§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Cartland
I beg to move,That this House is of opinion that the tendency of the population to decline may well constitute a danger to the maintenance of the British Empire and to the economic well-being of the nation, and requests His Majesty's Government to institute an inquiry into and report upon the problem and its social and economic consequences and to make recommendations in regard thereto.The House will agree that this is not merely a political and social problem but that it has other aspects which make it a medical, a psychological, and economic and a moral question. I feel that I have neither the knowledge nor the eloquence to present it as it should be presented to the House, but I felt constrained to put down this question for discussion because it seems to me to be one of the most important problems of the day. I am not certain whether the House has ever directly discussed this question of population. Certainly within the 37 years of this century it has never been discussed, and it seems to me a melancholy fact that it is possible now to put a Motion in these terms on the Paper. The House is aware that there have recently been a number of estimates provided by experts as to the future of the population in this country. These experts are not I believe people of particularly individualistic views, and they are supported by no less an authority than the Registrar-General himself. 'While it is often said that when experts fall out common sense enters in, and it is quite true that the experts' estimates do differ in many respects as to what is going to happen in future years, yet they are all agreed on this point that the population is bound to fall.
It would be possible from the estimates that have been provided by these experts to draw a picture of what England might be in a hundred years from to-day, with derelict and deserted villages, the fac- 483 tories silent and the mills not turning, the schools without children, only perhaps the hospitals or the almshouses filled. But that might be an untrue, and it certainly would be an alarmist picture, and I do not desire to be an alarmist in regard to this problem. I do not feel that the House would like to view this question from an alarmist angle, and that is why I venture to suggest in the Motion that we should have an inquiry.
I submit that this is not a problem which will arise only in the future but that it is a problem which has arisen to-day. I know it is often felt that statistics and estimates are unreliable, particularly when one is dealing with estimates where the human element enters so largely as it does in this case, but there are certain incontrovertible facts. The first is that the birth rate has been falling steadily and persistently since 1875. It is true that you have had, at the same time, an increase in population, but that increase in population has been brought about entirely by the very remarkable decrease in the death rate. We are now faced in the immediate future—within three years—with the fact that the number of births for the first time will no longer exceed the number of deaths. That is a generally accepted fact. The second fact is regarding what I may describe as the reproduction rate. Putting it in a sentence, if every child who is born to-day were to live to the age of maturity, the birth rate would still not be sufficiently high to maintain the population at the present level. Following from that we have this very serious situation: that there are not sufficient girl babies being born at the present time to replace the mothers of to-day.
The third fact which everyone accepts is that a serious alteration has taken place in the age of the nation. It is generally agreed that the base of a pyramid should be the broadest part and if one regards the age of the nation as a pyramid, one would expect the youth of the nation to form the bottom of the pyramid or the broadest part, and that has been the case for many years. We have now a situation in this country where that is no longer true and where the youth of the country "the under fifteens" are no longer as many as the age group immediately above. In other words the pyramid is gradually becoming top heavy. I do not 484 desire to burden the House with figures, but I may give one illustration. While to-day, for every 100 persons who exist, we have 23 who are below the age of 15 and 12 above the age of 60, in 1957, in 38 years time, we shall have only seven persons below the age of 15 and 30 above the age of 60.
In the light of those facts which are not challenged, I think the House would desire to ask two questions. The first is: If this is to be the state of England in 20 years time, what will the effect be on the programme and policy which we are putting into operation to-day? The second is: What will be the effect of the policy and programme which we are putting into operation upon the England of 20 years hence? Is it going to relieve the circumstances or are the circumstances going to be aggravated? We have about 20 years breathing space. We have 20 years in which it is possible, if it is desirable, to reverse this trend of declining population or if that is not desirable, then we have 20 years in which it is possible to take certain steps to mitigate the disadvantages which appear likely to arise. The first, immediate, practical and inevitable step is the appointment of an official inquiry.
It may be asked what will such an inquiry do. I suggest that the first question which this inquiry would set itself to answer would be the simple one which is: Why are people having fewer children to-day than they have had in the past? It is easy for any Member of the House to give a number of reasons why fewer children are being born. The easy answer is the spread of birth-control methods but that still does not give the reason why birth-control methods are being employed. Why do people want fewer children? I suggest that that is the principal question which any inquiry will have to set itself to answer. There is no doubt that the tendency of modern life is towards small families. That is not to say that we must either approve the tendency or that we do not think that the tendency might be altered. The question is, why is the smaller family becoming increasingly popular throughout the country.
It is said that with a large family it is impossible to preserve the standard of living to which people have become accustomed. Too often I think that standard of life has become a standard 485 of luxury, but I am certainly not proposing that it should be our object to depress the standard of life in any way in order to increase the family. But is it absolutely incompatible with an increase in the family that we should have radios, or small cars or that we should go to football matches and cinemas or that we should have silk stockings or permanent waves? Are they all incompatible with family life? I cannot believe it but no one has ever surveyed the problem from that angle as far as I know. There is also the question of modern transport and the urge it engenders to go out from home into the country. How far has that affected the home life of the people?
Perhaps most serious of all, there is the question of economic security. There is one remarkable fact that while national economic circumstances have altered from time to time, while we have had what are generally called slumps and booms, these have to some extent affected the fluctuations of the birth rate but have never affected the trend of the birth rate. Economic circumstances have, undoubtedly, to some extent carried their effects into the fluctuations from year to year but they have never altered the steady decline which has taken place. It is said that we are becoming socially a more ambitious nation and that it is impossible for the social ambition of the people to find full play if they have large families. Ambition is always supposed to be a spur to the individual, it would be a disaster in my opinion if it were to become a curb on family life. These are subjects for inquiry and one could multiply such subjects for inquiry over and over again. No doubt in this Debate hon. Members will suggest many other questions which could be inquired into. There is the question of the incidence of taxation particularly on what I may call the middle section of the community. There is the question of female labour and so forth.
There is a committee which to some extent has surveyed this problem. In November, 1936, an unofficial committee, the Population Investigation Committee, appointed itself and began to look into the problem. It may be suggested that when we have this committee at work there is no need to ask the Government to institute an inquiry.
486 I do so, however, for two reasons. It is from the governmental point of view and from the point of view of administration that the problem should be surveyed. Obviously we cannot expect an unofficial committee without the resources of a Government committee to make recommendations on this subject. I think if it were the desire of the Government to co-operate with this voluntary committee, which is doing excellent work, or if they could see their way either to make this committee official or to incorporate its work into some general governmental inquiry, it would increase the value of that work very considerably.
The argument may be put forward that this declining population is to be welcomed. I will only say that that is an opinion, but over and over again we are bound to base our arguments on opinion and not on fact, because there has been no survey of this problem of population. Supposing, however, decline is coming, and that it is to be welcomed, we are bound to make certain readjustments in the general structure of our national life to meet the fewer numbers. I referred just now to the incontrovertible fact of the alteration in the age of the nation. That constitutes an immediate problem and one which we have possibly to face up to in five years' time, and certainly in 10 years' time. That is a problem which cannot be dismissed. The only thing is, that it may become much more acute in the future. I think the whole House will agree that modern industry and particularly modern methods in industry have been built up on the theory of increasing expansion and increasing consumption, and what seems to me to be much more serious is the growing number of females and juveniles employed in modern industry. In the next eights years—and I do not think these figures will be challenged—we shall have 500,000 fewer juveniles available for employment than we have now, and in the last 13 years women workers have increased in numbers by nearly 25 per cent. Therefore, the question obviously must be put, What is going to happen when the stream of juvenile and female labour dries up or becomes, shall we say, a mere trickle?
The Ministry of Labour in 1931 appointed a committee to go into this very 487 problem with regard to juvenile labour in the future, and they approached certain employers who employed juveniles and females to a large extent and said to them, "What arrangements are you making for the possibility of this labour source drying up?" Some 80 per cent. of the committees reported that the employers had made no arrangements at all, that they had not considered this problem. They felt that they could not bother with it. But this is certainly a very serious problem from the point of view of the Government and of industry, and if the employers are not taking steps to envisage what will happen when this source dies up, it is certainly the duty of the Government to look ahead in order to be able to warn the employers of what may happen.
Then we have at the moment a problem in regard to skilled labour. I understand that one-third of the unemployed to-day are unskilled, mainly concentrated in the middle-age group, and at the same time we have a shortage, in certain industries, of skilled men. That problem will be made more acute in future by the decline in population, and I should like to ask what preparations are being made to face the problem of skilled labour. The Ministry of Labour appointed a committee in 1926 which looked into this question of apprentices trade by trade, and they reported, first of all, that only one-seventh of the juveniles under 21 were being trained for industry, and they too said that there will come a time, principally due to the decline in the birthrate, when there will be a very acute shortage of young workers and skilled workers. This shortage is going to become much more acute in the next immediate years, and I think it is really the duty of the Government, almost before this suggested committee inquires into the subject of population, to see how far it is possible, by extending the apprenticeship system and perhaps by making wages in the apprenticeship trades more in line with those outside, to meet that shortage.
It is often said that the trade unions are a block to the apprenticeship system, but I do not think that is true at all. I do not think that anybody who has looked at the problem has found any reliable evidence of that allegation, and if the Government were to invite the co- 488 operation of the trade unions in this matter, I think they would receive their wholehearted support. I only mention these examples to the House because they are problems which will not be solved and will not even be mitigated by any decline in the population, but will be very considerably aggravated. It may, of course, be said that I am suggesting direction of labour, industrial recruitment, or something of that sort. Well, I do envisage a time when it may be necessary—I say so quite frankly—to do something like that. I am only suggesting that the juvenile employment committees should have an extension of powers beyond what they have at present in order perhaps that they themselves may be able to take steps to meet this question.
There is bound to be a change-over in the form of production. At the moment a great number of trades in the country exist for supplying the various commodities which are demanded by the younger section of the community. I imagine that the things which are bought by the older portion of the community will increase, but that will aggregate the need for mobility of labour, and one of the things from which we are suffering to-day is the immobility of labour. Wherever we look, in any of these industrial problems, there is a need, in my opinion, for an inquiry, and also for the Government to be prepared to take steps to meet these problems.
I must say one word with regard to the effect of the decline in population on the social services. The House will probably have read the report of the Chief Medical Officer of Health for the year 1935, which is the last one published, and they will have noted—it springs to the eye—the very remarkable statement made by the Chief Medical Officer of Health with regard to this coming decline in the population. He says:It is probable that the change in age-distribution will continue. If this forecast be correct, the outlook upon the provision of many of the social services must undergo a gradual alteration; on the one hand are, for example, maternity and child welfare work, schools, institutions for the normal and abnormal young, and isolation hospitals; on the other hand, institutions for the care of the aged and old age pensioners.The point that he is making is that there is bound to be a reorganisation of the various health services; and that is only from the point of view of the Chief Medi- 489 cal Officer, but what about housing? The housing situation seems to me to be fraught with danger. At the moment, I think I am right in saying the supply of houses is about 1,000,000 a year. It has been estimated, though I do not necessarily accept the estimate, that in 20 years from now that housing need will have dropped to 4,500. Take the question of education. I should imagine that in the lifetime of most of the Members of this House the problem of redundant schools will arise. At the moment we are faced with a shortage of schools, but it may well be that in 20 years' time we shall have a problem of too many schools. Then, of course, when you come to the question of pensions, it must be obvious to every hon. Member that there is bound to be, with a declining population and with the aged becoming more and the young fewer, a very big increase in the number of pensions which will have to be paid both to people of old age and to widows, and also to blind persons.
