientious teacher was less to teach his pupils than to teach them how to teach themselves. I agree, but similarly I suggest the prime object of public assistance should be, not so much directly to help the recipients, as to help them to help themselves, and I am very far from "pessimistic as to the possibility of doing it, for, in the first place, I am very well aware of the extent to which large sections of the population—yes, and of those sections of the population who live by the labour of their hands—are already helping themselves.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in a speech which he made in this House last year, confessed—I am quoting his words—that he was staggered by the magnitude of the contributions which were made by the working people of this country in one form or another to provide for what we colloquially call "a rainy day." Since he made that speech in the House, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has been kind enough—and I wish to acknowledge his courtesy—to furnish me with the items on which his aggregate figures, which then greatly impressed the House, were built up. The items are these—the year is in most cases 1922, or the latest available year—friendly societies collected £9,000,000, the collecting societies £7,088,000, trade union benefit funds are estimated at £8,000,000, industrial 559 assurance companies at £31,500,000, making a total of £55,500,000. Then the Post Office Savings Bank—these are gross deposits for the year ending March, 1924—£81,300,000, trustee savings banks £40,000,000, railway savings banks £4,000,000, co-operative societies—this is the average net increase in shares and deposits — £4,000,000, and building societies £21,000,000, making a total of well over £200,000,000 a year. We are said not to be a thrifty people, but it seems to me those figures afford a wonderful illustration of the thrifty habits of a people which is too rarely credited with that particular virtue. I have a second ground for optimism. We have had before to face in this country an exactly parallel social crisis, and that crisis, like the present, followed immediately after the conclusion of a great war. We had to face it, and we faced it successfully, and we emerged from it. In some respects, I think, the situation of this country during those 15 years after Waterloo was worse than it has been in the years since the late War. There was far more acute suffering, far more disorder and crime. There was, I think, on the whole, greater dislocation of industry, and certainly greater dislocation in agriculture. For example, in Dorset alone, in five years after Waterloo, from 1815 to 1820, 52 farmers, farming altogether 24,000 acres, went into the Bankruptcy Court.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
Was it not under Protection that all this distress occurred after the Napoleonic Wars?
§ Sir J. MARRIOTT
I leave the hon. and gallant Member to answer that from his historical knowledge. One-third of the banks stopped payment in the years 1814–15. There was a very great deal of currency disturbance, which, on the whole, we have avoided by the wisdom of our rulers, and, still more, of our bankers in the last few years. But, above all, owing to these currency disturbances, there were the most violent oscillations of prices. In one year, 1813, wheat touched at one end 171 shillings a quarter, and by Christmas of the same year it had fallen to 75s. There was a violent fluctuation in prices, 560 and trade and agriculture were, in consequence, a mere gamble. To come back more closely to our present subject tonight, look at Poor Law administration of that day. I hope most hon. Members of this House are not only acquainted but familiar with the Report of the Poor Law Commission of 1834. Apart from the statistical information it contains, it is a human document of enthralling interest, and it presents a terrible picture of demoralisation, and even of corruption. We emerged from that crisis in large measure thanks to the work of the Commissioners, and the reforms which were based on their recommendations. Those reforms were very drastic, and hon. Members are acquainted with the lines they took. But the result of the Act passed—passed, let me remind the House, by the Reformed Parliament by a majority of 299 to 20—was, in Mr. Gladstone's words, to rescue the English peasantry from total loss of their independence. Three-quarters of a centrury passed, and another Poor Law Commission, of which I was going to say the President of the Board of Trade was a member, but he was not, though a near relation of his was, and it is generally understood he had a considerable part in the framing of the Minority Report. The right hon. Gentleman opposite cheers that observation. May I recall to his recollection one sentence, and one sentence only, from that Report? It is this:The present position is, in our opinion, as grave as that of '34. What the nation is confronted with, as it was in '34, is the ever-growing expenditure from public and private funds which result on the one hand"—These are the words of the right hon. Gentleman opposite:in the minimum of prevention and cure, and on the other hand of a far-reaching demoralisation of character and the continuance of no small amount of unrelieved destitution.At the time that Report was made the total expenditure was, I think, about £14,000,000 on poor relief.
§ Sir J. MARRIOTT
Exactly. I never suggested otherwise. I was about to proceed, when I was interrupted by the right hon. Gentleman, that at that time not one penny was being spent on old age 561 pensions, not one penny at that time the Commission was appointed was being spent on Health or Unemployment Insurance, while the expenditure on education was about one-third of what it is to-day. But as we saved ourselves in 1834 I believe we shall save ourselves again. No one would desire a repetition of the remedies applied in 1834 They would not be tolerated by the softer and more sentimental public opinion of to-day—
§ Sir J. MARRIOTT
That was not "rose water surgery" in 1834, as Carlyle said. It was hard, but it saved the nation, and above all it saved those who were most immediately affected by poor relief; yes, it saved the mass of the peasantry of Southern England, and restored to them, in words which I think are historic—their moral dignity and their economic independence.I hope I may say that I am not attempting to prefer an indictment against a nation, least of all against my own nation or any particular class within it. Far be that from me. But I do ask the House to insist once more upon a comprehensive investigation into the whole problem of public assistance. Existing arrangements—system you cannot call them!—are socially mischievous, they are, in my view, politically dangerous, and financially they are almost intolerable. They are the product of piece-meal legislation, legislation which has promoted neither social contentment nor industrial productivity. They are to the political parties—to all parties—a terrible temptation to wholesale bribery of the electorate. Above all, they have reduced a considerable section of the population to a condition of things not very far removed from that which compelled the drastic intervention of the reformed Parliament of 1834. I have already indicated certain lines following those suggested by the Betterton Committee, which might immediately affect some degree of improvement, but those recommendations, as I am sure my right hon. Friend will realise, are merely preludes. What I have in mind is a much larger measure of remedial reform; a measure, to the acceptance, of the principles of which I believe I can persuade all sections of this House I beg the House to give an opportunity later on to deal with this matter. Meanwhile, I thank 562 the House very sincerely, for the patience with which I have been listened to. I earnestly beg hon. Members with all the earnestness and sincerity which I can command, to consider the points which I have ventured, I hope not too dogmatically, to urge upon their attention. I hope at no very distant date I may be permitted to lay before the House a comprehensive scheme for placing the great social services on a footing much more satisfactory than that which they occupy to-day.
§ Mr. BETTERTON
I beg to second the Motion.
