Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [16th February]:
That this House welcomes the Report of Sir William Beveridge on Social Insurance and Allied Services as a comprehensive review of the present provisions in this sphere and as a valuable aid in determining the lines on which developments and legislation should be pursued as part of the Government's policy of post-war reconstruction."—[Mr. Greenwood.]
§ Question again proposed.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke)
On a point of Order. I would like, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to ask a question for the guidance of the House. Are you aware of the unsatisfactory statement made by the Lord President of the Council yesterday, and in view of that have you had an opportunity of considering the new Amendment on the Order Paper—in line I, to leave out from "House," to the end, and to add,expresses its dissatisfaction with the now declared policy of His Majesty's Government towards the Report of Sir William Beveridge on Social Insurance and Allied Services, and urges 1766 the reconsideration of that policy with a view to the early implementation of the plan.If so, is it your intention to call that Amendment, or which Amendments do you intend to call?
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, Southern)
May I respectfully draw your attention to what was said yesterday in representing to Mr. Speaker the desirability of calling the Amendment standing in the names of some 40 hon. Members asking for the establishment of a Ministry of Social Security? May I ask whether you are aware that the Lord President of the Council said yesterday that the Government had no desire to prejudge these wider questions until they had heard the views of the House? The point is that the views of those hon. Members to whom I have referred are not met by the Government's intentions. May I ask you, therefore, whether you will not call the Amendment to which I have referred and enable my hon. Friends to put their views to the Government?
§ Sir Percy Harris (Bethnal Green, South-West)
May I point out that the earliest Amendment put on the Paper is that in the names of my hon. Friend the Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts)—in line 3 to leave out from "and," to the end, and to add:urges the Government to introduce legislation at the earliest possible opportunity to give legislative effect to the principles contained therein.It is pretty clear and precise and would give the opportunity for Members to ask the Government to get on and pass legislation.
§ Mr. MacLaren (Burslem)
May I point out that my Amendment was put down before any of them? It is in line 3 to leave out from "and," to the end, and to add:that he be requested to make an inquiry into and report upon the causes of unemployment precedent to the adoption of any Social Insurance Scheme by the Government.
§ Sir Patrick Hannon (Birmingham, Moseley)
The first Amendment was put down by some of my hon. Friends and myself asking for reconsideration before a Measure is put to the country—in line 3 to leave out from "provisions," to the end, and to add:for the prevention of want and the maintenance of social security in illness, accident 1767 and old age, and the potential future expansion of those services, but requests His Majesty's Government to postpone the introduction of legislation committing the nation to the financial expenditure which the recommendations in the Report involve until the post-war reconstruction proposals of the Government for the employment of the people and the restoration of British export trade shall have been presented to Parliament.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Clifton Brown)
It would be as well if I said something to stop Members speaking on behalf of their own Amendments. I would not like to say anything to-day that would prejudice in any way Mr. Speaker's Ruling on the next Sitting Day, if he is back in the Chair then. Therefore, I suggest that we carry on with the Motion to-day without any Amendment being called. If I am in the Chair to-morrow, then, of course, it will be my decision, and I will say if and when any Amendment will be called.
§ Flight-Lieutenant Raikes (Essex, South-East)
It has been suggested that all Conservatives in this House over 50 are opposed to the Beveridge proposals and all Conservatives under 50 are in favour of them. Whether that be true or not, I can at any rate claim that I am, although not in my first youth, the youngest Member to have spoken yet in this Debate. I am more optimistic in regard to the Beveridge proposals than some Members who have spoken. There is a view held in certain quarters that it is impossible to do anything until the war is over and normal conditions return. I regard that as the gospel of despair. Every social reform in the history of this House has always been met with the argument that it must wait until normal times. I have never known normal times, and I never expect to know them. I believe that there are certain of these proposals which are necessary in the interests of our people and which can be brought into operation in due course. One realises how much depends upon the avoidance of mass unemployment.
I would remind the House of one matter which has not yet been touched on. The hard core of unemployment in the last few years before the war was largely confined to those areas that had been allowed to go derelict and to become distressed. If there is one thing which makes certain that areas will become distressed and derelict, it is where 1768 you have a period of unemployment and the subsistence level of the unemployed in those areas is inevitably reduced down and down. Then you get first, the shopkeepers unable to pay their rates because they are no longer able to earn a living, and then men living in their own houses unable to pay their rates. There is a rise of rates, and with that rise it becomes more and more difficult for industry to return to those areas. I believe that a higher subsistence level for those who are sick and unemployed will be one of the ways in which we can prevent the existence of those areas which were the greatest blot upon our pre-war history. Beyond that we have to face the fact that we shall have very heavy taxation after the war. At the same time we can, I think, to some extent judge apart our internal Budget and our export trade.
People are rather inclined to assume—and it has been stressed overmuch in this Debate—that the high figures of taxation which we shall have to face after the war will of necessity be a continual block upon employment in the home industry. In the home industry there is likely to be a great demand for work and for employment on afforestation, rehousing and the like for many years after the war. I do not hold the view that some redistribution of incomes would of necessity affect employment in the internal market provided, of course, that taxation was not so intolerably high as to prevent any incentive towards the creation of new wealth and at the same time prevent investments in industry which would automatically stop the production of capital goods. On the export side we face a different problem. The only direct charge upon the export trade in the Beveridge proposals is a definite contribution of £54,000,000 a year which employers will pay under their increased contributions. That amounts to 1s. 5d. a week. It amounts, in fact, to somewhere about 2 per cent. or a little over of the total wages charges cast on industry, assuming that wages were as low as £3. In my view, wages will be considerably higher, and if we take the full cost of production, which is not only wages, the percentage of the increased cost on employers will fall still further. In view of the imponderables of our export trade; which must depend very largely on international agreements after the war, I cannot think that a difference of even 2 or 3 per cent. on the total production, 1769 although important, is sufficiently serious to prejudice the whole of these proposals from the very start.
I want to turn to certain of the matters which were raised by the Lord President yesterday. For my part, like the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), I have been completely converted to the case for children's allowances. I am certain that if we are to deal with the question of real poverty we shall never deal with it until the lowest-paid worker while in work, if he has a family of any size, has allowances for his children. If there is to be any subsistence allowance for unemployment, it is also vital that family allowances should play their part. The Lord President pointed out that a great many services in regard to food for school children are at present in operation, but he proposed to make more and more provision for free food for children at school, and, therefore, he suggested it would be possible to have a 5s. allowance which would be sufficient for an 8s. allowance as suggested in the Beveridge plan.
There is something in what the right hon. Gentleman said, but I hope the Government will consider one or two points of which I should like to remind them in that connection. Children are not at school all the year round, and they are not at school for the whole of the week. They are not at school during holidays nor during periods of sickness, and you may well find that the average child will not be actually at school for much over 200 days out of the 365. Suppose you are giving to the child who is actually at school an allowance which is worth 2s. 6d. or 3s. a week, it is no good assuming that that is going to make the difference between 5s. and 8s., having regard to holidays and other interruptions of school time. Beyond that, it will not be possible to provide free meals for school children on this scale for a considerable period of time. A great deal more building will be necessary, an army of cooks, not yet provided, will be required and it is clear that even if you set up welfare centres for children at holiday time, you will not get the children to go out for meals, if they can avoid it, during holiday-periods. My own view is that, whatever steps are taken to improve school feeding, and a good deal can be done, 6s. will be considerably nearer than 5s. to the 1770 figure required for even approaching a subsistence basis for such children.
I come to the next point, which is the question of subsistence allowance during unemployment. For my part, I am bound to say that I think keeping up the standard of living of our people when they are unemployed, although it may mean a drain upon both contributors and the taxpayer, will give certain advantages in regard to consumer goods which we must not forget. But very serious steps must be taken to avoid malingering and I hope that the Government, when considering their final proposals, will definitely bear in mind that there is nothing more irritating to the man who is living honestly and honourably than to feel that somebody next door is getting something to which he is not entitled. The vast majority of people have no desire to malinger, but we have to deal with the few who have, and I submit that training centres are not enough. I think that in the days after the war it will be necessary at any rate for some time—and in this there is a great distinction to be drawn between the single man and the married man—to require men to be prepared to take work outside their own districts and sometimes even outside their own trades. That is a matter which any Government with any pluck will have to consider and I believe that in dealing with that, a Government would get a good deal of backing from the trade unions provided the trade unions felt that the men were going to get a fair deal.
There is one matter on which I did disagree with the Lord President of the Council and to which I would call the attention of the Government. That is the question of workmen's compensation. I am not satisfied that we can leave workmen's compensation in its present condition. In any case I do not think it is satisfactory that it should be under the Home Office. If the right hon. Gentleman, the Minister of Home Security is to join in this Debate, he may be able to give us some help on that side of the question. But I ask the House to consider the present position of workmen's compensation. There is often the need on the part of the employer to have costly private insurance, while we have, as compared with other countries, a low percentage of benefit in relation to the percentage of wages. There is irritating litigation and 1771 there is not absolute certainty of benefit for the man himself. Under the Beveridge proposals—and I do favour them here—there would be absolute security for the man himself. I think the pooled system of benefits, which would bring employer and employed, with a subvention from the State, into which the whole question of workmen's compensation, would bring it into line with the suggestions for other forms of sickness benefit. I believe it would be of advantage to the State as a whole and would make it easy to raise the compensation at least to two-thirds of the percentage of weekly earnings, and under no circumstances should the figure be below subsistance level. I ask the Government to reconsider that subject. The Lord President suggested that the proposal to which I have referred, might weaken the responsibility of the individual employer. I do not think that argument is a strong one. If the right hon. Gentleman wanted to be logical he would have to say that the present system of insurance against accidents is calculated to weaken the responsibility of the individual employer. Nobody in this House would suggest that such is the case, nor indeed in these days could it be suggested that employers as a whole desire to see accidents and injuries in their industries. I agree with the Government that a special levy upon hazardous industries appears unnecessary. It would possibly mean an additional burden upon the export trade without giving any great advantage. I do not think it would make employers more careful. Hazardous industries are not hazardous because the employers in them are worse than other employers, or because the men in them are more careless than men in other industries. They are more hazardous because of the nature of the employment in those industries.
To return to the speech of the Lord President of the Council, he also dealt with the question of sickness insurance and said he hoped it would be possible to retain the approved societies within the new scheme. I hope so too, but there is one thing which we have to face in regard to the approved societies. I do not see how, once you have adopted social insurance, you can get away from the principle of equal contributions and equal benefits. If you do, you seem to be vitiating the whole principle of paying 1772 an equal amount for an equal return, and if the approved societies are retained, I think you must have something approaching a pooling of their surpluses. I do not see how you can differentiate between the friendly society, the trade union and the approved society that is engaged in industrial insurance. They all have other interests, and I think it would be unfair to differentiate between them. As regards the question of whether industrial societies should continue or not, I would only observe that if the Government maintain their present attitude that life assurance companies should continue—and there is a lot to be said for it—they must continue on terms rather different from those which have existed hitherto. I suggest, for one thing, that it should be made clear by legislation that no industrial life company would be permitted to pay its agents commission upon new business. The Prudential has abolished that system and continue to carry on apparently very satisfactorily. I happen to be a tenant of the Prudential, and they have just raised my rent—nevertheless, I do think their action in this matter shows that this commission is not necessary for the carrying-on of this business. Again, I think if these societies are to be retained, sick visitors should be responsible to the State, otherwise there would be a temptation to them to go very easy, because the societies are naturally looking out for other business beyond their approved society work. I think, finally, that if we do decide to retain them, it should be for a period of years, say five years, and if in the course of that time they abused their functions, I should be prepared to change my mind. It seems to me that that would be the fair approach. Where there is existing machinery it is far better to make use of it, if you can, than to scrap the whole show.
There are various other matters on which I could touch, but I do not propose to make a long speech. All I would say is this: The future of this country depends upon the maintenance of employment. It also depends upon the determination of our people when this war is over to do their utmost to repair the ravages of that war. If, as a result of various schemes, our community start to lean upon the State for everything rather than to give something to the State as well we shall fail, but I do not believe it will be so. I believe in the future of our country. 1773 Our people have shown themselves in the war to be a great people, and they can show themselves to be a great people in peace, and if they are prepared to do their utmost I should favour—I do not say you can do it all at once, because I do not think you can—every effort being made to implement those proposals under the Beveridge scheme which will give a fairer deal and a fairer opportunity to the man who is unemployed, or sick, through no fault of his own, if, for instance, he has fallen sick. One of the troubles of the old days was that sick benefit got less instead of more during the period of convalescence when the man needed it most. Emerson once said that the majority of men worry themselves into nameless graves. I think we in this House and the Government have an opportunity to remove some of those anxieties which have frustrated the growth of the personalities of many men and women in past times. If we can give them a fairer opportunity to develop their personalities in the future, we shall serve not only our country but mankind itself.
§ Mr. Barnes (East Ham, South)
I should like to offer my congratulations to the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Essex (Flight-Lieut. Raikes) on the tone that he has set for this second day's Debate. It appears to me that the Debate will fail to fulfil its true purpose unless hon. Members state clearly and openly exactly what their views are on this subject. There may be room for differences of opinion, but I do not think the country wants to be humbugged on this issue. The advantage we have to-day is that yesterday we heard the first statement from the Government. I sincerely hope that it is not the final word of the Government on this matter, because I wish to state very clearly that the Government view as expressed yesterday is profoundly unsatisfactory, I believe, to a good many Members of this House, and under no conditions could we accept it as the final position of the Government. Some of my Friends and I have put down an Amendment which reflects our dissatisfaction with the Government statement made by the Lord President of the Council. What our final attitude will be regarding that Amendment will depend upon whether the Government are prepared to meet, as we believe they should meet, the overwhelming opinion of this House of Commons. 1774 The main complaint that I have against the Lord President's statement is that it breaks up the whole conception of the Beveridge Report and takes us back to the pre-war attitude of mind on this matter, that led to a patch-work approach to the problem of social insurance for which all parties are responsible.
When one tries to assess the reasons why the Beveridge Report made such an appeal to the public, obtained so much publicity and influenced world opinion more than any similar set of proposals, I feel that it is because public opinion looks upon it as an acid test of how Parliament will approach the bigger problems of reconstruction in the future. The speech of the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Essex and other speeches and the reactions of the community generally demonstrate very clearly that individuals are not approaching this problem on a party basis, I say as a convinced Socialist that I do not support the Beveridge plan because it is a Socialist plan. It is not. To me, frankly, it is a common-sense method of meeting our peace-time casualties under the prevailing economic system, the capitalist system. I am quite clear in my own mind that it does not disturb in any way any of the factors from which unemployment and sickness were wont to spring, but when from my practical experience I look over the history of social insurance in this country I have to ask myself questions of this character: First, looking back on the period from 1920 to 1935, when we had conditions of considerable economic and social strain, does any Member believe that this country could have got through that period with a sense of national stability if we had not had the social support of the insurance scheme standing between us and the extreme forms of privation? Of course we could not.
Looking at the position with which we shall be confronted after the war, we all hope that in dealing with the aftermath of this war we shall be able, with the help of past experience, to avoid many of the catastrophes of the post-war period of 1918. Surely we all clearly recognise that the disturbance of our economic system, the disturbance of population, the political problems in connection with the change-over that will prevail after the war all contain potential elements of disorder of the first magnitude. That will 1775 affect our European structure; and whilst we look to the people of this country to exercise a balance in this matter will anyone say that it is not worth a matter of 2 or 3 or 4 per cent. of our national expenditure to make sure that our social system is rounded off and made proof against reactions of that kind? Then disputation can take place between us on long-term changes in our economic system without upsetting the balance of our national life. When I contemplate the fact that the increased cost represents only 4 per cent. of our present Budgetary expenditure, it is absolutely absurd for Members like the hon. Member for Stock-port (Sir A. Gridley), and others who hold up this argument, to suggest that the total cost to this country is against the proper consideration of the benefits and advantages of a broad plan of this kind.
When you come to dissect that cost, what do you discover? The discovery is that the whole additional cost that will eventually fall upon the State does not arise from the Beveridge plan proposals based on insurance. The main factors that will produce the increased Budgetary cost to the country spring from the granting of children's allowances. Surely Members will recognise, and the Government and the public should recognise, that it is proposed to grant children's allowances from an angle entirely different from that which is involved in catering for social security as embodied in the Beveridge plan. Children's allowances would have come in any case. We need them from the standpoint of our population and to maintain our racial standards and conditions. Therefore, from the standpoint of a supply to industry and the Armed Forces, and replenishing the race, the case for children's allowances has been made out ever and over again. Therefore the bulk of the increased Budgetary expenditure rests upon the problem of children's allowances. The second factor is the ageing population of this country. In any case, Parliament has to face a steady increase in our Budgetary expenditure for some 20 or 30 years, as the result of the ageing of our population. To trot out the point that the cost is a reason why we should be timid and fearful in approaching this problem has no relation to the economics or to the business of the Beveridge Report.
I want this House to confront two phases of the administration of this Government, 1776 which impress me more and more as our Coalition war-time Government proceed to the conclusion of the war. Last Thursday the Prime Minister, the head of this Government, was standing at that Box making a statement on national policy in the forthcoming military period. There you had confidence and courage reflecting the determination and resolve of the people of this country, with a clear knowledge in all our minds of the potential costs involved, without any flinching, to see that issue through for the purpose of removing outside threats and aggressive intentions on the composite life of our people and our race. Yet, every time a member of the Government confronts a home issue like pensions and allowances or pay to our troops, or a plan like the Beveridge plan, we see timidity, hesitancy, lack of courage and lack of vision, nothing that reflects the spirit, the character and the capacity of the people of this country, as shown during the war. Does any hon. Member mean to tell me that the people of this country, if given the same kind of lead in peace and in economic reconstruction after the war in the way it must shape its business methods, as it is given now, have not the capacity of taking a report like the Beveridge Report in its stride?
Now let me state the position of the working classes of this country, again, not approaching the Beveridge Report as a purely political document. This Beveridge Report has been considered more exhaustively than I can recollect any similar public document being examined, by the various bodies of the National Council of Labour. I represent the Co-operative side, and I have been all through these examinations. On the Co-operative and trade-union sides, the Beveridge plan has never been examined as a political document. I can give the House my personal assurance on that point. Co-operatively, we had to examine it in the light of our business experience. On the trade-union side, our colleagues examined it from the standpoint of their unique experience of the administration of their own side of this business, on the incidence and the impact on the wages of the workers and in regard to issues like workmen's compensation, in which they have a particular and close interest.
The Co-operative Movement approached the problem of workmen's compensation in their capacity as large-scale 1777 employers. On the insurance side, I would remind the House, as Sir William states in his Report that, up to 1918, the Co-operative Movement had never taken the problem of industrial life assurance seriously. Then we applied our unique organisation to developing that system. The capital that we required was quite nominal, £105,000. We have called up only £26,000 of that sum. The rate of interest has been restricted to 5 per cent., but we have never even paid that 5 per cent. interest on that nominal capital of £26,000 out of the industrial life assurance grant. We have always met that small interest charge out of our general fund. From 1918 to 1942 we have built up an annual industrial assurance premium amounting to £6,500,000 a year. In our approved society section, an entirely different section, we have nearly 700,000 individual members. I am submitting these facts because I said, in response to the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Essex, that we ought to speak plainly and on a business basis on this matter.
I know very well that in our working-class and democratic organisations we are very reluctant indeed to surrender anything that we have built up ourselves. From that angle, we hold just as tenaciously to our vested interest—if you like to classify this activity as a vested interest—as anyone else does in the community. Therefore the House will appreciate that it was not easy for the Co-operative Movement, looking at this problem from the angle of national requirements and public policy, to sacrifice a rapidly expanding department of that kind. However, after a full examination, the directors of the Co-operative Insurance Society, speaking for the life assurance branch, and the directors of the Wholesale Society, speaking for the health section, came to a public decision that they were quite prepared to sacrifice those two magnificent departments of their effort, provided that Parliament and the State did the whole job properly.
The trade unions, when they were examining the problem of workmen's compensation, came to the conclusion—and I am leading up to the real test that I consider Parliament must present to the Government, without any qualification whatever—that they were prepared to fit in and modify their attitude. In their original memoranda to Sir William Beveridge, they were against workmen's 1778 compensation being considered as part of a social insurance plan, but on examination they, too, are prepared to modify their attitude to that problem. It does not mean that when we come to the Committee stage individuals will not have points of view, but these points of view and Amendments will be designed to improve the composite structure, and not designed to delay and destroy the comprehensiveness, of the Beveridge Plan. But the point I want to make to the Government is this: I believe that there is a large body of employers in this country who realise the value of this scheme. Here the Government have the opportunity of getting a large majority opinion of all the elements in the State to tidy up this problem of social insurance if they will, but if the Government begin to break down the conception of the scheme as a whole, the Government are taking the first step to destroying the whole position.
The real benefit of Sir William Beveridge's proposals is not that they represent any far-reaching changes which any of us have been hesitant about advocating in the past. These proposals have been put forward by individuals like myself and others in election speeches and election addresses and on public platforms from time to time. It is not that there is anything new in the proposals. What is valuable is that here you have a man and a well-trained, capable mind, supplied with information on all sections of the community, with bodies and persons experienced in this problem placing freely at his disposal their combined knowledge, and unfettered by party programmes, unfettered by Government Departments and their overlapping and inhibitions, unfettered almost by anything, who has been able to put before the whole community a comprehensive, common sense proposal. The significance of that is that the community, the Press, the people as a whole, were able to understand these proposals. They could assess them; they recognised their economy. I say on this problem of industrial assurance, that if the costs of children's allowances and old age pensions are eliminated, there is in the rest an economy in the scheme if it is accepted as a whole. It is out of the question that we can go on year after year allowing the wealthiest and the most easily run corporations in the country to amass, on a common need of the poorest 1779 people in this country, immense capital sums, and to be able to devote those immense capital sums for personal gain, and to irrigate different sections of industry which represent their personal advantage. The whole thing is wrong; it is indefensible. In this scheme the country and the nation have an opportunity to regulate all these abuses, irritations, overlaps, and extensive contradictions of the past, and I appeal to the Members of the House of Commons not to let this opportunity pass.
As I see it, in this Parliament, which could not have its authority renewed by an appeal to the country at its proper time, individual Members and Members collectively have two special responsibilities to discharge to the electorate of this country, in its prolonged life: first—and under no consideration should we allow it to be weakened—to see that this Government and this country come out of the military struggle successful, with a full triumph of the purpose for which we entered it; the second responsibility, to me equally deep, equally embracing, is that Parliament, in so far as the nation can undertake this task under war-time conditions, has an honourable obligation to do the preparatory work in laying the foundations of a reconstructed Britain that will repay our people in some measure for the stubborn sacrifices and the holding capacity they have displayed, which I venture to suggest in the future world will be one of the greatest contributions our people have made to social progress.
§ Sir Austin Hudson (Hackney, North)
I am going to try and set a good example by limiting my speech to ten minutes or a quarter of an hour. Anybody who has studied the Beveridge Report must realise that it covers so many different aspects of our national life that it is possible for a speaker who keeps his remarks within a reasonable compass to deal with only one or two points. I am not surprised that this scheme has been received with such universal interest throughout the country. The reason is that it affects, I should say, 95 per cent. of the population, and I think that what we have to do in debating the question in this House is to make quite sure that we do not hold out extravagant hopes or discourage all those people who want, if possible, to have a better world to live in when the war is over. I agree with the pre- 1780 vious speaker that this is not a party matter. Freedom from want is an ideal which has been to the forefront of every reformer, on whichever side of the House he has sat, for centuries past. Contributory insurance, I would remind my own hon. Friends, is a good Tory principle.
I like to think that this scheme is simply a step forward in the great improvements which have been made in the condition of the people over the last 100 years or so. This, it is true, is a very great step forward, but there have been, in the past years, great improvements in the condition of the people. I think sometimes that when changes are gradual we tend to overlook their magnitude. I remember some seven or eight years ago reading a book, I think it was called "The Century of Stupendous Progress, 1825–1925," in which was put down the condition of the people in those days compared with that of the people some 20 years ago now. I am certain that during that period the changes which have been made have been stupendous. Gnawing anxiety as to the future is one of the most soul-destroying things man can suffer from. You will never get the best out of men or women if they have this feeling of anxiety for themselves, their wives and their families. The object of this Report is to do away with that anxiety by means of a comprehensive scheme of insurance against all the normal hazards of life, and it is for that reason that we, almost universally in this House, give approval to the Report.
There is one point I particularly want to put to the House and to the Government. As everybody has said who has spoken on the Report, the one thing after the war which would prevent it from being carried out would be the recurrence of the enormous figures of unemployment which we had between the last war and this. There are two big problems, in my opinion, which we have to face immediately after the war. They are linked up with each other, and they are connected with the problem we are discussing to-day, that is, freedom from want. One is unemployment, and the other is the maintenance of a prosperous agriculture. They are linked with each other, because unless we maintain a large population on the land after the war we shall not be able, I think, to maintain in employment the numbers which we would wish. How 1781 this arises on this Debate is that freedom from want obviously includes the provision of adequate food for the people, and I am wondering—and I want the Government to examine this—whether as a contribution to the agricultural problem and to the unemployment problem the Government cannot see that that food which is necessary for all those people should be home-grown food. As part of the allowances which they are to give, I want them to consider whether they cannot give something in kind, that is, meat, wheat or milk. I noticed that the Lord President of the Council, in discussing the matter, had something of this kind in his mind, in that he suggested that as part of the children's allowances 5s. should be given in money and the rest in the way of free meals. I want the Government to consider whether this could not be taken a little further than that. Think of the enormous markets for our home-grown produce there would be if a proportion of those allowances were given by the Government in the form of home-grown products.
§ Miss Rathbone (Combined English Universities)
Does the hon. Member not think that if the mothers are given the cash, they will have the sense to spend it on those home-grown products?
§ Sir A. Hudson
That was a point I was coming to. Of course, if the Government buy enormous quantities, they will obviously be able to buy at reasonable and controlled prices, and the recipient would get the very best at a reasonable price. I know exactly what the objection would be. I have faced it quite frankly. It is, "Do you not trust these people to spend their own money?" Quite honestly, it is not for that reason. I am afraid that if you do not do something of this kind, you are bound to get certain people who will buy on the cheapest markets. I do not know what will happen after the war, but I know what happened before the war, and I know that an enormous amount of this money would have gone then in Argentine beef, Danish dairy produce, and perhaps American tinned goods. It is because I feel that we might be able to link up the employment in British agriculture in giving the best possible amount of food to our people and at the same time giving good food that I ask the Government to look into this question. We have heard that one of the 1782 troubles we shall have to face after the war is an adverse trade balance. If the Government allow money to be spent outside the country, it will make that adverse balance worse. I believe the Government have here a golden opportunity for an assured market.
Just a word about finance. Some of us, whatever the hon. Member for East Ham South (Mr. Barnes) had to say, in a very able speech, are troubled about finance. The sums set out in the Beveridge Report are very large. It is no use comparing war finance with peace finance. The war is financed out of capital, and not out of revenue. No one would propose that you should go on financing a peace-time, and, I hope, permanent, scheme of this kind out of capital. The Government should have in their scheme a periodical financial review, so that the House and the country as a whole could have a chance to check the finance if necessary, and to make provision if some part of the scheme is more expensive or less expensive than was envisaged by Sir William. I agree with those who say that there must be some kind of priority in our expenditure after the war. I would put two things, and two only, before the Beveridge scheme. They are national security and the provision of employment. You can have no scheme unless you make provision first for both those important subjects. We must make it quite clear to the people who are going to benefit, and to others, that this scheme will have to be paid for by the vast majority of the people. It is quite obvious that, apart from the amounts paid by the individual, there will have to be a large sum on the Income Tax to pay for it. I do not think anybody will mind that. But I hope no one will say, even on election platforms, that this scheme can be paid for by the rich. People must be told that if they want a scheme they will have to pay for it during their lifetime.
I do not entirely agree with those who say that the Government statement was disappointing. I do not think that I have ever heard a Government during the 20 years I have been in the House pledge themselves to anything more comprehensive and expensive. It is essential that we should do nothing to hamper any Government Department in the prosecution of the war. If we lose the war, there will be no scheme. For that reason, it is diffi- 1783 cult to ask the Government to pledge themselves to bring in legislation at any particular date, and also it is difficult to ask them to pledge themselves at once to set up a Ministry of Social Security, because to do that would upset a number of Government Departments which are now, as I know, working all out for the war effort. But they could appoint a Minister of social security, who, in co-operation with other Ministers, could pick up all the threads of the scheme and be questioned in Parliament as to how he was getting on. I welcome the Report as another step forward in social progress, and I hope that the Government will seize this opportunity to deal with the more pressing of our postwar problems.
§ Mr. Buchanan (Glasgow, Gorbals)
I rise to take part in what I think is one of the most important Debates we have had for a considerable time. At present we are debating not merely the Report but the speech of the Lord President of the Council, which has to some extent taken the place of the Report. I would say a few words about the Report itself. Sir William Beveridge deserves considerable thanks for a very competent work. I have never taken the view, as many people have, that Sir William is a heaven-sent genius. Often I have thought in the past that he was very reactionary. I have had to criticise him on questions of social insurance. But he has done this job well, and it would be churlish of me, as one who has been among his chief critics in the past, not to say so. The Report is not merely a guarantee, as some people say, against want: it puts into much more businesslike form our present method of running social insurance and our social economy. I could pick out one fault after another in that Report; anyone who applied his mind to it could do so, from our point of view. But I take the Report as a whole. I want to say to those who sit on this side that I am not so much afraid of the Report being torpedoed by the vested interests who oppose it as I am of its being torpedoed by people who claim to be friends of the scheme. Yesterday I heard an hon. Member say that he wanted the whole of the Report implemented, and then that he wanted £45,000 safeguarded for his particular approved society. I would remind him that when the approved societies, some with big capital assets, met at Leicester 1784 recently, the trade union approved societies, in the interests of the general scheme of the Report, agreed to put into the pool, if the scheme was adopted as a whole, the whole of their general assets.