Such is the picture as events may occur in England, but never in this country have we kept our eyes firmly fixed on our own shores. There is the question of emigration and of the Empire. We had a long discussion the other day on the Empire Settlement Bill, and I will not go into that matter now, but the House will remember the remarkable statement which was made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he introduced his Budget in 1935. I venture to read it because it shows that the Government are fully alive to this problem. The right hon. Gentleman was dealing with this problem of the decline in population and its effect on emigration in the Empire, and he said:I must say that I look upon the continued diminution of the birth-rate in this country with considerable apprehension. At the present time it may seem that we have here a larger population than we are able to support in England … But I have a feeling that the time may not be far distant when that position will be reversed, when the countries of the British Empire, will be crying out for more citizens of the right breed, and when we in this country shall not be able to supply the demand."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th April, 1935; col. 1634, Vol. 300.]That seems to me to be a very remarkable statement from my right hon. Friend, who is certainly not profligate with his language. It is perfectly conceivable that there may be a complete change, that 490 The whole tendency may be reversed, and that the birth-rate may again go up.
§ Mr. Cartland
No one can say, but at least it seems unlikely. I cannot see that the Ministry of Health can do very much more in the way of lowering the death-rate. It has been pretty steady since 1910. We have already increased the expectation of life in this country by 20 years, and a remarkable tribute is certainly due to the work in that connection of the Ministry of Health, but I do not think we could expect them to be able to do very much more. There is the question of the maternity services and maternal mortality; I think it is more than likely that the Ministry there will he able to extend their services considerably and make a still greater impression on the number of deaths of mothers and children at a very early age, but even then, supposing the Ministry are able to make a very remarkable increase in regard to the saving of life among mothers, it is not going to reverse the whole trend which, remember, has been going in the same direction since 1875.
Even if you cannot reverse the trend, can you stop the decline? Can you say, "Now that the population has dropped we will stop at this level; we have, we think, enough people in this country, and we do not want any more"? I feel that we are on a slippery slope and that we are going faster and faster, that it is impossible, if you like to put it that way, to put the brake on and to stop where we want to stop. I feel that the nation has got to the edge of an abyss and is looking over and sees the danger that lies beyond. There is still time to climb back, but it is a very dangerous situation. I think that, with energy and with concentrated effort, it is possible for us to see the dangers and also to find out the path which will lead us back, and it is because of that, because of the need for knowledge of the dangers ahead and the way which will lead us to security, that I hope that the House will accept this Motion
§ 7.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Sandys
I beg to second the Motion.
While my hon. Friend the Member for King's Norton (Mr. Cartland) is a bachelor and is not in a particularly 491 strong position to preach on this subject, nevertheless I think the House is indebted to him for having raised this very important topic at this critical moment in the history of our population. At the outset, I would like to emphasise that the problem of a declining population is not confined to this country. It would appear that, with the exception of Russia, all the European countries, the United States of America, and the British Dominions are approaching a stage at which they will be wholly incapable of maintaining a stationary population. In China and India the experts estimate that the population is continuing slowly to increase. There are no figures available for Japan to show whether the decline in fertility characteristic of industrialised nations has yet begun. As for Russia, it is estimated that she will double her population up to a figure of some 320,000,000 before there is any likelihood of a decline.
Let us examine the position in this country. I make no apology for quoting statistics in a Debate of this kind. In England and Wales during the l00 years from 1821 to 1921 the population rose from 12,000,000 to 37,000,000. The birth rate likewise rose steadily for a while, reaching a peak in 1871, when it was 35 per thousand of the population. Since then the birth rate has continuously declined and by 1901 it had dropped to 29. By 1921 it had further declined to 23 and in 1935 it reached the low figure of 14. That is to say, since 1871 the birth rate of this country has much mere than halved it self. The population, nevertheless, has been increasing and will continue to increase, though the peak will probably be reached in the course of the next few years. The fact that the population has been increasing while the birth rate has been declining is due, of course, to the even greater decline in the death rate. The death rate has fallen from 22 in 1871 to II in 1935—it has been halved in those years. The expectation of life has risen from approximately 40 in 1871 to 60 in 1931. That is to say, during that period the expectation of life has increased by 20 years.
That is, however, a very delusive figure. It is no good hon. Members thinking that because the expectation of life has increased 20 years, they can hope to live 492 20 years longer than their parents, because that will not be the case. The advance of medicine, surgery and hygiene have undoubtedly made a great improvement in the health of the nation, but they have made very little difference in the expectation of life of adults. The expectation of life of a man of 65 to-day as compared with a man of 65 in 1871 has increased by only some nine months. Where a change has taken place is in the extremely satisfactory decline in infant mortality. In the category of children under one year of age, the deaths have fallen from one in every seven live births in 1886 to one in every 20 live births in 1935. In other words, during that period infant mortality has been reduced by about two-thirds. That is a very satisfactory accomplishment. Nevertheless, I do not altogether share my hon. Friend's view that it cannot be improved. One in 20 is still a high figure, and I hope that with the progress of science a further improvement will be made. However, let no one imagine that the decline in our population can be arrested merely by a continued reduction in infant mortality. If every child born to-day were to survive to maturity, the present birth rate would be too low to save our population from a decline.
There have been numerous scientific forecasts of the future size of our population. The figures of the different estimates vary to some extent, but the trend which they all reveal is the same. It is an accepted fact that the present English birth rate is such as to lose us one-quarter of our population per generation. Dr. Charles estimates that in 60 years' time, 64 per cent. of the women in the country will be over 50, that is to say, over child-bearing age. As a consequence of this trend, Professor Can-Saunders reckons that when the present tendencies have fully worked themselves out we shall probably be losing as much as half our population per generation. Dr. Charles, who is one of the greatest living experts on population problems, reckons that, assuming that the present tendency of the birth rate and of the death rate to decline is maintained, the population of England and Wales will have fallen in 30 years' time to 35,000,000, and that it will continue to fall at an increasing rate until in 100 years it will have dwindled to the paltry figure of 4,500,000—that is to say just over 493 half the present population of greater London or half that of the little country of Belgium.
What are the reasons for this decline? It is not over-population. The birth rate began to fall nearly 70 years ago when our population was no more than 22,000,000. Moreover, the decline in birth rate has been most marked in the sparsely populated British Dominions. It is not due to poverty. In actual fact the wealth per head has increased during the same period in which the birth rate has declined. There is no doubt that the main reason for the decline in the birth rate is the increased knowledge and practice of birth control. This started among the richer sections of the population and has now spread throughout. What will be the results of this decline in the population? The most striking result will be the change in the age distribution of the population. About one-half the population of Great Britain to-day are over 30. In 50 years' time it is probable that half the population will be over 40. Let us examine the distribution among the age groups. There are to-day 10,000,000 children under 15, but it is estimated that in 1976 there will be only 4,000,000. There are now 3,000,000 people over 65; however, it is reckoned that by 1976 that figure will have doubled to 6,000,000. As for the age group which provides the bulk of the nation's workers, those between 15 and 45, it is estimated that this group will be reduced during the same period by nearly one-half, that is, from 21,000,000 to 12,000,000.
Let us consider the effect upon employment. There is no reason to suppose that the problem of unemployment will be solved by a reduction in the size of the population. Wide fluctuations in the volume of unemployment have taken place quite irrespective of the size of the population. A reduction in the population would only be a cure for unemployment if the present total volume of consumption were maintained. Actually, as I will attempt to show later, the exact reverse is probable. In fact, the standard of life would be almost certain to decline. This would inevitably be accompanied by a shrinkage of the whole industrial machine and consequent large-scale unemployment. I ask the House to look at the position of the Dominions. It is an accepted fact that they need a far greater population 494 than they now possess in order to develop their resources to the full. Yet in 20 years' time, if the present trend continues, their population is likely to begin to decline also. Moreover, if we are in the same unhappy position here it is unlikely that we shall be able to make up the deficiency by increased immigration. Unless, therefore, the population trend in Great Britain and Western Europe alters, the Dominions, in order to maintain their population, may be forced to seek emigrants from Asiatic and Eastern European countries where the decline in population is not so imminent. Apart from the cultural aspect and the weakening of Imperial ties, it would involve them in all the difficulties consequent upon the importation of cheap labour accustomed to a substantially lower standard of life.
Let us now consider the defence position. I am sure that no hon. Member wishes to suggest that we want a larger population merely for the sake of what is popularly called "cannon fodder." Nevertheless, it must be obvious that a great Empire whose population is not only declining but is also on an average growing older is particularly vulnerable to attack.
The most serious aspect of the problem, however, is that which concerns the standard of life. Although the working population will continue to increase for a period after the total population has begun to decline, the time will sooner or later be reached when a smaller number of productive workers will be called upon to support an increasing number of old people. One aspect of this will be the increased burden to the nation of old age pensions, which at present cost £40,000,000, and in 1965 are likely to have risen to £64,000,000. There is no reason to suppose that a smaller population would give a higher output of work per head. In fact, the average efficiency of a population of which an increasing number of workers were of an advanced age, would tend to be lower. It is furthermore certain that a smaller population would inevitably lead to a shrinkage in the home market and a reduction in industrial output. This would sooner or later lead to the breakdown of the whole of our system of mass production and of industrial specialisation, which is entirely dependent on the existence of a large market to consume the mass-produced goods. Therefore, it is clear that a de- 495 cline in the total number of our population, together with an increase in the proportion of old people, must inevitably result, sooner or later, in a marked deterioration of our standard of life. The whole of our social and economic efforts for the past century have been devoted to raising that standard of life. Surely, therefore, the prospect of the undoing of all that has been achieved in the past at such pains and at such sacrifice presents one of the darkest and gravest problems with which this country has been faced for many a long year.
What can be done to remedy this position? The decline in the birth rate is mainly due to the practice of birth control. How can this be overcome? There are two alternative courses open to us. The first is to forbid birth control by making it illegal, but that would, I think, in the opinion of most hon. Members, be a retrograde step. We do not wish by legislation to create large unwanted families. The alternative course is so to alter social and economic conditions as to make people want to have large families and that, I think, is the course which will commend itself to us all. However, before we can form any opinion on how to raise the birth rate we must examine the reasons why people at present want to limit the size of their families. There are many reasons. There are the reasons connected with maternity—the pains, the fears and the hardships of confinement. The Midwives Act will do a great deal to improve that position, and for that we are very grateful to the Government, but there is still much to be done. I think it would not be out of place in this Debate to pay a tribute to the untiring efforts which have been made in this cause by the wife of our Prime Minister, Mrs. Baldwin. There is one practical thing which could be done immediately on the Committee stage of the Factory Bill, and that would be to incorporate in that Bill the provisions of the Washington Convention giving six weeks' cessation of work before as well as after childbirth, with a maintenance allowance for the woman and her child. The present law provides for a cessation of work for only four weeks after childbirth and a maternity benefit of 40s.