The House, I am sure, is grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this question tonight. There is no subject which is of greater interest and which in any sense is more worthy of serious discussion than this one. I think the House will also be grateful to my hon. Friend for the invaluable speech, full of illuminating information, which he made in support of his Motion. The Committee which has been referred to of which I was Chairman was set up, as the House probably knows, as a result of correspondence between the right hon. Gentleman who is now President of the Board of Trade and the late Mr. Bonar Law. I think I am not misinterpreting the view of the right hon. Gentleman when I say that he would probably have preferred that our terms of reference should have been larger, that we should have gone rather more into the merits of various schemes, and that our inquiry should have taken a much more extensive scope. If that criticism be made, I would say this, first that we as a Committee were bound by our terms of reference, and, secondly, that an inquiry extended more widely would hardly have been considered the proper subject for a Committee at all; such would have been referred to a Royal Commission. Hence in the few observations I am going to make I am going to confine myself to the Report itself, the recommendations which it makes, and to the suggestions which are made by way of remedy.
Members of the House who have studied the Report will, I am sure, agree, and will believe me, when I say that this Inquiry, or rather the Report, is not really much indication of the amount of labour which the Report involved. In addition to the 15 or 16 meetings which we held, we had an immense amount of 563 documentary evidence to consider, and various small Sub-Committees were appointed to go through the various aspects of the case. My hon. Friend the Member for York (Sir J. Marriott) was kind enough to say some kind things about the Report itself, but I should like to pay a tribute to those civil servants who were my colleagues on the Committee and, who in addition to the normal duties of their office, undertook the most arduous and difficult task imposed upon them, and but for whose experience and industry this Report would have been impossible. I do not for a moment profess that I have any practical experience in the administration of the various schemes. Indeed, I say this, that until I presided over this Committee, I had never given the matter that detailed study which afterwards I found myself obliged to give. The impression that I got at a very early stage in our inquiry was that I was impressed by the multitude, the diversity and the complexity of the whole of these schemes which, in the aggregate, go to make up our public assistance. This view is reflected in the Report itself, which states in paragraph 54:The various schemes as they stand to-day have grown up piecemeal in a long period of years, and plainly bear the marks of their historical development. This development strikingly illustrates the process of specialisation, which is the natural comcomitant of the increasing complexity of civilised life, and the difficulties which attend the introduction of specialised methods. The various services have, for the most part, been instituted at different times, and have developed on a number of independent lines. They have been designed to provide for special contingencies as the need or demand for them became apparent, frequently by different methods and in different measure; different principles have entered into the conception of services providing for closely related forms of need, and different forms of administrative machinery have been set up for services broadly similar in purpose.The House will agree, because it is an historical fact about which there can be no dispute, that up to comparatively a few years ago, say 25 or 30 years, the theory was that there should be a single authority, namely, the Poor Law, which was competent to deal with all forms of public need, but during the last 25 years you have seen a large number, as the Report shows, of new systems of insurance that have been created, and from all of them it has been the object of the legislature 564 to remove what is called the taint of pauperism. Now the Poor Law, instead of being the sole agent of public assistance, has become an alternative or supplementary system. It is not likely in my view that these demands for assistance are likely to diminish. As they have increased during the last 25 years, there can be no doubt at all about their continuance, and oven an increase of them may be contemplated. Some of these schemes are contributory and some are non-contributory. Some of them are discretionary and some are not, and my conclusion, after going into this matter with the greatest care of which I was capable, was one of surprise, having regard to the number and diversity of these schemes, that the, gaps in administration were not greater than we found them to be. My hon. Friend the Member for York gave instances which sounded very glaring cases of fraud. Of course, no system of administration, or indeed statutory provision, will protect us against the man who is determined to defraud us, and the only way to deal with such cases is to catch the man and send him to prison. On that point I would remind the House that the Committee was not unmindful of the possibility of such cases, and we say in paragraph 109:A certain number of prosecutions are instituted from time to time by the Departments concerned on the detection of fraud, but we have no reason to believe that cases of overlapping between such schemes as the health insurance and unemployment insurance schemes or between either of these schemes and the old age pension scheme are of more than exceptional occurrence. In these circumstances we do not feel called upon to make any suggestions as to the modification of existing arrangements.I do not propose to deal in detail with these various recommendations, but I propose to ask the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade to be so good as to indicate to the House which of these recommendations have proved valuable, which have been carried into effect, or which it is contemplated will be carried into effect. There are just one or two upon which I will say a word. The first one is recommendation No. 1. It was suggested by the right hon. Gentleman himself, and there was some justification for it, that different medical standards had been adopted in determining physical and mental capacity under health and unemployment schemes 565 respectively with the result that insurance benefit has been withheld on the ground that they are not incapable, and on the ground that they are capable of working, and in consequence such persons have been deprived of benefits under those schemes. Then we go on to say that we have gone fully into this question, and we do think that there are occasions when gaps have occasionally occurred. In dealing with that most important question we make a recommendation:That the Ministry of Health, the Scottish Board of Health and the Ministry of Labour should consider the adoption of arrangements to prevent conflict of opinion as to physical or mental capacity to work under the health and unemployment insurance schemes.And then we suggest that ultimately the matter should be referred to the Regional Medical Officer of the Ministry of Health whose decision should be final. I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether that recommendation, which seemed to us to be one of considerable value, has commended itself to the Ministry of Health, and whether it has been thought fit to put it into operation. The second recommendation is one of comparatively small importance but we recommend:That the Ministry of Labour should take further steps to bring home to their local officers and to local committees the importance of a correct statement of the statutory grounds upon which claims to benefit are disallowed.I should like to ask the Minister of Labour whether that recommendation has commended itself to him, because not only did we hear evidence during this inquiry which went to show that there was considerable justification for making this recommendation, but I well remember when I was at the Ministry of Labour I was asked questions which seemed to suggest that this recommendation was one which would bear useful results. The third recommendation is one which concerns the approved societies. There was a suggestion in evidence that, as between the various approved societies, some were a good deal more expeditious than others, and some were more efficient than others. The recommendation is that the Ministry of Health should carefully watch the administration of cash benefits of approved societies from the point of view of the time taken in the settlement of 566 claims, and should use every endeavour to secure the general adoption of the standard set by the most efficient society. Our object there was to bring up the less efficient to the plane of those who had proved most efficient.