There are three items of the Report that give me some feeling of disquiet. One is the treatment of the aged. A promise of £2 a week in 20 years' time is not an attractive proposition, particularly when great masses have already got the £2. We can say whatever we like about the Assistance Board, but great masses of people have now got out of national taxation, without a special contribution, that sum. I would like a much quicker rise to the maximum rate, and a better policy in regard to old age pensioners. Secondly, I view with dismay the suggestion that a widow who has been 20 years married, even though she is only 40 or 42, should be turned out of a domesticated life and told that she must accept training. There is another point which I fear—and here I find myself almost alone. Everybody in the House wants a scheme of training. On the surface it looks good, but it all depends what you mean by training and what the training is for. In the old days you had in England what we never descended to in Scotland, task work for the Poor Law. It was looked upon as a method of giving the person an occupation. You came along in six months to an unemployed person, and said, "You must go for training." It used to be that you were on the means test after six months. Before that you were on the "gap" after six months. Is training to be a penalty or a help? Before the war you were training people to make roads, to do agricultural work, to do certain engineering jobs; but nobody ever dreamed of opening the gates of the universities for training. Why not throw open not merely the menial tasks, but the gates of learning, for training? If you do that, I accept training; but I will fight with all my might against training which is of a penal nature, imposed merely because a man has been six months unemployed.
Taking the Report as a whole, there is much to be said for it, in the sense that it unifies things. On the question of approved societies, a colleague yesterday suggested that I knew very little about it. I have been chairman of a trade union approved society for many years, and I know that there is a shocking differentiation among the benefits of approved 1785 societies. Take my own trade union society. We are a highly skilled union, fortunate in our work. We have colleagues, in the moulders, who are just as highly skilled and who also run an approved society. But a moulder, unlike a pattern maker, has to work in sand, in damp conditions, with a high rate of sickness—not because he is an inferior worker, but because he is strong. The pattern makers' work is clean. At the end of the five-year valuation period the moulders, because of their high rate of sickness, have no surplus. We pay extra, not because we are better managed—both societies are well managed—but merely because of the incidence of the calling. The National Association of Government Officers have a convalescent home at Matlock, where they send their approved members for recuperation, yet the poor moulder, who perhaps needs such a home far more, has not a place to which to go. A system that makes differentiation possible for the same payment is indefensible.
There is another section, small in number, and possibly affecting my constituency almost most of all, as I represent poverty, and that is the deposit contributor. The society are now refusing to take married women because they say that they are not "good lives." I say in fairness to the Government that, if there had not been a fair amount of foresight many men in the Army, for instance, would be in a deplorable position. No person has the right to become a member of an approved society. The approved society, have the right to say "No," and they give no reason. To be a deposit contributor means, in effect, that the deposit contributor can only draw in sickness benefit what he has paid into the society, and the result is that he is outwith the proper insurance scheme. He is the most defenceless and is frequently given to the most sickness. Who can gainsay what effect the war may have on the health of a man who has been in the Army? Doctors may say that that is not so, but life may prove otherwise. Years afterwards such a man may be unemployed and pass out of insurance, and eventually he may obtain a period of work, but nobody may want him in an approved society. One of the great values of the Beveridge Report is that it abolishes the deposit contributor and puts everybody on an equal footing and it gives to the 1786 person who needs most help. When I became a member of a society I was told that if I paid 6d. extra a week, I should be entitled to double sickness benefit and that appealed to a Scot, as a business proposition, and I paid it. Now, after 32 years, I have not once drawn any sickness benefit, but I am a fortunate person in that respect. The deposit contributor is the person who needs most help in approved society work.
Coming to the question of hospital treatment the most disquieting thing of which I know in my native country of Scotland is the growth of T.B. I happen to be a member of a family which is associated with the medical profession, and all of us are shocked at the position. In a war, and even holding the views that I hold, I would not wish to harm my own country by saying things which might almost bring disrespect to my native land, but, at the same time, the growth of T.B. in Scotland shocks every decent-minded person. This follows the aftermath of the period of depression. Some people talk to me about long periods of unemployment and of the malingerer and of the evil of unemployment. What I have always thought to be worse than the evil of unemployment is the evil of having no income and no money. I know a policeman who retired at the age of 52. He retired on a pension of £300 a year. He is now 75 and is hale and hearty and as fine a specimen of a man as I have ever met, but he has an income and is able to get food, clothing and shelter. The worst thing of all is to have no income, to be in a state of poverty. To-day you are paying in your war effort for the poverty that existed before the war. Today, because of long hours and hard work of those who in the days of depression could not get sufficient food and clothing, we are finding an increase in T.B. The Lord President of the Council—and I say, in fairness to him, that he does not want to mislead the House of Commons-comes down here and says those things which the skilled politician would say. His chief fault is his straightness and honesty in this matter. After all the efforts of the Secretary of State for Scotland to bring all the hospital treatment into line, even to-day you are not being able to give what should be given in the way of hospital treatment to these terrible cases of T.B. in our midst. It is calamitous to have to go begging, as we have 1787 to-day, for provision to be made for T.B. cases. Of all the things that ought to have been speeded-up and done at once, the most important was the amalgamation and unification of the whole hospital administration so as to make it available, with the finest skill, to the poorest people in the country.
In regard to the question of family allowances and to the statement of the last speaker, I hope that, whatever we may do, we shall not make payments in kind. If we want to smash everything, that will do it. The Assistance Board have power to pay in kind, but, to their credit, they hardly ever use that power. They have found it a mean, bad business method of doing the thing, and I hope that however the Government may be influenced, they will not be influenced in favour of making payments in kind.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)
I wish to make myself wholly responsible for saying that it was not the fault of the Lord President of the Council that we had that terribly colourless speech yesterday. It was the fault of the whole Cabinet, and particularly of the Prime Minister.
§ Mr. Buchanan
My Noble Friend must excuse me for being a very simple politician. I have not the methods of obtaining the knowledge that he possesses. In my younger and more innocent days I used to try and get inner knowledge on the race course, but I soon stopped that. Everybody now has become more or less a convert to the payment of family allowances. The chief difficulty about the speech yesterday was that, although the Government were committed to family allowances, nobody told us whether there were to be any steps taken to prepare the necessary Bill for the introduction of family allowances or who was to be responsible. It was just a mere commitment. If the Government commit themselves to a scheme of family allowances, does that mean to say that this Government will implement it? All that they say is, "We are in favour of it." I remember a previous Government in 1918 committing themselves to the Washington Labour Convention of the 48-hour week, and nothing was ever done about it. Therefore, you have to get the Government definitely fixed, and they must 1788 start and prepare the necessary measures now.
I want to say a word about the death benefit side of insurance work. Already certain people have got me irritated on that side of the work. I have received letters from agents and others claiming to speak for certain interests and trying to put pressure upon me to air certain views on that matter. Whatever may be said of industrial life insurance no one who has had any experience can defend its present method. Apart from the fact that there is the heaping up of millions of money, it is sheer waste. There are two of us in my home, the wife and I, and no fewer than three agents call upon us. Why? Because my father made me join a society when I was one year old, and my wife had to join for the same reason, and so the two descendants of the original agents are still here. I could not insure with either of those agents for fire and burglary and consequently I had to have another agent, and so, every so many months the three agents call in order to collect the premiums. I live in a humble working-class tenement in Glasgow, and there are six families living in the same block. I attempted to count how many agents called upon these six families, who number in all about 22 people, and 10 agents marched up and down those steps. Occasionally, not only the agent, but what they call a progress man, an inspector, a man who introduces new business, comes along and thinks that you are not spending enough of your family income on insurance, and he forces, cajoles or induces you to add to it. That method is sheer waste and is indefensible, because every time that the agent calls the money must be paid out of the one source, and that means a penny or two additional contribution.
§ Sir Alfred Beit (St. Pancras, South-East)
It is agreed that there is now the possibility under this scheme that no agents at all will call, and are the hon. Member and his friends prepared to go and pay premiums at the offices?
§ Mr. Buchanan
Now along comes Beveridge and puts upon the State the onus of funeral benefit, and instead of continuing to do this in the present haphazard, stupid, indefensible way, it is proposed to do it in an organised way through the State. I see nothing objectionable in that. It is a simple way. Of 1789 all the things that are ripe for State action, industrial life insurance is the most urgent. I think agents in many respects are frequently performing a decent social function, although I do not always accept their views. I made an analysis in my poverty-stricken division, and I found families of five people paying as much as 2s., 3s. or 4s. a week death insurance out of their income—an appalling state of affairs. To-day the Beveridge plan makes some attempt to unify the position and to eliminate this waste. Commission after Commission has pointed out this overwhelming waste and has stated that as much as 50 per cent. of premiums is spent in administration costs It is curious that we should be discussing to-day the 5s. a week children's allowance, because it was only a few years ago, in 1930, that I was looked upon as being rebellious because I was leading a group of men to vote for 3s. a week unemployment benefit. What a marked change has come about.
I must say, however, that the Government seem to be making the mistake that other Governments have made. They do not do things until they are driven to it. That was a great mistake that was made by the late Mr. Neville Chamberlain. He would do things, but always when he had done them the Conservatives could get no credit for it, whereas we could come along and say, "We drove you into it." What has happened again to-day? The Government have come along again, timidly, with a little here and a little there, with no guarantee that the recommendations of the Beveridge Report will be implemented or that a Minister of Social Security shall be set up now with a proper Department. The Beveridge plan is accepted by most of us, and I say to the Government that they must make up their mind. They did the same with soldiers' pay. They gave another 2s. Nobody liked it; in fact, everybody was dissatisfied. It was mean and miserable. The Government do everything half-heartedly, and people are convinced that they are dodging the issue, that they are running away, that they are hoping for something to come along that will relieve them of their responsibility, that in two or three years' time Beveridge will be forgotten so that they will not be asked to go on with this plan. That is how it all appears to the ordinary man. The men who will come back from the Services 1790 want the simple guarantee that in sickness, unemployment and old age there will be security and that for their children there will be the decencies of life and the educational facilities that they ought to have. What has been proposed marks a real beginning, and it is up to the Government not to modify or cut it down. They must be as brave to-day in their political thinking as they are in asking our fighting men to be brave on the battlefield. If they are as brave politically as our fighting men are, then this scheme will be brought into effect and the people of this country will be inspired to regard the Beveridge plan, not as an end in itself, but as a beginning towards greater things.
§ Mrs. Cazaiet Keir (Islington, East)
The distance we have travelled this century in our social services make most of the Beveridge proposals seem right, natural and reasonable. By a paradox they suggest, if I may use the term, "an evolutionary revolution." The reason why this scheme has got across is, firstly, because it touches the individual life of every man, woman and child in the country and reaches deep down into the homes of the people; secondly, there is general approval for the principle of a unified system of social insurance; and, thirdly, there is undoubtedly a very large measure of support for the majority of the proposals in the Beveridge scheme.
Now let me say, first of all, something about two of the chief criticisms I have heard. There is no doubt that among the chorus of general approval there is an undercurrent of doubt in the minds of some people. This seems to be based on the assumption that fear of want is still the greatest stimulant to effort and that the Beveridge plan, by removing this stimulant, will turn us into lazy and un-enterprising people. I am convinced that nothing could be further from the truth. Why is it that hardly anyone is, or desires to be, lazy in war-time? It is due not only to patriotic impulse but because every man and woman knows that he or she is wanted, that there are at least half-a-dozen jobs waiting to be done. They feel, in fact, a certain degree of security, and—this is the touchstone—only a small minority of people want to be idle from choice since most people are far happier and healthier when fully occupied. It is clear that most of the fears about loss 1791 of initiative or malingering are usually expressed by people who have never experienced great poverty themselves and who would be the first to deny that then-own good fortune in life had deprived them of their initiative or desire to work. Let us face the problem quite frankly. Slackers are to be found in all sections of the community.
§ Mrs. Cazalet Keir
Hear, hear. Fortunately, they are only a small minority, but they ought to be dealt with severely, and I think new methods will have to be evolved to deal with them. I agree with the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) that training centres should never be regarded as penal centres, and I hope the Government will consider the suggestion in the Charity Organisation Society statement that real training can best be obtained in a factory, alongside the wage earner. We know that our people are not lazy by nature, although the are wise enough to like recreation, holidays and games. But they will not be able to enjoy these vital necessities in civilised life after the war unless they have freedom from want combined—and this is important—with improved educational and cultural facilities to make their lives fuller and happier. As the Lord President of the Council said yesterday, a great deal of controversy exists about the suggestion to abolish approved societies. No doubt, like other Members, I have read an enormous number of leaflets and pamphlets on this subject which have been sent me, and although I do not pretend in any way to understand its intricacies, one thing seems to be agreed by everybody, namely, that unequal benefits for equal compulsory contributions should no longer be tolerated and that people should get equal benefits for equal contributions.
It is significant that, as was pointed out in the Beveridge Report, societies representing 90 per cent. of the 18,000,000 members of approved societies agree themselves that they should no longer have power to add to the statutory sickness and disablement benefit. Also all approved societies that gave evidence before the Committee recommended that ophthalmic and dental treatment should 1792 be made available for all insured workers. It is true that a vast organisation has been growing up over the last 30 years, and I myself think that the most impressive argument put forward for the retention of approved societies is their claim to be a great human service, administered in the actual homes of the people, and that by doing away with them you would be depriving millions of people of the visits of agents or collectors whom they have not only grown to like but look upon as their general counsellors and friends. I cannot claim to have enough personal knowledge either to agree or disagree with this assertion, but I have made many inquiries about this matter from social workers of long standing whose daily work brings them into constant touch with the intimate affairs of the people. Here, I would like to pay my tribute to the vast body of fully-trained social workers, who through their great knowledge, unselfishness and efficiency do so much both in peace and war to bridge the gap which so often exists between the individual and the official machine. I am sure they will be of incalculable value in helping to launch successfully the Beveridge proposals. It is very significant, however, that the overwhelming majority of these social workers are unanimous in their view that in the best interests of the people approved societies should not form part of the new scheme. They take the quite definite view that the work of the agents is not nearly so rosy as it is often painted.
I would like to say a word or two about the funeral grant, which, I agree, it is far better to call the death grant or death benefit. It seems, judging from my own area, that everybody wants this, and it is an undeniable fact that a compulsory scheme of insurance of this type can be administered more cheaply by the State than by a voluntary method. But surely the overriding consideration about the whole of this matter is what is in the best interests of the majority and what is the greatest good to the greatest number, not what is in the interests of any particular section, group, or organisation. During the Second Reading of the National Insurance Bill in 1911, my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) said:The fact of the matter is that you cannot widen a road without striking a strip off somebody's domain and you cannot drain a morass 1793 without interfering with somebody's shooting; and when you are widening the old systems to which we have been accustomed you must necessarily, to a certain extent interfere perhaps with vested interests."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th May, 1911; col. 763, Vol. 26.]Although we have made many widenings in the old system since those words were spoken, I think the House will agree that they are as true to-day as they were then.
I would like to say a word about children's allowances. I am very glad the Government have adopted this proposal. I think we owe a very deep debt of gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for the English Universities (Miss Rathbone) as well as to Sir William Beveridge. For many a long year she has shown the patience of Job over this matter, and it is good to feel that she is likely to be rewarded in the near future. I think the suggestion that the first child should be excluded from the allowance is sound, unless, of course, the parent is unemployed or ill. In addition to some rather important questions that were asked by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South-East Essex (Flight-Lieut. Raikes) in his very able and interesting speech, I should like to know a little more from the Government as to what exactly the half-crown represents in kind and what services it covers. Does it mean more free meals and milk, or is something in addition to food contemplated? I should like also to know whether anything extra is suggested for children under school age. I am sure the House would like more information on that subject.
I am in complete agreement with the statement by the Charity Organisation Society that the money should be paid direct to the mother and that there should be an intensive policy of education in wise spending. I do not say that if you give 5s. or 8s. that will in itself increase the birthrate, but we all know from facts and figures that poverty and want become more and more in evidence as the size of the family increases. There is no doubt that these allowances, combined with steady employment, will undoubtedly help to destroy a great deal of anxiety among those who wish to have large families. Everybody, I think, welcomes in the Beveridge Report the new economic status which has been given to the housewife. At last it is recognised as equal to that of any other profession. As Sir William 1794 Beveridge points out, six out of every seven married women are housewives. This means that they make marriage their sole occupation. Sir William rightly says in that very important paragraph 107:In any measure of social policy in which regard is had to facts, the great majority of married women mast be regarded as occupying on work which is vital though unpaid, without which their husbands could not do their paid work and without which the nation could not continue.I think that is about the best thing that has ever been written on that subject. The marriage grant is a very welcome and wise innovation, and I hope the Government will unbracket it in the Report. Although the maternity benefit is quite generous, I rather doubt whether the maternity grant of £4 is enough, unless, of course, the medical side is covered by medical services without any charge. A certain amount of criticism has been aroused by the proposal to pay less than the normal rate of disability and unemployment benefit to the housewife who is also gainfully occupied, but I think the arguments put forward by Sir William Beveridge make it clear that this is quite fair, seeing that their benefit need not cover their rent and that their maternity benefit is 50 per cent. above their ordinary unemployment and disability rate. Of course, Sir William points out that the nature of the benefit required depends upon the social and economic implication of marriage and he treats men and women as a team. A partnership and a team—those words, I believe, are the right and the proper way of expressing equality between the sexes. I am very glad the Government are going to reconsider certain aspects of the widows' pensions, especially with regard to those who have reached the age of 45 or 50. I think there should be some form of continuing benefit for them. Also the problem of the unmarried mother still needs a good deal of thought and consideration.
To my mind, the question is not whether we can afford this scheme, but whether we can afford not to have it, in the interests of the future generation as well as of ourselves. Of course, the Beveridge proposals cannot be considered by the Government in isolation. They must of necessity, if they are to succeed, be closely allied to all our post-war planning, and especially to our housing and educational policy of the future. Obviously, steady employment for our people is a 1795 sine qua non of success of the whole scheme, but that does not prevent the Government from making their plans now, and I am glad that this is their intention. But I very much doubt whether a small body of experienced people is really enough. Seeing how much of the Report has been accepted by the Government—I see that some newspapers put it as high as 70 per cent. of the Report, although I have not been able to calculate it—I agree with hon. Members on this side in thinking that it would be much better to create a Ministry of Social Security now with a responsible Minister in Parliament. It would be much better to let such a Minister be in charge from the start than to appoint him at a later date when many of the plans had been already decided. In the last paragraph of the Report, Sir William Beveridge says:Freedom from want cannot be forced on a democracy or given to a democracy. It must be won by them. Winning it needs courage and faith and a sense of national unity.Our people have certainly shown, as the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) said, beyond a shadow of doubt, in the last three years, that they have both courage and a sense of national unity and are worthy after this war of a better world than the old one. It seems to me the least that we in Parliament can do is to see that plans are made now so that they can be ready when victory comes. In general, I range myself, as I am sure the vast majority of people in this country do, on the side of this human and vital document, because I believe that these proposals in the main would be the imaginative extension of the principles of democratic government, and judged by their reception abroad, except of course for the twisted, snarling voice of the German radio, it may well prove to be another democratic landmark of the people, by the people, for the people.
§ Major Furness (Sunderland)
The speech of the Lord President of the Council has caused a considerable amount of dissatisfaction in the House, and it has also caused a considerable amount of disappointment. I would say quite frankly, as one who is a very strong supporter of the Beveridge proposals, that I share in some measure the dissatisfaction of hon. Members that the whole Report has not been immediately adopted. On the other hand, I do not share the dis- 1796 appointment that the Lord President of the Council did not go further in his speech. Personally, I thought he went very far indeed and committed himself on a great many points to which people like myself might well wish to give a great deal more consideration. Those who have been in the House for any time recognise that the Government always require a little pressure. The Lord President of the Council said that the Government are prepared to listen to what hon. Members have to say on the Report and that what they say will receive most careful attention. I am quite sure that those of us—and they are, I think, the vast majority—who believe in the Report are prepared to go on applying whatever pressure is necessary until we thrash out a satisfactory solution and put the thing into tangible shape. At the moment, of course, there is only a Report and it will have to be turned into legislation, on which all of us will have a great deal to say in constructive and detailed criticism.
It is quite impossible for any hon. Member, in any speech which other horn Members would tolerate listening to, to survey the whole of this Report of 300 pages. I would like to deal with one or two features which particularly appeal to me. In the first place, I am very glad it has been recognised in the Report that the social services should as far as possible be run on a contributory basis. For too long some people in this country have had the idea that the State is something apart from the great community of the people, and that when the State is apart, it can by pressure be induced to do things to help the less fortunate people. On the other hand, there has been the teaching by a few people that the community is divided into two sections, on the one hand, the taxpayers, and on the other hand, the recipients of State benefit. We have come to realise, especially during the war, that the State is not something apart from ourselves, but is made up of every man, woman and child in the country. Therefore, I am glad we are now going to recognise that the burdens which come to some of us—some of the burdens come to all of us—will be joined together in the time when we are young and earning money and that by our contribution we will make provision for the misfortunes which may come to us and which certainly will come to some of our fellow men.
1797 The second thing I welcome is the unification of contributions. For hundreds of years we have had in this country a recognition, imperfect though it may have been, of the Christian duty of seeing that no man or woman is allowed to be left to die in destitution or of starvation. That has been recognised in this country for hundreds of years, and certainly as far back as the first Poor Law Act of 1601. But the greatest thing about the poor law, certainly in its early days, was the idea behind it that its application should be made so unpleasant and degrading that no one would willingly resort to it. In the old days there was no fear that anybody would go to the workhouse to ask for help if he could get work of his own. No one would go to the workhouse unless he was really destitute and helpless. On to that poor law we have, as time went on, grafted further extensions—employers' liability, workmen's compensation, national health insurance, unemployment insurance, and the like. All this has grown up over a long period of years. It is a chaotic system. Once you have recognised that a man in misfortune is to be helped, does it much matter to what cause his misfortune is due? Anybody who has any experience of industrial life, or who represents an industrial constituency, knows the endless disputes that go on between one body of assistance and another, shoving the man from national health insurance on to workmen's compensation, or saying that as he is no longer able to work, he comes on to national health insurance instead of unemployment insurance. I urge the Government to take the question of workmen's compensation into the general scheme of the Report. It is not true to say that the employer to-day is directly affected in any great degree in his care for safety in his factory by the question that he may have to pay workmen's compensation to a man who is injured. It is covered by insurance, but the present system is enormously expensive. It is especially expensive to the small employer, because in the big trades, coal, iron and steel and the like, you run a mutual insurance system.
§ Major Furness
The small shopkeeper has a very heavy premium to pay because 1798 the one man he employs may have an accident, and the liability may be hundreds or thousands of pounds. Spread over the whole community, this can be covered in a much less expensive way, and we shall have saved this awful fight that goes on, writing letters to find out who is responsible. We have now accepted the principle that a man or woman is to be helped in misfortune, and it should all be done under one Department of the State.
We are going to have to think a lot more about the old age pensioners and hear a lot more about them. I am tired of this rearguard action, fighting and giving way a bit here and there. We have to survey our national resources and consider the needs of the old, not by themselves, but in relation to the needs of the rest of the community. There is one section of people who are not very strongly represented in the House, because they are at present not unfortunate people, and that is the young men and women with children. In our lives as Members of Parliament we meet the sick. A man does not come and say to his Member, "I want to talk to you and tell you how well I am doing." We only know the case of the man who is sick and says, "I have had a bit of bad luck, will you help me?" Let us survey our whole resources and do for these people the maximum that we can consistent with our duty to other members of the community. It is a most serious thing for us that we are becoming a much older country. Whether or not we admit it now, or do anything about it now, in 1971 there will be a much higher proportion of old people than at present. Even if we ignore it, if we pass a law that no one is to mention it, the fact will be there, and if we do not now, while we are young, provide against it, the country will be in almost deplorable condition, and the young, people of 1971 will be faced with a burden which they cannot possibly carry.
I am quite disinterested on the question of children's allowances, but I am so glad that the Government have accepted the principle. If the House will tolerate it from a bachelor, the most unnatural fact about our present civilisation is that in our modern industrial system a man is unable to marry at an age when he should marry if he is to look after his children and see them grow up. It is a 1799 terrible thing that in so many walks of life a man has to be 30 or more before he is earning enough to bring up a family comfortably. Large families have saved the country in this war. I feel ashamed when women come to see me and say they have seven or eight sons all serving in the Forces, and I look into their case and find how little we have done to help those people who have done so much to help us. Again, you will never solve the housing question unless you have children's allowances. If you go to any new housing estate, you will find that in the vast majority of cases the people Jiving in the new houses are those with small families, because it is only the people with small families who can afford to pay-the increased rent, and it is the people with large families whom you want to get out of overcrowded slums and bad houses.
I would only say about industrial insurance that I am glad the Government are taking over the funeral grant. How could you run a scheme of nation-wide insurance and take in all sorts of risks—old age, unemployment, maternity and the like—which may never happen to very many of our people, and leave out the one risk which must happen to everyone of 11s? If ever there was a risk that ought to be covered by a State scheme, it is surely the risk of death, which is certain.
One objection that is taken to the Report is that it will discourage thrift and initiative. I believe that is most profoundly untrue. I was born and brought up in an industrial town and have lived in very much the same sort of town all my life, and I am certain that our people to-day are much more thrifty than they were 25 or 30 years ago. The reason is that they have something now to be thrifty with. Again, I do not think anyone who knows anything about the work that the younger people have done in the war can possibly say we are a less enterprising country than we were 30 or 40 years ago. I do not believe a man works best under the lash of poverty, or indeed under any sort of lash at all. Anyone who has represented an industrial constituency during the last few years knows that the constant demand of his constituents upon him is not for more money from the Government to help him in unemployment, but for action by the (Government to give him a chance of work. 1800 It is most amazing how year after year we left our coalminers and shipbuilders without work, and work has now come along, and they have buckled to and done it. There will, of course, be scroungers and malingerers who will abuse the scheme, and I would certainly be prepared to take the most drastic action against them, not because they will be a menace, but because they will be so few that they will bring the more discredit on the rest of the community. But I hope no one will oppose the scheme on the ground that it will stop our people being enterprising. I think it will make them more enterprising, because they will have the feeling that, if they try something and fall by the way, they will not put the bread and butter of their wives and families in jeopardy.
Now I come to the question of cost. I listened the other day to the Debate on the economic position of the country. I said to another Member afterwards that I did not take part in it because I was doubtful if I knew enough about it. He said that did not seem to deter others. I recognise that there are much greater experts in the House on this question than I am, but I should like to offer one or two general observations. It is entirely wrong to think of the wealth of the country, or the wealth of the world, as a fixed and certain quantity. We are a much wealthier country than we were 20 or 30 years ago, and that in spite of the disaster of two great wars. This growth in the wealth of the country has been accompanied, I think largely caused, by an increase in the standard of living of the ordinary man and woman. The problem of the future is going to be not the problem of production, because I think we can produce all the food and commodities that we want, thanks to modern science. It is going to be the problem of consumption—giving our people the opportunity of taking that food and using those commodities. I think we shall best meet the danger of over-production by increasing the spending power of our ordinary men and women. [An HON. MEMBER: "Come over here."] I do not think hon. Members need be concerned in this Debate with which side we sit on. Diversity of opinion on the Report is, in fact, one of the most interesting features of political life. I am speaking merely from my experience of a number of years in an industrial community.
1801 Over a period of years it is not true to say that the cost of production has been increased by the rise in the standard of living. The money charges, the costs, the prices, may have altered, but anyone who looks back for 20 or 30 years can see that things that were then within the reach of only the very wealthy are now within the reach of comparatively poor people. I think we can continue that process, and we need not be afraid that our costs of production will go up if we raise the standard of living of our people and provide for their misfortunes. Probably this Report does not create any new needs. If you passed the whole Report into law, if you made Sir William Beveridge the dictator of the country, not a single extra person would be made old or sick or unemployed or unfortunate. The needs are there now. You may ignore them, you may muddle about with them or shut your eyes to them, but they are there, and we do not really add to our expenses by meeting them. At present it is a question of palming the people off from this body to that. We take off so much from the State and make up a bit more for them from the rates, and, if the worst comes to the worst, there are charities helping them. But all that money is being found now, and by bringing it into one scheme we are doing not only the right but the sensible and businesslike thing.
When we are thinking about taking a step forward, which I recognise is a serious and a momentous step, it is not a bad thing to look back and see the road by which we have come. There are people in the House, and certainly in the country, who can look back for 60 or 70 years and picture to themselves the world that then existed, a world of child labour, a world of sweated industries, a world in which, as I read the other day in a newspaper, in a town like Darlington, not looked upon as one of the most squalid of our North East towns, some 60 years ago over 50 per cent. of the deaths were of children under five. I cannot go back like that, but I, and I am sure most Members, can go back to a world in which the only provision for the unemployed was the workhouse; a world in which in a place like Hartlepool the sight of bare-footed children was common; a world in which old people, if they had not resources of their own, had to take themselves to the workhouse; a 1802 world in which the institution of national health insurance was bitterly opposed and the popular slogan was, "We will not lick Mr. So-and-So's stamps"—an ignorant and foolish clamour. That has all passed away and I hope that in the years to come some who are among the younger Members of the House, and certainly those who are the younger members of the community of British people; will look back upon this present world and will, thanks to what we do now in pressing for this Report, realise how greatly things have changed. This Report is not only a great opportunity. It is a tremendous challenge to us. I hope that we shall have the commonsense and the vigour to press it forward and see that it is put into effect.
§ Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)
I know that the sympathy of the House is always manifested towards a new Member when he rises for the first time to address the House, and I hope it will not be lacking on this occasion, It is now 25 years ago since I entered public life. I made up my mind then that there were two sections of the community which would receive attention from the little ability that I possess. One section was the children, who had to be taken by the hand, and the other section was the old people, who had to be linked by the arm. To at large degree I can say with pardonable pride that I have assisted the children in my day and generation. There is one thing in the Beveridge Report that I deeply regret. That is that it does not give any immediate assistance and relief to our old age pensioners. I desire to address a few words to the House on that subject. I believe that the records of the House will show that it was in 1860 when pensions were first discussed, apart from pensions that were awarded to men and women who rendered naval and military service. When I compare the pensions that were awarded to them with the pensions now paid to those who have worked in industry and commerce there soars up into my mind the words of the Scottish poet—It is difficult at times to keep one's heart from turning sour when we see how things are shared.I am not complaining about the pensions awarded to naval and military men and women so long as this House will endeavour to see that those who have served in industry and commerce are adequately 1803 rewarded for the services that they have rendered. I was brought up in a very poor home because I was thrust into the industrial world at the age of 12 and I worked for a "bob" a day. I was brought up in a school which taught me that it is the duty of every citizen of the State to do his best either directly or indirectly for the State in which he resides. I would say that in return it is the duty of the State to protect the citizens who do their best. Protect them from what? From want, penury, privation and degradation. I listened with rapt attention on the first day I entered the House, 21st October, 1942, to the Minister of Labour in the Debate on arbitration. What he said impressed me very much. It was that what happens before a war largely determines what happens during a war, and that what happens during a war largely determines what happens after a war. Those words are profoundly true, and it is because I believe in their truthfulness that I maintain that we shall have to do something immediately for those people who have served us in days gone by, namely, the old age pensioners.