Another reason is the interference with the mother's working capacity. That undoubtedly has a great effect upon the size 496 of families. In 1934 there were only 84 nursery schools for children between the ages of three and five, with accommodation for no more than 6,000 children. The extension of nursery schools and creches would undoubtedly bring great relief to the mothers. Housing is another factor which must be considered. No inquiry would be complete which did not include an investigation into the relation between housing conditions and population. Professor Carr-Sanders suggests that it is possible that, taking the size of the new houses and flats, together with the definition of overcrowding, the result will be to produce a situation in which the population of those houses cannot replace itself. If that is true it is certainly a most disturbing factor, and at any rate merits investigation.
Undoubtedly, another reason for the limitation of the size of families is the cost. In the first place there is the cost of getting married and of setting up a home. Countless couples, have to postpone marriage for years until they have saved enough money to meet the initial cost of providing a home. This difficulty has with some success been met in Germany by the institution of marriage loans, a quarter of the debt being cancelled upon the birth of each child. It is sometimes argued that this merely ante-dates marriages, which would in any case take place some five years later, and that there is nothing gained. I do not share that view, for even if it led to no increase in the size of those families it would be worth while for this reason, that by the advance of the average childbearing age by those five years we should, in every four generations, be gaining a whole extra generation. Then we have to consider the cost of feeding and clothing children. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in his last Budget speech that "even a little help to those who are carrying on the race would not be wasted." The increased children's allowances in the last two Budgets have certainly been a step in the right direction, but I respectfully submit that they are not sufficient to make any appreciable change in the size of our population.
Lastly, there is the cost of education. I think this plays a very big part in the limitation of families among certain sections of the population. The State pro- 497 vides excellent free education, improving every year, but, unfortunately, a kind of educational snobbery has been growing up. All those who can possibly afford it have come to feel that it is due to their social status to scrape together enough money to send their children to some expensive private educational establishment instead of to the State schools. This tendency is certainly having the effect of limiting the size of families. I therefore hope that the desirability of doing what has been done in many other countries in recent years, that is to say of making attendance at the State schools obligatory for rich and poor alike, will receive earnest consideration. The Minister laughs, but I think it is a matter which deserves consideration. Not only would it encourage larger families, but it would, incidentally, do much to strengthen the spirit of good fellowship and unity among all sections of our people, and would be a further step in the direction of equality of opportunity.
In conclusion, let me say that we are asking to-night for an inquiry to be held and action to be taken at the very earliest possible moment. The extreme urgency of the matter lies in the fact that time is the essence of the population problem. If the present unhappy tendency is allowed to continue unchecked, action which to-day would be sufficient to remedy the entire situation will in 10 years time be totally inadequate. Even now assistance of a most far-reaching nature will be required. There is no room for hesitation or compromise in dealing with a matter of this gravity. The last thing any of us wants to do is to undermine or weaken the sense of responsibility of parents. Nevertheless, if it is recognised that children are not only an asset, but a vital necessity to the State, then surely it is only right that the State should shoulder its fair share of the burden.
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Parker
If my Amendment had been in order, it would have made clear that on this side of the House we look at this matter from a rather different angle. This is an extremely important subject, however, and we welcome the suggestion that the Government should hold an inquiry into the population question. A decline in the number of the population is a very serious matter, and something 498 should be done to deal with that situation. There are at the present time numerous absurdities in our national life. Town-planning authorities are drawing up plans for housing an enormous population which, we know, will never exist, and organisations like building societies are pursuing a policy which depends upon an ever-increasing number of houses being built for people who are prepared to put money down on deposit and pay the remainder over a period of 20 years. With the present tendencies in population, all these building societies will, in a very few years, be in Queer Street.
I agree with the hon. Member for King's Norton (Mr. Cartland) that a mere decline of population would not solve the unemployment problem. I see no reason why there should not then be exactly the same ratio between unemployed and employed as there is to-day. The real cure for unemployment is something quite different. I agree also with my hon. Friends who have pointed out that the social services, so far as they are planned, are planned for the present population or for a larger population. It is necessary to bear in mind also that our industries and our production of food are related to the size of the population. We assume, in our national life to-day, that we shall go on with the same size of population as now, or a somewhat larger one, but if the population should decline, serious consequences will result to agriculture and manufactures, especially the manufacture of consumable goods.
Unless something is done in the immediate future, the first generation to begin to feel and to see a big decline in population will have to deal with a double burden. It will have the burden of maintaining the old people and it will also have to make a very special effort to stop the decline in population. If we made the effort now, a fearless, big effort, it would be better than waiting for another 10 years or so. In 30 years, I have not the slightest doubt, our children—I speak as a bachelor—will not be prepared to pay large pensions to the old people over 60 years of age because, if present tendencies continue, those old people will be one-third of the population. At the present time we are prepared to make many sacrifices to assist the old people, but I do not think that will necessarily be the case in 30 years' time.
499 Various solutions have been suggested for the population problem. It is high time that we should expose the whole question of emigration. I do not believe that it is any use to-day. We should not try to decrease the population of this country in any way, although the Government bring forward from time to time proposals to increase emigration. The case against emigration is as strong as against transference from derelict industrial areas. We shall need in this country all the people that we can keep in the immediate future, and we should discourage emigration. There is no future for a bigger population on the land in the Dominions. Mr. Walter Nash, Minister for Finance and Marketing in New Zealand, pointed out in a recent speech that the agricultural population of New Zealand—by which he meant farmers and agricultural workers—had declined by 9,000 in the last 10 years. In that period, the agricultural production of New Zealand had doubled. The same process is going on in all the other Dominions and in the United States of America. So far as one can see, there is no future for settling people on the land in the Dominions, and if we emigrate people they will merely go to the large towns there, which have their own problems of unemployment.
Another solution put forward is that of land settlement here at home. On that subject also I am sceptical. I do not think there is any future for placing any large part of our population on the land. It is time that the "Back to the Land" movement was exposed. For years before the War the Liberal party made determined efforts to establish a large number of small holdings and to put people on the land, but the only result was that as they put people on the land other people left the land, and there was no increase in the number of people earning their livelihood on the land. In this country, as in New Zealand, a decline in the agricultural population is now in progress. I see no reason why the movement which is now taking place in industry, of an increase in production side by side with a smaller number of people bringing about that production, should not also take place upon the land.
I would like to add one observation to that proposed solution. There is some case for encouraging afforestation and 500 various forms of settlement in connection with afforestation. That is the only form of land settlement which can be made to absorb a part of the population; but that is a long-term policy rather than a short. I do not think you would have a rapid increase in the number of people on the land as a result, because you would have to wait for the forests to be fully developed before there could be any effect on the population on the land.
A further point, made by the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys) concerned marriage bounties, but, so far as I can understand, after examining the situation in Germany, Italy and France, that scheme has not been a success. It may have had some small success; after Herr Hitler introduced the marriage bounty there was an increase in the birthrate and in the number of marriages, but it was only a very short-run increase. Decrease is under way again. Assuming that the German population continues with the birth rate shown in the figures for 1934, the German population will, in time, disappear altogether. One may say, therefore, that a marriage bounty policy is not likely to cure the population problem so far as this country is concerned. To my mind something else is necessary. I am prepared to admit that, in this country and many others, one sees a decline in the birth rate as the standard of life improves, but personally I believe it is necessary to look deeper than that. Professor Carr Saunders, who has been mentioned already, said, with reference to this problem:The conditions also influence the age at which menstruation begins. The better the conditions, the earlier does it begin. The mature period tends to be prolonged where conditions are good. It certainly comes to an end earlier among the labouring than among the richer classes.In other words, although at the present time a decline of the birth rate is observed when the conditions of the people begin to improve, yet good conditions make possible a longer period of child-bearing. If any solution of this problem is to be found, I think the first thing that will have to be done is to convince people that the maintenance of the race is of itself desirable. I think that many people do not believe that that is the case to-day. Secondly, it has to be made worth the while of the people to maintain the race. How can that be done? Personally, I believe, with the hon. Gentleman oppo- 501 site, that we need better maternity services, and we also need proper nutrition and care and education of children. We have to make certain, also, that children will have a job when they become adults. But I believe the most important thing that can be done to make people really believe that the race is worth maintaining is to eliminate the danger of war. I believe that, so long as we have the danger of war in the world, as we have it to-day, mothers will not be prepared to bring children into the world. I do not believe that we can have that security of life, either national or international, which is necessary to maintain the race, unless we introduce that planned Socialist State in which we on these benches believe.
§ 8.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Pilkington
I should like to begin by congratulating the proposers of the Motion on their speeches, and also on bringing this subject before the House. In my opinion, it is one of the most vital questions with which we have to deal. It would seem that in a democratic country a wide volume of demand is necessary before the Government cart see its way to taking action. That has been the case in the last century over the question of social welfare; it has been the case in recent years over the question of rearmament; and I think we must expect that it will be the case over this problem of population. The facts are well known; they have been admirably sketched in by previous speakers this evening; and perhaps I may be forgiven if I go a little further afield before I come to the question of what can be done in the circumstances as they exist to-day.
During the last four centuries, Europe, the smallest of the five continents, expanded and spread its civilisation over both the Americas, over all Africa, over all Australia, and over half Asia. During that period the upward trend of population was prodigious. In 1600, Europe had about 100,000,000 people; in 1700 it had about 150,000,000; in 1800 about 180,000,000; by 1900 the population of Europe had grown to the colossal figure of 500,000,000. In the second decade of this century there took place a fratricidal, and very nearly suicidal, struggle which, among many other things, served to accentuate two tendencies which had been becoming more and more apparent for some time. The first of these tendencies 502 was a cessation in the growth of the population of Europe, and the second was a great nationalist and political re-awakening in the East accompanied by the same prodigious increase in population which before had been the characteristic of Europe. It is instructive to compare the condition of Europe to-day with the condition of Greece in ancient times. Greece had then a marvellous civilisation, but, because the city-States of Greece were unable to compose their quarrels, Greece fell before the superior might of Rome. To-day we have Europe, also with a marvellous civilisation, unable, apparently, to compose its quarrels, and we see in the East new, vigorous, expanding nations whose shadow is yearly growing longer and longer over the West. In looking ahead and trying to plan for the future, all that we can do is to take into consideration tendencies as they now exist, and examine the position towards which they are heading. There can be no doubt that, if tendencies continue in the future as they are to-day, there will be an eclipse of Europe. That eclipse can only be averted by some violent effort of will on Europe's part to change the whole direction of its political and economic activities.
§ Mr. Pilkington
I may, perhaps, quote a foreign statesman whose name, I am afraid, will not meet with the same approval of the hon. Member. Signor Mussolini, in a speech which he made in 1934, said "Europe is dying. There is an increasing and a progressive diminution of the white race." He went on to note with dismay that even in America more people were dying every year than were being born; he said that fecundity was the antidote of unemployment—that every new cradle meant a new demand for goods and services, for work and production. Then he quoted Professor Richet as saying that the yellow races were increasing five or six times faster than the white, and he ended by asking, "Will our grandchildren be rari nantes in a sea of saffron?"