There is one point to which I want to refer in rather more detail and that is the point referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for York, the general question of arbitration. When I approached consideration of this question, I formed, prima facie, the opinion that if some universal and compulsory form of registration were possible, that it would have results which might possibly be justified. But on going much more deeply into it and hearing the witnesses that came before us on this question, the conclusion that I and the Committee came to was that any universal system of registration is utterly and entirely impracticable. I will give the House the reasons why. First, I would remind the House of the tremendous magnitude of the figures of the number of members who would need to be included. Those figures for Health and Unemployment insurance cover respectively 15,000,000 and 12,000,000 persons in Great Britain. It is estimated that 400,000 persons received cash payments each week under the Health Insurance scheme through some 8,000 different approved societies and branches, and at the present moment, as we know, there are something over 1,000,000 persons unemployed. There are 2,300,000 persons, men, women and children, receiving pensions and allowances under the War service pensions and compensation scheme, and the Ministry of Pensions and it is estimated there are something like 12,000 variations weekly in Great Britain. The House will see that to begin with, as my hon. Friend pointed out, to have a universal compulsory scheme of registration would involve enormous expenditure, and an immense number of officials to report all this various information. There is another difficulty, and it is this. The register, so far from being helpful, would actually be a delusion unless it was kept up to date day by day, so the House would see that not only have you an immense task to get it into operation, but having done so, unless you keep it up almost hourly to a point of complete accuracy, it may actually let you down. There is another point, and 567 it is this: that this information, even if the register was put into operation, really is irrelevant to at least two of the authorities concerned, because it is no part of the duty of those administering War pensions to inquire whether the man who is entitled to a War pension is getting assistance from anywhere else. The man having earned and having been allotted his pension, it is no concern of anyone else what other source of income he has. The same applies to insurance. So having, as I say, given the most careful consideration to this most important point and having started pre-disposed in the direction that a register would be a good thing, I and my colleagues have come definitely to the conclusion that a compulsory register is neither practicable nor desirable.
But having said so much, I do want to call attention to a recommendation that we make on this point. The idea of this question of registration is no new thing, because as long ago as 1869 Mr. Goschen, then President of the Poor Law Board, communicated in a Minute to the Metropolitan Board of Guardians the desirability of establishing a register of relief for the Metropolitan area with a view to securing the fullest possible co-ordination between the Poor Law authorities and charitable agencies. But it is a significant fact that this principle received official endorsement, but the actual development of the scheme had been left entirely to voluntary effort. I will not weary the House by referring in detail to certain schemes, such as the Birmingham scheme, which is in operation. I would conclude by referring to the recommendation we make on that point. We recommend that the central and local authorities concerned should promote the formation of voluntary effort in areas for which such an organisation appears to be desirable, of local councils, constituted on the lines previously suggested, who, among other things, should organise voluntary schemes for registration of certain forms of assistance, supervise the work of an officer to be appointed to give and advise as to procedure. The House will see that recommendation made, after the most careful consideration of the whole subject, is a very different thing from the suggestion of anything like a compulsory scheme. I know many of my 568 hon. Friends want to take part in this Debate, and I do not feel justified in taking up any more of the time of the House, but I should like to say in con elusion that, if the result of our labours has been to cause some of these defects in administration to which we have referred in detail to be remedied, and if at the same time it has done anything to call the attention of Parliament to the desirability of the revision, unification, and simplification of our whole system of public assistance, then our labour will not have been wasted and the time expended not expended in vain.
Mr. TREVELYAN THOMSON
I am sure the House will agree in congratulating the hon. Member for York (Sir J. Marriott) on giving us the opportunity of discussing the valuable Report of the Committee presided over by the hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Betterton) We all feel that, owing to the haphazard, piece-meal way in which our various forms of public assistance have grown up, there is, undoubtedly, a large amount of overlapping, such as was pointed out in the Minority Report of the Poor Law Commission in 1909; and, although the hon. Member for York referred to that Report as prehistoric, many of us feel that it is a prehistoric example which we should do very well to carry out. Overlapping has taken place to a large extent since then, and cries aloud for redress to-day. Having said that, I must confess that much that the hon. Member for York said led one to rather a different conclusion. It seemed to me, though I may be wrong, that the figures he gave and the use he made of them led one to the supposition that he rather deplored the large increase in public expenditure, whether it be for education, or whether it be for the other forms of what he called public assistance. Surely, money spent on education is for public service rather than public assistance, and it is a public service that we welcome and would rather increase than decrease. What connection there was between the increase in the money spent on education and the increase in Poor Law relief, I must confess I failed to see.
The hon. Member compared the year 1877 with to-day, but, surely, 1877 was a period of unexampled industrial prosperity, when the amount of Poor Law relief was, naturally, at a very low ebb, 569 whereas we all know that in 1922–23 we have been going through a period of unexampled industrial distress. Therefore, the conclusions that the hon. Member seems to draw are hardly well founded. I do agree with him that the amount and growth of expenditure is a matter that should cause us considerable apprehension, not so much in regard to the amount as to the incidence of the burden which is cast upon one section of the community as opposed to another. In the financial statement issued with the Budget, we are told, and it was quoted by the hon. Member for York, that the amount of expenditure in local rates has increased to £161,000,000 for England, Scotland and Wales. That is an appalling sum, and, if we translate it into an equivalent of Income Tax, it is, in effect, equal to an Income Tax of 2s. 8d. in the £. That is presuming that it were spread equally throughout the country, but we know that the burden of these local rates is very far from being spread equally all over the country, and that, whereas in some districts, according to the latest returns from the Ministry of Health, the rates are as low as 8s. or 9s., in others they exceed 20s., and even 25s. Therefore, although there is an equivalent to an additional Income Tax, in the way of local rates, of 2s. 8d. in the £ if averaged throughout the country, yet when you get this differentiation, one district being three times more heavily rated than another, you have, in effect, an additional Income Tax equal almost to 6s. in the £, which is a burden directly upon industry.
At Question Time to-day the Government were asked what they would do to help and assist the heavy iron and steel industry, and I do not think the reply was particularly sympathetic. I would suggest to the President of the Board of Trade that, if he wishes to relieve and assist industry, no better method could be found than by tackling this question of the incidence of local taxation, which is placing an appalling burden upon industrial areas, and which is crippling and hindering the revival of trade in a way that is hardly realised by those who are not brought directly in contact with it. Heavy taxation is bad, but it is nothing compared to heavy rating. In the one case the Income Tax is a tax which falls on profits, on moneys that have been made, whereas rating is a burden which falls on the production of manufactures, 570 and is a capital charge and a tax on industry before the profits are made. Therefore, I submit that there is a good deal which should concern us in this increase in local taxation, amounting to £161,000,000 throughout the United Kingdom, which falls in its incidence unequally and unfairly in different parts of the country.