I want to remind the House, if they need reminding, that the plea I am putting forward for the first time is on behalf of the fathers and grandfathers, the grandmothers and mothers of those men and women who saved this country in the Battle of Britain in 1940 and 1941. If it were only for that reason, not for what they have given to commerce and industry, but for what they have done in bringing into the world men and women possessed of devotion, sacrifice and courage, they deserve our consideration. They have been eulogised and they have been the subject matter of Press reports. All these nice things have been said about them while at the same time their grandmothers and mothers, their grandfathers and fathers have been begging and pleading for adequate pensions. I live in a little mining village. I am proud of that village, not because I was born there, but because it has sent three of its citizens to this House. There are very few villages in the country that can claim that record. In that village there are seven houses. I live in one of them. In five of the others there are five old people whose ages 1804 are 67, 72, 69, 72 and 87. Every Thursday morning these five people go to the Post Office for their reward of ten bob. Each one of them started in industry at the age of 10. They have given 60 years of their lives to industry and commerce, and the reward for such service is the paltry sum of ten bob. No man in this House or outside can justify such a miserable pittance for the services they have rendered.
I ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whose duty it will be—I hope in the very near future—to bring forward legislation that will alleviate the lot of the old age pensioners. I have endeavoured in every conceivable way in the provinces to assist old age pensioners, and I can say from my experience in the last few weeks that there is a rising feeling among the old people that they are not being justly and fairly dealt with by the Government. The tragedy to me, as one who has had 30 years' experience as a trade union leader, is that old people have at the age of 60 to 70 to organise themselves to secure adequate pensions which ought to be given with a generous and willing hand. The Chancellor of the Exchequer would do well to examine the figures of the age groups of the old age pensioners. The number of people between 60 and 65 in 1901 was 1,016,282; in 1911, 1,149,569; in 1921, 1,443,380; and in 1931, 1,848,722. In 1941 there were almost 2,000,000 people in this country between 60 and 65. The number between 65 and over 70 in 1901 was 1,714,210, and in 1931, 3,316,000. In 1941 the figure had reached 3,500,000. As the longevity of our people increases it is of vital importance that this House should apply its mind to providing adequate pensions for those who have given of their best to commerce and industry.
I know that there are people who are staggered at the cost. I like to look upon the House of Commons as I look upon a well-kept home. In every well-kept home, if there is one who is suffering from infirmity, sickness or injury, every member of the family will do his best for them. The House of Commons ought to take that attitude towards our old age pensioners. In the pits, if a man is only half doing a job, we say that he is tinkering with it. I say, with all respect, that the House of Commons in the past has simply tinkered with the job of old age 1805 pensions. I beg the Chancellor to bring forward legislation. I know there will be legislation on the Beveridge Report, but I am concerned with the immediate relief of these people who are suffering untold and unjust hardships. I should like to see a lowering of the pensionable age from 65 to 60. The Minister of Labour and National Service—I say it to his credit—and his Department have been busy during the war loading the industrial and commercial machine of the country. When the war is over the unloading process will have to take place, and I want this British House of Commons so to arrange its legislation that when the last "All clear" goes those men who are unloaded from industry and commerce, some of them over 60 and some over 65, will go back to a comfortable existence.
I should also like to see a bold and unreserved abolition of the means test. My people do not believe in the means test. I come from a county possessed of some independence. Although I say it myself, we try to manifest that independence, and some of the people in my constituency and country will not submit themselves to the inquisition they have to undergo for the sake of getting the supplementary pension. They say "We will manage upon the ten bob a week rather than that these people should know all about us." If the Chancellor wants to earn the eternal gratitude of the old age pensioners, he should wipe out completely the means test. Further, I should like to see the legislation dealing with old age pensioners made simpler in character. Some of the legislation sets up anomalies, and it requires an inquisition to be made into the affairs of old people. That ought not to be. The fact that they were born on a certain date and attained the age of 60 on a certain date should be sufficient to guarantee them a pension. On this, the first occasion on which I address the British House of Commons, I plead with the Chancellor to put forth every effort for old age pensioners. I would like to see an increase in the basic pensions which is long overdue, such increase to be commensurate with a decent standard of life. I know that the prosecution of the war transcends all things, being well aware of that because my family have suffered as a result of the war, but it must not obscure the importance of the old age pensioners. I plead with the House to see to it that at a very early date the present and 1806 future pensioners of this country shall be relieved of the poverty, want and squalor which they are now enduring.
§ Lieut-Colonel Sir Cuthbert Headlam (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North)
I must say at once with what pleasure I have listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. Tom Brown). It was a most admirable first contribution, and I hope that the hon. Member will not deem it necessary to keep us waiting too long for his next effort. I agree very much with what he said about old age pensioners. I think that if it is possible, if our finances will justify it, the sooner the old age pension is increased the better it will be. I should also like, if it were possible, to do away with the means test. I also listened with great interest to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Sunderland (Major Furness). I am unfortunately one of those persons to whom he referred who, having reached a somewhat mature age, can look back upon the past and can compare it with the present. When I remember how the country was governed, how it existed in my early days, I say with absolute confidence that the change we see to-day is most remarkable, and is a great credit to our progressive tendencies as a nation. I do not say that we cannot get things much better than they are to-day, and our object, as is perfectly clear from the Debate, is that everything that can be done should be done to expedite the social development of this country.
With regard to the Beveridge scheme, I think the Government made a vast mistake in allowing the Report to be published before they had studied it. I think we ought to be discussing to-day Government proposals based on the Report and not the Report itself. It makes it a very difficult Debate when the Government say they are waiting for guidance from the House of Commons and then produce a large mass of material which they are prepared to accept, because that, so to speak, closures the Debate. I listened to the Lord President of the Council yesterday with very great interest and, like the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), I admired his complete honesty with the House. In most ways his speech satisfied me, and I think should satisfy the House, that the Government intend to do all they can to implement this Report and as speedily as they can.
1807 To ask them to agree to it all seems to me to be asking too much of any Government, because whatever one may say one way or the other about it, it is obvious that the whole Report is based upon one consideration, the financial possibilities which will exist when the war is over. Sir William Beveridge himself says it depends on whether we can avert mass unemployment. It also depends upon whether we find people are willing to work just as hard after the war as before the war, and more especially it depends on whether this country is as rich after the war as Sir William Beveridge imagines it will be. Those who listened to the hon. Member for Stockport (Sir A. Gridley) yesterday must have felt rather uncomfortable. He made us shiver, or tried to make us shiver, at the thought of what the financial position will be after the war. Personally, I agree with him that the financial liabilities of the country after the war will be almost greater than during the war. I know that that is described by Sir William Beveridge as indicating a spirit of "reasonless defeatism." I only hope that Sir William Beveridge is right and that I am wrong. I hope that we shall recover our export trade as quickly as he seems to imagine we shall, and that I shall not see what I have seen in the past, and that is mass unemployment in my own part of the world. What is clear is that it is our aim to secure if we can freedom from want, and that we can do so seems to me to be proved provided the circumstances are such as one hopes it is likely they will be. I think Sir William Beveridge, in his very lucid explanation of his Report, makes that perfectly clear.
There are certain matters to which I shall refer very shortly. I was very glad that the hon. Member for Gorbals drew attention to the training problem. "Training" sounds splendid, as though it would make everything all right for everybody; in other words, that it is going to satisfy those who do not like people being kept indefinitely in unemployment and at the same time will help people to find work. From what I saw of Government training during the period of stress in the North of England I doubt very much whether it will be very popular with the people themselves, and I am more sceptical still as to the willingness of people to be, deported from one part of the country, to the other to find work. I have seen What that 1808 meant in the North of England. People do not like leaving their own homes. The way in which people cling to such homes as they have is sometimes pathetic. They do not want to go outside their own county, or even their own village, if it can be helped. I always felt that it was my duty to point out to young men and women in Durham that they ought to go away from home in search of work if work could be provided for them. I always-said to them "Go to these training centres and utilise them for all they are worth," but one so often found that when they had been to the training centres no work was found for them. The Government will have to bear in mind in any legislation which they introduce that it is no good setting up training centres and expecting people to be willing to leave their homes when they are not. Therefore, great attention will have to be paid to this matter, and too much hope should not be founded upon it.
I think the Government are wise not to set up a new Ministry at the moment. Many people think that every difficulty can be solved if a new Ministry is set up. Set up a new Ministry and they seem to be satisfied. Setting up a new Ministry means merely that certain officials from one Department are transferred to the new Ministry, where they meet representatives from other Departments who have been transferred in the same way. So a new Ministry is started. A suggestion made in the Debate to-day also struck me as somewhat unnecessary. It was that if we did not have a Ministry at least there should be a Minister, and that this Minister should be questioned in this House from day to day on how fast he was progressing in the unification of the social services and the implementing of the Beveridge Report. That seems to me equally ridiculous. I understood the Lord President to say that the matter would be considered by the Government in every detail and by all the Ministries concerned and that the legislation to be evolved would be produced as a result of those deliberations. It seems to me that is a very sensible way of dealing with this particular matter. The Government have the material and after this Debate will have the general opinion of the House of Commons on the proposed scheme, and we shall have the opportunity, I take it, to deal with the legislation when it is produced.
1809 I am not one of those who believe that it is necessary to produce that legislation immediately. I believe that it is much wiser to go a little slow and to be more careful than otherwise. In that respect I think we shall have a much better opportunity of forming an opinion upon the Government's proposals than if legislation were hurriedly rushed through in order to placate a public clamour for the implementing of this Report, which clamour I do not believe exists in the country at all. I am more and more convinced that there is less of what I call excitement over these proposals, after they have been considered a bit by the people, than there was at first. The way in which the Press of this country, on the day after the Report was issued, had already accepted it only shows how unthinking people are. As he thinks more about it I am certain that the man in the street is beginning to see that there are difficulties in the way of providing the money. He is anxious that the difficulties should be overcome and that the Government should overcome them, but he is not in an immense hurry for it to be done, on the spur of the moment.
I am glad that the Government have decided not to interfere with the insurance business of this country. I do not think many people realise what an immense asset that business is to us. Before the war it was calculated that between 60 and 80 per cent. of the insurance business of the companies in this country was abroad. We can all realise that that is a tremendous economic asset to this country. If the Beveridge Report was accepted in toto it would necessitate the Government, or the new Ministry, writing life assurance up to £300 a year. That would interfere very largely with the insurance business generally in this country. If, as I say, insurance is so valuable to us as an asset in our foreign affairs, anything that interferes with it or breaks the insurance business of this country is to be discouraged if it can be discouraged legitimately.
§ Mr. Mack (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
May I ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman whether he is of the opinion that, if the Government are in favour of a funeral grant or a death benefit without the implementation of change 23—that is the industrial insurance board—it would not cause very great hardship to many 1810 thousands of agents and to the insurance business generally?
§ Sir C. Headlam
I am glad that the hon. Member has alluded to that point. I rather think that when people say that acceptance of this Report and nationalisation of the whole of this insurance business would do away with agents and the countless other people employed by insurance companies, they are wrong. I think these people would have to go on just the same. I do not believe it would be possible to collect all those premiums in any other way. You would merely be making those people servants of the State instead of being servants of a company. I would resume what I was saying, on a matter of considerable importance to the finances of this country. Our export trade will have to be restored if possible, and during the period of that restoration it is clear that we have to look to insurance, banking, and matters of that kind to maintain our national income. Anything that distresses that position or puts it in jeopardy would be a very serious menace to financial recuperation. When there is a tendency abroad to nationalise insurance, anything that we do here to nationalise our insurance would militate against us abroad. Therefore, I am glad that for the time being, at any rate, there seems to be no intention on the part of the Government to change our policy in that respect.
I do not think we need feel that this Debate will be ineffective. I am certain that its effect is already apparent and that there is a great body of opinion anxious to improve, if possible, the social conditions of the people of this country and that, on its general lines, this Report can be accepted as a basis of new legislation in this respect. I therefore welcome the Government's acceptance of the greater part of the Report, and I look forward to legislation being produced, but not in too great a hurry.
§ Mr. Quintin Hogg (Oxford)
I should have been more impressed with the arguments of the hon. and gallant Member who has just sat down if they had related to the proposals regarding insurance in the Beveridge Report or to the proposals of the Government in answer to them. Industrial assurance is one thing, and commercial insurance is another. The whole of his argument was designed to show 1811 that the great commercial companies should continue to conduct the insurance of the world, but it had nothing whatever, as I see it, to do with the industrial assurance with which alone the Beveridge proposals deal. There was one point on which I should find myself in agreement with the hon. and gallant Gentleman, and that is in his congratulations to the maiden speaker who preceded him. It is perhaps fitting that I should associate myself with what he said in that respect because, although I am not a maiden speaker myself, it is more than two years since I took part in these Debates. Therefore, if what I have to say appears ill-constructed or badly delivered, I hope the House will forgive me.
I should have preferred what I have to say to be non-controversial in content, but I am afraid that in a Debate of this character that is not possible. I am one of those who have come to the conclusion that the question of whether or not we recover after the war depends in the main not so much upon economic as upon moral decisions and upon our ability to continue the community spirit, new in time of peace but not unfamiliar on the battlefield or in time of war. As I see it, the Government have been guilty of what I can only describe as a major political blunder in not seizing upon that vital fact, either in the urgency or the tempo of what was said yesterday or in the practical proposal of the institution of a Ministry of Social Security. I am one of those who believe that our ability to recover after the war depends upon a restatement of political problems. I do not think that the present trend of either the Conservative or the Labour Party offers much hope for the future. I believe it is necessary to restate political problems in a form in which they are acceptable to the young. I believe that failure to recognise this necessity will lead only to a renewal of those old controversies with which we have been so much and too much employed in the years before the war.
When I put my name to the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for South Dorset (Viscount Hinchingbrooke), I was inspired by two general considerations. The first was, What did the Report say? And the second was, What was the object of this Debate? I do not think it is immaterial to remind the 1812 House of what the Report says on the subject we are debating to-day. We are debating a document of 300 pages long, and it would be either dishonest or stupid to pretend that there are not 615 different opinions about those 300 pages; but unless we are to degenerate into a mere debating society, we have to consider what Parliamentary action ought to be taken on the Report. It is not immaterial to consider what the Report asks us to do. On page 168 of the Report, Sir William Beveridge asks whether want can be abolished after the war, and the answer which he gives to that question is "Yes, provided that certain conditions are fulfilled." Condition 4 is:That decisions as to the nature of the plan, that is to say as to the organisation of social insurance and allied services, should be taken during the war.He goes on to amplify that condition. He asks:Is there any reason why the fourth condition should not be satisfied here and now? Re-construction of social insurance and allied services to ensure security of income for all risks is a general aim on which all reasonable men would agree. It involves changes affecting many sectional interests, but it raises no issues of political principle or of party. It involves an immense work of detail in legislation and organisation for which time is essential, for which there may be less time in the uncertain aftermath of war than there is to-day. If a plan for freedom from want, so far as social security can give it, is to be ready when the war ends, it must be prepared during the war.Then he goes on to say:Decisions of this character can be taken by Parliament alone. If His Majesty's Government accept the main recommendations of the Report, it is suggested that the first step would be to submit to Parliament resolutions approving the introduction of a scheme of social insurance and allied services, in accordance with the principles named, and approving the constitution of a Ministry of Social Security.He proceeds to say what would happen after that.
Neither the Motion proposed by the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) nor the statement from the Government pays the slightest attention to either of those essential principles in the Report. Neither accepts the moral basis on which the Report rests, the six principles for which Sir William Beveridge asks acceptance, or the specific proposals for the institution of a Ministry of Social Security. It is for that reason that my Friends and I put down an Amendment in these specific terms. We believe the 1813 keynote of restatement of political controversy after the war to be practical idealism. We believe that the Government have failed in the practical aspect of the matter in failing to set up the necessary organisation to give effect to their principles, and in the idealism because there was not a word in the speech to which we listened yesterday which could kindle the smallest spark of imagination.
There was a second reason underlying our Amendment. It is essential to us that we should consider the economic question. On this side of the House We do not want to burke that question, as we feel it was burked by the right hon. Member for Wakefield. We do not think, broadly speaking, that pounds, shillings and pence are entirely meaningless symbols, but we recognise that the proposals of this Report must take into account the background which will succeed the war—the need for housing, for education, for national defence, for servicing the National Debt, and, above all, for the rehabilitation of our export trade. We recognise that the whole ingenuity of mankind has been devoted for years to the invention of engines of destruction and to the putting of them into execution, and we do not suppose for a moment that the world into which we shall burst at the end of the war will be anything but a grim and difficult one in which we can offer people anything but self-sacrifice and struggle for many years to come. What has not so far been pointed out is that this is an argument for a system of social security.
If we are to go to the people of this country and say, "You have to look forward to a long period of self-sacrifice and restriction," we can do so only if we offer at the same time a complete measure of social justice to guarantee that we shall all suffer alike. In the last financial crisis the phrase "equality of sacrifice" was coined. That was a fine phrase, but it very soon became apparent that equality of sacrifice had not been achieved. Universality of sacrifice had indeed been achieved, but that was a very different matter. In matters of this kind one gradually comes to realise that there can be no equality of sacrifice between those who have plenty to eat and those who have not plenty to eat, and if the people of this country are to be asked after the war to continue a system of rationing, to continue the system under which they will 1814 be under the direction of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour, to continue short of clothes, to continue short of fuel, to continue short of houses, we must recognise that these are shortages which must be borne equally by everyone. It is because, to my mind, the Beveridge scheme offers the means whereby that can be achieved, and not because it puts forward any particular rate of benefit for any particular class of beneficiary, that I feel it is deserving of warmer support than the Government have in fact given it.
It seems to me that while one has said that on the moral plane, there are one or two practical considerations which have not been sufficiently borne in mind on the Conservative side of the House. The Beveridge scheme is a scheme for the abolition of want by a particular instrument. It is not a scheme for the abolition of want in the abstract; it is a scheme for the abolition of want by the instrument of a redistribution of wealth. There is no burking that fact. That is what it is, and that is what seems to me to constitute its very great value, and the mere fact that it is in fact a scheme for the abolition of want by means of a redistribution of wealth seems to me to rob much of the criticism on the economic side of its force, because so long as you redistribute what is there, you cannot destroy the economic resources of the country. There are, of course, limitations to that, but it seems to me that the Beveridge plan redistributes wealth, on the whole, on a perfectly sound basis. In the first place it redistributes it as between particular industries. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South-East Essex (Flight-Lieutenant Raikes) pointed out that one of the great evils before the war which was to some extent obscured by party controversy was the fact that whole industries, through no fault of their own, and on the wellbeing of which the wellbeing of the community fundamentally depended, were penalised to an absolutely inordinate extent by reason of the fact that they had to bear the full blast of foreign competition. The Beveridge scheme, by introducing the principles of comprehensiveness and an equal rate of contribution, ensures to that extent that the wealth of the country should be redistributed so as to put that burden equally on the whole community.
It cannot be said that that is to destroy our resources, and so far as it has an 1815 economic bearing, that proposal is one which will strengthen rather than weaken our export trade. In the second place, the Beveridge Report advocates the redistribution of wealth by taking money out of the pockets of one class and putting it, no doubt, into the pockets of another. That is something which it seems to me would require scrutiny but which ought in these circumstances to be accepted. I have always been a believer in private property and private enterprise, but so long as there remain people who cannot have enough to eat, the possession of private property is a humiliation and not an opportunity. [Interruption.] I hope I am not giving undue pleasure to hon. Members opposite by saying this, but I began by saying that I believe our hope for the future lay in a restatement of political problems, a reconciliation between the principle of private property and the principle of the abolition of Want. It is because my hon. Friends and I believe that we have such a reconciliation that we put Amendments of this kind on the Order Paper. I cannot see, myself, that a redistribution of property does, in fact, destroy the economic assets of the country, provided of course, as one hon. Friend has said, it is clearly understood that sufficient money goes into industry in order to provide new capital plant. That is something which can be done quite independently and quite without prejudice to the Beveridge scheme.
§ Major Petherick (Penryn and Falmouth)
Would my hon. Friend make it clear whether he is referring to a redistribution of existing wealth or to a redistribution of future earnings? The Beveridge Report refers to wealth but seems by implication to mean future earnings.
§ Mr. Hogg
I think my hon. and gallant Friend is wrong in drawing that distinction in connection with the Beveridge Report. It implies both. In so far as the money is to be found by taxation, it is clearly a redistribution of existing wealth. In so far as it is a question of contributions, it is presumably a redistribution partly of future earnings and partly of wealth which already exists.
§ Mr. Woodburn (Stirling and Clackmanman, Eastern)
We are very interested 1816 in the hon. Gentleman's argument about the redistribution of wealth, but is the future of society only dependent on the redistribution of existing income or wealth? Is there not also the possibility, by planned organisation, of gradually increasing that wealth?
§ Mr. Hogg
The hon. Member does me, I think, a compliment by being so far interested in my argument as to forget that we are debating the Beveridge Report. There was a third form of redistribution of wealth implicit in this Report, by taking money out of the pockets of the young and putting it in the pockets of the old. That is something which we have got to do up to a point, but, with due deference to some speakers who urged the claims of old age pensioners, I think that that point ought to be very carefully measured. In future days the whole of the taxation of the country will come more and more out of the pockets of the working class of the people, and it is really a question as to whether it is desirable to put as high a priority upon the claims of the old as some hon. Members have been prepared to do. I know what I should say as a young man. I should say, "You can take my funeral benefit when I die; you can take my old age pension if I have not by then been able to save something myself; but give me something for my first child; give me something when I marry." [Interruption.] I am quite aware that the young are not so vocal as the old in the House of Commons or so well organised. I think it is time somebody who is young should put their point of view forward, not necessarily from the conservative or reactionary point of view, but because the young deserve a voice in the affairs of the nation. I want to say this: Once you have arrived at the conclusion that the moral basis of the Report is the right one, so far from there being any practical economic objections, the balance of economic advantage is in favour of the Report rather than against it. Once you have arrived at that point, you have to ask yourself what you are going to do. Beveridge answers in one sentence, "Make a Ministry of Social Security." The Government have ignored that proposal. They have not given a reason for it, because that part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech which rejected that part of the Report ignored it.
1817 Instead, they have put forward a proposal of their own, which seems to me markedly inferior to that of Sir William Beveridge. It is that a body of expert gentlemen should take into account the various aspects of the scheme, and that what my right hon. Friend referred to as a nucleus of those gentlemen should come into being almost at once, and when the legislation was fully prepared they might start work on an intensive scale. I prefer the simplicity of the Beveridge plan. I prefer it, first, on constitutional grounds. The British Constitution has always drawn a happy balance between the principle of leadership and the principle of democracy. When you have something to do you have a leader, in the sense that you have a Minister who is responsible to the democratic House of Commons for what he does, but the moment you give way to the claims of the ineffective committee system you are in fact undermining the British Constitution on one of its most valuable points. On that ground alone, I should prefer the Minister to the Committee.
It is not only because I have constitutional objections to this scheme that it seems to me to be ineffective. It is limited to the insurance side of the proposals. That, I suppose, if it means what it says, ignores the assistance side; it ignores, at the moment at any rate, the workmen's compensation side, on which I regret that the Government have nothing whatever to say, although it is one of the most urgent matters of social reform. It is, I think, in parenthesis, a pity that the right hon. Gentleman who spoke yesterday did not observe that his argument on the safety factor has no relevance at all to workmen's compensation; it applies only to the common law remedy, and not to the workmen's compensation scheme at all. If we are to be put off—if I may put it in that blunt way—with a committee instead of a Minister, we shall get nowhere, because one of the most outstanding features of the Government's statement was that no sort of time table was presented for any part of these proposals to which they committed themselves. If we are not to have a Minister whom we can question—as my hon. Friend put it—on how he is getting on from time to time, we shall be told that this body, or nucleus, have not completed their deliberations, but that soon 1818 they will make a statement; and when the statement comes it will be a statement not of a Minister but of a board. For that reason, I wholly regret the attitude taken by the Government. It seems to me a political blunder, from the Conservative as well as the Socialist point of view.
Some of my hon. Friends seem to overlook one or two ultimate facts about social reform. The first is that if you do not give the people social reform, they are going to give you social revolution. The maintenance of our institutions has been one of the principles of the Conservative Party from time immemorial. The wise man who said that the maintenance of our institutions was the first Conservative principle made the improvement of the condition of the people the third. I am really afraid that if we in the Conservative Party persist in the attitude we have seen all too frequently recently—
§ Mr. Hogg
If we persist in this attitude, we shall in fact destroy the chance of industrial recovery which is the very thing on which we lay so much emphasis. Let anyone consider the possibility of a series of dangerous industrial strikes following the present hostilities, and the effect that it would have on our industrial recovery, and then let him pause before he denies the despised left-wing Conservative the right to speak.
§ Mr. Mack (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
I rise with a certain amount of timidity, because I suffer from the advantage, or the disadvantage, of being the only insurance agent in this notable Assembly. I have had the opportunity in that capacity of making a life-long study of industrial insurance, and, with the kindly indulgence of this House, I may be able to say something of interest on the subject. An insurance agent is not unlike a politician. Firstly, he has to be a good canvasser; secondly, he must be a versatile talker; and, thirdly, he must have a different kind of policy for the various people on whom he calls. Whereas, by contrast, the politician provides for the contingencies of life, the insurance agent provides for the contingencies of death; and of the two, the latter is the more certain ending. Yesterday I listened with grave concern to a very turgid, rambling, and discursive statement by the Lord President of the Council— 1819 how the words roll trippingly off the tongue. It was a ponderous statement. I cannot help making a pedantic allusion to it, because it was made by a pedantic man. I can only describe the speech as being circumlocutory, peripatetic, and a gross piece of tergiversation. I am proud to think that this Assembly is graced by the benign presence of Sir William himself. [Hon. Members: "Order."] I am sorry. I am a member of a trade union representing thousands of organised workers in the insurance industry, many of whom are away on active service in His Majesty's Forces, who are naturally very apprehensive about the outcome of changes which may be introduced by the Government in respect of certain features of the Report.
Yesterday we were told by the right hon. Gentleman to whom I have made allusion that the Government were prepared to implement Change 18, which in effect means the institution of funeral benefit, but that they were not prepared to grasp the nettle firmly and say that in order to safeguard insurance agents and the public they were prepared to implement Change 23, which means the establishment of an Industrial Insurance Board. Many people will say that agents are subject to a certain amount of derision. I am delighted to refer to a gracious passage on page 272 of the Report, in which Sir William Beveridge speaks of insurance agents as:a knowledgable, hard-working body of citizens, who have become in many cases the friends of the families with which they deal and have rendered them many informal services.In paragraph 192 he says:Many of them are in effect citizens advice bureaux. They regard themselves as servants of the public.I speak for a body of men of whom I am proud. They are loyal not only, as citizens, to their country, but to their employers; and they have been instrumental in building up the largest capitalised industry in the world, the industry, however, of which least is known, for the insurance industry has been shrouded and the light of publicity has not been allowed to percolate to it. In 1933 there was set up by the Government a Committee of Inquiry, whose object it was to delve deeply into the subject of industrial insurance. The Committee 1820 made certain very definite statements. It said constant "pressure for increase" was vitiating the business, and that agents were goaded to pile on policy after policy irrespective of the capacity of the public to pay. In the last 10 years, through that publicity, the pressure for increases has abated somewhat, and the general attitude as between the societies and the public has improved. Moreover, disputes between the trade union organisations and the societies have lessened. But, unfortunately, in this business, as in many others, the workers are divided, and the Industrial Life Offices Association have encouraged such division, very wisely from their point of view. They have formed staff organisations, composed of timid agents who are virtually sub-committees of the committees of management. Against that organisation stands my own union, the National Amalgamated Union of Life Assurance Agents, which is the only union catering for agents in every office. It is affiliated directly to the Trades Union Congress. For 57 years it has been a trade union composed of fighting people, who have taken every risk necessary in order to safeguard their rights.
On the other hand, we have the National Federation of Insurance Workers, which is a loosely-federated body of staff organisations, all under the control of committees of management and boards of directors, who have pledged their support to the offices in opposition to the Beveridge Report. That is a monstrous thing to do, because not only Members of my party, but hon. Members opposite who can divorce themselves from party prejudice in this matter, admit that in the main the Beveridge Report opens up a new vista of progress for the people of this country. Yet you find insurance agents so much afraid that they have allied themselves with the offices in opposition to this Report. An agent comes into an office and starts a job. He is suddenly induced to join the staff union. The fees are enticingly low. He is told that the district manager is also a member. He is further advised that if he joins the staff organisation he may get promotion. In some cases such people are elevated to the committee of management itself, because they are tractable and docile. A number of agents in this country lend themselves to that form of manipulation. On the other hand, 1821 if one is a member of a fighting trade union, certain companies, and even one society, refuse to grant recognition.
I am going to take this opportunity of exposing these concerns, and I trust that certain representatives of those companies—and I do not use the term "companies" euphemistically—who are sitting in this House will contradict me if they wish to challenge what I say. Firstly, there is the Refuge Insurance Company, which refuses to give recognition to bona fide trade unionism; secondly, there is the Britannic; and lastly, there is the London and Manchester Insurance Company. Among the societies which are supposed to be a more democratic form of institution we have the Royal Liver Friendly Society, which, to its lasting and eternal disgrace, refuses to recognise any but its own pet union. That is an indication of the stranglehold which the insurance companies and societies have over their agents, and the reason why they get their agents to fall in behind them in this reactionary policy. I want to dispel any illusion that agents are paid excessive rates. For years my union has had to undertake difficult negotiations, culminating in strikes, for the protection of workers in the industry. If time permitted, I could give example after example of companies paying relatively low and often starvation rates of remuneration.