Let us consider the position during the last 400 years in this country. In 1600, the population of Great Britain was about 5,000,000. In 1700 it was 6,000,000; in 1800, 11,000,000; and in 1900, 37,000,000, while to-day it is about 42,000,000. It has been calculated, 503 taking the birth rate in the last decade as a guide, that by the end of this century it will have shrunk to only 20,000,000. That means that within two generations—within the time of our own grandchildren—the population of this country will have fallen to that appallingly low figure of only 20,000,000. And beyond these shores there is the Empire, an Empire which, as is often repeated in this House, is an Empire of free democracies in a world of dictatorships. But it is an Empire which is comparatively empty and in which the birth rate is already on the decline. The hon. Member for Romford (Mr.Parker) said that he was against emigration because this country needed all the people that it had, but I submit that he is looking at the matter from a point of view from which we ought not to look at it, that is to say, as though this country lived by itself and was not the centre and heart of that Empire. I say that this problem has to be regarded as one which concerns the whole Empire, and not only this country.
To these facts as I have stated them, I think fairly, even if superficially, there seems to be on the face of it only one answer. We must use every means in our power to take immediate steps towards increasing our birth rate—if we can. I know that to this answer there is an objection raised by some people, though it has not been raised as yet tonight. It is that it is wrong to begin to think of increasing our population until we have solved the question of unemployment. To my mind that argument does not hold water for a moment. The unemployment in the whole of the Empire numbers under 2,000,000. But this is a problem that deals with unnumbered millions and with countless generations yet to come. It is as if a man, instead of safeguarding the future by getting himself vaccinated, put it off because to-day he had indigestion. Unemployment is a grievous problem which must be, and I believe will be, solved by the adaptation and improvement of the present economic system, not by its scrapping and replacing by some foreign system. It may be true that to-day we do not want an extra million adults on our hands although even that is questionable, because an extra million adults on our hands 504 would mean so many more mouths to fill and needs to satisfy. But I think it will be generally accepted that within 20 or 30 years we shall need that extra million adults and, that being so, it is to-day, and not then, that we have to act.
How, then, are we to bring about a renewed upward trend in the birth rate? Various suggestions have been made, all of them, I believe, good. I very much hope that after this Debate the Government will institute an inquiry which will be able to examine the reasons which have brought about the present situation and the steps that may be taken to remedy it.
In the second place I very much hope that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will see his way to repeating what he did in 1935 and 1936 towards relieving the parents of a family. I hope he realises the widespread satisfaction that was felt throughout the country when he granted a certain alleviation to parents of families in those two years, and also the widespread hope that he will repeat that precedent in the coming Budget. He quite rightly refused to commit himself at Question Time the other day but, as has been brought out in speeches that we have heard, he is in fact fully alive to the question. We know, unfortunately, that the coming Budget is not going to make very happy reading but, if he can see his way to making any alleviation at all, I hope it will be on those lines. If he is at his wits' ends where he is to find the money, I suggest that he considers imposing some sort of a bachelor tax. I learned with amazement and horror that even in this House, where the age limit is, I think, fairly high, and which should set an example to the rest of the country, there are nearly 200 bachelors—a situation which hon. Members should take immediate steps to remedy.
But—and this is more important than the question of finance—I think this problem has to be solved by education—by an entire change in attitude of mind of the people. The modern way of looking at life is against producing large families. This may be caused by modern ways of spending leisure, by small houses, or by wide knowledge of birth control. It may be caused by women going into public life—lambs straying out into the jungle. To change this attitude, if it is necessary to change it—and I believe 505 most people consider that it is—is a vital necessity. The Government can do a lot towards it. The Press can do far more, provided that their effort is a sustained and continued effort. Everyone in the country who is convinced of the urgency of the problem can and should do something towards bringing it home to the general mass of the people if we are ever going to safeguard our nation in the years that are to come.
§ 8.51 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Acland
It is, perhaps, significant that the two hon. Members who moved and seconded the Motion as well as all who have so far succeeded in catching your eye, Mr. Speaker, are not over 3o years of age. I hope before the conclusion of the Debate some of our seniors will indicate that they have serious sympathies towards this problem, which will not produce any very remarkable results in their lifetime but which is bound to produce quite remarkable results in our lifetime, and which may, unless we take steps to prevent it, produce quite staggering results within the lifetime of our children. The villain of the piece in this problem is, of course, the net reproduction rate, because whereas in 1836 100 women during their years of child bearing produced 140 potential mothers—a state of affairs which allowed the population to double in 50 years—by 1900 100 women in their years of child bearing produced 100 potential mothers and to-day 100 women in their years of child bearing produce 82 potential mothers. This process of fall in the reproduction rate has gone on relentlessly in good times and bad, in peace and war, and, although it has struck some nations later than others, it now covers the whole of Europe, and in particular the Northern and Western nations.
We are, then, in the presence of an impressive, relentless, deep-rooted social movement which cannot be met by the application of a mere palliative here and there. There are some things—and we may as well realise it—which we cannot prevent, whatever we do and whatever miracles may occur. In 60 years' time, do what we may, the population of these islands will be about two-thirds to three-quarters its present number, and that arises from the simple and unalterable fact that in 30 years' time there will be only two-thirds of the number of mothers that there are to-day. We cannot alter that 506 state of affairs, because those mothers are already born, and therefore, even if we do nothing, the population in 60 years will drop to two-thirds of its present level. That, I think, is not alarming. We might get on with two-thirds of our present numbers but, unless we do something to reverse this trend, which has been going on quite steadily for a century, within a 100 years from this date the population will go down to the ludicrous figure of 4,500,000. We must do something now in order to prevent that fact from inevitably taking place. We should try to realise some of the ways in which the problem cannot be solved.
The problem is said to be caused by birth control. That is so, and I do not believe that birth control has yet anything like reached its maximum effect. For that reason I believe that it would be wholly improper to oppose birth control. There are many who oppose it sincerely on religious and social grounds, but they ought to recognise that birth control is an existing fact and that whatever they do, knowledge of birth control methods, both sound and unsound, will spread from one human being to another. Moreover, other nations have tried to suppress birth control wholly without effect. There is one thing I would beg that we should not oppose, but that we should, on the other hand, encourage, namely, birth control clinics, or I should say, children's clinics. It is wrong to call them birth control clinics. As I have said, methods of birth control, good and bad, will spread throughout the population from one person to another, whatever the State may do. It is the unhealthy methods that can be spread in that way and can be exploited by commercial interests, but the children's clinics to-day are spreading the healthy methods.
One clinic with which I have had some personal association by reason of being a trustee bases its experience on 100,000 cases and is really able to give fairly safe advice. It is a remarkable fact, and it will be of interest to those who are mistaken and oppose these children's clinics, that the number of patients who come to the clinic in order to obtain advice as to how to get a child is equal to the number who come to ask for advice on how to avoid having a child they do not want. It must be admitted that the mothers of the future will be 507 better able to bear children if they are born in families in which the children are spaced at reasonable intervals of from two to two-and-a-half years, rather than in families in which the children are born at intervals of a year or not very much more.
Another way in which I believe we will not solve this problem is by little financial inducements to parenthood. I disagree on that matter with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Widnes (Mr. Pilkington). If you contemplate a family who have decided on financial grounds that they cannot afford to have another child, what is the sort of sum which will make a substantial difference to their means? Shall we put it at 6s. a week for the first 15 years of the child's life? If any couple were offered 6s. a week in respect of a child for the first 15 years, that might be some inducement, but not a very certain one, to make them just tip the balance over between having and not having another child. Six shillings a week is £15 a year, and suppose you say that the first child should be left to look after itself, and that you will give the inducement only on the second and subsequent child. In order to maintain our population we require 11,000,000 children under 15. Of these, 4,000,000 are first children, and there will be at any time 7,000,000 children who are second or subsequent children on which we have to pay £15 a year. That will represent a total of £105,000,000 a year. Therefore an inducement of 6s., which could hardly be effective in turning the balance, would cost us £105,000,000 a year. That almost puts it beyond question that financial inducement must be put aside.
The trouble is that we are profoundly ignorant of the causes which induce childlessness. We know that there are many, and that one is the maternal mortality. The hon. Member who seconded the Motion suggested an inquiry, and it ought to be the first work of this committee of inquiry, which I hope the Government will appoint, to carry out a searching and dignified investigation into the relative weight of the different causes of childlessness. If we were to find that fear of pain was an important cause, we should naturally press forward with vigour the development and cheapening 508 of the machinery which already exists for removing pain, and which now can be operated, with the assistance, I think, of one midwife, in addition to the midwife required to attend the birth itself. But it might be possible that the medical profession were quite near to devising a machine which could be operated by the one midwife. If we find that pain is substantially a cause of childlessness, it is in that direction that we must follow our inquiry. If, on the other hand, we find that maternal mortality is the more important cause, we must pursue the inquiry in that direction.
If one were to endeavour to forecast conclusions, I believe that the inquiry would reach the conclusion that the problem of increasing the net reproduction of the race is intimately connected with the whole problem of improving our economic and political environment. I do not believe that the nationalisation of all the means of production, distribution and exchange is the only way in which the economic and political environment can be improved. There are many problems which might be investigated on their merits, and I do not think that the answer will always turn out to be the nationalisation of the men who sell whelks in the High Street in Bethnal Green. It would be a pity to nationalise them. I do not believe that small measures will solve this problem. One matter which will come up clearly is that in the towns the reproduction rate is lower than that in the country. I agree with the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Parker), though I would not, on that account, try to drive people out of the towns, but we have to make our towns more attractive.
We have to face the complete rebuilding and replanning of our towns in the next 40 years. It is a little unfortunate that this problem, which is going to leave the building industry unemployed, may require for its solution a very large expansion in the activities of that same building industry. I believe the conclusion will be reached that, either women must not be allowed to take employment or there must be a complete nursery service for children, municipally or nationally run and controlled. There ought to be a nursery school in every residential part of every town within the 509 next 40 years. [An HON. MEMBER: "As in Russia."] I agree, and it is a direction in which the committee might very well inquire. Our towns must be rebuilt so as to create an entirely new environment. The problem raises the whole question of economic security, but this has to be taken into account. We already notice the fact that 30 years hence there will be far fewer women of childbearing age, and also there will be far fewer men of an age at which man's active physical work is done. Potential parents might have it pointed out to them that their children at the age of 20 are going to suffer much less competition for the sort of jobs which are done by men of 20 than the present men of 20 are suffering. That will be found inevitably to be so.
Lastly, I agree with the hon. Member for Romford that we shall not get a solution of this problem unless we can remove the fear of war. I should, however, soon be out of order if I dealt with that point. Therefore, I support the appeal for a commission of inquiry and suggest that it should be a definite instruction to the members of that commission that they are expected to submit a report sufficiently far reaching and startling in its proposals to compel the attention of the community to this very serious problem.
§ 9.6 p.m.