With regard to the expenditure itself, I do not share in the criticism of the hon. Member for York. It seems to me that the test is whether the expenditure is on subjects which are worthy of the attention which has been given to them, and whether the return is adequate. The hon. Member suggested, as I understood him, that, judged by the product of our schools, and by the Poor Law returns, it was doubtful whether we had got value for our money; but I submit that there are other tests, and that, if you have regard, not to the rate of taxation, but to the health rate, the death statistics, the mortality statistics of the country, you will find an improvement in those rates which more than justifies a large part of this expenditure. The length of life has been extended very considerably during the last 30 or 40 years, largely owing to many of the remedial measures included in public assistance. In the Betterton Report the maternity and health centres of our large towns are referred to, and there is also Health Insurance generally, the feeding of school children, and other methods of public assistance which have added very considerably to the improvement in the health of the community. To that extent we are, I submit, the richer and the better for this large expenditure. In fact, instead of seeking to curtail it, I think the moral to be drawn from the figures given is that, while preventing the overlapping which is taking place, and while making sufficient economies and co-ordination to prevent waste as it may occur, owing to the multiplicity of authorities, we should rather extend the assistance which is given, in order to encourage and help people further to help themselves.
At the end of his speech the hon. Member for York referred to the evidence which had been given to the House by the Chancellor of the Exchequer as to the extent to which people were helping themselves—evidence which, I am sure, was 571 most encouraging from every point of view. I submit that the conclusion we should draw from the figures generally given in the Betterton Report as to this growth of expenditure, is rather that we should link up the various methods of expenditure so as to fill up the gaps and complete the remedial work which is being done, and that we should not decrease the expenditure, but rather see that the money is more wisely spent and that that security is given which so often is lacking. The hon. Member for York said that when the time came he would have an opportunity of expounding a better way. I cannot help regretting that he did not tell us something of the better way which he had in his mind. Some of us feel that those various forms of insurance to which the hon. Member for Rushcliffe referred, which have grown up in a more or less haphazard way in recent years, require co-ordinating and extending and improving so that they may give more complete security to the worker with regard to ill-health, unemployment, disability and old age. If we could only co-ordinate, extend and supplement these various methods of insurance we should be getting better value for the money we are spending. I hope the conclusion the House will come to as the result of this discussion is not that we should deplore the growth of expenditure, but that we should be encouraged by the valuable returns which have been secured, returns in greater contentment and in greater security which have been given up to the present, and that we should be encouraged to amplify them so that we complete that security and add to that, contentment which undoubtedly has been given during the past century or so.
I should like to ask the President of the Board of Trade to have regard to the unequal incidence of this burden of rating, which hits various districts most unfairly. Many services which have been imposed by the House on local authorities during recent years are in the main national services, and local authorities feel that the cost should be borne toy the nation to a greater extent than it has been at present. You have the most extraordinary differences with regard to education, poor relief and local services generally. You have an education rate in some districts 572 of 1s. or 1s. 2d. in the £, whereas in other districts you have a rate up to 4s. 10d. The measure of that expenditure is fixed very largely by this House. Local authorities have very little say indeed as to the extent to which they may or may not spend the money. The Burnham Scale, fixed outside the local authorities, imposes upon them the standard of their expenditure. It is the same with regard to poor relief, due very largely at present to unemployment, which the Government have told us is a national charge, and therefore I appeal to the President of the Board of Trade to use his influence and see that these national charges, education, unemployment, main roads—these various services should not be left to the local authorities, but should be borne to a much greater extent in the future than in the past by the State. The whole question of the incidence of taxation is a large one. It has been under the consideration of Governments for the List 20 or 30 years. But the situation to-day is worse than it ever has been. Districts are overburdened and oppressed by these appalling rates, and it is time something was done—you cannot review the whole system, but it is time some remedial measures were taken to relieve those districts which are being crushed by this excessive burden.
§ Lord H. CAVENDISH-BENTINCK
I am sure the House has listened with very great pleasure to the comprehensive survey which my hon. Friend the Member for York (Sir J. Marriott) gave of our vast expenditure on public assistance. If I may poach on ground which he has made his own, and if I may carry on the parable where he has left it, I am sure he will agree with me that, the best way of obviating the wasteful expenditure upon the Poor Law is to prevent the working man having to have recourse to the Pool-Law at all. My hon. Friend asked whether this vast expenditure of public money has brought any contentment in the minds of the people. Here again I am sure he will agree with me that the best way of causing the greatest amount of content in the public mind is to remove as many as possible of those uncertainties and injustices which affect their lives. That can only be done by some well-thought-out comprehensive scheme of social insurance—take them entirely out of the area of the Poor Law and close up some of those gaps and holes which 573 let the working man down into undeserved poverty. If I may give a catalogue of the exigencies which affect the working man, which interrupt his power of earning and depress his standard of life very often into undeserved destitution, the list is a long one. There is industrial accident and industrial disease, non-industrial accident and non-industrial ill-health, unemployment, invalidity, old age, blindness and the death of the bread-winner leaving the widow and children unprovided for. The insurance schemes have done a great deal to mitigate the hardship of this uncertainty, but there is still much to be done. The miner, for instance, though he may work without accident for the whole of his life may get pneumonia on his way home from the pit and be suddenly carried off. In the same way the highly-paid artisan may be run over in the street and leave a widow and family. There is also the fact that a large number of working people lose their earning capacity at the age of 60 or 65. Sir William Beveridge said he did not believe for a moment that a man of 60 was not capable of earning his living. That may be true, but at the same time there are many thousands of people over the age of 60 who cannot get any work to do, and I am sure a large proportion of the unemployed must be over that age,
There are several methods whereby we can produce a comprehensive and well-thought-out scheme. In some quarters there is an idea that the cost must be put entirely on the shoulders of the taxpayer, but I think those who say that are using words without knowledge, because after all no Chancellor of the Exchequer could afford to forego the £50,000,000 or £60,000,000 he now raises through the insurance scheme. After all, I do not believe it is by any means certain—there is no evidence to that effect—that the people of the country resent in any way the idea of insuring against old age, unemployment or widowhood. In fact I am sure if you could prove to the workers that they would be gainers by it they would not mind even adding to their contribution. We can either have a complete scheme of insurance or a partial scheme. As far as I have been able to make out, the only person who has more or less thought out a complete scheme of insurance is a gentleman called Cohen, I believe a professor 574 at Cambridge, who has given a good deal of thought to the subject and has published a very interesting booklet. He points out that if the Government were to decide to monopolise insurance for old age, widowhood, unemployment, and also burial insurance and workmen's compensation, there would be enormous advantage and saving thereby. Whereas the State could run burial insurance for about 2 or 3 per cent., it now costs 14 per cent., and whereas the State could run the workmen's compensation scheme for 5 or 6 per cent., it now costs about 30 per cent. If the Government decide to take over burial insurance and workmen's compensation, they would find themselves up against very strong vested interests, and would probably have a hornet's nest of competition round their heads.
It is not in my power to give the details of an insurance scheme. It is impossible for any private Member, or any body of private Members, to work out the details of an insurance scheme unless they have actuarial assistance. All that any private Member or any body of private Members or any House can do is to settle what are the general lines of policy, what are the benefits, and what they wish to raise and in what proportion they wish to raise it. As to the proportion, I agree with my hon. Friend opposite that the State will have to pay a considerably higher proportion. For instance, the State is now committed to abolishing the means limit for old age pensions. That will involve an expenditure of £15,000,000. I believe the House has also committed itself to a sum of £20,000,000 in payment of pensions for widows and orphans.