The Government, with a magnificent gesture, have offered us an alternative, according to the statement of the right hon. Gentleman yesterday. They say, "If you like, we will take away from you the 10,000,000 National Health Insurance workers." Industrial agents have worked the National Health Insurance scheme, under the approved societies, not only with diligence and integrity, but to the immense satisfaction of the people whom they serve. If you take away those 10,000,000 workers and the death benefit and the insurance of the child from us, what will be the effect, if you leave us without the Industrial Insurance Board? It means that you will render us impotent, that you will literally eliminate us—or, to use a term fashionable in these war days, liquidate our people altogether. It is obvious that we cannot compete adequately with a Government-aided scheme—to which I am not for a moment opposed—which does not involve house-to-house collections, which can be done 1822 with a cheaper premium; and consequently we are left with only the externals. I think the Government have shown a certain trepidation in the face of the Industrial Life Offices Association. I would describe the Prudential and others like that as "death watch beetles," which are disintegrating even the fabric of the whole scheme. They have worked assiduously, and spent a lot of money. What is the pith and essence of their case? They have published an apologia entitled "Preliminary Observation on the Report." On page 8 of this document, the offices, speaking of life insurance, say:It can be more effectively encouraged by private enterprise—thereby hangs a tale.than by a monopolistic organisation safe in the security of Government protection, free from any fear of competition and the need to exercise any enterprise or initiative and without the incentive to sell insurance, for it is an axiom that insurance has to be sold; it is seldom bought.One does not expect people with minds of that description to give thought to the numerous benefits which will be conferred, not only on insurance, but on the community at large, by a vigorous policy of social reform.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer will take due note, because he knows a great deal about this. Is he prepared, in making his statement, to say what is going to happen to these tens of thousands of insurance agents who will be deprived under Change 18 of a great deal of their livelihood? If he feels that it is not incumbent upon the Government to do that, why not take his courage into his hands and say, "We are prepared to implement Change 23," which is the establishment of an Industrial Insurance Board? The House should know what is the policy of the workers' organisations and of my union in particular and of the many thousands of workers who are not organised in this industry. The policy of my organisation, in view of the grave threats levelled against them, is that the National Amalgamated Union of Life Assurance Workers shall remain as an independent body and refuse to align themselves with any organised industrial opposition. That is a bold attitude to take up and one for which I am very proud to be the spokesman. Secondly, we ask for consultation not only 1823 with the Trades Union Congress, but with others—particularly members of my own party associated with the Government—and also with the Labour Party. Thirdly, and not the least important, until satisfactory developments in the direction of adequate safeguards are forthcoming, we shall defer any decision of support or resistance to the proposals embodied in the Beveridge Report directly relating to industrial insurance and specifically affecting the interests of workers engaged in securing their livelihood therein and in which a great number have not only their livelihood but have involved serious financial interests, representing in the majority of instances the whole of a lifetime's work and savings.
For what are we asking? Do not forget that we are faced with a very definite and dangerous situation, which is fraught with dire consequences for our men. We are asking and pressing that, in the event of any change being made, redundant staffs (1) should have priority for any positions in any social security scheme. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Why not? I would ask hon. Members to give not only respectful consideration to, but appreciation of, the services of men who are to be rendered superfluous in industry. That surely is the policy of all enlightened members of every party. Secondly, full representation on any body set up for the purpose of administering these changes; and, thirdly, compensation for loss of earnings consequent upon any altered conditions. Fourthly, appropriate compensation for any loss of interest which might be sustained.
§ Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
The other day in this House an announcement was made that a director of a company who have been removed from the—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I cannot understand why the hon. Member is interrupting. Is he asking for information?
§ Mr. Mack
My hon. Friend is always a formidable bodyguard, and I do not object. May I say to hon. Members opposite that one of the fundamental precepts governing their political faith is that of compensation for property owners, and 1824 I would ask them to have a sense of justice and agree that compensation should be paid to small book holders who mortgaged themselves up to the hilt in order to purchase their book? I want to call attention to one or two despicable methods pursued by certain of the companies. This circular—a yellow circular, but without significance—was circulated by my union in regard to the machinations of certain companies among certain of the agency staffs under the direction of their district managers and supervisors. It says:Local district managers and superintendents have received instructions to call meetings of their respective staffs for the purpose of bringing into being local committees, representative of the staffs, pledged to support the agreed policy of the offices of opposition to proposals under the Beveridge plan, which, they assert, 'propose in effect to completely wreck the business.'These committees, if formed, are to interview local M.P.s before Parliament reassembles, and to outline their opposition to the ReportIn one office it is reported that the district manager, interviewing the agents separately, has intimated that if he fails to obtain the agents' support or if there is any dissent from the policy advocated by the management their names are to be taken and forwarded to the divisional manager who will personally interview them.That is the manager's action. Not only victimisation but intimidation is held over the heads of these men, and it is formidable in the extreme. This House, I hope, will never be intimidated by threats. I have been told by Members of all parties that they have been approached, individually and collectively, by people in this business with threats that they would be able to influence an election. The House can well be spared such malicious talk and threats and can disregard and treat those threats with the contempt that they richly deserve.
Finally, I am reinforced in making this statement by having had an opportunity of listening at Liverpool to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith) at a great meeting in support of the Beveridge Report. It was a meeting of immense enthusiasm. People of all shades of opinion were unanimous in their desire to see this Report made into a concrete reality. I believe that the imagination of the people of the country has been stirred by the Report and think it is the only tangible evidence of implementing at least one of the principles 1825 of the Atlantic Charter. Our people are cynical and disturbed, but I would say to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, if he has any aesthetic understanding at all, then in the words of Praed, the policy of the Government would seem to be:To promise, pause, prepare, postpone, and end by letting things alone.Many of us see in the Beveridge Report a gleam of light, and we pin our hopes to airy promises, but a gleam of light may dazzle the unwary as well as illuminate the wise. The policy of my organisation is the policy of that great protector Oliver Cromwell, who said, "Put your trust in God, my boys, but keep your powder dry." We intend to keep our powder dry. What we want is a clear, frank, unequivocal statement from the right hon. Gentleman. I trust that he will give consideration not only to the general community but in particular to that fine body of insurance agents who are concerned with this plan and see that in any further action by the Government their rights and privileges are adequately and properly safeguarded.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir Kingsley Wood)
I hope the House will not regard it as unfitting that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should take part in this Debate, and although I speak as Chancellor of the Exchequer, I also hope that the House will forgive me if I remind them that, for many years, both in this House and outside it, a great proportion of my work has been devoted to the health and insurance side of our country's social services. No one need be in any doubt as to where my sympathies and my hopes lie. I hope at any rate that our national affiairs will be such that it will permit us to put many of the principles and ideas of Sir William Beveridge's Report into operation, as well as others to which the House is equally attached and intends us to deal with, such as housing and education. That is where I, personally, stand as regards these proposals.
I want to say something to the House, first on the question of finance and to give a further explanation of how we should proceed and intend to proceed with the proposals which we are discussing; to say something about the new Ministry which has been proposed, and finally, to add a word on universality as far as these proposals are concerned. The right hon. 1826 Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), my old friend and colleague, who introduced this Motion, has given me a very useful peg—as he took one himself—upon which to hang my observations in relation to finance. I have heard, I think, all the speeches which he has made in this House in days gone by, as, I believe, he has heard all my speeches. I have heard him speak as a Minister and also in a much less responsible position, when he has been in Opposition or at any rate not a Member of the Government. But I confess that I never heard him go so far and indulge himself so much, as when he said yesterday that pounds, shillings and pence had become meaningless symbols. I had more hope and belief in the right hon. Gentleman than to think him capable of saying that. I recall—and I have brought it with me for the sake of greater accuracy—a statement which he made when he was in a much more responsible position and which is very apposite to the consideration of the matters that we are discussing to-day. It was when my right hon. Friend was Minister of Health. He had his difficulties about finance, as have most Ministers. On this occasion he attended the meeting of the Trades Union Congress and the matter to which he then had to address himself was one which we are still discussing in this House, namely, the question of old age pensions. When he attended this Congress he was confronted with an amendment proposing to fix the pension at £1 a week and there was a further amendment to substitute 60 for 65 as the age at which the pension should be payable. This is the report of what my right hon. Friend said, much more with my approval than the statement he made yesterday:The Right Hon. Arthur Greenwood, M.P., said he thought there was no difference of opinion in the Conference as to the desirability of an approved pensions scale. There might be some difference of opinion as to exactly what it should be, at what age it should apply, and under what conditions; and it was because of that that he would like the Congress to hold its hand. They should remember what they were asking. They were asking for something—he was not going into the merits at the moment of either the resolution or the amendment—but they were asking for something which had to be taken in conjunction with the many other things which they had been asking for that week. He was very glad to hear that he had a generous heart.We all know that the right hon. Gentle-man has that—but he went on to say: 1827But generous hearts do not toot bills. On a matter of that kind they must have regard to a lot of other forms of social expenditure pressed just as zealously as that particular one. It was the problem which they had last year in their Pensions Bill as to whether they were to give a little more to the people who were not already getting it or to give more people the same pension who had not got it at present. He thought it right to decide on the latter course. Unless they had unlimited money they were bound to have regard to priority of claim They were dealing with that problem on a Cabinet committee on a much broader scale than merely old age pensions. They had to consider their national health insurance scheme, the whole of their pensions schemes, and the work their social services were doing, and they had to fill up a very large number of holes, not merely among the aged but to help the young and the middle-aged. They must put the old age pensions business"—
§ Sir K. Wood
—"They must put the old age pensions business into the general picture of their whole insurance and social services scheme.What an admirable speech!
§ Mr. Foster (Wigan)
The right hon. Gentleman has given a quotation from a speech made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood). Can he give us the date? Was it not about 14 years ago?
§ Sir K. Wood
I think it was; the right hon. Gentleman was then Minister of Health. But however old it may be, it is true to-day. I was very glad indeed, and was not surprised, to read an article by Sir William Beveridge in last Sunday's "Observer" in which he said—and I would impress this upon the House:It is right to dispel the popular idea that when fighting stops and we turn from making means of destruction to making useful things we shall at once be able to afford almost anything. We are not paying for the war to-day either out of our own income or out of current income. There will be heavy burdens which can only be met by the Central Government in the immediate aftermath of war. I recognise that a larger proportion of the total savings of the community must clearly in future come from the moderate surpluses of many citizens rather than from the large surpluses of the few.In asking the House to consider, not un-sympathetically, the proposals before us to-day, it is right and proper and only fair to the country and to our people that the financial aspect should be carefully considered and weighed. While I agree 1828 that finance should not be our master but rather our servant, that servant must be fairly and properly treated and certainly should not be so dealt with that he breaks or collapses in the course of his work. There is nothing wrong, retrograde or inimical to progress in saying that in anything upon which we may embark in connection with the Beveridge proposals or others, we must be able to carry it through once we begin it. For all our sakes, particularly as Parliamentary representatives, we should not hold out hopes that we are not able to fulfil. Having said that, as I said a few days ago in the Debate on post-war economic policy, I express our confidence in our power and ability as a nation to win through and surmount our immediate difficulties. I have heard during this Debate many speeches in which it was asked whether we could do this or could not do that. Let the pessimists and the optimists have their usual sparring match. We can keep an even keel in our belief in our will and capacity not only during the war itself but in times of peace and reconstruction.
I have read again and again, and so have my hon. Friends, discussions of this matter in terms of finance from the point of view of a social security scheme. Just as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield found in the days when he was Minister of Health that you cannot measure our finance and what we are able to undertake in the future simply in terms of a social security scheme in isolation, so, when we come to say what we shall be able to undertake, we must not overlook the strong and urgent claims which are pressed upon the House by all sorts of proper and legitimate interests in the country. I would like to refer to two or three very briefly in order that we may see where we stand and see that they are properly considered when we come to deal with the question—as we may well have to do—of priorities. Take housing. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour and other Ministers have been engaged during the last few weeks on the vital question of a proper programme of post-war housing. It is a matter which has to be considered from the point of view of what it will involve financially, with regard to capital and income. If I had to express a personal choice I would put the claims of housing very high indeed. Take another matter which the Government have undertaken 1829 —education. A lot of people may well take the view, which has been expressed in the Debate to-day, that if one had to draw a line as to where expenditure should or should not be made, one would be inclined to favour the younger generation. We should do all we can in this matter. The President of the Board of Education is directly engaged on this question, to which must be given a high place.
The last matter I would mention, although not perhaps in the same category as social security, housing or education, is nevertheless, one of increasing importance for this country, particularly in connection with trade and commerce. That is civil aviation. My personal opinion is that we cannot afford to neglect our part in civil aviation. It is important to take the earliest possible steps that are open to us in that field. Do not let us forget that, when we are considering, with sympathy and hope, the proposals of Sir William Beveridge. We must think of them not in isolation. I hope it will not be thought that the Government have adopted an unreasonable attitude when I emphasise the importance of finance in these matters. I want the House to have in mind the important and vital question which is pressing upon so many sections of the community, namely, our present high rate of taxation. I am thinking particularly, not so much of the workers at the present time, or those who are in the higher Income Tax ranges. Although I have been the chief instrument in causing this higher taxation, one of the matters which has weighed most with me has been the position of middle-class people and those in the upper middle-class limits. Some of the hardest and most cruel cases I have heard of, come from that section of the community.
When you have to consider the finances of the country during and after the war and what we are embarking on now, you have to take into consideration not only the things mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council yesterday, but also the question of the heavy taxation which is bearing hardly on all sections of the community. You must, too, visualise what the position will be when there will no longer be the extensive overtime and Sunday work which exist now. Therefore, I think it is only reasonable to say—and in doing so, we do not ask from the House anything 1830 which can be regarded as unsympathetic towards any of the matters mentioned in the Debate—that, as a responsible body of legislators, the matters to which I have referred must obviously be taken into account. Many hon. Members have asked whether I could make any forecast of what would be the Budgetary position after the war if this scheme were adopted.
§ Dr. Haden Guest (Islington, North)
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the question of expenditure, am I to understand that he regards expenditure on civil aviation as luxury expenditure? Is it not part of the development of trade?
§ Sir K. Wood
I must have been very clumsy and stupid in expressing what I meant. I thought I had expressed clearly the importance that we attach to civil aviation. To pursue the other matter, obviously it would be very desirable if we could so project our minds into the future as to be able to see what would be the financial position after the war. I wish I could draw up such a balance sheet. I am not pessimistic about it. We shall have very many immediate difficulties, but certainly I share the view—in this I may be wrong, and we may all turn out to be wrong—that recovery ought to be possible, at any rate within a reasonable period, in this country. But when it comes to the question of what we are to estimate—take the estimate, for instance, of the charges that will be put on the finances of this country as a result of our contribution to international security—I think the whole House was with the Government when they said earlier in the Debate that of all priorities, this one would have to come first. Speaking as Chancellor, my belief is that whatever that bill may be, we shall have to pay it. I would put next—because I believe that it is upon this that everything in connection with social security and other things that we desire to obtain will depend—what we may call full or active employment in this country. As the President of the Board of Trade said the other day, he is devoting a considerable portion of his time now to seeing what can be done to help trade and industry. Therefore, I would put those two things first among the priorities. But it is impossible for me to make any estimate which would be of value in that connection. Having made those observations, and I hope secured the general assent of 1831 the House to them, let me now turn to what exactly the Government propose.
§ Sir William Davison (Kensington, South)
Before my right hon. Friend leaves the question of the post-war commitments of the Government—I questioned him on this matter as long ago as January—surely, although he cannot say what the exact cost will be, he can indicate to the House, as has been done about national security, what the Government will have to meet, and say that this will involve very heavy expenditure which should be taken into consideration as regards the Beveridge Report.
§ Sir K. Wood
How can I possibly give an estimate of that kind? It is not possible for me to do so. I would remind the House that, in the discussions that have taken place so far in this Debate, we are inclined to overlook that we may be only now in the middle of this war. I will not say anything further about that now. I would also remind the House that when I introduced the last Vote of Credit, I had to tell hon. Members that the costs of the war were still increasing. Let the House bear those things in mind when they ask me to give an estimate at the present time. I want to tell the House what the Government have in mind concerning the exact proposals of the Report, and I would like, if I can, to carry hon. Members with me in saying that the Government are doing nothing—
§ Sir K. Wood
—the Government are doing nothing to retard these proposals, but are doing everything that can be reasonably done at the present time to expedite them. What, in fact, do we say shall be done with regard to these exact proposals? We say that immediately after this Debate is concluded, so far as concerns the main matters with which the Lord President indicated that the Government are in agreement, the next and most immediate steps shall be taken concerning them. I do not think that what the Lord President said in his speech was sufficiently appreciated by the House. He said that the Government were favourable to the three main assumptions of the Report and intended to take the necessary steps concerning them.
What are those three assumptions and what are the necessary steps? I have 1832 dealt with the first assumption in the course of my observations, and I have indicated what we are doing; of course, we shall have to devote all our time and endeavours to the assumption in relation to unemployment. Of the other two assumptions, one is in relation to family allowances and the other is in relation to the comprehensive medical service. I may say, in passing, that in days gone by one alone of those would have occupied the attention of the House during a year. The Government have said that they will take immediate steps with regard to those two most far-reaching and, as I hope it will prove, beneficent changes. With regard to the comprehensive medical service, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will immediately begin negotiations with the medical profession on the lines set forth in the Beveridge Report. As one who went through the negotiations in 1911, may I say that the task of both my right hon. Friends is a very considerable one. If, as we all hope may be the case, we are able to bring about those changes which have been outlined and spoken of already by the Minister of Health, it will, of course, mean a very considerable adjustment not only as regards the medical profession but as regards general medical practice and all that goes with it. There is, in fact, outlined there almost a complete revolution in medical ideas and prospects. I remember very well that in 1911 great hopes were pinned upon the panel system; I do not think many people will pin so many hopes upon it to-day. They would like to see that comprehensive range of services which has been forecast not only by Sir William Beveridge but by very many others. It is only fair to the two Ministers concerned to realise that these negotiations and the setting up of this new system will take a considerable time, and it is only fair, when one is dealing with a great and honourable profession such as the medical profession, that the matters which have to be settled between it and the Government should be settled by negotiation and achieved with the utmost amount of good will on both sides. That is one of the tasks that will have to be taken in hand immediately.
With regard to the other matter, children's allowances, in which I am considerably interested, if anybody studies 1833 the White Paper on children's allowances he will see that there are considerable difficulties, not in connection with the principle, but in connection with the very many adjustments that will have to be made when, as the Government have agreed, those children's allowances are of a universal character. All sorts of questions will arise in connection with Income Tax allowances and matters of that sort. This, again, is a very formidable subject, but nothing like as difficult as the first matter. There are a number of other things of which the Government have indicated their provisional acceptance, and all those things, before one comes to the question of legislation, have to be in many cases the subject of negotiation where necessary, and we hope of satisfactory negotiation and conclusion. In a number of cases that may not be necessary. The next thing to be done will be, when these matters are concluded, to set forth in Parliamentary form the necessary draft Bills. That will take some considerable time. Then, when all these matters are before the Government, and when we have a much closer idea of what the cost will be, we shall, as every Government always does, wait before finally committing ourselves to any or all of these proposals and again consider the financial situation and the cost.
Does anyone say that that is an unfair or an unreasonable thing to do? Is it not, in fact, what everyone would do in connection with his personal affairs? When the Government introduce a Bill they have not only considered its actual terms, but they have fully and properly weighed the financial considerations, and they have taken into account all that it means as far as finance is concerned, and they are prepared to back it from that point of view. If we did not do so, we should be very irresponsible people. When that stage is reached the Government say, "Before we come to a final conclusion, we must obviously have regard to the costs and to other claims that will be made upon us." We should be in a very much better position by that time to have further formulation of some of the other claims that will be made on the Exchequer. I hope by that time I shall be in a much better position to know what are the financial claims as far as agriculture is concerned, which is so important to the country. At any rate, it 1834 is a reasonable and proper thing, and the Government should not be condemned, but rather commended, when they say that when that stage has been reached it is time to have a proper reconsideration. That policy does not delay by a day the very necessary things that have to be done if all these matters are to be put in train for legislative effect. The greatest advocate of every one of the recommendations of the Report could not find a quicker means of implementing it than along the lines I have mentioned. Before we finally commit ourselves to proposals of this kind we must have the right and liberty to look at the financial situation.
§ Mr. Vernon Bartlett (Bridgwater)
Can the Minister not give the House some indication as to how long the preliminary stage of examination by the Government will last?
§ Sir K. Wood
I cannot tell how long the negotiations with the medical profession will take. My right hon. Friends have no wish to delay the negotiations but will do everything possible to expedite them.
§ Mr. Shinwell (Seaham)
I quite appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's point. The Government have to take into account all the factors involved, and finance is obviously one. That is clear to everyone. But he speaks of the need for negotiations, inquiry and examination and the like. Take the case of family allowances. Is it not true to say that on that item alone, which is not an integral part of the Beveridge Report but can be isolated from it if they desire, the Government have already formed an estimate of the cost? In fact they prepared a White Paper, and they can tell the House now what the cost will be, and they can therefore say whether that part of the Report could be put into operation at once.
§ Sir K. Wood
I do not think it is in the interests of the country or of the scheme itself to treat any of these matters in isolation. I look upon the scheme, not as one to be dealt with bit by bit, but as one whole, big conception. The right hon. Gentleman the. Member for Wakefield rather indicated yesterday that the matter was one to be pursued by instalments. That rather attracted me at one time, but on reflection I think it would be far better, and certainly more in accordance with Sir 1835 William Beveridge's idea, that we should put the scheme forward as a whole to the country and to Parliament. We may have to have separate parts as far as legislation is concerned, but you are asking the people of the country to make very considerable contributions, which I do not think have yet been so carefully weighed as they might be, and as you are going to impose compulsory contributions of that character you ought to consider your scheme as a whole. I regard family allowances as one of the main matters appertaining to the scheme.
§ Mr. Arthur Greenwood (Wakefield)
Do I take it now that there is a definite Government policy that we have to, wait until the last aspect of the Report is prepared, because it will need a very long war if all these items are to be settled before the war is over? Yesterday it was intended to proceed step by step. It makes the situation very grave from my own point of view, and from that of many Members of the House, if we are to wait until the last "t" is crossed and "i" dotted.
§ Sir K. Wood
We wish to see how best in practice we can deal with the matter. Provisionally we believe it will be better to put forward the scheme as a whole. When we come to prepare the necessary legislation we may have to adopt a device with which the Noble Lord is very familiar and have a number of appointed days for putting into operation various parts of the scheme.
§ Earl Winterton
All parts of the House are still in doubt about this simple point. Does what my right hon. Friend has just told us mean that, in spite of all the promises, conditional or otherwise, made by the Lord President yesterday and by my right hon. Friend to-day, until the Government have produced their plans they cannot say whether all or any of them can be put into operation?
§ Sir K. Wood
I prefer to put it as I have put it to-day, that the Government after this Debate intend to take the necessary steps, which would be obligatory in any case, to put the scheme into operation on the lines indicated by the Lord President at once. I have indicated the various steps that may have to be taken. When that has been done—in some cases negotiations may be neces- 1836 sary, in others not—but when they have been carried into effect, the next step the Government will take will be to prepare the necessary legislation. I also said that when that has been accomplished the Government definitely reserve the right to look at the financial situation of the country and then come to their conclusions.
§ Mr. Bevan
I am exceedingly sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, who has had a very hard time and has a long and difficult speech to make, but I think the House should recognise that the fate of the Government and the national unity may depend on what he is saying now. Certain specific promises were made yesterday by the Lord President of the Council Whatever the Home Secretary may say on the next Sitting Day is obviously subject to what the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said now, and that is that whatever concrete proposals may be adumbrated now are subject to the overriding qualification that the Government do not commit themselves to any one of them until they have seen their comprehensive financial purport in the circumstances of that time. In other words, none of the concrete things are promised.
§ Sir K. Wood
My hon. Friend has taken advantage of me. Instead of putting a question, he always endeavours to make a speech, and it does not encourage Ministers to give way to him. I stand by all the things I have carefully said to the House to-day. I do not wish my hon. Friend's interpretation of my speech to be put forward as my version. I prefer to stand by what I myself have said. I prefer the Lord President's speech to be taken as what he said, as it appears in the OFFICIAL REPORT, and I have no doubt the Home Secretary will take the same position as regards his speech. In other words, we prefer our own versions and not the revised version of the hon. Gentleman opposite. I apologise to the House for speaking at some length, but I hope I have made some contribution to the Debate.
The setting-up of a Ministry of Social Security has been the subject of many of the speeches. I believe that the setting-up of such a Ministry at this moment—I am not referring to its setting up later on—would not expedite, but would rather retard, the necessary preparations for the 1837 scheme. It is purely a matter of administration and opinion. It is not any question of principle. I think, perhaps, that due consideration has not been given to what is called for immediately, in the next steps in connection with this scheme. If a good many portions of the Report that I have indicated are to be implemented, where does the duty of implementation lie? Does it lie with a new Minister, or does it lie elsewhere? If one goes through the various sections of this Report and the recommendations that are made, it will be found that a great many of the duties of implementing them will lie upon existing Ministers. For instance, the responsibility for a comprehensive medical service must lie on the Minister of Health, and if we try to interpose a new Minister we shall only hamper and hinder the machine. In regard to unemployment insurance, it would simply hinder matters if a Minister were interposed before what I regard as the duty and responsibility of the Minister of Labour. If hon. Members visualise, as they ought to do, the position of a Ministry of Social Security, they will find that if we are to have a proper and well-managed scheme, a great many of the responsibilities in connection with it must still lie with the old Departments. We cannot visualise, for instance, a comprehensive medical service being torn away from the Minister of Health and entrusted to a new Minister.
§ Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)
Does my right hon. Friend's argument mean that he is opposed to the establishment of a Ministry of Social Security not only now, but at any time?
§ Sir K. Wood
No, certainly not. I am dealing only with what we must do immediately to implement these matters. I am not prejudging the matter for the future when I say that we might find a place for a Minister of Social Security, but his duty would be mainly confined not to matters like a comprehensive medical service or unemployment, but rather to such matters as the collection of contributions and things of that kind. It will be for the House and the Government to consider whether there should be a new Minister. A lot of people take the line that there are already too many Ministers. In any event, at the present moment it would not help the scheme, but would rather retard it if we interposed a new Minister.
§ Mr. Gallacher
There is the versatile Minister of Health, who has been Secretary of State for Scotland and Minister of Labour. Could he not be made the Minister of Social Security so as to embrace the whole thing and carry on the negotiations he is carrying on now?
§ Sir K. Wood
I will convey my hon. Friend's suggestion to the Prime Minister. I would like to say a word about the universal nature of insurance. I thought at one time that one might well argue, as has been argued by some of my hon. Friends, that assistance should be confined to people who are in need and want today, but I have joined with my colleagues in coming to the conclusion that the scheme should be of a universal nature. I have done so for a variety of reasons. I think that there is a good deal to be said, particularly at this time, for everybody standing together in this scheme. It is also difficult to say who is in need and want to-day. As I have indicated, I would like to see provision made for those sections of the community who cannot be regarded as in the lower Income Tax group but who are certainly in need of assistance. From the administrative point of view it is difficult, with the variations of income and with people coming in and going out, to get a proper and clean cut scheme. I hope that my hon. Friends will think that the Government have on the whole adopted the wisest course. I hope the House will, at any rate, have recognised that the Government have given a great deal of care and attention to this matter and that nothing we have decided so far as finances are concerned can be in any way regarded as unsympathetic or inimical to any of these proposals, but that we are asking the House to see that all these schemes are placed on a sound and solid financial foundation. Unless we have that we shall see the whole of the scheme tottering to the ground with a great deal of loss to the people.
§ Captain Sir Ian Fraser (Lonsdale)
I cannot help thinking that the Government's case is better than their speakers have made it out to be. The right hon. Gentleman the Lord President presented a logical, reasoned and powerful statement which takes us further along the road of advancement in social amelioration than any other single commitment of any Government of any country at any time. 1839 The Chancellor of the Exchequer did a most difficult thing. He called us back from the fancy fairyland in which this House loves to indulge to reality, and thereby he rendered a great service to all of us. We shall go away from this meeting, some to hatch political trickery and others to think over what the right hon. Gentleman said and come to the conclusion in their hearts that it was sound and sensible. I believe that the commitments the Government have entered into—for, in spite of their caveats and reservations, they are politically committed up to the hilt—are immeasurably the greatest that have been undertaken by any Government, and this at a time when the ship is still at sea, when she is making water, when, though the crew may be sound at heart and fully resolved, they are not yet sure of making land. Let us not forget that we are in the last and most exhausting stages of a long war. We can still lose the war if we do not bring the submarine under control. It is remarkable that this country should be able to spend so much time and so much thought on the devising of means of alleviating want—want which is not universal now and exists in this country only in certain small pockets. It is a remarkable testimony to our strength now and to our view of our strength in the time to come.
I would like to submit that we get the Beveridge Report in its proper place. It is an imaginative and brilliant document. For the first time perhaps the public has been shown how widespread is the capacity for thought and planning of our civil servants. All it does, however, after all is said and done, is to make out a prima facie case for the consideration of the Government as to the way in which social security can be had. I do not think that Sir William Beveridge, so long as he remains an adviser and does not become a politician, would claim that he set out to do more than to make a prima facie case. It is one thing to write down what is desirable and what appears to be possible, and it is another thing to translate it into action, to amalgamate parts of the structure of half a dozen Departments of State, to absorb or not to absorb great commercial and social organisations such as our insurance agencies and societies, to affect the whole structure of the medical profession, to base yourself upon actuarial calculations going 20 or 1840 40 years into the future. Those are not things that can be done without the best brains in our Civil Service being devoted whole-heartedly to the subject and without the whole mind of the Government being given to it, and without the attention of the Prime Minister, the person who brings cohesion to Cabinet decisions. One can no more ask the Prime Minister to give undivided attention to this matter than one could ask that the captain of a ship which is being torpedoed should leave the bridge to discuss the pay of the crew in the fo'c'sle.
It should be recognised that the inhibitions and limitations upon taking action in a great scheme of this kind lie in the very serious nature of the war itself. Those are facts from which we cannot get away. The Government have, as I think, committed themselves to a major move forward, they have proposed to set up machinery to study this matter and bring forward resolutions or legislation at the proper time. They have done all they could reasonably be expected to do, and I hazard the guess that some years hence, when we look back to this Debate, we shall not see it with the jaundiced eyes with which some people see it now but as the beginning of one of this Parliament's greatest acts. That is how I think it will look when we see it in proper proportion.