§ Sir Francis Fremantle
It is very interesting for me, as one of the seniors, to respond to the appeal of the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Mr. Acland) to take the ball over from the juniors who have delivered such interesting speeches on this subject. I feel particularly anxious to say a few words for two reasons. In the first place, a good many appeals have been made to medical experience and, secondly, I have been personally engaged in inquiring about the declining population for many years. I remember in my early childhood my father, a clergyman, was sufficiently advanced to realise in 1871, before the birth rate had begun to decline in this country, but had begun to decline elsewhere, the danger that might come to this country. He kept figures regularly every week of the births and deaths in London. I had to keep the statistics for him when he was away, even after the Registrar-General's statistics were a great deal more 510 useful. He could not, however, be persuaded that that was so. The fact is that from my earliest days I and others with me have recognised the appalling danger that was facing us if we took it for granted that we were to go on with an increasing population, and then we found ourselves disillusioned.
Several points have been raised, some of which require some qualification. There was one point on which I might be inclined to quarrel with my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys), who seconded the Motion so well. He said that the whole trouble could be attributed to contraceptive methods. That is not the case. It is true that contraceptive methods have enabled the decline in the birth rate to take effect very rapidly and very largely, but long before contraceptive methods were introduced, the decline had begun. It had begun long before contraceptive methods came within the reach of the general mass of the people. At the beginning of this century we find that the decline had set in. Perhaps I might quote even further back in history. It is strange how history repeats itself. Polyvius over 2,000 years ago wrote:In our time Greece has been afflicted with a failure of offspring. For when men gave themselves up to ease, comfort and indolence, and would neither marry nor rear children born out of marriage, or at the most only one or two, in order to leave these rich and to bring them up in luxury, the evil soon spread imperceptibly but with rapid growth. There is no need to consult the gods about the modes of deliverance from this evil: for the first thing we have to do is to change our habits, or at all events to enact laws compelling parents to rear their children.Therefore to suggest that it is due to modern methods of prevention in our case in the last 20 or 30 years does not entirely put the situation as we read of it in history. We have it in the history of Greece and the decline and fall of the Romans. Here is another quotation: Sir John Seely wrote of Rome:The invincible power has been tamed by a slow disease. Against this disease she is powerless; and the disease is sterility. Men were wanting; the Empire perished for want of men.Let me give one last quotation. It is from the Prime Minister in a very notable address which he gave to the Classical Association about to years ago:There are fears among those who are responsible for Government to-day, taking 511 grisly shape in the twilight. Rome has left danger signals along the road. It is for us to hear them.There is no cheap way of accounting for this trouble or of getting out of it. We have to face it. We find it all through history, not only in Rome and Greece, but those towns and cities which archaeological investigations have brought to light in Asia, Arabia and other places, which have passed away and perished. It seems to me that we are more likely to arrive at the real cause of this trouble if we seek it in history brought up to date as applied to our own life than if we take the narrower view.
We must interpret the word "luxury" in its real meaning, not in the common meaning of luxury as applied to the bloated rich, but in its real sense. That is possibly one of the greatest factors in the trouble. People 0by degrees, very largely owing to the stimulus of public opinion, competition and publicity, tend to luxury. Competition urges people to a higher standard of what, in the first instance, is comfort, and which later on becomes necessity without comfort. One family finds it necessary to take their children to the cinema once a week, and therefore the children of other families expect their parents to do the same thing for them. That becomes the custom all along the line. Then certain parents feel that they must take their children twice or three times a week to the cinema. We also see this development in other ways. The same principle applies in other directions. When I was a school medical officer I saw the excellent effect of example in regard to the cleanliness of children. By degrees cleanliness became a competition, and the result was that poor children who could not help themselves and came dirty to school were twitted by their fellow school children, and there developed competition among them in the direction of cleanliness.
The same thing applies not only to health and cleanliness, but to standards of amusement. I should like to ask those hon. Members who know better than myself, because they are of the age of 30 or less, whether this sense of competition does not also apply among them in regard to the different fashions of the day. Do they not tend constantly to rise to increased standards of entertainment? It is the same also in regard to 512 motor cars and motor cycles. Everyone wants to be equal to his fellow-man, and there has come a stage when this desire for a standard of so-called luxury and comfort has become a real factor in the question of population.
There is no doubt that the attractions of finance have had a great effect. What is wanted, especially by the great masses of the people who are most concerned, is that they shall have sufficient to be able to bring up their children in a reasonably decent and respectable standard of life, but this idea would be quite useless unless there was combined with it a change in public opinion in regard to the standard of living. I think this is combined with, but subsidiary to, the desire for a simple life. The present generation cannot speak about a simple life. It is hardly possible at any time to any one individual, and possibly we shall have to wait until the next generation grows up and feels more definitely the danger that is before us. There have been certain movements among the people for simple living. From the physical point of view this is to be encouraged, but I want to remind the House that the decline of the birth rate is not merely a question of quantity but of quality.
There is a quality danger and a very remarkable one. As I look back on families which I have known and remember the old days, of families of five, seven and nine, it was not the eldest son who was the most useful. This was possibly due to maternal experience or the circumstances of the family and to the fact that the younger sons had the advantage of the experience of their parents in training their elder brothers and sisters. They were not sufficiently Benjamins of the family to be spoilt. In history you find that very few of the great men either in statesmanship or in the Services, in art or invention, were the eldest sons. Over and over again they have been the younger sons, and, therefore, a decline in the birth rate will be a serious matter. I am afraid that if it continues we are going to lose an immense amount of quality and ability, in church and in the State, in art and in other walks of life. I think that a declining birth rate will deprive us of quality. If we consider competition with other countries in the world we are also losing the power to compete.
513 Hon. Members have called for a further inquiry. I want them to remember the great labours which were conducted by the Commission of Inquiry which started in 1913, the National Birth Rate Commission, which was started under the chairmanship of Bishop Boyd-Carpenter. It was referred to by the "Times" and commended to the House of Commons by the Prime Minister of that day, Mr. Asquith. The chairman of the Commission introduced the school medical services on to the Statute Book, and he was succeeded by Dean Inge and Sir James Marchant. It reported in 1916 in the middle of the War to Mr. Walter Long, then President of the Local Government Board, who said:I thank your Committee for the splendid work they have done.Their work was continued after the War. The commission was reconstituted in May, 1918, and published a report which I have brought down to the House in order to show that I am speaking the truth. This committee presented a second report in 1920, and hon. Members will find a great deal of information in it. I think that the time is ripe for a further inquiry, and although we cannot expect a very great deal from it—we must expect more from general publicity and a discussion of the subject openly—there is some advantage to be gained from a thorough overhauling inquiry by a commission. It would have good results. This is one of the most serious matters which can possibly come before any commission or public assembly and, therefore, I am glad that the hon. Member has raised it in such a splendid manner to-night.
§ 9.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Broad
I am encouraged by the speech of the hon. Member for St. Albans (Sir F. Fremantle) to enter into this discussion. Until he rose it seemed to be the peculiar sphere of young bachelors, who were much concerned about the awful consequences of limiting families. We have had many statistics given to us this evening. From those statistics they draw deductions and plot curves. That is all very well, but when you begin to plot curves in human affairs and follow out statistics to their logical conclusion you are very apt to be led astray. The hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys) gave us figures to show that in the very 514 near future our population would decline to about 4,000,000 and that of Russia would be about 320,000,000. There is an obvious remedy, it seems to me. The great immediate cause of the decline is undoubtedly birth control, contraceptive methods. I think it is just as well, but the purpose of the people who understand and use these methods is not to prevent themselves having any family but to ensure that they shall have fewer children, better born, and with a better chance in life. All reasonable and informed people to-day are concerned to see that they keep their families within reasonable limits. There may be circumstances in society—leisure and health on the one hand, and selfishness on the other—which will prevent a small proportion of people having any family or only one child.
Among the mass of the people it is not the fear of maternity or the fear of being deprived of any little luxury or enjoyment but the uncertainty of life which makes them limit their families. Therefore, no inquiry which confines itself to statistical calculations will carry us very far. The question is one of psychology, political circumstances and the philosophy of life of the great mass of our people. It is not a question of poverty. When you reach a certain degree of poverty, the means test level, and inure people to that level, they do not trouble; they have the biggest families. Every child has to take its chance. It is when you raise people to a higher level of social culture that they will struggle to maintain it. I will not go further into statistics, because I am neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet. But in 1800 the population of Ireland was just over 7,000,000. At the end of that century it was about half that, not because of birth control—they were all good Catholics—but because of absentee landlordism and bad economic conditions. Take the population of Scotland, which has always been prolific. For the last 130 years their population has been about stationary. Our population increased in the same time from about 8,500,000 to 40,000,000. In Russia, where they know more about birth control than they did a few years ago, because of economic security and the abolition of poverty, class distinctions, and snobbery, the population is growing at the alarming rate referred to by the hon. Member.
§ Mr. Broad
It is increasing at the rate of 3,000,000 to 5,000,000 a year. After the War the population of Russia was 130,000,000, and now it is about 180,000,000. That is a very great advance. But I am not concerned to argue the affairs of Russia; here there is one greater than I in the affairs of that great country. One of the important factors which is preventing the younger people who would like to have families from having them, particularly in the London area, is the lack of housing accommodation, and the tremendous price which is charged for decontrolled houses, or apartments in the decontrolled houses. The Minister of Health, who in 1923 arranged for decontrol of houses, is more responsible for this great decline since then than any other person. I live in the constituency which I represent, and I sit one evening a week as magistrate and Member of Parliament to advise my people. Every Friday evening I get 12 or 15 vaccination forms to sign. I get people coming in who want houses. They are paying for two rooms in an outer suburb of Edmonton 18s. or one guinea a week out of a wage of 50s. or 60s. in London, and their workmen's fares are over 300 per cent. higher than they were pre-war. Can you wonder that they say, "We would like to have a family but we are not going to have a family in one or two rooms." The council will not let them have a house until they have one or two children. Consequently, they are between the devil and the deep sea, between the Blue Tories who have raised the rent by decontrol and the Red council who will not let them have houses until they have progeny. The wife is not content to stay in one or two rooms and says, "I will carry on with my work," and before two or three years have passed the family is existing on the wages of husband and wife. They will not have a family in those two rooms, and they carry on in that way.
Others, after years of waiting for a house, have gone to a building society, put down their little savings, which ought to furnish their house, as a deposit, and shouldered a burden of mortgage on £600 at rates of interest of 5 to 6 per cent. They furnish on the hire-purchase system. They are always in fear of losing their jobs. Can it be wondered that in those 516 circumstances they will not take on the responsibility of a family? I have made a rule of recommending to lower middle-class men that, if they attempt to buy a house, they should not pay more than two years' wages for it, and that if they pay rent, they should not pay more than one-fifth of their wages or salaries for rates, house rent and travelling. I can tell the House that to-day, even with the limited accommodation which they have, many of them are paying from one-third to one-half of their wages for the house-room alone. If these people came to me for advice, I would say to them, "Do not have children until they can be born in a decent home."