Mr. Cohen points out that if the State pay 50 per cent. of the insurance and leaves the remaining 50 per cent. to the worker and the employer, they will have to their credit a sum of £35,000,000, and, further, if the State decides to take over Workmen's Compensation and Burial Insurance, they will have a saving of £19,000,000; Unemployment Insurance will bring in £28,000,000, and the saving on the Poor Law would come to about £18,000,000. Therefore, we should have to spend a sum of about £100,000,000. That would provide for industrial and non-industrial accidents, widowhood and orphanhood, larger benefits for Health and Unemployment Insurance, and would reduce the pensionable age to 60 and 575 abolish the means limit. These are considerable advantages, and as far as I can understand Mr. Cohen, it would not in any way lead to extra burdens being put on the employer or the worker. It would be a mistake to imagine that if the State took over Workmen's Insurance that would lead to the worker bearing the burden of the insurance, because it could be easily arranged that the employer could pay some portion on his wage bill.
What machinery shall we have to use to run this very large scheme? It is obvious that the Employment Exchange would be the machinery which we should use. It is a State organisation, ready and willing to carry out the policy of the State. It is an organisation in which the workers and the employers co-operate voluntarily, and it is capable of very large extension into a State insurance organisation. If, on the other hand, we decide to follow the lines of least resistance and fight shy of Workmen's Compensation and Burial Insurance, we have at our command schemes which have been worked out by Sir William Beveridge and Mr. Broad, both of whom have given great consideration to these matters. Mr. Broad used to be a Member of this House, and we must recognise that he is a pioneer on this subject, whether we agree with his scheme or not.
Sir William Beveridge says that without adding in any way to our insurance contribution we should, when the claims on the unemployment insurance schemes return to normal, as we hope they will before long, have at our command sufficient to give widows and orphans pensions and to reduce the pensionable age to 65. We should be able to give unemployment benefits at the rate of 15s. a week and to allow 15s. per week for sickness and 7s. 6d. for disablement. The criticism of Sir William Beveridge's scheme is that it gives us too little. It is inadequate. 15s. per week is not sufficient for an unemployed man. It is one of the great defects of his scheme that it would not in any way lift any number of workers out of the area of the Poor Law. On the other hand, Mr. Broad calculates that if we increase the payment to 1s. per week from women, to 1s. 6d. from the men, and 2s. 6d. from the employers and 1s. from the State, we 576 could give very material advantages in Unemployment and Health Insurance and bring the pensionable age down to 63, besides having a large surplus. The criticism which suggests itself as to Mr. Broad's scheme is, that he is asking too great contributions from the employed, and particularly from the employers. I do not see the employer paying 2s. 6d. a week instead of 1s. 3d.
I do not advocate any particular scheme. The object of my remarks is merely to make an appeal that this subject shall not be treated in any partisan spirit. I hope that I have been able to prove that if we do not treat this matter in any partisan spirit, it is possible to hammer out a satisfactory scheme, which would give enormous advantages to the working people. The Liberal party, the Labour party and the Conservative party are working out separate schemes of their own. Would it not be possible for the Government to summon a round table conference and to come to some agreed scheme, on some agreed principle? I cannot help feeling that if it can be shown that by a complete scheme, that is to say, by taking in burial insurance and workmen's compensation, we can prove that enormous savings can be made, that very great benefits can be given, and that we can lift a whole category of workers out of the area and atmosphere of the Poor Law, it is our duty to face the opposition which would be aroused among vested interests. Our duty is not to treat any of these subjects in a partisan spirit, not to manœuvre for the next Election, but to co-operate in the solution of the grave problems that confront us now. What the country desires us to do is to secure peace at home and abroad, to improve the condition of the people, the housing of the people, and to remove all those uncertainties which afflict them.
§ Lord H. CAVENDISH-BENTINCK
We shall be rewarded when we go to our constituencies, in proportion as we have laboured in this most profitable and important field. Our chances of re-election will depend on whether we have tried honestly and sincerely to make this country a better place than we found it.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Most Members who have listened to this Debate will agree 577 that if its importance were judged by the number who have been present at it, it would be a very poor judgment, indeed. In common with all other Members in the House, I respect the Noble Lord who has just sat down; but when he asks that we should approach public questions without any consideration of advantage to parties or sections, I am afraid that he is asking for a miracle that very seldom happens. I spent, in company with others, a considerable time on the Poor Law Commission, to which the hon. Member for York (Sir J. Marriott), who opened this Debate, referred. We were all in agreement on certain fundamental principles concerning public relief. I left that Commission with a strong opinion that at last something was going to be done. It was a very vain hope, and a very vain faith, because nothing of practical worth has been done in regard to the very important questions with which that Commission had to deal. Two public Committees, one presided over, I think, by Lord George Hamilton, and the other by Sir Donald Maclean, have also reported unanimously as to certain things which should be done, but the same perverse spirit prevents us getting anything done. I hope very sincerely that the discussion to-night, and the publication of the Betterton Report, will inspire the Government to take the question in hand and, in a way, challenge the House to an agreed scheme. To leave matters as they are is to increase the demoralisation that was spoken of in the Minority Report which the President of the Board of Trade did so much in putting together. I want to enter a mild protest against the idea that all the money quoted by the hon. Gentleman who opened this discussion, as being spent on what he calls public assistance, was public assistance in the ordinary accepted meaning of the term. I do not consider it public assistance that I have a pavement to walk on when I leave the House, or to have a street lighted or drained, or a main drainage system for this great city. We have to divest our minds of the idea that any public organisation of services for the people can in any sense be described as public assistance, or a kind of public charity, as something being done for some particular section of the community. During the period that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, from 1834 to now, modern society has 578 developed in an extraordinary fashion. Great masses of people have become aggregated in different parts of the country, and these, of themselves, could not supply the necessary services that each of them requires individually. But they can, collectively, get those services organised for them. Education was something that the Church and a handful of people dealt with when I received whatever education I had, and it had to be paid for week by week. Most hon. Members in the House think they are now giving the children of the workers education for nothing. That is not true. The worker is paying for the education of his children in another manner altogether. You are not giving him public assistance; you are only helping to organise the resources of the community, to which he contributes his part in a certain way and for a certain definite end. Therefore we need not worry. We ought to be glad, and very proud, that our country is spending millions on education.