Let me come now to some specific points. I want to feel an assurance—I think the Chancellor tried to give it to us to-day—that national security will be guaranteed to us before he or the Government are pressed into rounding off and perfecting social security. National security, the maintenance after the war of substantial armed forces, does not necessarily stand in the way of any particular advance. The larger the armed forces the larger the number of people taken out of the ambit of unemployment or of social security. But we do want to know that it is the determination of the Government and of Parliament that substantial armed forces shall be maintained afterwards and that other pleas will not be allowed to reduce them. It has been a tradition in this country for the State to look after its disabled soldiers, sailors and airmen upon a standard which has been a little better, or purports to be a little better, than that of mere subsistence. In the general scramble for subsistence we do not want to bring down those who have been dis- 1841 abled in our war service to any level of mere subsistence, and I hope this House will affirm its desire that a priority should be given to the maintenance of that special consideration for disabled soldiers, sailors and airmen.
Regarding children's allowances, the Government are committed to that policy. The hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) sought to embarrass the Government by saying, "Why not now? You know the cost." I would give a reason. There is no need. There is no starvation, or privation, or even hardship among the children of our insured and working population. Where there is hardship—and I shall bring this to the notice of the Chancellor time and time again until he sees it—is among the children of some of our disabled soldiers who live on pensions which were fixed at an earlier time than the present. There can well be children's allowances for those who have to exist on a single man's pension. Such a claim should come first, before it is necessary to introduce children's allowances for the whole of our people. That does not mean that I oppose children's allowances. In due time it will be very necessary and should be part of a comprehensive scheme. I am only answering the plea of the hon. Member for Seaham that because we know what it would cost it should come now. I am submitting that priority should properly be given to other matters.
The question of whether we have a system of children's allowances should not be related entirely to the question of the size of the Budget at any time. Whatever there is in this country in the way of goods must be made available so that our children have enough to eat. If we read our statistics and Blue Books, the Rowntree Report and the rest, we all know that there were many children who were under-nourished, but it has been dramatised for us by the war that the rationing system has produced the curious paradox that in war, when there are not enough ships, there is enough food for the children, and that in peace, when there are enough ships, there is not enough food for the children. That has been dramatised for me, at any rate, and my conscience does not let me take the view that any financial stipulation can stand in the way of a proper division of our food, such as it is or may be, so as to ensure that our children are properly fed. If family 1842 allowances provide the best way of measuring that division, I am in favour of family allowances, and I think the Government should make it clear—I feel that the right hon. Gentleman made it clear, but lest there should remain any doubt and Members should try to fog the issue—that they are committed to that kind of redistribution of food which is necessary through family allowances, even though they may not yet be able to see their way to measure the length or the width of the after-the-war Budget.
With regard to old age, there is a good deal to be said for the precise details of the Beveridge scheme. It does away with the means test for a period of 20 years—it virtually dies at the end of the 20 years. There may be some who would wish to do away with it to-morrow and others who think it should always be maintained, but it has been a source of the most acute political discord in this country. It is so capable of misrepresentation, and it nearly always has been misrepresented. The very possibility of getting rid of it appeals to me very strongly. I think the Government are a little bit weak in saying they will not adopt the old age scheme as recommended in the Beveridge Report but will introduce another which might be a little better just now. Of course, it will be in the minds of people that at least one-third of the old age pensioners are getting just as much as Sir William Beveridge would give them in 10 years' time and more than Sir William Beveridge would give them now. Let that be borne in mind. That has a bearing on the cost of the scheme as a whole.
There is this further point in respect of old age. I am connected with three commercial concerns and two public concerns. In every one of them the workmen and staff are paying more than 4s. 3d. each a week if you add together their National Health Insurance and unemployment contributions and their contributions to the concern's superannuation scheme, and in every one of these five cases the firm or corporation are paying more than the 3s. 6d., or whatever it is, they would have to pay under the Beveridge scheme. It is a notable thing, which hon. Members opposite will be glad to know, that it was private enterprise which started the idea of superannuation schemes, and which financed them by contributions from employees and em- 1843 ployers, and since a very considerable section of our enlightened employers have adopted these schemes and are working them it is manifest that the thing can be done. That does not, of course, prove that it can be done for all, and that all bad risks in a nation can be carried, but it does set an example which I am glad to see that the State now considers following. I very much hope it will be found possible to implement the whole of those proposals of Sir William Beveridge. They are logical, they are not the kind of hit-and-miss proposals which political parties sometimes produce. They have been worked out with very great ability, having regard to all the facts, as I see them, and I hope they can be implemented.
I am disappointed with Sir William Beveridge's recommendations regarding workmen's compensation. I think that subject ought to come into a comprehensive scheme. What is wrong with workmen's compensation is that it gives allowances based upon a man's earnings, and consequently the allowances are abated in so far as he earns. There is a terrible temptation to a man not to do his best, not to work his hardest, when he loses his workmen's compensation pro rata with his earnings. We who have had to do with disabled men in the ex-service field have always claimed that the pension should be paid in respect of the disability and without regard to earnings. That would have great moral and psychological advantages for the persons concerned. I have had under my care a man who was blown up by an explosion in Woolwich Arsenal, where he was working as a civilian employee. He gets fairly substantial workmen's compensation. I am not certain whether it is a 60 per cent. disability pension, but his wages were fairly substantial. He is severely disabled, as most people would judge these matters, but I have seen him trained to do most excellent work, and he is in a job earning quite good money, but it took a great deal of persuasion to induce him to carry on with a job in, which he can earn £3 or £4 a week when the only result is that he loses £3 or £4 of compensation. That is not right; it is a bad principle; it is uneconomic for the State and extremely bad for the disabled man. Workmen's compensation should be altered so that men do not get lump 1844 sums but get fixed pensions for life in respect of their disabilities, notwithstanding what they can earn. In practice that will not be found to be the extravagant thing which some people think, and it will be infinitely better for all concerned.
May I turn to the subject of insurance? I have not all the facts about this great industry in my head, although I have read the Beveridge Report on the subject. I still do not feel that I am competent to judge the merits of the whole of this argument, but I would tell the House one thing that occurs to me. It looks as if Sir William Beveridge, casting around for ways of financing his scheme so that it would look much cheaper than it is, has picked upon a part of private enterprise which is extremely profitable, by the nature of the business and because there is competition, and that he has said, "If we can only gather this in, it will help to pay for our social scheme, and we will look all the cleverer." I cannot see what possible justification there is for taking this particular enterprise, which in some cases is profit-making, in other cases is mutual and in other cases is run by subsidiaries of working men's own movements, and putting it all into a national system, unless the object is to compensate the owners unfairly; in other words, to steal a capital asset in order to get some revenue for this scheme. If that is what Sir William Beveridge is trying to do, I am glad that the Government are resisting it.
It is often thought that national policy is such an overriding consideration that every private interest and right should give way to it. It is, of course, true that where the national policy is harmed by private rights and interests, these must be abated and nullified and possibly extinguished, in the nation's interests; but these things should not lightly be done or without proper compensation to the people from whom the private rights are taken. Lest this be thought to be a speech in favour of private rights of big people and great corporations, let me cite the case of the little man, the insurance agent himself. He may have worked for 20 years to build up a right, a practice almost similar to a doctor's practice. He may have built it up but of all the many human contacts he has made, or he may have bought a kind of monopoly existing in the area where he works. Having bought it, he has worked it for 20 or 30 1845 years, and he has a right to the goodwill of that connection. It would not be right simply to sweep it away and to say, "It is a bad system; get rid of it." You may come to the conclusion that you must nationalise all insurance. If so, I cannot for the life of me see why we should stop at £300. Is my insurance policy, which I pay for annually by cheque, to be sacrosanct and the insurance policy on which the poor man pays his penny a week to be taken away from the people who do it and to be put into other hands? I cannot see why.
If you buy anything in small quantities, it is usually very expensive. I pay £2 9s. a gallon for the petrol I put in my lighter, because I buy it in small quantities. It is really expensive, but that is the cost, with profits, of putting the petrol into little bottles and putting it into little retail shops. If you sell insurance by the penny, it is clearly very expensive, but that does not necessarily mean that it is bad, any more than the petrol is bad which goes into my lighter. The point I make is not really on the merits of this matter, because I have not the technical knowledge or the time to look through the documents. I believe that criticisms can be levelled at some of these big insurance companies that their terms are not very readily understood by the small people, and I believe that they would be wise to rid their policies of any features of that kind which may be criticisable. They would be wise to pursue a process of rationalisation, which they themselves have already begun. Whether you nationalise the lot, or whether you do not, you must have regard to the rights of the people who own the companies and manage them or to the rights of the friendly societies, the trade union subsidiaries and the co-operative subsidiaries. You must have regard to the rights of the men who work in those organisations and who have built up those rights over many years. It is time that this House and the country realised that private rights are not the possession of a few rich people but are often the possession of extremely humble people.
Talking about these small men leads me to another reason why I commend the Government for giving such full thought to this matter and not rushing into it. Take the small shopkeeper. He pays both sides of the contribution because the taxpayer has to pay an unlimited and 1846 unknown amount from year to year, but the shopkeeper has to pay both the 4s. 6d. and the 3s. 6d. He is probably in the Services now, and his little shop is being crushed out of existence and has not things to sell. He has to get back on to his feet. You do not want to saddle him with 8s. a week or whatever it is. That is a lot of money, not to mention another 3s. 6d. for each of his employees. I am certainly glad that he is in the scheme, and I hope it can be worked for him, because he is one of the more neglected people. The artisan and the craft worker, and even the ordinary labourer, have organisations to protect them, but the little man has nobody. I am glad of the comprehensive nature of this proposal because it brings in so many one-man business men and small professional men, as well as many others who, because they are not weekly wage earners in the ordinary sense, have rather been left out of many valuable schemes in the social insurance field.
On the medical side I want to say a word, because there are very considerable gaps in our medical services. I know of workmen who, in peace-time, dare not leave their job. If they were to ask for permission to go for treatment once a week, the foreman would spot that they were the least strong of the team, and the moment the pinch came they would be the first to go. They have gone on working when they ought not to have done, and without the treatment which they ought to have had. They have got worse. Immediately they got worse they were given as little money to live on as possible—at the time when you would expect that they should have every possible help to get well. I am not talking sentimentally about this matter, although it sometimes moves me to think of men being treated like that at a time of illness. It is not sense to arrange things so that when a man is ill and is in need of money, rest and food—extra food, perhaps—that is the time when he is worst served of all. I welcome therefore very much the statement of the Government that they are going to implement, if they can, the proposal that sickness allowances shall be at the maximum at which any allowances are, rather than on a very much lower level.
I think the statement of the Lord President of the Council regarding medical services was admirable. I would not 1847 like to add anything to it or take anything from it. Nor do I ask the Government to rush into the matter. Many thousands of doctors are away, and their views are entitled to be heard. It must be difficult now to secure the men with the best minds in the Ministry of Health who can sit down, as if in a vacuum, and think about these problems. Anyone who knows about the vast problems in the Ministry of Health realises the difficulties of this matter. There is need in the body politic for changes in our medical system. There is need for State control but also for the maintenance of those voluntary methods—or many of them—which have done so much good in the past. I think the statement of the Lord President of the Council was admirable and should receive our support.
I am not quite so convinced about the fact that the Chancellor of the Exchequer declined to set up, or agree to the setting up, of the Ministry of Social Security. Of course, the Chancellor is advised by the head of the Civil Service, and should know how these things work. If the setting-up of the Ministry now merely means providing half a dozen Members of Parliament opportunities for asking questions about when is the Ministry going to do this or that, it would not do any good at all. I feel that the Ministry should be set up now. It would have two advantages, one of which becomes apparent owing to the way in which this case has been presented to the House. I believe that the Government sincerely mean to do their best to carry out the main principles of this Report. I do not doubt that. The statements made by the Minister were sound and sensible, but it is being put about that the Government do not mean what they say. If the Government were to set up this Ministry, and if the Minister were to be a person who commanded public assent and respect, it would be an earnest that they do mean what they say, and if the Minister could come down to the House from time to time, make his case, say how he was going on and show the difficulties in the way, there would be something to be said for it, especially on the psychological side. I therefore ask the Government to reconsider that matter.
Finally, an hon. Member opposite says that political crisis is round the corner, and there must be a break-up of the Government 1848 or of the unity in this Parliament and this nation. I am sure it would be his wish that that should be so, but I do-not believe that it is so. I do not think we want to be driven into precipitate-action or wrong steps by threats of that kind. This National Government and the desire to win the war are far too firmly based to be upset by half-a-dozen critics who work themselves up into mental fevers whenever there is the opportunity. I do not believe it. Let the Government go steadily and honourably forward. Let the House in all its sections believe that the Government are genuine in their intentions. Let us all remember that we have to win the war first, and that after it we have to reconstruct our country. Those tasks are so great that if, at the same time, we can bring anything like the proposals of this Beveridge Report into operation, this Parliament will indeed have made a contribution to history.
§ Mr. McGovern (Glasgow, Shettleston)
After the speech to which we have just listened, I would like to say that while I disagree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman in many things, there were points which he raised with which I fundamentally agree, and especially in regard to the ex-Service man. Every time I see the hon. and gallant Gentleman in this House-he is to me the embodiment of a man of courage and good humour who has lost some of the greatest gifts of life; yet he is able, by that moral and spiritual inspiration, to keep going, having a deep interest in the difficulties around him, and playing his part in the great human struggles-of his day and generation.
I also would like to say that while he states his own opinion regarding winning the war first, I put it to him that this social problem is inseparable from the war effort. It is part of the war effort. It can be both an inspiration to human beings who have been led to believe, by propaganda during the past 3½ years, that they are fighting for something worth while, and a pledge that you intend to give them proper honour for the sacrifices they have made and the difficulties-they have endured, and a proper place in a new order that will rule out the crudities that were in operation in this country before the war. It can be an inspiration to people in enemy lands. It can disabuse their minds of a great deal of propaganda about the state of the vested interests in this country, by show- 1849 ing that the change that is taking place is not unreal, that it is not a sham such as was seen after the last war when men came back to take their place in the streets as unemployed and to face misery and distress. When the hon. and gallant Member makes the statement he did regarding a very deep political crisis hinging on the carrying out of this plan, I say that he is not facing up to the realities of the situation, if he believes that a refusal to carry out this or some other plan of social security is not bound to cause a very deep political crisis in this country. If we take our minds back, only to the last week or so, we shall remember that we had two Independent candidates at Parliamentary elections. In North Midlothian, one of these candidates fought to a large extent on the basis of a plan of this kind—[An HON. MEMBER: "An unknown man."]—an unknown man and even with the combination of Liberal, Labour, Tory and Communist parties against him, he almost won the seat. He was defeated by only 800 and odd votes. [AN HON. MEMBER: "How many voted?"] That applies to every Election. I am dealing with the realities of the situation. [Interruption.] A fairly big proportion of the people voted. The Independent candidate in Kings Lynn with all the party machines against him lost by less than 2,000 votes. That was before the Beveridge plan had been debated in this House and while there was still a feeling in the country that the Government meant business and meant to apply-their minds at the earliest opportunity to carrying out this plan as laid down by Sir William Beveridge.
Members and Ministers have to take note that to-day the electorate are more progressive than the Members of Parliament, and that they are on the move, although Members of Parliament, to a large extent, are standing still. The electors are demanding some reality in regard to the promises that have been made by the Government. Before the war when anybody asked that a few million pounds should be given to solve the problem of unemployment, health insurance, widows' pensions or old age pensions, the Minister concerned, be he Tory, Liberal or Labour; could only get up at that B6x and say, "Where is the money to come from?" The public do not believe those old arguments any more. They believe they were tricked in the past. They are 1850 right in believing that, and they have a deep-rooted suspicion of the politicians. One thing I find everywhere I go is that politicians to-day are at the lowest ebb they have ever reached in British history. Governments are held in contempt to-day and while you are holding the public on the basis of the fear of what would happen, if they should lose the war, and the consequences that would ensue, they are still demanding a fulfilment of the pledges that the post-war world is going to be a better world than they have hitherto known.
Let me say further that in war itself, with all its crudity and brutality, in every country, whether it be Germany, Italy, America, or this country, the ordinary individual has only been urged on by that very inspiration, that he or she was fighting for something better than they had hitherto known, and they are held together by fear of the consequences of defeat in the military field. Sir William Beveridge's Report has caused greater interest and greater discussion in this country than have been known at any previous period in the history of this war. It is the one large issue on which, no matter how critical individuals may be of certain points of the scheme, people feel "Here is a plan, for the first time, to give security." There is no one thing that has filled more graves or mental institutions in this country than that fear of the future among a large section of the population of this country. Every man and woman is inspired by the desire to see his or her child free from the care and worry which they have had to endure in their struggle and in their steps throughout life. Therefore, in North Africa, in every camp in this country, soldiers are discussing this Beveridge plan and having it explained to them by key men in certain battalions and camps, who are giving explanations of what the Beveridge plan really means. Among nurses in the hospitals, and in the camps of the women's services, this plan is being discussed. It is being discussed everywhere throughout the country. If the Government believe that they can get away with the performance of the two speakers who have so far represented them in this Debate they are making a fundamental error.
Not only that. Let me say this: I am considerably perturbed by the arrangement that was made for the Debate in this 1851 House. A Motion was put down on the Order Paper. We are told that it came from the Government. That has never been denied. One Sunday paper alleged that the Government concocted a plan for preventing the House from coming to a real decision on the issue; that they got some form of agreed Motion that led nowhere, and then, through the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), imposed it on the Labour Party and on the Order Paper. Then we find a Member of the Conservative Party seconding it in this House. Are the Government going to have their Quislings sitting on this side of the House—because that is what it means? It means that the Government are reaching a low ebb if Labour Ministers in that Government are going to get stooges on this side of the House to prevent the Government from being placed in difficulties, or to get them out of difficulties as they go along.
§ Mr. Woodburn
Was the hon. Gentleman not in the House when the Leader of the House explained that, for technical reasons, a free Debate could not be held in this case on the Adjournment, and that therefore discussions were taking place on whether the Government might put down a formal Motion or whether some other formal Motion might be designed? That was given to the House as the purpose of this Motion.
§ Mr. McGovern
I am familiar with the Hans Andersen fairy tales which usually spring from the Government benches, and those who do not want to face realities. Those are the excuses which are always made. They always get dupes to make excuses which they have not the courage to make themselves. There was nothing to hinder the putting of a concrete Motion on the Order Paper. There is nothing to prevent the Government from agreeing with such a Motion by saying, "We are in agreement with the Beveridge Report. The details can be filled in later. We will proceed to implement promises, we will set up our Minister of Social Security, and we will bend all our energies to this plan, believing that it is implicit both in the Atlantic Charter and in the public pledges to the men who are giving their lives in the common cause." If this House departs at the end of this Debate without giving some definite instruction to the 1852 Government, we shall have failed in our mission, we shall have done the very worst day's work we ever did for democracy in this country, and we shall fall to an even lower stage in the contempt of the people of this country.
All this trouble emanates from this fact: We were told when Labour Ministers went into the Government that they did so in order to arouse the Government, to deal with the diehards, and to drive ahead on a policy which would give the workers a better standard of life. The excuse being put forth in many Labour publications is that that is what they are doing. To-day we see what is really happening. We see, according to the Order Paper, that Labour Ministers and the Labour Party are less advanced than many of the younger Tories. The Labour Party is in process of destruction, because these Labour Ministers are using the Labour machine in the country to bolster themselves up. If this party were working energetically, even though not swiftly, for the advance of the great human cause in this country, I would be willing to sink my antagonism and join in the struggle to make impossible the destruction of the party, which is occurring because individuals who are clamouring for power are using the party for their own ends. There were two splendid speeches to-day by young men on the Conservative benches. Their attitude as I see it, is that an enlightened Tory policy is necessary to make the capitalist system safe. They believe that it is necessary that we should have some plan, in order to keep the system continuing after the war and to have a minimum of disorder. If I believed in capitalism and Imperialism, I should believe in a benevolent form of capitalism and Imperialism, with progress and increased production. I should in that case advocate a policy which would give more and more to the workers in this country and in the Colonies. I should have felt that I was marching towards a goal, while maintaining that which I desired to maintain, and making changes on an easy basis instead of through public disorder. I am afraid that at the end of this war there is the danger that the military struggle will be followed by civil war, because men will be roused to such a pitch that they will take matters into their own hands. The Beveridge plan says, "Let us retreat, not in disorder but step 1853 by step, according to plan," as they say in the communiqués.
The Beveridge plan is not the complete plan that I would have liked. I believe that the fundamental issues that are raised as to whether we can bear the cost will always be the diehards' defence. That will always happen while we are tied by a monetary system which will not allow us to get out of the ambit of restricted production. When the Government set up the Committee, either they were attempting to buy time, or their action was the greatest political fraud ever perpetrated in this country. We have to find out whether they mean to fulfil the consequences of their own plan or to sabotage their plan and buy more time, in order that in two or three years they will be able to say that the finances of this country do not allow the plan to be put into operation. I have always said that I was prepared to judge Governments, no matter what their colour, by their actions. I have heard speeches by the late Philip Snowden, the present Prime Minister, and the present Chancellor. They all talk the same language, because they are instructed by the same tutors in the Civil Service. The voices are the same, although the physical being appears different. The Beveridge Report is being defeated in this House. We ourselves, while not agreeing with it altogether, say that if it is the will of the nation that this plan should be accepted, we are prepared to accept it and make it even more human.
Great and fundamental changes are promised, but there are some things that do not require even the application of the Beveridge Report in full. The hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) mentioned the question of children's allowances, which could be carried out very speedily; the machinery could be set in motion very easily. There is also the question of old age pensions, which was dealt with in a fine and moving maiden speech by the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. Tom Brown). He dealt with the practical difficulties and human problems of the old age pensioners. Let any man in this country or this House who says that he stands for a better life for the people begin with the children and the old people. The hon. Member put it very nicely when he said that the one had to be taken by the hand and the other had to be taken by the arm. These two sections should be dealt with at once. 1854 A pension of 30s. without means test would give the old people something to which to look forward during their remaining years. If there is anyone who thinks that they have not their problems and that they are not suffering, let him consider the old age pensioners whom I know, many of whom have to pay 3s. 6d. a cwt. for coal. The only security of the old age pensioner has been the workhouse and the grave. Let the Government make a great human gesture in the House and announce, before this Debate is ended, a new charter for old age pensioners. These old age pensioners of 65, 70 and 80 have had to band themselves together to fight for the right of existence in a country in which we are trying to say what Hitler would do if he came here. To me this has always been a tragedy. The great bulk of the Members of this House stand by the demand of the old age pensioners being given that form of justice, and it could be implemented at once. The voices of Members have been heard on all sides of this problem, making a demand for justice, and yet they fear to press this matter to a Division. I suggest that we make an immediate demand for that form of justice for the old people.
With regard to this plan, we should stand up in this House and demand that the Government should stop this shuffling. One hon. Member said "tinkering." I have met some very competent tinkers, who would be insulted if compared with members of this Government. The contact between the two Front Benches should end at once. The Labour Party could sweep the country to-day in by-elections if they liked to face the issue and break the political truce to that extent, even if they continued to give their energy and support to the war. Backed by every progressive element in the country, they could win even some of the most die-hard Tory seats, because the voice of the people is demanding justice for the first time with a voice the like of which has never before been heard in this land. They are experiencing toil, tears, sweat and blood, and they now demand the fulfilment of these pledges. The Government are either in earnest, or it is the greatest game of democracy ever played in this country.
This country does not intend to wait a year or two for the implementing of this plan and these pledges. It demands that 1855 the plan should be carried out now. If the Government are not prepared to carry out the plan, then from this House should come a lead that would direct their attention not only to the war effort but to this problem, which is inseparable from the war struggle, because it provides the basis of the inspiration for the great struggle that is taking place on the sea, in the air and on land. These men, divorced from their homes and families, have been inspired by the zeal that they are fighting for something real, and if you give them no greater measure of encouragement than what you have given them in the last two days, you will destroy the faith of mankind, the morale of your troops and of their families, and bring into this war a deep-rooted antagonism towards this Chamber and democracy, which might undermine this Assembly and its democratic form of government and throw up something of a more cruel, brutal and reprehensible character in this land.
§ Sir William Davison. (Kensington, South)
I am in agreement with the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) in regard to the method which the Government have seen fit to adopt in submitting the Beveridge Report, though not for the same reasons. I think they have put the cart before the horse in submitting a Report of this volume and complication to the House, asking it to consider it and to inform the Government what they ought to do about it. In a Report of this epoch-making kind it is essential that it should, in the first instance, have been submitted to the Government, who should have gone carefully through it, paragraph by paragraph, considered all its implications and then submitted it to the House, with a White Paper or at any rate a full statement by the Prime Minister or the Chancellor of the Exchequer, pointing out what opinion the Goverment had formed with regard to the Report, what was the effect of its finances and what were the other post-war commitments which the Government had in mind and which the House ought to bear in mind in reaching a conclusion with regard to this Report. As I reminded the Chancellor of the Exchequer to-day, as long ago as 21st January of this year I asked him whether he would see that the Government did not ask the House of Commons to consider the 1856 Beveridge Report until they had first issued to them a White Paper giving the estimated approximate particulars of other expenditure which would probably be required after the war.
The main object of the Beveridge scheme is stated to be, and is, the abolition of want, but I hope to show that by far the greater part of the expenditure involved in the Beveridge Report is not in connection with the abolition of want, which I am sure every Member in every part of this House considers is a matter of primary importance, but the giving of allowances, services, grants and other benefits to large sections of the community who, admittedly, are not in want. I am not saying that these grants may not be required, but they are not for the abolition of want. They are essentially grants for things which should be considered in connection with all the other heavy commitments to which the Chancellor alluded in his speech to-day, such as the contribution for the Armed Forces which will be necessary after the war, war pensions, civil injury pensions, agriculture, housing, education, roads, forestry, Colonial development and civil aviation. All these things are vitally important to the country, and anything not directly for the abolition of want—and nobody, I am sure, will stand by and see the men who come back from the Fighting Services in a state of penury—should be considered most carefully.
§ Mr. G. Griffiths
Will the hon. Gentleman give us a definition of want? Will he give us a standard, so that we shall be able to know how many people are
§ Sir W. Davison
If the hon. Member will bear with me, I am coming to that. I do not intend to give my own definition but the definition from an important report issued by the London County Council, with the aid, I think, of Mr. Rowntree, some years ago. However, I prefer to develop my remarks in my own way, if I may be allowed to do so. In providing the money for all these services, we must remember that we have no longer the benefit of foreign investments, nearly all of which were sold, at a loss to this country of some £200,000,000 a year. The reduction of our banking and shipping services will also mean a loss of about £130,000,000 a year. Another fact, though possibly not directly material, 1857 should be borne in mind. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his speech on post-war economic policy recently, pointed out that the aggregate total income of this country was £6,350,000,000 and that no less than 75 per cent. of this, or £4,750,000,000, was possessed by persons having an income of less than £500 a year. He also said that if he took every penny of income over £2,000 a year from people possessing over £2,000 a year he would get only £30,000,000 a year, a small sum towards meeting expenditure on the Beveridge proposals or any other proposals.
The Beveridge services, as compared with the position in 1938, would cost £342,000,000; in 1945, under the existing law, they would cost £432,000,000, and under the Beveridge scheme they would cost £697,000,000. In 1965, under the Beveridge scheme, they would cost no less than £858,000,000. It will, therefore, be seen that under the Beveridge scheme the cost of these services in 1945 would be roughly double that in 1938 and that the cost in 1965 would be roughly double that under the existing law, which gives the House some idea of the magnitude of these proposals. Apart from employers' and workers' contributions, the additional sum to be met by the taxpayers under the Beveridge scheme in 1965 will cost £560,000,000 more than in 1938. If this sum had had to be provided in 1938 from Income Tax, when 6d. produced £30,000,000, and the rate was then 5s. 6d. in the £, the Income Tax would have had to be increased to 15s. in the £. [An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear."] It is all very well saying, "Hear hear," but the Income Tax is what this country and its services have lived on for many years past. If Income Tax had applied then as it does to-day, to lower ranges of income, the Income Tax required then would have been 13s. 6d. in the £. Further than that, the figures I have just mentioned are based on the assumption that education, war pensions and housing costs are not increased beyond the 1938 figures. The hon. Member opposite asked me what want was. Well, it is a very difficult thing to define.
§ Sir W. Davison
Give me a chance. If the hon. Member had asked me on his favourite topic how to make butter or margarine, perhaps I should 1858 have been better able to tell him. However, I will refer to something that is in the Beveridge Report—a social survey of London, known as the New Survey of London Life and Labour relating to the year 1929. It appears that in 1929 11 per cent. of all families in East London were in want. On this basis, assuming that this applied to the country as a whole, want could be abolished for an expenditure of £40,000,000. The House knows that in 1940 supplementary old age pensions were instituted, at a cost of some £30,000,000 a year, and, without being precise, that undoubtedly should have substantially reduced the amount of want below the figure of £40,000,000. However, even if we accept the figure of £40,000,000 a year as the approximate sum required to abolish want, we see at once that the large sums mentioned in the Beveridge Report are required, not for the abolition of want, but for other grants to people who are not in want. It is this point that I want to stress to the House. At a time when we are at war and when, as the Chancellor has said, perhaps we are only in the middle of the war, the Government are urged here and now to implement all these proposals and to commit themselves to the spending of these enormous sums of money without reference to the other matters, such as agriculture, war pensions and so on which I have mentioned, and to spend these enormous sums on people who admittedly are not in want.
§ Mr. G. Griffiths
Will the hon. Gentleman give us a definition of want? He has been talking all round the matter, but has not given us a definition.
§ Sir W. Davison
Certainly not. All the surveys that have been made, whether they have been made in York by Mr. Rowntree or elsewhere, have been based on a survey of people not having sufficient food and all the other things which any decent man requires for his ordinary maintenance. It would take too long and would be too difficult to refer to every feature of want, but many inquiries have been made throughout the country by philanthropists as to what people are in want. I would refer the hon. Member to what has been said by people who are better qualified than I am to give this definition. Roughly, people in want are 1859 people who have not the ordinary means to provide themselves in decency with food and clothing and lodging. That would roughly be my definition. It must also be remembered that the whole scheme proposed by Sir William Beveridge is based on a figure of unemployment not exceeding ten per cent. On page 185 of the Report, the Government Actuary states that in his opinion the likely unemployment figure of ten per cent. is "highly speculative." One hon. Member, earlier in the Debate, raised the question of what Sir William Beveridge himself said about unemployment. Speaking at Oxford in December last, he said:I simply will not believe that it is impossible to abolish mass unemployment, but I do not know how it is to be done, and I do not know whether anybody else knows.Hon. Members must also bear in mind that, during the 20 years between the last war and this war, apart from the boom year of 1920, when the figure fell to four per cent., the unemployment figure has averaged 13½ per cent.