There is another factor to be considered. From inquiries that have been made, we are able to find out the rates of children in different classes of workers and society. One of the main things which is keeping the lower middle class, the salaried class, from having families, is their education and t heir training for their calling or profession. If they are elementary school teachers, it is very rare that they begin to earn anything before they are 21 years of age, and if they go in for a degree or a profession, they do not get a salary until they are 23 or 24 years of age. Then they start on a salary scale which goes up yearly by increments, beginning, for instance, at £180 and going up to £360 or £400 by gradual stages. They are middle-aged people before they get the income of their class. They feel that they have to keep up appearances in that class and they cannot do that and have a family as well. It is unfortunate that in all salary negotiations the organisations are usually represented by older gentlemen who only want a big salary at the end of the time. I am a mechanic, and I got the full rate of wages before I was 21 years of age, whereas those of my friends who went in for teaching did not earn a penny at that age. I have found that men of the skilled mechanic class are married fairly early and have two, three or four in their family before they are 30 years of age, about the age at which their friends in professions are thinking about getting married.
There is still another factor to be considered. Young people come to me every week and ask me this sort of question, "What do you think about this air-raids scheme? Do you think we are going to 517 have a war? I do not mind going myself, but what will happen to my wife and baby? "To-day, every young man who thinks regards himself as a potential conscript in the war that is coming, and he will not face marriage because he knows how the nation treated the wives and families of the men who went away before and he knows what happened to the poor chaps who came back. You can expand your armaments, you can have all the stunts and scares you like to make people prepared to pay for them, and you can prepare their minds for conscription, but if the picture is as it is presented to us, if the population is going down to 30 millions, 20 millions or four millions, what is the use of all those armaments? Who is going to pay the interest on the war debt? I am very much reminded of something that was said by Dean Swift, who was once taken for a walk round Dublin and saw a new building being put up. He asked what it was, and he was told, "This is a powder magazine." He said:Behold the proof of Irish wit,Here Irish wit is seen,When nothing's left that's worth defence,They build a magazine.
§ 9.40 p.m.
I rise with considerable diffidence as a member of that unsocial anti much-abused class of people, bachelors; but I would like to answer the claim of the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Mr. Acland) that women in public life are the cause of smaller families, by saying that I am one of a family of six. I hope the hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench to-day will convey the purport of this Debate to all his colleagues, because the facts that have been brought out surely affect all the partners, and should be thought of in all legislative measures, all administrative Acts, all capital expenditure, all long-term policy, and all strategic commitments. We are faced with the problem of a country with more miles of frontier per head to defend, more miles of trade routes per head to defend, more pounds of debt per head to bear and more old age pensioners in relation to the young. Surely every Government Department should have these facts constantly in mind in all the planning that is done for the future.
The cause of diminishing population has been summed up by a gentleman who, I think, has provided the brief of 518 almost everybody who has spoken in this Debate, Professor Carr-Saunders, when he said that parents have gone on strike because of the neglect of their special problems. In the past the parent of a large family has always been in an inferior economic position compared with the bachelor or the parent of a very small family, and as soon as the power to regulate families was put in the hands of parents, they at once tried to give themselves the advantages which they could not have before. So respected a figure as Queen Victoria wrote in 1841 to her uncle:I think, dearest Uncle, you cannot really wish me to be the maman d'une nombreuse famille, for I think you will see with me the great inconvenience a large family would be to us all, particularly to the country, independent of the hardships and inconveniences to myself: men never think, at least seldom think, what a hard task it is for us women to go through this very often.The words "very often" are underlined. If Queen Victoria felt that, it is not surprising that women for the last century have begun to have the same feeling, that if they had a large family they were not getting a square economic deal. There has been widespread ignorance of the effect these smaller families would have on the future of this country, but I would like to reply to the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Parker) that emigration has very seldom been a cause in changing the curve of population in the country from which the emigrants have gone. It is interesting to note that about 10 years ago, when the population problem of Japan first became acute, Japanese thinkers thought that in emigration would lie a solution of their population problem; but the researches of Japanese statisticians and scientists proved that very few countries, except possibly Ireland, have had their population affected by people going out, and as fast as emigrants went out they were replaced by births.
Nor can it be proved that poverty has been a cause of lower births. In the report of the Commissioner for the Special Areas it is stated that the birth rate in those areas is considerably higher than the birth rate for the whole of England. For the whole of England the natural increase is 2.7 and in Durham it is 5.7. If we are to deal with these problems we must look for quality in the coming generation. To some extent the question of numbers has passed our control. To 519 some extent the population is bound to decline, but when we know that of the children going into elementary schools, 16 per cent. suffer from remediable defects and that of the children who have attended nursery schools, even those who had original disabilities, only 7 per cent. suffer from such remediable defects, we can see that the enthusiasts for nursery schools are not guided by sentiment alone but by hard facts, in desiring that those schools should be universal.
Similarly we feel that the problem of slum schools, where the children cannot get proper nourishment, proper fresh air or a proper environment, has to be tackled and tackled soon. When we realise that 60 per cent. of those who present themselves as recruits for the British Army are turned down, while in Germany the figure is only 16 per cent., we see that the situation cannot be regarded with complacency. It is true that there is conscription in Germany, and that the prospective recruits in this country may be drawn from the poorer classes, and also that our standards may be a little higher than those of Germany. All that, however, does not explain away the alarming disparity in the figures.
The only scientific developments which seem to be within sight are inventions to make maternity painless, and although I understand that in Russia there have been experiments in the production of rats out of test-tubes by epigenesis, the possibility that even in the "brave new world" this method can be applied to human beings, is still far beyond the range of present-day science. The level of population must govern our whole policy. It means that we have to be extraordinarily cautious in our commitments as regards war, that we must do all we can to avoid any adventurous policies which will land us in trouble. We have to realise that with a smaller share of the world's population, we ought to share more the benefits of the control of the world's surface which is ours at present, whether by tariff changes, or actual political redistribution. We have to lend sympathetic consideration to the one real problem of over-population in the world, the problem of Japan. With Britain's population declining, the Dominions and the rest of the Empire may have to take on a greater share of the burden of their own defence. We must 520 see that the public debt is not piled up to be a load on the diminished population of the future. We must undertake no capital expenditure which is unsuitable to a country with a declining population.
As regards numbers, one thing is clear, that we have to accept birth control as a fact. If we try to forbid it, we shall have the same experience as Italy. The prohibition of birth control is a form of prohibition which cannot be enforced. It will arouse a defensive reaction among the people who desire to practise it. The hon. Member for Barnstaple referred to the effect of taxation. I was speaking recently to a doctor with a large general practice, who told me that since the Chancellor of the Exchequer withdrew the privilege of educational trusts in the last Budget, a number of his patients had asked him how they could limit their families, because, as result of that change, they were unable to provide for the education of further children. He said he had been staggered by the number who came to him with that request since the last Budget, and that what the Chancellor had given with one hand he had taken away with the other. Although educational trusts may have been abused, I think they should be allowed to a limited and reasonable extent.
On the question of family allowances the Government ought to set an example to other employers. There are allowances to men serving in the Army and I think also in the Air Force and there should be a similar system in the Navy. There has been prejudice among elderly officers against young married officers, but it should be announced by all Government Departments that no bar will be placed in the way of the marriage of their employés, however young. In many regiments there is an unofficial but quite effective bar against married subalterns. I know a case of a subaltern in a certain regiment who was about to get married and was asked whether when he got married he would be able to continue to hunt and play polo as he had done previously. He said he could not do so, and he left that regiment. It should be impressed on all colonels of regiments that no bar is to be placed in the way of subalterns getting married.
I was mentioning a particular case which came to my notice, but the same thing applies to all classes.
I agree, and I say that the Bank of England ought to set an example and bring pressure to bear on the other banks, and if necessary the Government ought to introduce a condition into contracts against any bar on marriage. The. German system of allowances to young married couples to enable them to set up house ought to be carefully examined, but I do not think it is possible to proceed by economic remedies alone. We cannot bribe parents to have children if the desire is not there.
I can only say that in spite of my mother being in public life, I have had a very fine example in my own family. It is very important that the facts of the situation should be made known. They are not generally known. It is not generally known, for instance, that the replacement of our population is no longer automatic. We must give people the knowledge that it a public duty to have families of a reasonable size. If people are to have larger families they require to feel confidence. One of the ways in which we can build up confidence is not only by seeking peace and ensuring it, not only by giving economic advantages, but by the avoidance of extreme policies. Extreme policies destroy confidence in the future of the country, and that remark applies to both parties. I am sure that if the facts were known, if the country were made to realise the need for families of reasonable size and of high quality, there would be an improvement in the situation. I hope that the Government will accept the proposal for a full inquiry not only because of the facts which such an inquiry will elicit, but also because of the valuable publicity which it will give to the subject. The more it is known, the more the thinking part of the population, the newspaper readers, realise the facts, and the more they devote their attention to the question, the sooner shall we see a remedy for the present deplorable situation.
§ 9.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Morgan Jones
I want to say at the very beginning that we hope very much that the Government will find it possible to accept the Motion, at any rate so far as the reference to an inquiry is concerned. We may have our differing points of view as to why this problem has arisen, but we can agree that there is a problem and that, therefore, it is an appropriate matter for the Government to inquire into. We have had this evening a very remarkable series of speeches on this Motion. I very much enjoyed the first four speeches from the other side of the House and those from this side. I observe that the hon. Member for King's Norton (Mr. Cartland), who moved the Motion, placed first in importance, in connection with this demand, the danger to the maintenance of the British Empire, and then the economic well-being of the nation. Why he should have put them in that order, I do not know. I should have thought that the well-being of our own country should have come first. However, let me follow his order and say a word or two first on the future well-being of the Empire.
I am sure the hon. Gentleman will not agree with me—I know that in advance—but I am not quite sure that it is our first duty to consider the British Empire in this connection. I venture to say that, so far as the resources of what is known as the British Empire, but what we prefer to call the British Commonwealth of Nations, are concerned, we consider that our first duty is to encourage the people who are indigenous to those areas to develop those areas. We do not regard these vast territories as areas that are primarily there for receiving our surplus population, if we have one. Rather do we regard it as our bounden duty to encourage those people, as far as we can, to develop their own faculties and their own abilities to such a degree that they will be able to produce from those countries as much material for themselves as they require and as much also as the rest of the world requires. I understand that that is agreed to by hon. Members opposite, so that one part of the Labour party's policy is accepted at any rate.
Now I will turn to the internal problem, and here, I think, we must all agree that there is one aspect of it that is obvious to everybody. Whatever the cause may 523 be, this decline in the child population of our country is the result of conscious and deliberate action. It is plain that there is a deliberate and sustained endeavour on the part of parents to limit their families to a reasonable number. As to why they do that we may perhaps differ, but the fact that they do it is, I believe, beyond dispute. I believe that it arises in the main from a new conception which people are attaining of the responsibilities of parenthood. It may be stated in terms of the hon. Member for St. Albans (Sir F. Fremantle). He may say that in his view it is due to the pursuit of a larger measure of leisure or of luxury, but I will put it in this way: Men and women, especially since the War, are determined that their children shall enjoy a higher standard of living than was the case with their parents and with themselves when they were children.