We ought to be willing to spend ever so much more on education, and to realise, not that somebody is giving the poor and the worker something, but that we are just organising the resources of the community for a given end. The same thing applies to public health services. It is perfectly absurd to talk about public health services as being in the nature of public assistance, as you would regard money distributed through the Poor Law. Nothing of the kind. There is no hon. Gentleman in the House who would want to leave the question of sanitation in the hands of private individuals. You are obliged to organise sanitation in the big towns. You are bound to organise it on a scale sufficient to preserve the health of the community. The reason more money than formerly is being spent, is not because you have got a bigger pauperised population, but because you are realising the need for common service, in order to preserve the common health of the whole of the community. It is quite wrong to mix up all the expenditure in the manner the hon. Gentleman has mixed it up. We ought rather to separate it under its different heads. We should then discover that, side by side with the tremendous, development of private enterprise which has gone on for the last 50 or 60 years, we have been 579 obliged to have another sort of enterprise proceeding concurrently with it, and increasing even to a greater extent than private enterprise itself. We have been obliged to take in hand these services, not because we wanted to do the poor good but because it was necessary for the life of the whole community. Therefore we should get out of our minds the notion that pauperism, or anything of that kind, has increased because children are being educated, and that we are paying for that education out of collected funds provided by the whole of the community, or that public health services are growing.
The hon. Member who opened the discussion laid great stress upon some quotations from the Report of 1834 as to the horrible conditions which prevailed with the stalwart paupers taking money here and there. I read that Report some years ago, and like everybody else who read it for the first time, imagined that all the people who were getting public assistance before 1834 were able-bodied people, but the fact is that the great hulk of them, even in those days, were the old and the sick people, infirm people, widows, orphans, and so on, and that brings me to this, that we are blundering along, on the one hand dealing with unemployment, and on the other hand dealing with widows, orphans, infirm and sick people. It is an absurdity that we should at this time of the day have dozens of competing authorities dealing with these people. It is time for the nation to realise that the care of the people whom I have mentioned should be the care of the nation as a whole. The hon. Gentleman did not finish the historical tale which he told us at the beginning, because had he done so he would have told us that all this business of relief began in the parishes in a kind sort of way. It was thought that the poor of a particular parish must be cared for by the people of that parish. We have got beyond that by unions of parishes and towns, and I think that it is time that we dealt nationally with all these questions connected with our poor.
I should like to see the Government definitely take in hand the reform of the Poor Law authority in a rather broader sense than is set out in the Minority Report, because it seems to me that the aged of the country ought to be a charge 580 upon the national resources of the country. There are many old men in this House, some as old as myself and some older, but even the oldest of us are capable of doing something. But we all know that there are many men and many women much younger than ourselves who are unable, owing to some infirmity or other, to earn their bread. It would pay the nation to take over all infirm persons, and keep them out of the labour market. It is not right to drive into the labour market people who are not capable of fully earning their daily bread, and I think that they ought to be a charge on the national funds and not on the particular parish or district where they happen to live at the particular moment. Further than that, you must face the fact that the working man dies at an earlier age than many of those who belong to other classes, and consequently you have multitudes of women and children, and though it is true that very often you can find a man or woman of the working classes who stoops to deceit, to get another 1s. or 10s. a week of public assistance, yet in the main the great mass of them are as honest as any of us here I speak of what I know. I have sat on relief committees for 25 years regularly, and it is only quite lately that I have not been doing it as regularly as I did it in the past. While I admit that sometimes we get "done," the mass of the people who come to us are decent and honest men and women who have only just fallen by the way.
I want the House to realise that modern life has shortened the career of the men workers; they die sooner. The mass of our pauperism in East London is made up of women and children whose breadwinner is dead, and of the aged and infirm people. Those people ought no more to be considered paupers than the person who has reached the age of 70 and is in receipt of an old age pension. Let the House get into its mind the fact that the time when a pension ought to come along is when infirmity has come and the person concerned is no longer able to earn a living. It would commence so in the Army, the Navy, and, I believe, in the Civil Service. When the breadwinner of a family is dead the woman ought not to be considered a pauper because of the accident of the death of her husband, nor should the children, because of the death 581 of their father. The cost of this relief ought not to be on the locality where the people happen live at the moment. I hope that we are not going to settle down to consider some new scheme by which we shall, as it were, make districts care for the poor and those who are in need. What we ought to aim at is preventing the people from sinking into the condition that they need public assistance through anything like the Poor Law. To do that we have to see that the worker is regularly and continuously employed while he is capable of doing work, and that he is employed at proper rates of wages which will enable him to maintain himself in health and decency and his wife and children in comfort.
It is useless to go on as we are, with wages depressed. It is useless imagining that, whatever scheme you may adopt, you will get rid of poverty unless you prevent it in the first instance. You have prevented virulent diseases like smallpox and diphtheria, very largely toy preventive measures. You must get rid of poverty in the same way. It is no use praying or talking about it; it is no use preparing paper schemes. What the workers want is security in their lives. What the women and children need, and the children especially, is full maintenance. Therefore, I beg hon. Members to go home and consider why it is that, in a period in the history of our country when the means to produce all that we need has increased a thousandfold, we still have poverty in our midst. We Socialists say that the reason is that you do not organise industry on the basis of service. If industry were organised to supply the needs of the community, just as you organise it to supply, say, a road, a drain, or light, you would not need to come here and talk about what to do with the poor, because you would have improved the poor out of existence.
§ Mr. WEBB
I heard it remarked during this Debate that we have had a quiet evening for once, but I do not think the House ought to regard this evening as wasted or misspent if we have had forced upon our attention the necessity for grappling with some of these questions, which seem always to be left to stand over to more convenient seasons. The hon. Member for York (Sir J. Marriott) in bringing this Motion before the House, did us, at any rate, the service of calling 582 attention to the very large number of separate authorities who are spending money on all these services. I am not quite sure that I agree with all his adjectives; at all events, I do not agree with the places where the adjectives were put. But the increase of expenditure is, of course, extremely striking. The figure is exaggerated because, of course, there have been changes. There has been a tremendous rise in prices and a steady growth in population, and the mere statement of the increase of figures is a little exaggerated. Still, allowing for that, the increase is very great. I do not like to accept altogether the terms of what is called the Drage Report, because, for some reason or another, it includes under the heading of "public assistance" a large number of services and excludes a number of others which I think have an equal right to be included. "Public assistance" is a question-begging term. It always makes us think of poor relief or something analogous to poor relief, some alias of poor relief, and I am not at all sure that those who first invented the term did not really mean poor relief and the various aliases for poor relief. That is how they thought about it. It will be found, however, that the return includes, and therefore the figures of the hon. Member for York include, not only old age pensions and War pensions, but also expenditure on education.