The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) said that the subject in which the men in the Forces have been mainly interested recently is the Beveridge Report. I have made such inquiries as I could as to what reception the Beveridge Report has had in the Forces. Quite rightly, it is a matter of interest to the men in the Forces and they ask questions about it and about what it means; but there is no question that what 99 per cent. of the men in the Forces are concerned with more than anything else is whether they will get employment when they come back. That is the thing which interests them more than anything else. They ask whether when they come back they are going to be humbugged in the same way as before by talk about homes for heroes and things of that sort, or whether employment is going to be found for them. That is what everybody is concerned about. There is not an hon. Member in this House, on whatever side he may sit, who would not far rather earn money to keep himself than have doles and grants. Therefore, in conclusion, I say that anything which would substantially interfere with the sale of our manufactures abroad must be most carefully watched and guarded against, 1860 because without adequate employment, which in itself largely depends on an increased export trade, all schemes for national improvement are based on an unsubstantial foundation. We shall require to export more than we did before the war, because as I have said we are no longer getting the benefit of the interest, amounting to £200,000,000, on our foreign investments and our banking and shipping services. In other words, the first priority in this matter is a double one, for two things go hand in hand—the abolition of want and the provision of employment. Before we vote large sums of money to provide benefits or grants for those who are not in want, we must be sure that we can afford them and that the taxation necessary to provide them will-not prejudice our export trade on which, I think I have shown, employment for our people largely depends.
§ Mr. Leach (Bradford, Central)
I think the Government will be encouraged as a result of the Debate to-day. Apart from the speech to which we have just listened, representing the Kensington view on the matter, and the speech delivered, oddly enough, at this Box, every speech to which I have listened has been of a nature to encourage the Government to do more than, apparently, they are so far prepared to do. Every speech has asked for increased courage to be infused into the Government in order to implement the Beveridge Report as fully as possible. I listened to the speech of the Lord President of the Council and to that of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I confess to having been disappointed in one particular. No reference was made in either of those speeches to the new position created by the Beveridge scheme in regard to unmarried women. There is on the Order Paper, as most hon. Members will probably have seen, a Motion in the names of several hon. Members, including myself, asking Parliament to recognise the claims to an adequate pension of unmarried women at 55 years of age. I want to try to give to the House some reasons why that Motion is most fair and just. It will be seen that the Motion welcomes the Beveridge Report as a basis for much-needed social reform legislation. I can also say with confidence and knowledge that no spinster has the slightest desire to take away the benefits that are to be conferred in that Report on anyone else. They 1861 have nothing but praise for the recommendations of Sir William Beveridge and hope in regard to them. Their criticisms, and mine as well, are exclusively devoted to omissions. We really want to strengthen a great historic document.
On 27th July, 1937, there was presented at the Bar of the House a petition in favour of the spinsters' case, with over 1,000,000 signatures, many of them the signatures of Members of the House. I believe it was the greatest petition that had ever been presented. In the following February Parliament demanded an inquiry into the case of the spinsters. That inquiry was granted, and a Committee was set up to report. They issued a very inconclusive document, minus any recommendations of any sort, but the interesting fact transpired from their findings that the spinster was paying considerably more in contributions than she was receiving in benefits. Some of us had already drawn attention to that very fact. In 1940, largely, we believe, as the result of the agitation of the spinsters themselves, the pension age of all women was reduced from 65 to 60. The spinsters gratefully accepted this concession, which covered far more women who were not spinsters than were, as an instalment of their demands. Meanwhile the tragic circumstances of the war induced them to stay their hand in regard to the remainder of their programme, but the introduction of the Beveridge Report has altered all that. I have read the Report with pretty considerable care, and I do not find the word "spinster" mentioned in it from beginning to end. That in itself is strange enough, but a study of its provisions leads inevitably to the conclusion that, if the Beveridge Report is adopted in its present form unaltered, the spinsters lose their case, so the spinsters' inaction must now be changed to action.
Under the Report maximum benefits accrue to the married householder. We do not criticise that approach to the problem at all, but it is permissible to contrast the man-and-wife benefits with the case of the spinster. The young unmarried woman is called upon to pay 2s. weekly at 16, 3s. at 18, and 3s. 6d. at 21. Her contribution ceases on marriage. A man is called upon to pay 2s. 6d. at 16, 3s. 6d. at 18, and 4s. 3d. at 21, so that the household contributes 4s. 3d. a week and no more. It is true that a married woman can make a voluntary arrangement to 1862 continue her contribution if she so wishes, but there is no obligation. Meanwhile the unmarried woman goes on at 3s. 6d. The benefits accruing to the married man for his 4s. 3d. weekly are manifold. First, there is the marriage dowry of £10; secondly, there is the allowance for every child after the first one of 8s. a week. I am aware that the Lord President has announced the Government's intention to alter that 8s. to 5s., but to add a large increase based on school meals, so that in a number of cases it may practically come back to the 8s. in actual value. But, be that as it may, the allowance to the father, which does not cover the first child, is made to cover even the first child if he happens to be out of work. The third advantage is the maternity benefit of £4 down and 3s. 6d. weekly for 13 weeks.
Work out these totals, and I think you will find that, in the case of a man and wife with three children, the total amount that is likely to go into the household during a period extending over perhaps 20 years is £720 in cash or, alternatively, under the Government's 5s. arrangement, £480 in cash plus the provision of free meals. If there are more than three children, the amount is increased by £360 per child or, on the Government's new figures, £235 per child plus school meals. Conceive the not uncommon case of a girl who marries in her teens and successfully produces eight children. With health and strength maintained, of course, under the Beveridge security plan, she rears the lot. In that case over £2,500 will go into the household or, under the Government's 5s. altered figure plus school meals, £1,645. These payments, of course, will go in a steady weekly stream, extending most likely over something approaching 40 years. We do not criticise this generosity. It is the way to rear the race. But it is necessary to remind the House, I think, of something else. All these benefit costs are costs which the spinster saves to the State. [Interruption.]—Whether that is amusing or not, it is true, and we say that some consideration should be given to the spinsters because of that fact. What more natural consideration could be given to her than to reduce her pension age from 60 to 55?
It seems clear that out of her 3s. 6d. weekly contributions something will go to hold together these manifold additions to 1863 the married household. In that respect, of course, she will only be continuing the process of subsidising other people which is imposed on her at this moment. Ministers have told us in the past that it is right that this should be so. I remember the right hon. Gentleman the ex-Postmaster-General, who is now Minister of Town and Country Planning, had something to say about this matter when he was Financial Secretary to the Treasury. He said that the spinster sometimes becomes a wife and sometimes a widow and that it had from the inception of the scheme been thought right that some part of the contributions of spinsters should for this reason be used to meet the cost of wives' and widows' pensions. I could never understand the justice of that. The Beveridge plan, it is freely admitted, places a premium on marriage. Sir William himself tells us on page 52 that that is the case. What is not so clearly seen is that it places a handicap on the spinster. If that fact is recognised by the Government, as in all fairness it should be, some consideration should be given to her.
The whole body of unmarried women in industry numbers about 4,000,000. By the time the age of 55 is reached, the total is reduced to 175,000. Some have married, some have died, some have fallen by the wayside, and some have left work and gone out of insurance. What kind of people comprise that 175,000? They are certainly all poor; 80 per cent. of them are very poor indeed. They are hardworking, thrifty and respectable. Indeed, if I were asked which section of our population is the most modest, well-behaved and law abiding, there would be only one answer—the spinsters.
§ Mr. Leach
Doubtless there is an amusing side to that fact. If the whole population came up to their standard, we could do away with half our police and probably close more than half our gaols.
Let me justify the fixing of the age at 55, The unmarried woman approaching her fifties faces new physical difficulties. Nature is always more cruel to the woman than to the man and imposes upon her new hardships. She has bouts of illness, her energy is flagging and her hold in the 1864 industrial market becomes decidedly more precarious. Should she lose her job by reason of these troubles or faltering faculties, she will find the industrial dice heavily loaded against her in occupations such as typing, secretarial work, waiting, shop assistants' work, hotel bars and domestic service. The young woman applicant always has a very fatal advantage of preference. A census taken by the spinsters just before the war in five industrial towns showed an unemployment rate of 20 per cent. among unmarried women workers. Forty-three per cent. of those workers were contributing to the maintenance of dependants, and 33 per cent. had physical infirmities. The first reason, therefore, for fixing pensions for unmarried women in industry at 55 is concerned with their health and their employment risks.
If it is said that fixing the age at 55 for unmarried women and at 60 for married women, as the Beveridge Report does, cannot be warranted, there are two answers. The first is that the age for married women need not be left at 60; it can be altered to 55 if it is desired. The second and more potent answer is that by no process of imagination can it be deduced that the married women's case is as great as that of the spinster. In Soviet Russia the pension age for industrial women is 55. The qualification necessary for a pension in her case is that she should have served the State for 20 years. The pension is based on the average earnings at her last place of employment and may be anything between 50 and 60 per cent. of such earnings. Moreover, there is no bar to her continuing in work after the receipt of a pension.
It is worthy of note that 55 as the proper age, has already received powerful support in this House. In 1929 the then Labour Government introduced a Bill granting some hundreds of thousands of widows pensions at 55. In Committee on 14th November, 1929, an Amendment was moved from the Conservative Benches to include spinsters. It was supported by no fewer than seven Conservative and Liberal ex-Cabinet Ministers led by ex-Prime Minister Baldwin. Those who voted for it included the present Minister of Health, whom I am glad to see in his place, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha), the right hon. Gentleman the 1865 Member for Luton (Mr. Burgin), the right hon. Gentleman the new Minister of Town and Country Planning, Lord Cranborne and Mr. Ormsby-Gore, as he then was. Another supporter was the hon. Member for Norwich (Sir G. Shakespeare) who took part in the Debate and said that the pension would be a great boon to a large number of deserving cases. The Amendment received 97 votes and was defeated. The Labour Government opposed it because they were afraid of making the scheme more expensive. After that the National Liberal Party placed this demand on its election programme. I do not know whether it is still there. Per-haps the Minister of Health could tell me. After all, election programmes are only devised after careful thought.
When that Bill was going through, which it did successfully, it was made clear that pensions were being granted to widows simply because they had lost their bread-winning husbands. I put it to the House that the spinsters' case is identical with that. They have lost their husbands. In the words of one of the Cabinet Ministers who spoke in this Debate, spinsters of 55 are as deserving as widows of 55. We should also remember that a very large number of widows now pensioned got their pensions long before they were 55, indeed, a large number got them when they were in their 20's. We must face the fact that the war will increase the number of spinsters, and by creating fatherless children it will add to the responsibilities of maiden aunts and other relatives called upon to make sacrifices. Someone below the Gangway does not sound very serious.
§ Mr. Gallacher
On a point of Order. Is it essential that a Member should remain in this House if he is bored? Cannot he leave the House and let us get on with the business?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
It is not essential that a Member should remain in this House, whether he is bored or not.
§ Mr. Leach
In view of the trying times ahead, I appeal to the Government to make this concession to unmarried women, so as to give them something to 1866 look forward to. I have said nothing about the highly controversial aspects suggested by the 20 years' time-lag in the matter of reaching the full pension level, nor have I referred to the obligation to cease work when the pension is granted, but if the House should ultimately accept those two what I regard as questionable devices, which affect all pensioners alike, I shall be distinctly surprised. I have sought to confine myself strictly to the case of the spinsters and the Beveridge recommendations as those recommendations affect them. I trust the case I have sought to put will not go unconsidered by the Government, in whose good intentions I place my trust.
§ Captain Duncan (Kensington, North)
The hon. Member for Central Bradford (Mr. Leach) is an old champion of the spinsters, and I am rather frightened at the possibility of this champion who has told spinsters to meet inaction by action, because in my imagination I can see him advancing through Westminster Hall as the challenger on their behalf, with a coat of arms on which is a bale of wool from Bradford with the figures "55" and, as supporters, two spinsters rampant.
§ Captain Duncan
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer made a very important speech to-day, and also made an important speech two weeks ago an economic policy. But he made, if I may say so, a strange impression on the House when he stated what the Government's immediate intentions were regarding this Report. The impression is left on my mind that we shall have to read what the Lord President of the Council said yesterday, to read what the Chancellor said to-day and then to read what the Minister of Home Security is going to say to-morrow, and make up our minds from reading those three statements what is the Government's policy. I may have misunderstood him, but that is the impression left on my mind. And at the end of it, it seemed to me, Parliament would not be clear what the intentions of the Government really are. As I understand my right hon. Friend—I leave out for the moment the one I have read and the other whom I have not heard—consultations, with expert advice, are going to be held regarding the new medical arrangements and so on, and as a result of that certain action with regard to the 1867 promotion of Bills in Parliament will be taken. But when that action has been taken the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Government reserve the right to reconsider the whole thing. That is what he said, as I understand it. May I suggest that instead of saying that the Government reserve the right to stop it all after having raised the hopes of the country; instead of saying there will be all these consultations with advice by experts and preparations will be gone into and the appropriate Bills introduced at the appropriate time, that as soon as possible the Government should come back to the House and say, "Here is a White Paper "—put it in the form of a White Paper if you like—"showing what we have decided "—unanimously or by a majority, I do not mind—and so let the House get a clear impression of what the Government really intend to do.
§ Sir K. Wood
I do not think there is any objection at all to that course. I do not, of course, commit myself to a White Paper, or anything of that kind, but obviously the Government must inform the House of the decision they have arrived at, and it will be for the House to discuss it if they want to and express their opinion about it.
§ Captain Duncan
I think that will go some way, at any rate, to reassure the country that the Government really mean business. If the Government do not come to the House within a reasonable time, having made their explorations, it will be' for the House to force them to come to a decision. In considering this great Report, I want to refer to the background. First of all, as my right hon. Friend said, the war is not ended yet, and we may be only half-way through it. That must have an enormous effect on the cost of living, and the cost of living may be much higher than the 1938 prices on which the whole of the Report is based. Therefore, I agree with my right hon. Friend that it is quite impossible to come forward with any detailed figures now, and if possible I want to avoid any form of figures, because the whole thing may be upset if the cost of living is materially different from the 1938 price level.
Mr. McNeil (Greenock)
Surely the hon. and gallant Member is missing the point that the Government have adopted one set of figures—the 5s. From many 1868 aspects what he says may be very important, but will he pursue that point?
§ Captain Duncan
I hope the hon. Gentleman will not ask me to explain why the Government selected the figure of 5s. That is a matter for them. I have no inside knowledge of why they chose 5s. instead of 8s. If the price level changes, it might have to be a matter for Parliament to force the Government to change it. That is the whole point of my remarks—that the Beveridge proposals are based on 1938 prices and if that price level materially changes between now and the end of the war, owing to inflation or for any other reason, the basis of this scheme comes to an end.
This scheme must be considered in its proper perspective. One of the greatest—I think that is admitted—if not the greatest need after the war will be that Britain should take her part in achieving international security, and it is quite impossible, as far as I can tell, to make an estimate of the demands that will be made on the Armed Forces after the war. I wish we could get an estimate because it would make demobilisation plans and everything else very much easier, but at the present moment, when things are not yet fixed up, I understand it is quite impossible to say what the strength of the Armed Forces of the Crown will have to be after the war. I think it is quite clear that if the Atlantic Charter policy is carried out, the demands of the Armed Forces will be considerable, because if you want men to remain in the Army after the war—officers and soldiers alike—you will have to give them such pay as will encourage them to stay in the Service and make a career in it. That I think is an absolutely cast-iron demand which must, inevitably, be met.
There is another cast-iron demand—that you should do nothing to hinder, but everything possible to help the export trade. I think enough has been said about that and at this late hour I do not wish to say more. But those two demands, I think, we must meet. Then come other claims and you can put the order of priority as you like according to your own wishes. I, personally, after serving in two wars, would put the Services pensioner first and the demands of the Services pensioners will, inevitably, be great. Then there are the claims of agriculture and roads and housing. Per 1869 sonally, I would put housing second, but it is a matter entirely for the individual choice. In this series of claims come the claims of the Beveridge scheme and though some hon. Members want to put these first, personally I would not do so. I would put in housing and Service pensions and it is a matter for consideration by the Government in what order the others should come. The Government alone can decide, balancing all these claims as between one and another, after meeting the demands of the Services and of export trade. I think we must leave it to the Government to decide whether the scheme is financially attractive.
With regard to the Ministry of Social Security, I am not convinced that this great unification plan is such a good thing after all. There are sizes beyond which a Ministry or a business become unwieldy and if you are to have insurance and medical arrangements and so on all under one Ministry, it seems to me that it will be a colossal job, much beyond what one Minister ought to tackle. I am not at all convinced that unification to such an extent as is envisaged by the Beveridge Report would necessarily be the best answer to our problem. There is one additional difficulty in having a Minister directly responsible both for insurance and assistance. It seems to me that it would be very unwise for the Minister to be directly responsible for assistance and for cases of discretionary payments either by the Minister or by whatever authority is set up under him. Such an arrangement is liable to be queried in Parliament. Questions would be asked why Mrs. Smith gets 9d. and Mrs. Jones next door gets 1s. 6d.—why should there be this difference. This sort of question in my opinion would be an intolerable burden, both on Parliament, which is cluttered up with business, and on the Minister and the Department. I am not at all sure that, if we could separate assistance from insurance, much more clearly than is envisaged in the Report, it would not be a very much better thing and it would leave assistance under the Ministry of Labour.
There is one more reason, a general reason, why I do not like an extra Ministry. I do not like to see more Ministers on the Front Bench—and the second bench and the third bench—than are necessary. I think the volume of patronage of the Government is far too great 1870 and should be reduced. I am supported in that view by the Prime Minister himself, who said that this Ministry of Social Security was going to absorb other Ministries and become one big Ministry with, perhaps, two Under-secretaries. I am against the suggestion because I think the existing Ministries are doing their work perfectly well. As regards pensions, I find it is extremely difficult to make up one's mind whether pensions should be on retirement only and with an age limit or not. I think, on the whole, that the Government are right or that the Lord President of the Council was right—because the Minister of Home Security may say something different to-morrow—on the point of having a fixed contribution and fixed pension. I would not be averse from the idea if it were possible of a fixed pension and a fixed contribution as a condition of retirement. That is one of the questions which the Government must obviously take into account. I think additional pension for extra years of work is envisaged in the Beveridge scheme.
About approved societies, this, again, is a very knotty point and the hon. Gentleman who spoke earlier and who is an insurance agent has put his point of view upon it. It is a mystery as the hon. Gentleman said—a mystery whose veils are now being lifted stage by stage for me—but I still believe in keeping the approved societies. I think that is the right line and it would be, in my opinion, a pity to destroy what has been built up over so many years. What the individuals in the back street want is for their collector to be a man they know, to whom they can talk, not only about insurance but a hundred different things. If you are to have someone who is perhaps a State paid official, and is not necessarily the same man every time, who goes on leave, or is transferred to another district in the way the State is always doing—
§ Captain Duncan
I am speaking of both. [An HON. MEMBER: "You said 'approved societies.'"] Oh yes, I am speaking of both. On the whole, I think it would be a pity, even if it is a little expensive, not to allow approved societies to operate this new and increased 1871 benefit if it can be so arranged, because I believe these people are not only insurance agents. I think that in many ways they are friends of their own clients, and it is the personal touch that makes all the difference in these things and makes the existing system work so smoothly. As to the cost of the scheme, I have already said it must depend on the cost of living and the length of the war. It will undoubtedly be heavy, whatever it may be. Only the Government can decide whether that cost is too heavy to bear or not.
One word with regard to benefits. I agree to the extension of benefits, and particularly to the extension of benefits to dependants. I have always thought that National Health Insurance benefits, falling short as they did of dependants' benefits, constituted a great blot on the insurance system of this country, and I am very glad that Sir William has taken that point into consideration, because I think it is going to make an enormous difference to everyone.
One thing is the scheme's universality. Here again I am not altogether certain that I agree with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He said that he had come to the conclusion that universality was right. I am not convinced that it is. Think of the hundreds of people who are not included in State insurance to-day—banks, insurance, the Civil Service, the Armed Forces and so on, quite apart from the ordinary business man and people above the income limit. An enormous number of people are not in State insurance, far more than people realise. It seems to me a very big revolution to include those people who are in existing schemes, such as assurance office schemes, simply for the sake of universality. Admittedly the State will gain. The State will get the contributions and, broadly speaking, will not have to pay out much extra—very little. It seems a pity, and rather unjust to those people, many of whom belong to the long-suffering middle-class, to have to come into a State scheme. Of course they will also have to maintain the extra policy they are paying in an assurance scheme already. It seems a pity that they should be forced against their will, and I am not all convinced that it is altogether fair for the very large number of people 1872 who are out of the State scheme now to be forced in, in order to help the scheme itself. After all, they are all taxpayers, and they are paying their share in taxation. I am quite convinced they are prepared like Britons to go on paying their share of taxation. This is a superimposed taxation, which will create enormous irritation in the collection. Fix the figure at what you like, whether it is £450 or £500 a year, and say that anybody over that figure may be allowed—encouraged, if you like—to come in, but not forced in against his will. I am very glad that the Government are keeping the system of voluntary hospitals and private practitioners. It would be a very great mistake to abolish them, at any rate from the teaching point of view.
Would the hon. and gallant Gentleman mind giving his authority for the statement that the Government are maintaining the voluntary hospitals and private practitioners?
§ Captain Duncan
The hon. Member can read it for himself. I hope that all assistance will come under the Assistance Board. At present, when a man drops out of insurance he goes on to assistance and is dealt with by the Assistance Board; but there are a large number of people who do' not come under the Assistance Board at all, but under the public assistance committees of the local authorities, for out relief. There is a chance now of unification of all assistance, with a uniform means test, under the Assistance Board. The local authorities, would gain great advantage, because they would be relieved of all the duties of the relieving officers and of the financial burden of maintaining the people whom they maintain now. They would be able to concentrate on institutional help and on co-operation with the Minister of Health on the institutional side of the scheme. That is one reform, which is not advocated by Sir William Beveridge, which ought to be included in any State scheme. The aim of every Member of this House is positive health for people, and not mere medical help when they are ill. I hope that in the Government's consideration of the medical side they will take far more care of the positive 1873 health of the people, instead of getting people better when they are ill. I would go as far as the Chinese, who, I believe, imprison you if you are ill, but only treat you medically if you commit a crime. [Interruption.] That, of course, as my hon. Friend says, is in "Erewhon." Without full employment, the scheme cannot be operated, and nothing must be done by the Government to make full employment more difficult of achievement. After the war we must have freedom from want, or a bottom against poverty. Those three things, if we can carry them out, would, I believe, automatically bring prosperity and increased wealth to our people, and then we should be able to afford the scheme of Sir William Beveridge.
§ Mr. Kendall (Grantham)
I have listened with a great deal of interest to this Debate so far, and I am very much disappointed with the attitude of the Government to the Beveridge plan. I believe, after listening to the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that the plan itself has been killed and that what he has offered will not come about for many long years to come. I am 39 years of age, healthy and sound in wind and limb, and I doubt whether I shall ever come into any kind of benefit which the Chancellor of the Exchequer is to give. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is also very healthy, but he will never come up to that.
I have had many meetings throughout my constituency on this Report, and it has been accepted 100 per cent. The overwhelming majority of my people want the Beveridge plan to go through and the Government to be bold and courageous enough to take that plan as the first step towards real social reform. A point which was brought forward was that children's allowances should be paid to mothers and not to fathers, and I would like to bring that to the attention of the Government if they change their mind beween now and the next Sitting. Another point was that the 20 years' transition period was far too long. There are many aged people in this country who rightly ask that they shall be taken care of, at least as far as subsistence is concerned, for the last years of their life, and if it be true that Sir William Beveridge has framed this Report unbiased, based on fact and fact alone, the amounts he has put down for 1874 subsistence, which means keeping body and soul together and a roof over your head, should provide subsistence allowances for our old people as soon as we can, which will permit them to spend the last few years of their lives without fear of want. Nothing has been done or suggested in the Report of Sir William Beveridge for those who are born crippled, and something should be done and some scheme put forward. The Beveridge Report should be implemented by something which would take care of cripples and those who are born cripples.
The method of payment has been criticised, based on the fact that there are people in this country who cannot afford to pay the flat rate of contribution suggested, especially the agricultural labourer, who may be a widower with a daughter of 21 or over working for him. He would have to pay 4s. 3d, a week, plus 2s. 6d. as employer of his daughter—6s. 9d.—which would be deducted from a wage of 50s. a week and thereby lower his standard of living. It has been suggested, and again accepted by the majority of my constituents of all political beliefs, that some form of graduated contribution should be made so that those who can pay must pay. It is also said that, if New Zealand, one of our smallest Dominions, can have a scheme of social security, this country, which is the heart and hub of the Empire, should be well able to afford such a scheme. If the Chair decides in its wisdom to call one of the Amendments on the Order Paper, it should be the Liberal Amendment, to which I would give my whole-hearted support.
§ Sir K. Wood
Might I suggest that in accordance with the arrangements made earlier to-day, we should now adjourn our proceedings? I think it would be for the convenience of the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Well, nobody objected earlier to-day.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Of course we objected. Is it not the case, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that there was the strongest objection to the suggestion made earlier as to the time of rising to-day? Did I not draw attention to the fact that the suggested time was quite inadequate?
§ Mr. Lipson
On a point of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. May I remind you that there are some hon. Members of this House who are never consulted when so- 1875 called arrangements are made? Is it not a fact that so long as hon. Members wish to continue the Debate they are entitled to do so?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
It was understood, I believe, that we should finish to-day at the time suggested at the start of the Debate. No great objection was raised. Of course, hon. Members are entirely dependent on the. Chair accepting or not accepting a Motion should it appear to be an abuse of the Rules.
§ Mr. A. Bevan
Arising out of that, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, may I submit to you a reason why you ought not to accept a Motion?
§ Mr. Bevan
Well, then, any proposal or Motion that might be made. Yesterday afternoon I raised with Mr. Speaker the question of whether he proposed to call one of the Amendments on the Order Paper. The reason Mr. Speaker gave for not calling an Amendment was that a very large number of Members wished to speak.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
If the hon. Member wishes to make a speech now, he cannot make a speech on our next Sitting Day. The selection of Amendments is not a point of Order now. His point was answered after Questions to-day.
§ Mr. George Griffiths (Hemsworth)
I do not intend to keep the House for very long, but I have sat here for practically the whole of the Debate so far, and I want to make my contribution. I want to have candidly from the Government or any other speaker a definition of want. The majority of those who talk about want know nothing about it at all, and the reason they know nothing about it is because they have never experienced it. I am able to give a definition of want, because I experienced want for a good many years. I am one of a family of 10, and I knew from infancy for many years what is real want. When people talk about want and have never seen it and do not understand it, they ride off on to something else when they are asked to give a definition. When I was a boy at home some years ago—I am not quite of pension age yet—I knew what it was not to taste butter except on Sunday morning. I knew what it was not to 1876 have fresh milk, except once a week. If I had any milk at all, it was what we call buttermilk, that is, milk churned, the butter taken away and the milk soured. That made me rebel against the system that was in operation. Knowing what want was, it has been my ambition and motive in life ever since to try to see that nobody else should be put into that position. When one talks about want, it is a matter not only of food, but of clothes as well. For a good number of years we could not afford shoes in our house, but had to have clogs, and I am not ashamed to say that sometimes I had to do without clogs, because there were 10 youngsters in the house, and my father was a miner, and in those days if he brought home 24s. a week, that was all. That is want, and we do not want anything like it in future.
I want to say a word or two about the Government. For about 18 months I have been carrying the bag; I am what they call a P.P.S. I have been a loyal supporter of the Government in the House and out of the House. Before my executive and at different meetings, I have had to stand up for the Government and say that we must have unity because we must win the war. I have pressed upon my own folk that the war was the very first essential as far as we were concerned, and that unless we won the war we could not live. When they started saying, "What about social reform, what about this and that?" I had to say, "Look here, we have got the Beveridge Report coming." I have explained that the Government said they could not deal with compensation, could not increase the sickness benefit, could not do other things, because those things were to be done in the Beveridge Report. That has been the text of what some of us have been putting over at week-ends. Now we have the Beveridge Report. I am one of the most bitterly disappointed men in the House after the Government's speeches yesterday and to-day. I am going to express my soul here to-day. I feel bitterly disappointed. The Government have not taken their courage in their hands.
Let me say this to the Government. Coming from an industrial constituency, where the people have been waiting and anxiously looking to this Debate, I say without fear of contradiction that the stock of the Government has gone down wallop yesterday and to-day. Next 1877 Saturday week I am going to speak to some old-age pensioners. I shall be at a colliery where the deputy is giving them a special beanfeast. I shall have to face 350 old-age pensioners in a mining district. When I get up to speak, they will say, "George, what have you done with Beveridge?" I shall have to say, "They have buried him." Because the Government do not hold out any hope whatever for these old-age pensioners who have saved a bit of money. I feel very bitterly about this thing. There is another thing I want to say. There are some men in my division who are getting only 10s. 6d. a week national health benefit. They have been on it for months and months, and they have been lowered down to the 7s. 6d. scale, plus the 3s. we gave them. They are among the hardest-hit persons in the country. They have had to go for public assistance in addition to the 10s. 6d. They have not gone to the Assistance Board, as the Kensington chaps said; they have had their say, and cleared out. It is to the public assistance committee that these men have had to go. Let me say candidly that the honest man, the man who is sick, to-day feels it is degrading for him to go to the public assistance committee. I have told them they have as much right to draw public assistance as they have to draw a pension across a post office counter, but the stigma has been there for so many years that you cannot eradicate it even to-day.
May I say a word about compensation? I know something about it. It is not something that I have read in a book but something that I have experienced. I can remember when there was no compensation for miners or anyone else. It is almost 50 years ago since I was hurt in the pit. I had my leg fractured. When I was taken out there was no horse and cart. The weighman himself put me on his back and carried me home. I could not get a pair of crutches at the pit. I got hurt again when I was married, and I was on compensation, and for myself, my wife and two children I had 15s. 9d. a week. The present amount of compensation is not sufficient. My industry has been crying out for months for an increase. We have put our case to the Miners' Federation but have been told we had better leave it, pending the Beveridge Report. Now here we are again. There is another delay. In the mining industry 72 men are killed every 1878 month, and their widows are left with a miserable £300. It is a disgrace. Thousands are injured during the year, and a married man and wife get 35s. It will not stand looking at. I do not know how we are going to face the miners' executive. They will say, "Unless there is a difference as far as compensation is concerned, it is possible that our men will refuse to get coal." This has been a burning question for a long time, and there has been nothing but disappointment all the way through. I ask the Government not to rest on their oars of yesterday and to-day. I am hoping that the War Cabinet will have met and that the next spokesman for the Government will say, "We have sensed the opinion of the House, and we are going back on our words of yesterday and the day before and are prepared to do something practical and sympathetic, and we will go to the country with it."