The right of the child has become a greater element in the thoughts of parents than it has ever been before, and I believe that, so far, that is all to the good. The right of the child can only be safeguarded by the conditions under which the parents are called upon to live, for, after all, it is we as parents who determine what opportunities our children shall have, and to that end we do what we think is good for our children. I agree that to enable parents to do better for their children it is not much use having recourse to these finicky little financial adjustments here and there. So far as the Measure involved in last year's Budget went, it was to the good, and parents cordially welcomed it, but I think we have to look at it much more fundamentally than that. I was interested in the reasons which the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys) gave. He recited a whole list, but, curiously enough, in the whole list of causes which seemed to him to lead parents to avoid having more than a certain number of children he altogether avoided mentioning war. I do not know why, because I assure him he is overlooking what I consider to be a very important factor in this connection. The effect of the last War undoubtedly was to compel parents, or at any rate to induce them, to say to themselves, "Is it worth while producing children so that they may become cannon fodder?" to use a common expression. The horrors of war, the devastation 524 caused by war, simply scare parents and make them feel that they will not be justified in bringing children into the world if that is to be their inevitable destiny, and I believe that that factor plays a big part in this matter.
I believe that we should never have heard a speech like that of the hon. Member opposite or indeed from any Conservative Member 30 years ago. I was astounded to hear the Seconder of the Motion say some of the things which he did say. It is not that I was disturbed or in any way hurt; indeed, I was entirely charmed by some of the things that he was saying. For instance, it was a delightful thing to hear an hon. Member opposite, on the eve of the introduction of a Factories Bill, urge upon the Government which he supports that they should introduce into that Factories Bill the Washington Convention proposals whereby there should be ante-natal provision for women and that they should be guaranteed so much per week for at least six weeks before the birth of their child. That is most excellent, and I almost felt like offering a card of membership in the Labour party to the hon. Member.
§ Mr. Sandys
There is no monopoly in the Labour party of care or concern as to the health of mothers.
§ Mr. Jones
No, but when we do discover some supporters we are glad to welcome them. The second point which the hon. Member made was interference with the mother's working capacity, and again, to my great delight, nursery schools and creches for children. We had an argument about that last week, and I will not enter into it again, but in this respect also he is in agreement with something which the Labour party has popularised. The third point is the most important. It concerns the cost of bringing up children, and the hon. Member devoted a considerable amount of time to the subject. I agree with all he said about the cost of housing and the cost of feeding and clothing children. May I say to the hon. Member and to the Minister who will follow me, that the Government themselves are steadily adding to this burden year after year? This steady effort to raise the cost of commodities is having an unfortunate consequence in many working-class homes.
It is astounding to me how lower middle-class people in and around 525 London are able to make ends meet at all having regard to the tremendous proportion which the element of rent represents of their expenditure. I live in a suburb where there have been built large numbers of houses which cost between £1,200 and £1,500. A person who buys one of these houses has to put £200 or £300 down and borrow £1,000. He has to pay 5 per cent. at least, which means £50 a year for interest alone. He has to pay another £50 per year for 20 years for repayments, and another £20 at least for rates and taxes. He thus has to pay £120 a year without beginning to live at all. I have often wondered where in the world these people earn their living. Where do they earn sufficient to pay £120 for a house and yet have sufficient margin to pay for their ordinary needs? It is a problem I have not understood, and I do not know what the answer is. Most of these people are clerks earning £250 or £300 a year, and nearly half their earnings go to provide housing accommodation. It is an impossible proposition, and inevitably they must say that they cannot afford children.
§ Mr. Jones
They may do, and in that case the wife must remain at home. I am told that some of these wives go out to work, and thus, again, the tendency is to avoid having families. The hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys) referred to education. I have two children, one of whom goes to an elementary school, and for me in the suburbs of London it is a terrible proposition to find out where I can get a school for my elder child where the fees are within a range that I can meet. Fees [...] 12, 16 and 20 guineas per term are an awful proposition for people with modest incomes, and yet the number of schools available with lower fees are very few. The result is that people with a smaller income than mine—and I can scarcely conceive that there are many with less than mine—must have a terrible proposition to face. In view of this expense there is also a tendency for people to say, "No children." I was astounded, but none the less encouraged, to hear the hon. Gentleman actually say that the problem of fees in schools and the social snobbery in the realm of education in the suburbs had induced him to urge that the time was coming when the State should compel all 526 children to go to State schools. When he introduces a Motion to that effect, I hope he will give me notice, and I shall be here to back him up.
What does this problem compel us to do? There is not one side of our social life which is not involved in it. Take the case of my own area in South Wales. You are moving tens of thousands of youngsters from that area to various areas in London. We are left with very small children or very old people. The development of modern industry around London is drawing thousands from other areas, leaving them comparatively depopulated. That will have an enormous effect on the future development of industry. If the figures the hon. Gentleman gave the House are correct, in 20 years from now the problem will he infinitely more complex than it is at the present moment. In another 20 years I do not know what the situation will be.
In the long run this problem is one of planning. You cannot go on developing industry higgledy-piggledy anywhere and everywhere regardless of where the populaton is or of whether there are adequate population resources. Private people may be interested in the problem, as are Members of both parties, and may have their solutions, but they have not the resources of information at their disposal. The only people who could guide employers adequately in this matter are the Government. It is the Government alone who have the resources, and it is the Government's job to face up to this question now in good time. In another generation the problem of controlling industry will be so completely different that unless we tackle it now, in good time, we shall be caught by a situation in which we shall not be able to improvise ways and means of meeting it. We support this Motion to-night. It is not necessary that we should agree with all the analyses of the causes, nor with some of the solutions and remedies, which supporters of it have put forward, but that there is a case for inquiry we are abundantly convinced, and we shall go into the Lobby in support of the Motion.
§ 10.17 p.m.
I think I owe you, Mr. Speaker, and the House an apology for your having to listen to me once again. It seems to me that I have been address- 527 ing the House much too often in the course of the last two days.
The House owes a debt of gratitude to the hon. Member for King's Norton (Mr. Cartland) for having raised this subject. I certainly owe him a debt of gratitude, because it has involved me in trying to make myself acquainted with a subject about which I previously knew nothing. I imagine that the hon. Member himself was also in that state a short while ago, and I hope he will not take offence if I suggest that some of the statements he has made show that he is still in that state. As the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan Jones) rightly said, this is a question on which only the Government, with all its resources, can really have adequate information. It is a subject, too, which the Government, or at least the appropriate Department, the Registrar-General's, have been studying for some considerable time, and I should like to say a word or two on the results of that study so far as they have gone at present. I would interpose here to say that we propose to accept the Motion and to make an investigation, or, perhaps I should say, continue our investigation.
Before anything can be done to deal with the problems which have been raised it is necessary to know what are the facts. A great deal of speculation on the subject has been undertaken in the last few years by experts. The results have been published and have been quoted in many of the statements we have heard to-night. The danger of those calculations lies in the fact that the ordinary member of the public who reads them, and makes use of them subsequently in discussion, very seldom takes the trouble, or knows enough, to take account of the safeguards which the authors of those calculations would be the first to say are essential before one can make use of the results of their calculations. It is, therefore, with no desire to disparage any of these experts that I quote a description of their results which I came across the other day and which may possibly amuse and interest the House. They are described as:Purely mathematical exercises, lacking all touch with reality except so far as the basic 528 assumptions, hypothetically adopted, happen to coincide with the unascertainable truth.That very accurately describes, I am afraid, many of the figures which have been given by hon. Members in the Debate. Some Members have said the birth rate in this country has been steadily declining. They have painted appalling pictures. The interesting fact is that since 1933, for the first time in our history, the birth rate in this country has remained stable for four years in succession, and has not continued to fall. The actual birth rate for the last two years has, in fact, shown a slight rise. Many hon. Members in the course of the Debate suggested that contraceptive methods were the cause of the decline, but the hon. Member for King's Norton was wise enough not to make that statement. He quite rightly said that contraceptive methods were the means and not the cause of the declining birth rate. There is all the distinction in the world between those two things.
Of course, there is implicit in this Motion the idea that there is, in any country, and in this country, an optimum population. Before you decide whether that is correct, I submit that you have first of all to decide what you regard as your optimum. That is a question of very great difficulty, upon which opinions differ. Some people would say that the optimum is such as will provide additional population for the Dominions, and others that it is such as will provide the largest number of adults of middle-age for possible war. Other people would say that the optimum was to provide the largest number of juveniles to go into industry. You get almost innumerable definitions of "optimum." The hon. Member who moved the Motion asked why people were having fewer children to-day than at any time in the past. That goes to the root of the whole matter. I am not admitting that they are having fewer children than at any time in the past, because the figures show that there appears, at the present moment, to be a check. It is a matter for detailed investigation. Some hon. Members have suggested that the fall in the birth rate has something to do with economic conditions. That again is a matter on which opinions differ and about which, as far as I know, there is no definite information at present on which we can form a judgment. There are only vague indications.
529 A very interesting speech was made by the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Broad). I thoroughly agreed with the first portion of it, but he went on to suggest that the reduction in the birth rate was due to the action of the Government in decontrolling houses. It cannot possibly be so, because, according to the figures to which I have just referred, the major reduction in the birth rate took place when houses were not decontrolled, and it is only during the last few years, when houses have been decontrolled, that the rate has tended to become stable. I do not know where he obtained the figures which he gave to the House.
The hon. Member used them to show, so far as I understood him, that the Russian population is increasing faster because of the improved conditions in Russia. I asked an hon. and learned Member on the Front Bench opposite to do me a sum while the hon. Member was speaking, and he tells me that at the rate referred to by the hon. Member the Russian population is doubling now every 30 or 40 years. When I was in Russia before the War, at our Embassy, under conditions which I assume the hon. Member for Edmonton thinks were much worse than they are now, the population of Russia was doubling itself every 20 years. That seems to dispose of that argument. The hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Parker) said that the fear of war was one of the factors, but again let us look at the results for the last few years since the War. The years up to, say, 1929 or 1930, when the whole country thought that, with the League of Nations, the risk of war was appreciably lessened, were the years when there was a decline in the birth rate, while during the last four years, when everyone has known, or at any rate believed, the risk of war to have been greater than it was earlier, there has been a slackening off in that decline. That disposes of his argument also. I only say this in order to show how difficult it is to reach any considered opinion with the information that we have at our disposal. Some hon. Members have mentioned maternal mortality as one of the causes of the decreasing birth rate. I think that one 530 of them was the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Mr. R. Acland), who talked about the reproduction rate. I recognise there the jargon of the experts—
Perhaps he has been contaminated by bad company. Anyhow, I have no doubt that some believe that the recent propaganda in favour of the maternity services has resulted in decreasing the birth rate, by inducing a fear of confinement among the mothers of this country. But, looking at the real effects on the population, I think it will be agreed that the net result so far as actual maternal mortality is concerned is very small, because one finds that, out of 1,335, which I believe is the average death rate per 100,000 among women, only 16 deaths were the result of pregnancy and childbirth—obviously a very small proportion indeed, which cannot have any material effect in reducing the birth rate. It is much more likely to be a psychological factor, to which several hon. Members have referred.