§ Mr. WEBB
I know the hon. Member deducted them, but I could not see a logical reason for his doing so. They are included in the Drage Report as public assistance and they are public assistance in exactly the same sense as the other items. The mere fact that we may choose to believe that War pensions go to extremely meritorious people who have led virtuous lives, and rendered great service to the community, does not differentiate them for this purpose from other parts of public assistance which have also gone to people who have led virtuous lives and given considerable service to the country. The return includes one part of the expenditure under the Public Health Acts, but excludes another large part of the expenditure under the Public Health Acts, and I cannot for the life of me see why it does so. It includes expenditure on Hospitals for the treatment of disease 583 and expenditure on maternity and child welfare work, while it does not include sanitation, water supply or drainage. I cannot understand why one should be public assistance and the other should not. There was a time when every individual was under the obligation of paving the roadway in front of his house, when he had to provide his own water supply, and I know large cities at this moment where each person provides his own water supply. Of course he had also to provide all the arrangements for dealing with sickness and for the education for his children and provide everything, and then there was nothing in the nature of public assistance, but in modern times we do not do that. The paving of the roads, the bridges by which we cross rivers, are not included as public assistance, yet they are just as much public assistance as our education system. I do not suppose the hon. Member for York imagines for a moment that he himself has received public assistance, but of course he has received the benefit of the pavement, of the drainage, of the public water supply and all these services. He has had all these benefits, in which we have all shared, and, therefore, instead of this expenditure mounting up to £300,000,000 it ought really to have mounted up to £500,000,000 or £600,000,000 a year, and there you see the absurdity of it.
This return includes as the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) has mentioned, as public assistance what is really the development of communal services for the public benefit, which ought not to be included under public assistance at all, when by public assistance you are talking about poor relief or some alias of poor relief. It is a question-begging phrase, and I maintain that we ought not to use that return in the sense in which it was intended, by those who originated it, that it should be used. Connected with this in the hon. Member's resolution is another report. What is called the "Betterton Report" arose as a child of mine, but I disowned it. It arose from a letter which I wrote to the then Prime Minister, pointing out the gaps between the schemes under which assistance was granted and the administration, but I did not call it public assistance. I avoided that term, and I do not know who gave 584 it the title of the Departmental Committee on Public Assistance. As a matter of fact, it does not include all the public assistance, and it includes some things which are not public assistance. The report itself points out in fact, in one place, on page 12:In the first place, there has been a series of measures primarily designed to provide, not for the granting of assistance in relief of physical want, but for the better promotion of the health and education of the community.Of the community, not of the individual at all, and they go on to point out:To this class of measure are due the schemes of provision for tuberculosis and venereal disease …; the provision for maternity and child welfare; the provision of meals for school children; the school medical services; and the mental deficiency service.These, in the eyes of the Committee on Public Assistance, ought not to be included as public assistance, if you are meaning individuals as beneficiaries, but—incidentally individuals may benefit—the object is the promotion of the health and education of the community, not of the individual. I think the hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Betterton), who was Chairman of this Committee and responsible for this Report, perhaps builded better than he knew, because he is emphasising the fact that such measures are designed to promote the health and education of the community, not of the individual. The hon. Member for York did not make that distinction. All through he went on the line that these were gifts, that they were given to particular individuals in the community, I think I may say of the poorer class of the community, and he was rather criticising the extent of those gifts, and comparing the situation with the period before 1834. He was, therefore, suggesting to our minds that all this development of the organisation of public services, all this promotion of the health and education of the community, was equivalent to the scattering of outdoor relief, which was the particular type of the Poor Law before 1834.
§ Mr. D. G. SOMERVILLE
In the question of the services of roads, sewers, water supply, etc., surely the individual pays by means of rates and taxes, whereas in the question of Poor Law relief, where, unfortunately, somebody has to receive it, it is a gratuitous; assistance.
§ Mr. WEBB
I was endeavouring to answer the question. The hon. Member is suggesting that he has paid his share for the roads and bridges and drainage, and that the other people are not paying their share for the poor relief. If it be suggested that no part of the burden of rates and taxes falls on the great mass of the people below Income Tax level, I can understand the question, but there are no gratuitous services. Everything has to be paid for. All these communal services have to be paid for. Sometimes you pay for them bit by bit, as, for instance, when you pay a toll for going over a bridge. Sometimes you pay for them in a form which is assumed to come something near the cost of production. Sometimes you pay for gas in that way. Sometimes it is in a form representing some index of your ability to pay, including water supply, which you pay for in rates. Even if you do not pay for it directly, you are still paying, very likely more than if you paid directly, in the diminution of the amount of income you have through the existence of these rates. I think it has often been demonstrated that the wage-earners of this country are paying a larger proportion of their income in maintaining the common services of the community than the wealthy section of the community are paying.
It often seems to me we still have in our minds a great deal of early Victorianism, a good deal of that period when we thought things ought to be run on what I would call "the pew-rent theory." When I was a lad in London most people paid pew-rents, and they had a pew in church according to the pew-rent they paid. Of course, there were some free seats, in which hardly anyone was ever seen, because it was not considered respectable. The notion really was that you had to pay for your religious service, and you got the religious service you paid for. That is what I call "the pew-rent theory." I think there are people who think public services ought to be run on that theory, that is to say, if you can pay for your drainage, you ought to have good drainage, but if 586 you cannot pay for your drainage, you ought to have bad drainage. If you can pay for a good water supply you ought to have a good water supply, but if you cannot, then you ought to have a bad water supply.
I think we have got out of that, not merely with regard to seats in church, but with regard to public services. The water supply is laid on in equal purity and in equal quantity in the poorest and the richest parts of the city, and we do not protest. Similarly, education has got to be provided as a public service, and we are coming rapidly to the view that it ought to be provided of equal quality all over the city, in the poorest quarters as well as the richest, at any rate, so long as we do not try to put a better edge on the knife than the blade will bear, and that, so far as intelligence will bear it, it should be laid on equally as we now lay on water. We are getting further and further away from the pew-rent theory of administration. Take a step further in this development of public health, including hospitals. State-aided hospitals are included in the items under public assistance.
§ Mr. WEBB
But the hon. Gentleman will, of course, remember that it is only the repetition of the Annual Return which has been going on for years. I was referring to the speech of the hon. Member, and the figures which he quoted from the Return as something appalling and objectionable, and something which ought to be reduced. But these figures include money spent on hospitals out of the rates, and other good expenditure. I was endeavouring to explain that we got value for our money, and that I supposed that most people agreed that according to our needs we should be given in these matters and should pay in proportion to our ability. The House has been asked to adopt the recommendations of the Betterton Report and to be careful about expenditure, but I am afraid that the two things are not very compatible. If the Betterton Report recommendations were 587 adopted as suggested they would not tend to diminish expenditure, but would practically increase expenditure to some extent by the filling up of the gaps, though it might tend to diminish it in some other ways in view of a consequent saving.