§ Captain Crowder (Finchley)
I am sure the House has been very much interested in the hon. Member's speech, but I put it to him that surely compensation can be increased without instituting; a very large and somewhat unwieldy State scheme. I congratulate the Government on refusing to be stampeded into accepting schemes before they know the whole of the implications and the cost involved. We agree that our social services require to be remodelled, co-ordinated and expanded so as to give reasonable security to all. What we have to consider to-day, however, is whether Sir William Beveridge has given us what the majority of this country want, whether his schemes are too rigid or not, whether, being so regimented, they will suit all grades, the highly paid, the lowly paid, the medium paid and those who are not gainfully employed. It seems to me that when many of the public understand the implications of the whole Report they may not be so enthusiastic on all the schemes that are put forward.
After the war we shall have to increase production in this country if we in this small island are to survive. We shall have to pay for our imports of food and raw materials by visible exports to a large extent, owing to the fact that we have lost so many of our foreign investments. If we are to increase production, it is obvious that we must have as many people as possible in work. These are the foundations upon which the whole 1879 social security policy put forward by Sir William is based. Sir William, however, in his Report does not really help us to solve these two important of all problems, namely, employment and production, although he is very helpful in other ways. I do not think that everybody will welcome the idea of a bureaucracy managing all their claims. We must bear in mind that the new Ministry of Social Security which it is proposed to set up will require thousands of civil servants and hundreds of buildings throughout the country if they are to manage the training centres, the entire medical service of the country, the pensions and all the other schemes involved in the Report. Some people seem to forget that the schemes as set forth are very incomplete, even in their most important aspects. Nothing is laid down as to how a State medical service will work, or how doctors are to be paid, or whether the suggested contributions will cover everything, including specialist and hospital treatment.
The object of Sir William Beveridge's proposals is to bring under one heading all the social benefits that now exist, to add further ones and to cover people who are not at present catered for. This is an excellent basis on which to work. We are all anxious, on all sides of the House, to see that the income of no family falls below the poverty line. On the other hand, as Sir William Beveridge says, security cannot be given to a democracy, it must be earned. While the State, which means the taxpayer, can direct any scheme or schemes and contribute a part of it financially, it cannot carry the whole burden, as has been suggested in some quarters. The question of family allowances, I suggest, is still a controversial one. I read an article in the "Daily Sketch" a fortnight ago in which a group of South Wales trade unionists stated that they were not enamoured of the idea.
§ Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)
This article presumed to have come from a man called D. James and a group of trade unionists in Llanelly. Every effort has been made to find him, and there is no such person.
§ Captain Crowder
I am sorry to hear that there is no such person, but I naturally read the article with interest and thought that the "Daily Sketch" had 1880 had the letter sent to them by this group of trade unionists. I feel that the granting of family allowances will not in itself relieve want unless we have a highly organised housing scheme and adequate rent control. That must be part and parcel of the whole scheme. As regards unemployment pay, it is suggested that it will continue as long as the unemployment lasts, with the proviso that after, say, 26 weeks a man should go to a training centre. It may be very difficult to enforce that. It might be necessary for a man to move his family to where work was available. I am not sure whether this will be very popular in all cases. This training scheme will have to be very carefully worked out. We do not want men to go to those centres merely to qualify for another period of unemployment pay. It has been suggested that real training could best be obtained in a factory alongside the wage earner. Also the trade union bar upon new entrants to trades would have to be relaxed.
The Minister without Portfolio said the other day that after the war labour would have to be more fluid. I do not know if that means that the Government intend to retain the power of direction of labour after the war, but, if they do, I am afraid it may mean moving large bodies of the population from one part of the country to the other. Before any such scheme is put into operation, I suggest that it calls for very careful consideration. We are not told if there is to be training in only a few industries or if there are to be alternatives. Are people to be compelled to take up any form of training which the Government may prescribe? Little is said in detail about the suggestion that this new Ministry of Social Security is to take over all the employment exchanges, nor about the inevitable elimination of private organisations which at the moment supply labour, but the idea is, I understand, that everybody would have a green card and go to an employment exchange.
Many hon. Members have stressed the danger of putting too heavy a financial burden on industry and said that taxation must be reduced after the war. I would only say that it was no accident that heavy taxation and mass unemployment came at the same time, because I suggest that the former was to some extent responsible for the latter. The whole 1881 Beveridge Report is, of course, based upon the assumption that we shall never again suffer from mass unemployment. We all feel strongly that this must be avoided, but words will not suffice, and we must take the necessary steps now and make plans to see that it never happens again. One of the necessary steps is to reduce taxation and thereby increase buying power and increase our exports. Another is that the Government should assist industries which become depressed by giving them orders and keeping the goods as a sort of strategical reserve. In my view the State, which is the civil servants, cannot efficiently run industry. They can help and can administer some of these schemes, but we want to keep small businesses going and put them in a position where they can make a fair profit. When members of the Forces come home after this war what they will want is permanent employment for themselves, and they will also want, and quite rightly, to have an opportunity to run their own businesses in reasonable security. They will be prepared to run ordinary trade risks, but not the risks of major slumps, over which they have no control. We do not want a nation of employees only, with the State or civil servant as the sole employer. In any case something will have to be done to ensure that skilled men are not left idle for long periods. The tragedy of the idle shipyards must never be repeated. There will have to be closer co-operation between industry and the State and between workers and managements.
A good deal has been said about the pensions scheme. I understand from what the Government have said that it is being further looked into. It is not certain whether compulsory abstention from work on receipt of a retirement pension, as suggested by Sir William Beveridge, would be altogether popular. I welcome the suggestion that lump-sum payments under the Employers' Liability Act should cease, because we all know what happens when a man receives a lump sum of, say, £200 or £300, and I suggest it might be forbidden by Act of Parliament for a man to commute more than half of his pension.
No particulars are given as to how the work of the industrial insurance companies is to be taken over. I suggest that very valuable work has been done and is 1882 being done at this moment by the industrial life offices and approved societies and that a most efficient organisation has been built up, and, therefore, Members who wish to hand over this organisation to the State must produce an overwhelming case, before the existing machinery is taken over by a Government Department, that policy-holders and the insured population will really benefit to a considerable extent before such a drastic change is made. It is worth noting that the Royal Commission in 1926—I think the Lord President of the Council referred to it—reported against amalgamation as not in the best interests of the State or of the insured population.
While we agree that the idea underlying the Beveridge Report is a good one, namely, to improve our social services and co-ordinate them, I submit that we must concentrate at this moment on preparing a scheme to provide employment for as many people as possible, especially ex-Service men, after this war, I suggest that, while we should examine all the Beveridge schemes, and the Government should examine them as a basis, we should concentrate most of our energies in giving assurance of employment in preference to expending all our efforts on insurance against unemployment.
As regards the medical services, from my experience as a welfare officer, I feel very strongly that steps should be taken as soon as possible for the wives of insured men and the wives of Service men, to have free medical service, but I am sure that the Minister of Health is working on this at the moment, and I should like to see his plan before whole-heartedly and at this stage advocating the Beveridge proposals. It seems to me that the whole question is one of priority. The taxpayer will have to decide how he wants his money spent after this war—what war pensions are going to cost, education, housing, social security. Under each heading, he will have to consider the financial cost. I suggest that it is not beyond the capacity of those in charge of post-war reconstruction to fit a social security scheme which would appeal to all into the very complicated jigsaw puzzle of our post-war economic system, but that the Beveridge Report should be considered part passu with all other problems, such as war pensions, national defence, unemployment, food production, housing, exports and imports, 1883 exchange and the poverty of Europe after the war. I am very doubtful if one Minister can successfully manage all the schemes outlined in the Report. I am sure the Government will be able to adopt a very satisfactory social security scheme related to the major problems involved. It took Sir William Beveridge two years to prepare this Report, and I do not think we should expect our Ministers, in the middle of a war, to come to decisions on all these complicated schemes in a few weeks. We must have patience and allow them time to consider these proposals and find ways and means of working them out. I hope the Government, after due consideration, will be able to formulate plans and instal the necessary machinery to implement schemes which will offer hope, confidence and fair security to all those who are bearing the brunt of this war, to those in the Services, scattered all over the world, and those at home working in factories.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
In the Beveridge Report there are, as has been mentioned on several occasions, three assumptions presented, but there is an assumption that is not mentioned. That assumption is that the war should be won and Fascism completely overthrown. The people of this country and Members of this House are getting into a condition in which they think the war is over, that it is a war now between the Red Army and the Nazi Army, and we are looking on. As a matter of fact, there is a feeling growing up that it is all over bar the shouting, and so the dark forces are creeping out again, using all the old hoary arguments to buttress up exactly the same conditions, or even worse conditions than we had before the war started. No more is there any talk of a new world for all. That has gone. No more is there any general agreement on social security. That has gone. The Chancellor tells us that we have got to take finance into consideration. The Chancellor says that when you discuss this question you have to consider what the financial position is. Hon. Members on the other side of the House said "Hear, hear." They all agreed. Is it right? Is it the correct way to present the question? No, absolutely wrong. I know it is the good old Tory way, but it is absolutely wrong. I will give an example.
1884 What is the most essential thing for this country? The health and the wellbeing of the masses of the people. At the present time there is a war on. Guns are needed, tanks are needed, aeroplanes are needed. And so guns and tanks and aeroplanes are ordered. But does the Chancellor say, "We will have to consider finance before we begin this production?" Would hon. Members say that was correct? No, everybody has to get on the job and produce them, and nobody would dare mention waiting until we considered what the financial position was. But here we are facing the question of producing in the country a strong, healthy race of men, women and children, and the first thing we come up against is finance. Years ago I was invited by the blind workers in Glasgow to get on to the board of the Glasgow Blind Asylum in order to raise the question of their wages. They were the poorest paid blind workers in Scotland. I got on the board, and I proposed that the wages of the blind workers should be increased 50 per cent. Like the Chancellor, the superintendent got up to explain the financial difficulties—this had to be paid, that had to be paid, the next thing had to be paid, the other thing had to be paid, and out of what was left we could not raise wages. I said, "Suppose we take it the other way. We will raise wages, and then with what is left this can be paid, the next thing can be paid, and the other thing can be paid." "Bad economy," they said. "Yes, starve the workers"—good economy; "Feed the workers"—bad economy.
I fought for an increase, and said that if we had not enough money we would have to make economies in other directions. We got the wages increased. When it came to the time to meet our obligations I proposed that the superintendent, who had £950 a year, and the assistant superintendent, who had £450 a year, should be dismissed, and that we get one man to do the job at £500. We carried that, and advertised for one man to do the job of the two; and the superintendent, who had had £950 a year, applied for the job, at £500 a year. That had been going on for years. The Chancellor wants to keep that sort of thing going now. He says, "Before we do anything, let us examine finance." Let the Government accept responsibility for the whole of the Beveridge Report, with additions that we can suggest so far as scales are concerned, 1885 and put that plan into operation, and if economies are to be made, we will make those economies. Looking across to the other side, I can see where we can save money in many directions.
Then there is the question of old age pensions. Like many Members, I am in favour of the old age pensioners getting 30s. a week without a means test. An hon. Member says that we can give money only to those in want. When it applies to the working class we get this demand for examinations. The other day an hon. Member asked a question about a civil servant who was retiring on a pension of £2,400 a year. The Lord Chancellor when he retires, after a year or two in his job, gets £5,000 a year pension, and no question is asked about how much money they have in the bank, how much they have invested in industry, how many sons and daughters they have working. A Member said to me one day, "I have always held that a son if he is earning a good wage should contribute to the upkeep of his father and mother." I said, "That is a good idea; why did you not think of it before old age pensions came into existence?" I am prepared to accept that idea if it is made to apply to everybody. Why should not the sons of the other classes as well as the sons of workers contribute to the upkeep of their parents? But if a son contributes to the upkeep of his parents because he has decent pay, the old parents should get the benefit. The State should hot take the money away in another direction.
Much has been said about Income Tax. Where do the incomes come from? From the labour of these men who are now old age pensioners, who have spent 50 years in the mines or on the railways, and from the mothers, who have spent 50 years in the homes. Without them there could be no towns or cities or villages. Always we hear talk about the value of the home and what it means to us in Britain, but the mothers who have spent 50 years in maintaining these homes are to get 10s. a week, and before they get any more they must answer all the questions. I want to see the old age pensioners and the widows getting more. I am wholly in sympathy with the speech of the hon. Member for Central Bradford (Mr. Leach). We see the necessity of bringing some plan in to ensure that these people are not neglected in future, as they so often are to-day. The hon. and gallant 1886 Member for Finchley (Captain Crowder), like many other Members, has talked about the need for employment. It is not just a case of dealing with want; we must take steps to ensure that there is employment. So many have said that. The hon. and gallant Member for Finchley said that the State is incapable of running or administering industry.
§ Captain Crowder
What I said was that I did not think that civil servants would be as competent as the present manufacturers to run the whole of the industry of this country.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Before the hon. and gallant Member referred to civil servants he said that the State was incapable of running and administering industry. As a matter of fact, it is the individual enterprisers who are incapable of running and administering industry. Does he understand that? Why were the individual administrators closing down shipyards, pits and textile works and all the rest of it? Because they could not run them; they could not administer them. The industries had grown too big for them. They were only concerned with a very limited market which would provide them with a profit. They were not concerned with the great human market represented by the masses of the people of this country. That is the market the State would have if the State ran industry. Does the hon. and gallant Member understand that? Is there any other in the world beside the Soviet Union which, during the last seven years, how shown such personal enterprise and accomplished such almost superhuman achievements? Not only have they built up a great industry out of the ruins of Czarism, and the wonderful co-operative agricultural system that most people believed to be impossible, but they have performed an absolute miracle of organisation and supply for the offensive that is going on at the present time. There has never been anything like it. Where is there a country where there is so much individual enterprise and initiative as there is in that country, where the land and the industries are the common property of the people?
Our soldiers are considered good enough to fight for their country. They will be coming back after the war is over. Are they to have the right to work? That is 1887 the question that will decide everything. Or will any Member on the opposite side of the House have the right to say to one of these soldiers or to a thousand of them, "Get out into the street; you cannot make a profit for me, so you are no use"? Are the soldiers and the men who are slaving in the factories now in order to save the country to have the right to work after the war? The only way you can solve unemployment is by giving the people of the country the right to work. You cannot give them the right to work if the works are being run for profit for particular individuals. That is the problem which has to be solved. If I put the proposition here—and this brings up the question of Social Security—what is the position of private property in this country and in the Soviet Union? Almost every Member would say that you have the right to private property in this country but there is no right to private property in the Soviet Union.
Almost every Member would say that, yet the exact opposite is the truth. In the Soviet Union a man and wife and perhaps two children have their beds, tables, chairs, piano, radio and toys for the children, and there is no power anywhere that can take those things from them, but in this country if a man with a family in the same position is thrown out of work he soon gets into debt, he falls in arrears with his rent, he is turned out of his house, his creditors apply for a court order, and his furniture is sold to pay them off. If he has not the right to work, he has no right of any kind. If he has not the right to work, he has not the right to a home, or to furniture. The right to work will determine the character of social security when this war is over.
I do not want to go into the detailed questions in the Report, many of which can be the subject of discussion later, but I want the Government to give a lead to the people of this country, not drag behind them. I want to see the Labour members of the Government asserting themselves and speaking for the masses of the people of the country. The trade union movement wants the Beveridge plan, the Co-operative movement wants it, the Labour Party wants it, the Communist Party wants it, and the Liberals and a section of the Tory Party want it. It is clear that the great masses of the people, as represented by these forces, want the plan. 1888 Therefore, let the Government give a lead to the people, let them come along with a scheme in full, ready to be discussed, and accept the changes that may be necessary. Let them do that, and they will be doing something to bring out of this terrible war the hope of salvation for the future of the people of this country.
§ The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Eden)
I wonder whether I could, reasonably make an appeal to the House at this time. I thought there was an understanding as to the proposed time when the Debate should be adjourned. We have exceeded that time by nearly one hour, and it is desirable that we should try to keep to our understandings if we come to such understandings. Otherwise, it makes it difficult to run our Business in future. I hope the House will not consider it unreasonable to ask now whether we could have the Adjournment.
§ Mrs. Adamson (Dartford)
Some of us have sat here all day struggling to get in, and it is very difficult if we have to try to fit in our work on another day.
§ Mr. Eden
I understand the difficulties of hon. Members, and, of course, I am in the hands of the House in this matter. I must accept whatever the House thinks fit, but I did feel that there was another day and that, having made an arrangement, it would make it difficult for the future if we did not keep to our arrangement.
§ Mr. Molson (The High Peak)
As one of those who is not endeavouring to speak to-day, may I suggest to the Government that as a very large number of Members desire to speak, a fourth day should be given? Hon. Members feel that it is important for them to speak on this Report, because if they do not, constituents may feel that they have not shown an interest in the matter. I think that is the reason why a large number of Members wish to speak.
§ Mr. Colegate (The Wrekin)
I am very sorry not to be able to agree with someone who is so charming to the House as is my 1889 right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, but I think it must be recognised that in the case of some of us who have not spoken in public debate for five or six months, who have been sitting here for two days, and who have had a great deal of pressure brought upon them from their constituents, it is not unreasonable if we occupy the House during the 10 minutes or so which we shall require to deal with the few points that we have singled out for consideration on this occasion.
I welcome the Beveridge Report as a great and masterly document, but chiefly in this sense. The Beveridge Report strikes me, as it were, as an architect's plan for a house. When one deals with an architect one should never accept his plans absolutely; one should always reserve the right to modify those plans in detail in order to suit oneself and carry out the purposes for which one requires the building. While I welcome the Beveridge Report, I am bound to confess that I was exceedingly disappointed with the Motion moved by the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood). It did not seem to me to bring the matter into focus, and I think that a considerable part of the Debate was wasted because there was not something on which we could focus our remarks. The Lord President of the Council and the Chancellor of the Exchequer have given us something more detailed to go on. At first, I was a little disappointed. I had put my name to an Amendment asking for a Ministry of Social Security. However, after very careful consideration of the two speeches from the Government Front Bench, I am bound to say I think the Government have made out an extraordinarily good case.
To consider finance in connection with schemes which are brought before the House is not a sign of reaction; it is rather a sign that one takes a practical interest in carrying out a scheme in an effective form. The hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) told us to ignore finance, and then gave us the most astounding example of finance of which I have ever heard in my life. We have sometimes called Chancellors of the Exchequer stony and cold-hearted, but what are we to think of someone who recommends a finance scheme by which he meets his obligations by doing one man out of a job and giving the other man 1890 roughly half his salary? If that is the hon. Member's idea of finance, I hope the Chancellor will not adopt it.
§ Mr. Colegate
That is not the type of finance which the modern employer employs, and the hon. Member is living in the past if he thinks that is the sort: of finance that will recommend itself to the House and the public at this time of day. Let us consider, first of all, what it is that the Government have promised to do. I take from a newspaper which is of an opposite political opinion to my own a brief summary which says that the Government have accepted children's allowances, comprehensive health and rehabilitation services, a universal contributory scheme, funeral grants, the abolition of approved societies, equal benefit for unemployment and sickness. What do these amount to? In cash figures, more than five-sixths of the whole Beveridge Report was accepted by the Lord President of the Council in his speech. For that I think we should be grateful, and I think it is wrong to criticise what is an enormous administrative task on the ground that if we are not told in full detail exactly what is to be done now, it is a sign of a lack of interest; it is not—it is a sign of sincerity and of an intention to carry out the scheme as a practical scheme. It is extraordinarily easy at the present time, especially for those who are not in responsible positions, to say, "Have anything you like; I agree with it, I agree to pensions of 30s. Why not £2 or £3 a week?"
That is not the way to give confidence to the people of the country and the men in the Forces. They do not want airy promises which may not be carried out. What they want, and what I understand the Government have now given, is a promise to consider and to draw up in the exact administrative detail that will be required in carrying it out more than five-sixths of the Beveridge Report, and that is what I think we should accept. I agree that it is the duty of the House to keep up pressure on the Government to produce the scheme, but, as they have said what they have said, I am at least prepared to accept it.
I hope they will see their way to adopt the whole Report with regard to workmen's compensation. It is an un- 1891 necessary source of friction which has led to a very great deal of unnecessary hardship at times, and it is a source of misunderstanding. That a man who is injured in the pit should receive different cash treatment from that which he receives if he is knocked down by a bus in the road is absolutely indefensible and illogical. The correct treatment for people who incur accidents in their industry is the income to maintain the home, medical treatment and rehabilitation treatment to get them back to work as quickly as possible, putting out of their minds altogether any question of bargaining for a lump sum. In my opinion the proposals on workmen's compensation mark one of the best advances in the whole Report. I hope the flat-rate contribution and benefit are going to be seriously considered, with much closer concentration on different industries, before a final decision is taken. In most of the schemes that operate on the Continent the benefit is not a flat-rate benefit but a percentage of the worker's wages, and there is a great deal to be said for that.
Under the Beveridge Report the income of an agricultural labourer who is unemployed or sick will be a very few shillings different from what he earns when in full health and employment. But take the case of a member of the Amalgamated Engineering Union in London, which is still the greatest engineering centre in the country. They get wages at present, according to the Minister of Labour, of I22S. a week on an average, and they pay rents in the neighbourhood of £1 a week. When a man loses his employment or becomes sick the fall in the family income available to spend on food and clothing drops out of all proportion to the drop in the agricultural labourer's income. I think we should consider very seriously indeed whether there should not be one, two or three rates of benefit and contribution, because I feel that under the Beveridge scheme the skilled artisan, the very cream of our industrial population, is going to get not nearly so fair a deal as the unskilled labourer and the lower-paid worker. Sir William Beveridge himself recognises that there is a great problem in this question of rates. I do not think it will work satisfactorily that the income of a man paying 3s. a week rent should go down to a certain level while a family living on a higher scale 1892 should have the same cash income out of which they pay 20s. a week rent. It is not justice, and flat rates do not usually do justice.
On the question of finance, I am glad that the Chancellor took the line he did. I was disappointed at first, but I have been thinking it over and have come to the conclusion that that is the right way to deal with it. The position is so obscure that no one should enter into commitments with the risk of disappointing the people. We are at a critical moment of the war. It is by no means over. There has been a serious reverse in Tunisia, and the situation is serious. We know that it will be overcome, but the war may be long, and the difficulties of finance may be very great. Therefore, it is only prudent to get on with the scheme at once, to have it all ready, and then, as soon as the financial situation permits, we can settle the rates and announce the scheme. That is not merely the prudent but the right way to deal with it. Sir William Beveridge in his Report says:I am pinning my faith on the private enterprise of this country.He says that private enterprise raised the whole standard of life by 3⅓per cent. between 1900 and the year before the war. That was achieved solely by the activities and the efficiency of private enterprise. My hon. Friend the Member for West Fife thought that things are better done in Russia. He forgot to mention that what Russia did in the 20 years before 1939 was to recognise the brilliant efficiency of American and British private enterprise. They came to buy power stations, tractors, and guns, and they paid enormous sums to get the advice of the private industrialists of England and America, who are to-day supplying the products of private enterprise to the great advantage of the Soviet States.
§ Mr. Gallacher
If the land and industries of this country belonged to the people, we would have no hesitation in asking the advice and taking the services of the very able and skilled technicians and scientists of this country. We would encourage it, as they did in Russia.
§ Mr. Colegate
They were not only technicians and scientists. There were many shrewd business men who were consulted. A Russian expressed to me how grateful they were to the private enterprise of America and England. The 1893 Beveridge Report is a challenge to private enterprise which those of us who believe in the vitality of this country and private enterprise are perfectly prepared to take up. We ask one thing in return. Establish your national minimum and, having established it, give private enterprise a chance to show what it can do. Cease interfering with it and nagging at it. Establish your national minimum and then say to private enterprise, "Go on and repeat your triumphs, and although in so doing you may enrich yourself, you will create a prosperity for this country which will not only give employment but under the Beveridge scheme provide amply and well for those who fall by the way."
§ Mr. J. D. Murray (Spennymoor)
This is nearly like a maiden speech. I should like to correct an impression which seems to have been given by the last two speakers opposite in relation to compensation and commutation. It struck me that the implication was that the question of commutation always came from the men's side. If that is the inference that has been drawn, I want to correct it by saying that in my own division, in fact in my own colliery, when it was working, the men were approached, time and time again, by representatives of the colliery owners, asking them to agree to commutation.
§ Mr. Murray
I thought the inference was that it was the men who always sought commutation. If that is not so, I will let the matter drop. In many cases it was the management who prompted the men. If they could buy out the man, if the man was prepared to sell at a low price, the price was given to the man, There was no encouragement from the men's side. We were always persuading our people not to sell out at the price offered, because it was a ridiculous price. The Lord President of the Council said yesterday that the Government were waiting to see what impressions they could form from the Debate. Twice we have been asked to go home. If what is happening here now is any indication the 1894 Government will see that some of us are anxious that this Beveridge Report should be implemented at the first possible moment, and that we are prepared to sit here for eight hours without a break to show that we are interested, to show that we want to voice the feeling of the people whom we represent. I have letters galore at home asking me to press for the implementation of the Beveridge Report. The people of this country have looked upon the Beveridge Report as a new hope, a new outlook, if you like, a new life. Go where you will in the mine, in the factory, in the shop, in the street you hear: "Get the Beveridge Report through as quickly as you can."
The hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) referred to the aged miners. Some of us realise the price which has been paid by the men who have worked in the mines. They have more than earned what they are asking for. The aged miners, and the Aged People's Associations all over the country, are not simply discussing the Report but are showing very great discontent and disappointment. I do not know whether I created a wrong impression in my own Division, but I understood that the Minister of Labour gave some sort of a pledge that in this Session and without waiting for the Beveridge Report, the old age pension case would be considered. I understood that from the reading of a report of what the right hon. Gentleman said, and I told my people so, and I said that I had great faith in the Minister of Labour and that I thought he would certainly carry out the pledge that he had given that this matter would be discussed. Well, what is the position. The position is that, for the time being, it has got to be reconsidered, and that is the hope, the only hope. I ask the Government to take notice of the temper of the people in the country at this time. What are the middle-aged people saying about this? They are saying "Oh, this is one of the grandest things that has ever been brought up. Why was it not in operation 20 years ago?" The middle-aged people are saying to us as their representatives "Get it passed into law as quickly as possible. Get it operated at the earliest possible date."
There is another important point very important to me. What are the young people saying? I have received a letter 1895 from a club in Spennymoor known as the Eighteen Plus Club. I was very interested in that letter and I have kept it. To me it is one of the grandest things I have received in connection with this Beveridge Report. The young people of this club have written a letter which will give this House some idea of what the future generation are thinking now. It is expressing not only the view of the Eighteen Plus Club of Spennymoor but the views of the young people of eighteen plus in the Army, Navy and the Air Force, the W.A.A.F.S., W.R.N.S., and A.T.S., and for that matter the whole country. I want if I may to read that letter which I think is interesting. It says:DEAR SIR,Our club has passed the following resolutions:These are young people. This is their programme and what they stand for. Their leaflet accompanying the letter says:
- (1) That we, the Eighteen Plus Club of Spennymoor, approve of the general principle set out in the Beveridge Report, but we suggest reconsideration of the amount of contributions proposed, urging equalisation of the amount paid by employers and employees.
- (2) That, as an earnest of their intentions, the Government should establish immediately a Ministry of Social Security, armed with the powers necessary to make full preparation to carry the Report into immediate effect."We claim for young men and women their rightful share in the control of social policy and declare that we have a vital contribution to make to the community both now, until the war is won, and in helping to build the peace.To that end we seek: Knowledge, to understand and enjoy the world; Conviction, to find a personal philosophy and a social faith; Experience, to test our conviction and to develop our capacity and confidence in handling public business; Action, to take a responsible part, as active citizens, in our own community and in shaping national and international policy.I suggest to hon. Members that that is a very important statement for young people of 18 to 30 years of age. What I am interested in is that young people are so concerned about the future of this country. Win the war, yes—but what about the peace? That is what they are saying to this House, and I think it was my duty to bring to this House this splendid illustration of the activities of these young people in the Spennymoor Eighteen 1896 Plus Club. These young people are I suggest very anxious about these matters because they know the struggles of their parents and grandparents. They know the long hours that had to be worked in the mines in the past, the lack of educational opportunities and the sordid surroundings in which their elders were brought up. They know that there was practically no time for leisure, no time for play; it was all work, and "all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." They also know that many of these struggles and sacrifices were unnecessary and were easily avoidable.
I want to say very definitely that there are one or two things about which I am disappointed even in the Report. On page 11, there is a passage about which I am very disturbed indeed and I think I ought to draw the attention of the House to it. It says:While permanent pensions will no longer be granted to widows of working age without dependent children, there will be for all widows a temporary benefit at a higher rate than unemployment or disability benefit, followed by training benefit where necessary.I ask hon. Members to put themselves in the position of the widow who cannot work. Is she to be forced on to the local rates; has she, in losing her husband, to lose her independence? Is that to be the position of the widow? I can visualise the case of a woman losing her husband and having one boy aged 16 working on the surface at a colliery in Durham and drawing a wage for five days' work a week of 32s. 11d. even at this time, when wages are supposed to be high; no rent allowance, no coal allowance. But the Report says that she can obtain work. I question even that, but if the woman is not able to work what use is work to her? I hope this House will think again and see reason to amend this very grievous injustice, because in cases like this people will certainly not be free from want or anxiety. I think, personally, the duty of a widowed mother to an only son or daughter, as the case may be, lies in looking after the home and caring for the boy or girl who is her only hope. Surely her husband's contributions mean something to her after he has gone?