The same thing applies to housing. It has been suggested, in the course of the Debate, that the lack of housing has had a serious effect in reducing the birth rate. So far as rural housing is concerned, I think that that is probably true, because the young couples in the country among the agricultural population expect, quite rightly in my opinion, a much higher standard of comfort and amenity in their houses—they know from the cinema and so forth what is possible—and they expect a much higher standard than that which was vouchsafed to their parents. They look around in the country to-day and see the cottages in which their fathers and mothers lived, and I think it is quite possible that the badness of rural housing at present may have a serious effect on the birth rate in the country. It is one of the factors, and that is why we have been so persistent in endeavouring to urge rural authorities both to undertake schemes for the elimination of slums and overcrowding in the country, and also to make use of the Housing (Rural Workers) Acts and to recondition properties and bring them up to a reasonable modern standard wherever that is possible.
531 I have put forward these various considerations merely to show the complexity of the problem. I agree with Members who have talked about birth control up to this point, that the advance of knowledge introduces for the first time a new element into the situation to this extent, that it makes what was previously accidental now definitely within the compass of voluntary effort, namely the limitation of families. But that does not really solve the problem. We have still to decide whether or not there is any economic urge to reduce families and whether there is any possibility of altering that urge. It is quite useless, in our opinion, to discuss what is the optimum population unless you can be reasonably certain that you can take some steps which will affect the population one way or the other. It is no use talking about the idea of an optimum population unless you are certain that you can take steps to secure it.
The hon. Member for King's Norton spoke about the age-grouping of the population. He is quite right, and that is one of the most outstanding characteristics of our population. We have a very large preponderance of persons in the prime of life at present. That is due to the fact that at some time we had an excess of births, which must inevitably be followed by a time when we shall have an excess of an older age group. The extent to which that is the case will be realised when I point out that the present adult population is the result of years when the number of births per annum was around 900,000. The juvenile population to-day are sprung from years when the birth rate was between 500,000 and 600,000 per annum, and the number of old people is also the result of a time when the birth rate was between 500,000 and 600,000. Therefore the House will see the reason for this enormous bulge in the centre.
Hon. Members are quite right in saying it is beyond the bounds of possibility, if you think it is wrong, to alter it now. Whether or not it is a good thing is a matter of opinion. We have not at present sufficient information to be able to say with certainty, or even with probability, what the results over a long period are going to be. It is sufficient for our immediate purpose to see what 532 the population of the country is likely to be at the end of 20 years. Let hon. Members cast their imagination back to 100 years ago and imagine what were the estimates of the statisticians of 1836, with the knowledge that they then had of the trend of population, what were the estimates of the statisticians of 1836 of what the population would be to-day. Imagine how wide of the mark they must have been. I think the estimates that are being made to-day by certain statisticians who have been quoted are quite possibly equally wide of the mark. That is why we welcome the Debate. We do not propose to set an inquiry on foot, because the subject is continuously under inquiry in my Department. We propose to intensify that inquiry. We shall welcome any assistance, but we think it is essentially a matter for the Government and not for outside societies.
It is clear that this intense investigation may lead to conclusions which will be of interest. My final suggestion is that hon. Members who raised this question spoke at some disadvantage—two of the most powerful speeches were delivered by bachelors. The hon. Gentleman the Member for West Nottingham (Mr. Hayday) would, I think, have been much better qualified to deal with this question.
§ Mr. Cartland
How far is this inquiry to go? I know that it is going on at the moment, but is it to be extended, and what are to be the terms of reference of this particular inquiry?
I do not think that we have got to the stage yet of drawing up terms of reference, but I have indicated sufficiently clearly to-night the type of problem which really faces the country and the Government, and we hope that the inquiry which we have set on foot will obtain sufficient information to indicate what the policy should be.
§ Mr. Cartland
Will it be possible for the gentlemen who are carrying out the investigation to issue an interim report, or, at any rate, can my hon. Friend give an assurance that in the lifetime of this Government we shall have an interim report?
I tried to cover that point by saying that I could not give at this stage any pledge, but I am certain that an inquiry of this nature will produce results to justify itself.
§ Mr. Sandys
While my hon. Friend indicated that he will accept the Motion, is it intended to produce a report which will be made available to hon. Members?
§ 10.37 p.m.
§ Mr. G. Griffiths
I have listened very intently practically to all the speeches, although I am sorry I was not present all the time when the Mover of the Motion was speaking. He spoke as a bachelor, and two or three other bachelors have spoken, but I am going to speak from experience, and not from theory. I hold the record in this House at the present time for getting more bounties for triplets on behalf of constituents in my division than anyone else in this House. The week before the ex-King abdicated I obtained a bounty, and I said, "I hope he does not leave before I get this bounty." The present King had scarcely come to the Throne 10 minutes when they sent along to me and said, "Can you, George, do the same for me?" And we landed another set of triplets again last week.
I have found in going up and down the country for a good number of years that men and women, who had been members of large families when they were boys and girls, have taken jolly good care not to have large families themselves. You will find that sort of thing all round the country. I am one of a family of 10, and there is nobody in that family who has more than three children. Why? It is not from the theoretical standpoint, but from the standpoint of having had to live almost at starvation level. It is no use the hon. Member opposite, a bachelor, telling us how to go on. I was starved when I was a lad, and I was determined that when I grew up to manhood and married my children should not be starved in the way that I was. Hon. Members opposite may laugh at that idea, but that is the practical side of life. That is the reason why among the working classes there are smaller families than when we were born. It is because of economic insecurity. If the people of to-day 534 had economic security there would not be much necessity for any hon. Member to put a Motion of this kind on the Order Paper.
The Motion asks for an inquiry. If an inquiry is to be held, I hope that two or three practical working women and practical working men will be on the committee of inquiry, and they will be able to tell you something. The hon. Member for King's Norton (Mr. Cartland) is smiling. Let me tell him that to-day, especially during the last 10 years, since the miners' strike of 1926, when a miner's wife knows she is going to have a baby, the neighbours almost draw the blinds of their houses, because they know to what a hardship the baby is coming. Instead of there being joy in the homes of the working classes when a baby is coming, there is sorrow and misery, because they know they have not the wherewithal to face the situation and give a welcome to the baby. When an inquiry is made I hope that one definite side of it will look into the economic circumstances.
I should like to quote a few figures from Mrs. Baldwin's committee, which show that poverty is the primary cause of high infantile mortality and the high maternal death rate. These are not figures which are got together by the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) and the Communists; they are the figures got together by Mrs. Baldwin's committee, of which Lady Rhys Williams is the secretary. Comparative death rates are shown in actual numbers. The infantile death rates quoted are for seven years from 1927 to 1933, and the maternal mortality rate from 1928 to 1934, and they cover comparative populations of 6,000,000. They deal with the figures respecting 6,000,000 people in London and Middlesex, 6,000,000 in five coal mining counties and 6,000,000 in seven ports in distressed areas. The coal mining counties are Durham, Glamorgan, Monmouth, Northumberland and the West Riding of Yorkshire and the seven ports are Birkenhead, Cardiff, Hull, Liverpool, Newcastle, Sunderland and Swansea. The number of infant deaths in seven years in the distressed areas was 64,052 and the infantile deaths in London and Middlesex covering the same amount of population was 38,629, or a less number of infantile deaths to the same amount of population, of 25,423. Then we are told by hon. Members that economic circumstances 535 have nothing whatever to do with infantile mortality. Those are the figures of Mrs. Baldwin's committee.
Take maternal mortality. There is a fear, where a woman is starved while she is carrying a baby, that she will not have strength to deliver it. That is proved by this document. The deaths in these coal mining counties was 3,965, and the deaths in London and Middlesex 2,206, or an increase of 1,759 for the same population. I am inclined to be a little ironical when I hear hon. Members opposite say, "We must make an inquiry into this matter and find out about the declining birth rate." The reasons for the decline in the birth rate is the fact that hon. Members went through that door there and voted for the means test—both the Mover and the Seconder of the Motion and the hon. Member for Fulham East (Mr. Astor). They voted for the means test to keep down the food of these women. It is no use their shedding crocodile tears—
The hon. Member attributes it all to the means test. How then does he explain the fact that the birth rate has improved in the last three years during which the means test has been in operation, and, in the second place, how does he explain the fact that the birth rate in the distressed areas is higher than in the rest of the country?
§ Mr. Griffiths
The death rate in these areas has increased—not decreased. If you save the children it will help you to keep the birth rate right. The death rate in those areas is higher than it would have been if there had not been a means test. Some hon. Members have expressed pleasure that the Chancellor of the Exchequer increased the rebate for children. When I went home one of my friends said to me, "It does not make any difference, George, to me, because I am paying nowt now." I should like to see the collier who is paying Income Tax. He has to have £240, and one youngster. There is an allowance for a man and his wife of £180 and £60 for the first youngster; and our men have been getting an average wage of about £129 per annum. The Parliamentary Secretary said he was going to make an intensive inquiry. The more intensive it 536 is and the sooner we get a report the sooner there will be a better hope of getting the means test wiped away.
§ 10.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Markham
I should like to re-echo the last sentence of the hon. Member. I want to deal with what the Minister has said. I was considerably disappointed with the Minister's reply. He might have given us some information on the terms of reference of this committee, how fast it is going to work, and why things have been so lax that such a committee is necessary. The first point it should tackle is the question of optimum population. It is no answer to tell the House that you can have several optima and anyone can choose the one that best suits his reasoning. The committee should be instructed to give us an idea of what is the best optimum from the point of view of the greatest good for the greatest number; what is the maximum population—the maximum optimum—that this country can bear; and what is the minimum with which it can still retain its share of world markets. Secondly, such an inquiry should investigate the birth rate and the infantile mortality rate by what may be termed social grades, or income grades. There is a great deal of work that requires to be done there, and in my opinion it could not be done by a Departmental Committee. There should be an inter-Departmental Committee, or for preference a Select Committee, bringing together the best available knowledge in the country.
There is a third point that the committee should take into consideration—the efforts that have been made in foreign countries to increase the birth rate, with special consideration of whether those efforts have been successful or not. Finally, the committee might also go further into the question of infantile mortality, as it affects the population of this country, than would appear to be indicated by the present action of the Ministry of Health. So long as the infantile mortality rate is nearly twice as high as it is in New Zealand, the Netherlands or Iceland, this country should be ashamed of itself as a civilised force. The shockingly high rate in this country should be one of the main causes of this inquiry. If the inquiry is restricted to a Departmental Committee it will not take us as far or as fast as an inter-Departmental Com- 537 mittee or a Select Committee. I strongly urge the Minister to set up a Select Committee, bringing in representatives of the Dominions Office, to keep us informed on questions of migration, representatives of the Treasury and of the Ministry of Health, and generally tapping the best knowledge that we have. The question has been most ably put in the House and I say with deep regret, because I have personal admiration for the Minister, that the reply, was most disappointing.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That this House is of opinion that the tendency of the population to decline may well constitute a danger to the maintenance of the British Empire and to the economic well-being of the nation, and requests His Majesty's Government to institute an inquiry into and report upon the problem and its social and economic consequences and to make recommendations in regard thereto.