However, the hon. Member for Rushcliffe asked me some specific questions as to what had been done with those recommendations—such as they are! No. I, which refers to the prevention of the conflict between Health and Unemployment Insurance in regard to medical opinion as to physical or mental capacity to work, has been adopted, though points of detail and procedure are in process of discussion amongst the Departments to-day. No. II, that refers to the need for local officers and local committees giving a correct statement of the disallowance of claims, has also been adopted. No. III—the administration of cash benefits—has been adopted, and the Ministry of Health are looking into points in connection with it. No. IV—delay in the settlement of claims—is under consideration. As to No. VII—prevention of anomalies—the Ministry of Pensions made certain arrangements. Adjustments in regard to old age pensions arrangements have been made. Recommendation No. VIII—as to making more public the opportunities for obtaining benefit or pension and other things—has been actually adopted. Recommendation No. IX—dealing with approved societies, and information as to cash benefits received by individuals under the National Health Insurance scheme—is also under the consideration of the Ministry of Health. Recommendation No. X—dealing with local education authorities in England and Wales, and the question of providing meals for the children of parents who are in receipt of poor relief—has been a subject of consideration, but I cannot say that anything has been done.
Number XI recommendation is that maternity and child welfare authorities should make arrangements with the Poor Law authorities concerned. That is definitely under the consideration of the Ministry of Health. There are recommendations with regard to overlapping and suggestions have been made that there should be voluntary registration. That is also under consideration. That 588 is a rather dull and not a very illuminating catalogue, but the necessities of the case compel me to answer the question in that way.
With regard to preventing overlapping by stimulating local voluntary councils I do not think that is likely to have any very great effect. The suggestion was made a great many years ago, and only 35 separate authorities have made any move in that direction. My own information is that those authorities which have started a local voluntary registration of public assistance have not been able to carry it on very long without great trouble and some risk of breaking down. I am afraid if we rely on local voluntary assistance for maintaining a register of assistance we are relying on a broken reed. It is not likely we should get that instituted for the worst cases and it cannot become anything like universal. I do not want to discourage, the starting of local voluntary assistance registration, which is good as far as it goes, but I am bound to say that I cannot hold out any prospect of such registration being extended all over the country or of being in existence where it is most needed.
Overlapping is most serious in its demoralising effect. We have been told that some people make a trade out of getting assistance from different bodies, and this is demoralising, although I do not think the money loss to the community is very great. Nevertheless, we do not want to leave any opportunity for such demoralisation or for the waste of money in that way, and therefore we shall take steps to prevent overlapping as far as we can. But as the Report points out, most of what is called overlapping is not wrong but right. The assistance is their right. They would be doing wrong if they did not go into the workhouse when they were ill or sick if we have not provided any better hospital accommodation for them. If the hospital arrangement is so defective that there is no place for the pensioners to go but the workhouse, then they must go to the workhouse when they are sick. That is the kind of legitimate overlapping which is often protested against.
Similarly, children, if they are hungry at school are fed at school as the law commands, and then inquiry is made as to whether the parents ought not to have fed them. That is sometimes objected to, but it is what the law commands. If a 589 child is at school suffering from lack of food, the authority ought to feed him and make inquiries afterwards. No one to-day will get up in this House and say it ought not to be done. No one will say that a child at school suffering from want of food ought not to be fed, and that inquiry should be first made of the parent to see why the child is hungry at school. To feed the child at school and make inquiries afterwards is sometimes to discover that the parents are getting out door relief. It is not any wrongful overlapping. It is because the guardians have given inadequate out-door relief. It is the duty of the guardians, if they give outdoor relief at all, to give it adequately, and by adequately it is meant that the guardians ought to give enough to supply food and clothing and shelter sufficient for the health of the head of the family and of his dependents. The guardians are bound, if they give out-door relief at all, to give enough to see that the family has enough. If they give less they are running the risk of being prosecuted for manslaughter if people die from lack of food.
It is perfectly true that if a child is found at school suffering from want of food, you may be sure the child is suffering from the lack of other things as well. Do not let us pretend that we want to stop feeding at school. We want to enquire why the child was hungry. The item for the feeding of children going hungry to school is one of those items which not even the hon. Member for York would wish to see diminished except in so far as the number of hungry children are diminished as it ought to be. A good deal of the speeches made have too often gone on the line that any increase in the cost of this service is a misfortune. If you add it all up, those enormous figures which the hon. Member for York brought forward, does it come to anything like one-tenth of the national income? In that total is included a very considerable amount of the organisation of those collective public services which nobody would pretend to do away with. Nobody is going to say you do not want an educational system or a water supply.
§ Mr. WEBB
I know that water supply is not, but the whole of education is. I am pointing out that other services ought 590 to be, and the hon. Member, when he drew attention to that expenditure, ought to have pointed out to the House that, if one item of public health expenditure was in, the others ought to be. No one is going to get up in this House, and say that they wish the system of public education, or public hospitals, or old age pensions, or unemployment relief, stopped, or even diminished; and, therefore, though we may begin by protesting and calling attention to national expenditure, and even resolveThat this House views with apprehension the growth of national expenditure on public assistance,we know we do not mean it. We know that not any one of us would propose any reduction of the expenditure on any one of these services, but that, on the contrary, we are all of us proposing and accepting that each several one of these services should be larger. With regard to the question of causes, take the case of the educational services, the expenditure on which is the largest item. The cause of the expenditure on education is the fact that most of us are born rather ignorant, and if it were possible to become exempt from that, and to spread that exemption among the people, we might diminish the cost of education.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir J. NALL
The right hon. Gentleman is entirely misrepresenting what I said. He was referring just now to unemployment, and I said we wished to decrease the cause of unemployment.
§ Mr. WEBB
I am sorry I cannot carry conviction to the Noble Lord. There is one other cause which I want to see 591 abolished. I want to see the whole expenditure on the Poor Law, not merely diminished, but swept away. That means that you have to substitute for the relief of destitution the treatment and prevention of each of the several causes of destitution before destitution sets in. There should be no Poor Law. It should have been resolved, as the Minority Report recommended a long time ago, and distributed among its several services, on the basis of prevention and treatment, and not on the basis of relief.
§ Mr. CLIMIE
The Mover, in speaking of his Motion, rather left me in doubt as to whether he really wanted the recommendations of the Betterton Report carried out or not. I remember quite distinctly the hon. Gentleman putting forward a very strong plea for further investigation. So far as I can see from any of the recommendations contained in this Report, and there are 15 altogether, I cannot find that there is a single one to the effect that further investigation into this matter should be proceeded with.
§ It being Eleven of the Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.