Then, on page 6 of the Report, Sir William Beveridge talks about five giants. Well, I hope this House is going to attempt to slay the five giants mentioned in the Report, namely, want, disease, ignorance, 1897 squalor and idleness. If we manage to do that, it will be no small achievement. This House knows, I am sure, that there is a good deal of difference between talking about want and actually going through the experience of want. Experience, to my mind, is the most important feature of all. Like the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths) I had the experience of seeing a father working every day in the pit, never idle except for accidents or sickness. But did it stop want in our home? Not at all. I want to tell this House that at a time when there were plenty of shoes and boots in the shops, there was a great need for them in our house. When there was plenty of clothing in the shops, there was still plenty of need in our house. When there was plenty of food in the shops, in our house we were very much in need of food. My father was working every day and bringing home 25s. for 12 days at the pit, to keep 12 of us. That was because the earnings were too small, because the purchasing power was not in the home. So we, like millions of others, were in want.
Who is the greatest sufferer in a home such as I have described? Who makes the greatest sacrifices; who has all the worry; who goes without, if anybody must? Everybody knows that it is the mother. It is very true that "the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world." So I say to the Government, Do not quibble about that 5s. It would be little enough at 8s. In fact, as I understand the Beveridge Report, all its recommendations are made on a subsistence basis. If it is on a basis of subsistence, you must see that you do not cut it down, because it is not the child but the mother who will have to bear the burden. I would say, treat the mothers of England as you treat the rulers of the world. We treat our rulers very differently from the way we treat our mothers. I believe in practical politics. If we want to do anything for the mothers of England, let us give them the flowers now, while they are alive and can appreciate them, not after they are dead. I am not concerned about what people do with me when I pass on: I am not anxious for a lot of flowers at my graveside; I wish to be treated decently while I am here. I ask the same thing for the mothers of England. When I was in the pit, I was not so much concerned about "caunch" price, yard work and so forth. What I was concerned about was 1898 the amount that was in the pay packet—what I was able to take home and that is what the mother is also concerned about. It is what the lads and the fathers take into the homes that matters to them. Do right by the mothers of England, and one day they will rise up and call you blessed.
§ Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)
I agree with the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Murray) that, so far from it being necessary to apologise for prolonging the Debate beyond the appointed time, we are right to do so. I would remind the House that this matter is of great concern to millions of people in these islands, and that we have to put their interests before our own convenience. It is sometimes argued that this House has suffered in prestige as a result of the war. The Government's pronouncements in this Debate will not cause great satisfaction, and I wonder what would be the reaction throughout the country if when the report of the Debate goes out the additional fact is seen that Members refused to stay to consider this subject beyond a certain time.
§ Mr. Wootton-Davies (Heywood and Radcliffe)
Is my hon. Friend right in saying that Members are not staying here?
§ Mr. Lipson
We have been urged twice not to persist in the desire to speak. It was to that that I was drawing attention. If hon. Members feel that they ought to speak, they do so definitely because of Government action. In the first instance, the Government told us that they were very anxious to find out the views of Members of this House, and they said yesterday that they would be influenced in the policy that they would pursue in the matter of the Beveridge Report by the reaction of hon. Members to the views expressed by the Government spokesmen. It is clear to everybody who has followed the Debate in the House to-day that there is very great concern in all parts of the House at the attitude taken up by the Government towards the Beveridge Report. The Government have found very few friends to support their point of view and a great many who have criticised them. We feel that it is our duty, if we can, to influence the Government and to save them from themselves. It is for that reason that I wish to join in the appeal to the Government to reconsider their action. They must think again.
1899 If hon. Members of this House are disappointed in the Government action, I believe that they are reflecting the point of view of the country. It may be that hon. Members are more in touch with what the people of the country are thinking than the Government spokesmen have shown themselves to be in the pronouncements that they have made. I urge the Government to take much stronger action towards implementing the Report, and I say that all the more gladly because I speak from this side of the House and I am very anxious to give this further evidence that support of the principles of the Beveridge plan is not a party issue, and also because I am over 50. It may be that now that I am over 50 I have lived long enough to see how much misery and suffering have existed in the past and will continue to exist unless there is a national subsistence minimum to meet the accidents of life, as is provided by the Beveridge Report.
It is argued by supporters of the Government point of view that the Government spokesmen have accepted a very large measure of the Report, but what has disturbed our minds is that their proposals to implement their acceptance are most unsatisfactory. It is clear from the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to-day, confirming what the Lord President of the Council said yesterday, that the Government are not committed at all as far as the proposals of the Report are concerned. I feel that it would be fatal if we were to go back to our constituents and say that. The hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths) said that he represented an industrial constituency and that the feeling of disappointment there at the Government's attitude would be very great. The constituency that I have the honour to represent is not an industrial constituency. It is very different, but I want to say—and I speak as one who knows my constituents and their views, as I live among them and go among them when this House is not sitting—that the disappointment will be equally great there. They feel that by accepting the Atlantic Charter the Government are pledged to bring about freedom from want, and to try and suggest that the Government should consider deferring that question to the future instead of redeeming this pledge does not appeal to 1900 them. They want to be satisfied this time that we are sincere in the promises that have been made during the war.
They remember, too, that the Government themselves have appreciated the propaganda value of these proposals by including them in foreign broadcasts in order to bring home to other nations how virile democracy is in Britain and what kind of new order we intend to establish after the war. That propaganda has not only influenced people in other countries; it has influenced our own people, and they say that the Government's attitude towards this question, important as it is in itself, is also important as an acid test of the way in which generally they propose to approach post-war problems. Nobody, of course, is unmindful of the financial and other responsibilities which the country will be taking upon itself if it decides to implement the proposals of the Beveridge Report, but if we approach these problems with courage, if we show our people that we have confidence in them and in the future, that confidence will be justified. I am sure that that is the right approach; it is an approach that has been successful in face of the great hazards of war, and I believe it is the right approach to the problems of peace. I think it is a mistake to look to the future in a spirit either of defeatism or despair. There is no fun in playing a game unless you believe you can win, and if you want to get the best out of the people of this island, to make the most of all we have learned during the war about organisation and production, and develop the skill of our people, we have to show them that our policy towards them will be such as will bring the best out of them.
A difficult situation has obviously been created. If Mr. Speaker on our next Sitting Day decided to call one of the Amendments that is critical of the Motion, and if the Government persisted in the attitude they have taken up, I am quite sure that the majority against them, on a free vote, would surprise them. Even if there were not a free vote, I believe that the number of hon. Members going into the Lobby in favour of an Amendment calling for more vigorous action would be very considerable. We want to avoid that if we possibly can, and I believe the Government can meet the situation by agreeing to the establishment in the near future of a Ministry of Social Security. By 1901 so doing, they would show that they mean business. Quite frankly—and I speak as a supporter of the Government—I have not yet been convinced that they really mean to implement the proposals of this plan. If I have that doubt, hon. Members may feel quite sure that that doubt will be felt more strongly by people in the country. I regard a measure of this kind as part of our war effort to rouse our people to the great efforts we shall still require to win the war and win the peace, I appeal to the Government, even now, to reconsider this question of the establishment of the Ministry of Social Security.
If they would do that, they would be giving convincing evidence to the people of this country that they really mean to get on with the job. But the procedure they have suggested gives the impression that although negotiations will be carried on and a certain amount of work will be done, there is a likelihood that it will all be placed in a pigeon-hole and that implementation of the Beveridge plan is to be postponed to a very distant date in the future. I therefore want to appeal again to the Government strongly, in the interests of national unity and also of giving convincing evidence of their sincerity and determination, to reconsider their attitude and decide to set up in the near future a Ministry of Social Security.
§ Mr. Oldfield (Manchester, Gorton)
I have, listened to this Debate on the Beveridge Report from its inception, and I want to say, in the first place, that, representing as I do a great engineering centre, I feel I should not be doing my duty, in view of the great interest that is shown there in the Beveridge Report, if I did not speak in this Debate. Like other hon. Members, I have spoken on this subject a great deal in my constituency. Last Sunday night I spoke at a youth centre on the subject of "Parliament—it is up to the youth." At that meeting there were 150 young people between the ages of 18 and 24. I was amazed by the great interest which these young people showed in Parliament.
§ Mr. Oldfield
In Manchester. At that youth centre great interest was shown in Parliament. I fear that as a result of the attitude which the Government have 1902 taken on the Beveridge Report, there will spring up a great deal of cynicism about the House of Commons. The people of this country, and particularly the youth, are looking for something to be done on the Beveridge Report. I have vivid recollections of the last war. The engineers of Gorton suffered as a result of the last war, and after the war there was a terrible state of unemployment, and they suffered great hardships, in spite of all that they had contributed while the war was in progress. Similar things are happening this time. Every week I go among my constituents. I see men and women doing their hours of labour in the engineering shops, working very hard indeed. They are looking for more to be done by the Government than has so far been promised with regard to the Beveridge Report. In the last war, I was in the Forces. I remember that after the Armistice a kind of educational system was started to keep the men's minds working after the war was over. I took part in a debate on the subject, "Will the workers be better off after the war than before it?" A friend of mine took the affirmative side, and I had to take the negative side. My point was that it would all depend on the peace that was made. We all feel that in the last few weeks the tide has turned in our favour, and there is a feeling of optimism. There is also a feeling that, with the great sacrifices which have been made, and which are about to be made, the workers of the country are expecting something as the result of what they have done. They have made up their minds that they are not going back after this war as they came back after the last war. They have a right, in view of he promises that have been made, to expect that something tangible shall be put in their way.
I have been reading a book on industrial assurance by the late Sir Arnold Wilson, who was a member of the Conservative Party. It gives the history of the question. I started upon the history from the period of 1864, when Mr. Gladstone initiated a system of Post Office annuities and insurances which might have proved the basis of a great national system, but nothing came out of that attempt. In 1871 a Commission was appointed to inquire into abuses which had arisen in connection with insurance companies. It was not until 1874 that 1903 their final Report was issued, opposing the introduction of a national system of health insurance. It did not come up again to any extent in the House of Commons, and, when it did, it was always opposed by vested interests who were interested in industrial assurance. It was not until 1911 that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) introduced his National Health Insurance Bill, and even that was opposed by the vested interests, but as far as it went it was a vast improvement. Sir William Beveridge has issued an outstanding Report, which has caught on with the country, and I appeal to the Government to see that it is implemented to the full. There are many criticisms that one could offer of it. It does not all satisfy me, but there is so much in it of vast importance that I would not like to feel that any of it was being wasted.
There is a French proverb which says that small changes are the worst enemies of great reforms, and Lord Morley wrote that they are in the daily life of Parliament a counsel of despair. Those words are as true to-day as they were then. I want to appeal to the Government not to tinker with small reforms when dealing with this magnificent Report. There are some things one can criticise about it, and I am not satisfied with what is suggested for the old people. Twenty years is far too long a time to wait for full benefits. In a sane scheme they could be given at once. We must not view this Report with small minds. The development of machinery has led to a tremendously improved production in the last few years. So great have the improvements in production been that this country, with the machinery it possesses, has no need to fear what will happen after the war, provided that during the interim the Government get ready with their international policy and co-operation with other countries with regard to world-wide trade. I do not want the Government to have a spirit of pessimism. That note has been struck during this Debate from the Government side. It is not in conformity with the spirit of the House. The spirit of the House is to implement the Report now and to set up the Ministry of Social Security. There is the finest spirit of unanimity in the House with the exception of the Front Benches. What comes 1904 from the Government Front Bench seems to me like a cold wind when what we should be having is some good South wind. I would ask the Government to go more into this matter so that when the Home Secretary speaks he will be able to give the Report a fresh orientation.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr)
I have with many other Members listened to a great part of the Debate on this Report, and I am sure that Sir William Beveridge must feel extremely proud of the fact that not only has it set the minds of the House at work, but that it has caught the imagination of the people of this country in a way that has not been equalled for a long time. Since this war began the Government have had two great slogans, slogans having a great deal of moral, social and political content. The first was the Atlantic Charter, but hardly had that fired the imaginations of the people of this country before the Government were running away from all the promises in that Charter. The second slogan was the Beveridge Report. As more than one hon. Member on this side has said, the promise of that Report and the promises within the Report have provided the Government with an excuse for several months past when dealing with the demands of Members of this House. Within a matter of weeks of that Report becoming public we have again seen the Government running away from its implications and its content. The speech of the Lord President of the Council yesterday was profoundly disquieting, but the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to-day was simply disastrous—for the Government. None of us takes any pleasure in saying that.
All of us had hoped that possibly we could have successfully combined the political forces of this country during this war, to the great advantage, of course, of the people and of the great cause for which our men are fighting. But these two days have done infinitely more to imperil the solidarity which had existed in this country than anything that has happened since the beginning of this war. I have heard it said, and by a person of some military experience, I understand, that the speech of the Lord President yesterday was tantamount to a major military defeat. I am very much afraid that when the reactions of the 1905 people of this country to the attitude of the Government, as expressed through the Government's spokesmen, towards this great enterprise of Sir William Beveridge's begin to express themselves it will be found that there is a great deal of truth in what that gentleman said. What did the Lord President of the Council and the Chancellor of the Exchequer tell us? We were told that every change that even these two right hon. Gentlemen promised was made provisional and dependent upon the free and unfettered functioning of the present capitalist economy. That is the line along which disaster will overtake this country. In other words, they said that if we can find the money—the money, not the material wealth—we may do this or that. I need not remind the House that that was precisely the attitude that brought ruin and poverty to millions of our people after the last war.
What was that policy? It was a policy based upon the efforts to rehabilitate a worn-out and decrepit economy, a policy that proceeded on the assumption that, the more profound and widespread material poverty became among our own people, the better the system would function. It was a policy of scarcity that was attempted in order, presumably, to bring about prosperity. What was the result of that policy? The result was, as I have stated, poverty that I never dreamt I should see in this country. It was a policy that brought about the destruction, the wanton, wicked, mean destruction, of hundreds of millions of pounds of capital values. Many hundreds of collieries were closed down, not because any one of them had been exhausted. Many hundreds of factories and workshops were closed down, not because those workshops and factories, with the collieries, could not have responded to and met the prime material needs of our people at that time. Many of our shipbuilding yards and engineering works closed down. The people of this country and the world were deprived of that great craftsmanship that these engineering works and shipbuilding yards possessed at that time. Hundreds of thousands of acres of first-class food producing land were forced to become waste land, and on the top of that the vast new productive forces that were brought into being during the last war wantonly and wickedly destroyed in different parts of 1906 the country. This was private enterprise, which we have heard so many appeals and prayers from the other side of the House during this day that it should be given another chance.
§ Mr. Wootton-Davies
The hon. Member says private enterprise, but would he not agree that private enterprise brought this country to the great state it was in and is now in?
§ Mr. S. O. Davies
Private enterprise had a historical mission which it has fulfilled, but we cannot debate that here. May I respectfully suggest to the hon Member that he should not provoke me on these matters that I feel extremely keen about? I must not pursue that, but I want to remind the House at this late hour and to refresh its memories about these tragedies to which I have referred. Millions of the finest skilled workers were rendered unemployed and reduced to almost abject poverty. Some of the oldest industrial communities in the world were forced to become derelict as in my own constituency. After the last war a highly industrialised community were forced out of their collieries and their iron and steel works and, as it were, thrown upon the streets of that valley, and, while men were kept in enforced idleness, £12,000,000 to £14,000,000 were paid to keep them in their despair and misery. Are we going to repeat that again—the policy that reduced the people of this country to rags and tatters, under which the textile workers of Lancashire were not permitted to produce clothing for the miners of South Wales and we were not permitted to keep fires upon their own miserable hearths? That was the policy. When the Government of the day were fighting to give private enterprise another chance—as we were asked to do—they deliberately evolved a policy to produce less wealth. We cut down rubber to 40 per cent. That was a world conspiracy. One could mention other important commodities. At that time, when we had 3,000,000 unemployed there was about £2,000,000,000 lying in deposit receipts in this country. In the United States gold had accumulated so that the United States held three-fifths of all the gold reserves of the world, and that at a time when they had about 12,000,000 in the ranks of the unemployed.
1907 We are asked to provide social security for our own people on the broken withered reed of an obsolete economy. I warn the Government that when our people are demobilised from the Forces and from the war industries they will not stand the kind of cruelty that was perpetrated against them after the last war. We must remember that, now more than ever in our history we have mobilised the labour power of this country. We have done so to an extent that we never dreamed of at one time. The Beveridge Report at least postulates a courageous and radical change in property relationship. It postulates that——
§ Mr. Davies
Sir William Beveridge says in effect, "This scheme of mine must be reared on one outstanding fact, a job of work for every man and woman in this country who can work." But can private enterprise guarantee that? Did it after the last war? Why the colossal failure; why the disaster after the last war, and what assurance can it give that the disaster after this war will not be far greater? I say, deliberately, that the Beveridge Plan demands a great readjustment of our economic policy and of our economic structure. I go further and say that it is absolutely imperative, if productive employment is to be maintained, that side by side with our consideration of the Beveridge plan we should proceed with the work of reorganising our economy. Why cannot we plan to cope with the problems of peace time as we do with the problems of war-time? I say that there is no fundamental difference between them. The basic problem, after all, is that of finding every man a job, and the provision for each family of a sufficiency of life's necessities. If, as the Government claim, particular interests must be subordinated in war-time, they should equally be subordinated in peacetime. The problem of planning is not difficult if we have courage. It is not so much a technical or an organisational question, as a question of a desire on the part of everyone to help humanity. It is a moral, social, and political problem.
If the Government are resolved, at any cost, to prevent a post-war catastrophe greater than that of 1920–29, they must show far greater courage than they have done up to now. I most sincerely suggest that they should study the methods 1908 adopted in that country which we are all proud to claim as our great Ally, Russia, where the vastest and most successful economic planning in human history has been achieved. I knew that country years ago, in its abject and pitiable poverty. It has shown how the creative work of the people, when properly organised, can achieve great things. Our own people, the men in the Armed Forces and the workers in the factories, workshops, and mines, not only know a great deal about what Russia has achieved in a short time, but they are passionately interested in those achievements of that great country. I urge the Government to take their courage in their hands at long last, and to make up their minds that nothing of what happened after the last, war shall recur in this country. We have the will, we have the skill, and we have the confidence. I hope the Government, at last, will make up their minds to mobilise all that, and to give the people of the country what they deserve at the end of this war.
§ Mr. Collindridge (Barnsley)
Perhaps the best answer that can be made at this late hour to the plea of the Leader of the House that we should adjourn, is that our constituents expect us to give some short description of what we feel about the Beveridge Report. I have sat through the Debate during these two days, and I think it has been conducted in a very good tone. The hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Colegate), replying to a statement by the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher), mentioned that that great country, Soviet Russia, for many years after the introduction of the Soviet system had to receive help from American and British engineers. But quite a number of countries contribute to the needs of this island home of ours. It is bad from the point of view of the new internationalism which we talk about, to suggest that a country which was left so benighted as Russia was in 1917, in the early days of its revolution, should not have received the help of other countries. If we fashion part of our policy—I say "part" advisedly—on the model of what Russia is doing we shall be doing well.
§ Mr. Collindridge
Perhaps if the hon. Member had allowed me to have concluded 1909 my very short statement on this phase of my remarks, I could have told him. When I was in that country five years ago I saw not absolute equality, but an assurance to every man and woman of work, and after work a standard of security in the same degree that we are asking this country to accept in the Beveridge Report. In my own Division I have done perhaps what other Members have done for a long time. When there has been any faction as to certain social reforms that were necessary, I have used the plea not exactly that Eldorado was coming out of the Beveridge Report, but that out of the Beveridge Report we would have redress for a good many of our difficulties. I felt sure, when hon. Members have been put off on certain points that were raised in the House by Front Bench speakers for the Government, that we must await the Beveridge Report and that the Government would only be too ready to bring forward the principles of that Report, and very early at that.
I want to tell the House how the people in my Division, an industrial working-class Division largely, received this Report. They are glad that contributions and benefits under the Beveridge Report are to be equal. They are particularly pleased at the suggested institution of a health service for all members of the family. In our large industrial regions we are more prone to large families than perhaps are the rural districts. I come from a family of a dozen. There were eight children in our family before one of us was able to work to help father with the exchequer. I know by bitter experience when members of the family were ill what a great drain they were on the meagre wages. While we would have been glad of Beveridge in those days, we feel that when that policy was suggested we should have the ready acceptance of the Government. But the people in the whole of the country will be glad that a policy has been embarked upon, such as that which has been brought into prominence by Sir William Beveridge in his most excellent Report. We can see the national economy being benefited by the large sums of money that may be available after claims have been met.
I must be candid and say that there is a feeling in my own district that the Report could still be better. We feel that 1910 better treatment of the old age pensioners would be good policy. I support very vigorously spinsters' pensions, as mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Central Bradford (Mr. Leach), and the better treatment of widows, which is also suggested by my constituents. We feel that there should be more clarity on workmen's compensation. I want to conclude on this particular note. Here in this Report, even shorn of the advantages that I have mentioned, there is something which can help to cement the national unity which has come about by war, but we have a feeling in districts like the Barnsley that I represent that we have often been holding the dog in times of stress for other parts of the country.
Let me give an illustration. When the war began my district had 10,000 unemployed. Now most of those people are in work. While we are glad to make a contribution to the national effort, and while our people are advantaging not only themselves but the trading communities in our district, we have the fear that the experiences of the industrial districts after the last war may recur in the future. We hope not. Sir William Beveridge, in his Report, gives some assurance that those sufferings are not to be ours again. Just prior to the war we had in Barnsley a public assistance rate of 6s. in the £. We spent £20,000 a year in subsidising the meagre old age pensions our people received, and we spent thousands of pounds yearly in subsidising the small sums paid out by way of workmen's compensation. We have the feeling that if Beveridge's far-reaching proposals are accepted, not only will individuals benefit, but large industrial areas will be advantaged. Because of that I hope, with other Members, that the Government will readjust their point of view from that which they have put forward during the past two days. Here is an opportunity, for weal or woe, to do something else. I mentioned earlier some of the happenings in Russia. The men and women in Stalingrad stood strong not merely because they wanted to defeat a terrible enemy but because they felt that within the ambit of their economic system they had received a square deal. I do not think our men, fighting the country's battles to-day, will falter, although the treatment they receive still leaves a lot to be desired. If we can give our men and women an assurance 1911 that we shall give them a square deal in times of stress, we shall thereby advantage the country generally.
§ Mr. David Adams (Consett)
If we put the best possible construction upon the statement which the Chancellor of the Exchequer made to-day, we must conclude that it is the determination of the Government, for which he spoke so cautiously, that the Beveridge Report is not to be implemented in this Parliament and, possibly, not in the next. The pronouncement he made will create, in the industrial centres of the country particularly, a sense of the greatest insecurity and disappointment and a feeling that the pledges which have been given by Government spokesmen as to social security are not to be honoured but repudiated. It is quite clear that if the Beveridge Report were implemented, there would be a social revolution, a peaceful one, a promised one, in the country to-day. For the first time in our history, we should have established a national minimum of subsistence, security, and protection. It can be said that for 50 years the working classes have been struggling to achieve that ideal. We in Parliament, I think almost unanimously, were of the opinion, prior to the speeches made on behalf of the Government, that the workers' case, in peace and in war, their sacrifices, their willingness and the great part which they have played, justified them in expecting that the Beveridge Report would be implemented in due course. It is said that the hands of the dyer take the colour of the dyes in which he works. It is clear that the Chancellor erected the barriers of finance with which he is associated, as being one of the prime obstacles to any realisation of the proposals in the Report.
Surely, the Atlantic Charter has a prior claim to the decisions of the Government. That was a pledge given under the most solemn circumstances that the two great evils of want and worklessness, from which for various reasons about 40 per cent. of the working classes have suffered at different periods for many years past, would be abated. This would mean the abatement of some of the worst features of the capitalist system which arise from the system of scarcity, with under-con-sumption, in order that the profit ideal may be maintained. I believe that the 1912 elimination of worklessness and want can be secured under the present capitalist system by means of the Beveridge proposals, but if we do not carry out the Beveridge scheme, I believe that in the process of time, perhaps at a very early date in the post-war period, we shall be confronted with unemployment, want and similar afflictions upon those who are, after all, the main producers of the wealth of the country. One of our newspapers, "The Times," which is an advocate of the implementation of the Beveridge proposals, has been asking both American and British industrialists whether they are prepared to purchase security for the workers by conducting industry, if necessary, without the profit motive. It seems to me that if the Government assent to that proposal and are desirous of maintaining this transitional stage of modern capitalism, they must come to the aid of the capitalists, where necessary. But personally, I am optimistic enough to believe that there will be little need for Government assistance in this matter if we use to the full our new power of production, the great triumphs over space and time and the vast fields opened up by research. It is a very significant thing that the greatest exponent of research is the Soviet Union.
I have tested the matter with regard to medicine and one or two other prime and urgent necessities of that State. Far in excess of anything in European countries or the United States in the matter of research is to be found in the U.S.S.R., and, if every aspect of production were to be associated with adequate research, I have not the slightest doubt that our production could be multiplied and would assume pre-eminent proportions among the industrial sections of the globe. We have over £1,000,000,000 invested in Latin America. When we consider that, with the latest means of transport, Buenos Aires is but three days from London, as Berlin was in pre-war days, it gives one an illustration of the possibilities that await this great industrial nation after the war. I am a great believer in the highest quality of capital for our industries, and I am a convert to the belief that, in international competition, more than at any other period of our history, we shall require the highest possible quality of labour. Does anyone doubt that, if you could secure for our Indus- 1913 trial workers the privileges provided in the Beveridge Report, the standard of labour, its quality, its resilience, its adaptability and its inventiveness would be substantially and materially improved? The Beveridge Report, in my judgment, can be improved, but it can be greatly deteriorated, and if its influence is to be protected and the best results obtained from it, there must be no interference with the medical service. I believe that if the Government implement the Beveridge proposals on more careful reflection, after hearing the views of the House of Commons and the country and the Press, not only will they be pronounced successful in the matter of the war, as they will be, but in the days of peace they will have earned the gratitude and admiration of all sections of the community and will have raised the whole standard of life in the country.
§ Mr. Sexton (Barnard Castle)
I make no apology for speaking at this late hour. It is my duty to my constituents to let them know that I have taken part in the Debate, and my only chance was to stay and to get in to-night. I do not grumble about the few in front of me. My earlier experience as a propagandist and a politician was always to the few. I was more often at small successful gatherings than at large enthusiastic gatherings, and I feel that I should be failing in my duty, if I did not do my best in this small assembly of hon. Members. After hearing the speeches of the Lord President of the Council yesterday and the Chancellor to-day, I think it could aptly be said that the Lord President stoned the Beveridge Report and that the Chancellor has thrown it into the water. It now remains with the Home Secretary to try what artificial respiration he can give to bring it back to life.
There is no gainsaying that there is need for the passage of the Report. For years, social services have been provided in this country. It is not as if the conditions of the people were not known. They have been brought before the country time and again by such people as Charles Booth, Rowntree, and Sir John Orr. Now a survey has been conducted by Sir William Beveridge. We ought to be indebted to all these surveyors and to Sir William for his ample Report. Is that Report necessary? Anybody who has been a politician for any 1914 number of years knows that the social services are a mere patchwork—one patch put on in 1908, another in 1911 and so on to the present day. Sir William Beveridge shows that the system can be improved by unifying the social services, under a Minister if you like. There is now almost chaos in their administration. This lack of co-ordination leads to overlapping and extravagance. The adoption of the Report and combination of the various services under one head, would be cheaper and more efficient. Most important is the fact that the desirable objective of social security cannot be attained under the present hotch-potch of social services.
Most thinking people believe that if the Report were implemented, and only then, would the social services perform the functions they ought to perform. Seneca said that it was a great matter to have the frailness of man and the security of a god. There is no doubt about the frailty of man. There should be no doubt about the security of a god. There would be no doubt about it if this Report were implemented. The men and women fighting in the Forces will be returning after the war. Will they return to the old uncertainty? After the last war revolution was prevented only by unemployment assistance. The workers this time want something more convincing and comprehensive. If the Government do not implement the Report after all the noise that has been made about it, one will remember the words "Uncertain ways un-safest are." The workers of this country and those who are fighting will not go back to the old conditions. They will turn inside out any Government which tries that on again. The Government should now decide, and let it go forth to the country to encourage the morale of the fighting men and the working men and women, that they will implement the Beveridge Report. What will the miners say when they read the Chancellor's speech? They will say, "We have been asked to reach a certain target. What is the use of reaching the target if this is all we are to get from the Government after all their promises? The Beveridge proposals are just a mirage, just something to encourage the people. There is nothing real in this." The Government will find they are making a mistake if they try that on the people.
1915 Hon. Members have been very good, and I shall not keep them much longer. There are some small details in the Beveridge Report which we should like improving, to have something added or omitted. To me the great feature is old age pensions. I cannot for the life of me see how any civilised Government can ask that people should live on the meagre sum that is given to them now. I have said over and over again, and shall continue to say it, that it is the grossest injustice that the old people should have to try to live on anything like the present sum. Let the House remember that we are not giving these old people something for nothing. These old people have put something into the State during many years of work and we ought to recognise it by giving them a decent pension. My claim, a modest one, is 30s. a week for each man at the age of 65, and at 60 for women, without any quibbling means test. Look at the 50 years' work they have put in, starting work art 14. It is true that these people have had wages, but they have given something for them, more than the value of the wages. They have helped to build this great country and the country ought to be generous enough to say to a man when he is 65 "Now, worry no more. Let the fear of want go. You will be looked after. A generous country which you helped to build will see to it." In paragraph 461 of the Report Sir William Beveridge says:Freedom from want cannot be forced on a democracy or given to a democracy. It must be won by them. Winning it needs courage, and faith and a sense of national unity; courage to face facts and difficulties and overcome them: faith in our future and in the ideals of fair play and freedom for which, century after century, our forefathers were 1916 prepared to die; a sense of national unity overriding the interests of any class or section.Freedom from want must be won. I ask, Are not the men and women now in the Forces, the men and women in the factories and on the land, yes, and the women at home with children, winning that freedom all the time? Have they not won that freedom with their work in the factories, in the fields and in the Fighting Forces? Have they not won that freedom from want? Do they not deserve it? Let the courage that Sir William Beveridge talks about be applied to the Government, not to the workers. Let the courage of the Government be shown by implementing this Report, even at this late stage, although it has been stunned and thrown into the water. On the last day of the Debate let the Government come forth and show some courage, courage in themselves and courage in the Report. Let them have a faith well founded in their own workers. They have had national unity. What are the Government giving in response? This Report, implemented adequately, will co-ordinate the social services and weave a complete garment to cover all from life's blasts.
§ Ordered, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—[Mr. Boulton.]
§ Debate to be resumed upon the next Sitting Day.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.
§ It being after the hour appointed for the Adjournment of the House, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.