§ Mr. Arthur Greenwood (Wakefield)
Before my right hon. Friend moves the Motion on the Paper, may I address a question to you, Mr. Speaker? Would it be convenient for you to state whether you propose to call any of the Amendments on the Order Paper, and if so, approximately when?
§ Major Lloyd (Renfrew, Eastern)
On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker, may I ask whether you will be good enough to repeat the suggestion you made to the House on Friday last, that speeches might be made as short as possible?
§ Mr. Speaker
I would not like to dictate to the House on the subject. I have no doubt that hon. Members will be as short as this rather complicated subject permits.
§ 12.16 p.m.
§ Sir W. Jowitt
I beg to move,That this House welcomes the intention of His Majesty's Government, declared in the White Paper presented to Parliament, to establish an enlarged and unified scheme of social insurance and a system of family allowances.It is a great honour to be allowed to move this Motion standing in the name of my right hon. Friends for I believe this 980 scheme represents in scale and comprehensiveness one of the greatest single advances which has ever been made either in this country or in any other country in the development of Social Insurance. There have been some signs of impatience at the length of time we have taken to put forward our plans, and I am free to admit that if we had not had other pre-occupations we should have been able to do so earlier, but I think I may claim that the White Paper shows what a big and intricate job we have to undertake, and that it shows we have tried to address ourselves to it in an effective and practical manner. It is a task which was far beyond the scope of any one Minister. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), at a stage in this war when we stood all alone, appointed a Committee to investigate this matter. The hon. Member for Berwick (Sir W. Beveridge), whom we are all glad to see with us to-day, undertook that task, and, as we say in the White Paper, our indebtedness to him is very great. But when we have said all that I do claim that the Government are entitled to their fair share of credit in that among all the pre-occupations of the war, all the departmental cares which many of my right hon. Friends had, they have found time to address themselves to this fundamental problem.
Of course, in the main our proposals are not brand new. Social insurance has for a very long time been an essential 981 feature of our national life, and on the whole, I think, our schemes of social insurance, whether for health or unemployment or pensions, will bear comparison with those of any other country. But the time has come for a big further development, a development both on the lines of the improvement of existing benefits and the introduction of new ones, upon the lines of bringing everyone into the new scheme, and also unifying and welding into one comprehensive scheme these scattered fragments of to-day, so that to-day we may view the system as one comprehensive whole. We are not to-day discussing industrial injury insurance, which is the subject-matter of next week's Debate, but which, of course, is an integral part of the whole scheme. I have found that everyone has some special interest in some particular subject. In the last few weeks I have been receiving a number of deputations, and every deputation has said in effect to me: "Well, your White Paper is a white paper in every sense of the word but it is marred by a few black or at any rate grey pages." The trouble is that no two deputations have agreed as to which are the black pages.
We do not doubt that there is room for improvement in this scheme. It is not a scheme which should stand unaltered for all time. The. White Paper itself suggests that there may be adjustments as a result of Parliamentary Debates, and we should, indeed, be paying small tribute to Parliamentary processes if we thought we could put any scheme of this sort before Parliament and not reap some benefit from Parliamentary discussion. But I would most earnestly say to my hon. Friends in all parts of the House: "Do not let us lose the good which is in this scheme by stumbling forward towards what we think is a best which may prove to be unattainable." I have to cover a vast canvas and I know that hon. Members are anxious that there should be no undue length of time spent in Ministerial speeches. I hope they Will not lead me into temptation by asking me to pursue small points of detail. I think the only thing I can do is to make my observations on the broadest possible lines. There will be plenty of opportunity in the course of the Debate for these small points to be cleared up.
982 The first thing to realise about the scheme is that it is an insurance scheme which is based upon the contributory principle. That has certain consequences. If we want to avail ourselves of what the Prime Minister once called "the magic of averages" we must spread our net as widely as we can and try to get everyone in. Why have we adopted the contributory principle? First, it is well known to our people. For many years, through friendly societies and other like institutions, they have insured themselves against the mishaps of working life. Secondly, it has been a central feature of every Government scheme ever Since 1911, and our people are therefore well versed in the idea of a system whereby they get benefits as a right, benefits for which they have paid, as compared with assistance, be it national or local, for which they have paid no contributions and where they get benefits only if they can establish need. It is interesting to notice that in the very comprehensive and excellent scheme of New Zealand, the benefits, with very minor exceptions, are conditioned on need, and I am quite satisfied that in this country any such scheme would not have been acceptable.
At the same time, though it is on a contributory principle and people are getting that for which they pay, the taxpayer does contribute to the various benefits. The benefits are calculated actuarially and the taxpayer is paying one-sixth of the various benefits except with regard to unemployment insurance, where he pays to-day and is to pay in the future one-third. He does not pay towards the death grant, but he bears the entire cost of family allowances, and he bears all the cost of training allowances except some £500,000. [An HON. MEMBER: "He and she."] Yes, the Interpretation Act provides that "he" shall be read as "he or she." Further, the taxpayer has to undertake this onerous task. The contributions are calculated on an insurance life from 16 to 65, or 60, as the case may be, and the contributions are assessed on that basis, but many people are entering this scheme at a much older age than 16, and the taxpayer has therefore to bear the cost of bringing all these contributors in and standing the racket as far as they are concerned.
§ Sir W. Jowitt
Certainly. We are giving benefits to people on an actuarial basis which they could only have got if they had contributed from the age of 16to 65. It may be that some of them will be 40 or 45 when they come into this scheme, or may be older. The second important point in our principle is that it is based upon universality. Hitherto, compulsory insurance has applied only to those serving under a contract of service and then only if their salary was under £420 a year. Now we are going to bring in everyone, and we want to give equality of contribution and benefit. It may be said, and truly, that that is not a necessary feature of an insurance scheme. The individual who insures himself of course has his risk adjusted to his premium. We believe the tendency of the present age is towards the pooling of risks, and were it otherwise the premiums which individuals would have to pay—individuals who are specially subject to certain risks—would be far too high for them to bear. At the same time, looking at the population as a whole, they fall naturally into certain broad groups who cannot, I think, be treated identically. For instance, there is the large group who are never employed at all and are, therefore, never unemployed in the technical sense of the word. There are many of them not well off, and it would, I think, be carrying uniformity too far to make such people contribute towards unemployment benefit. So we divide the contributing classes into three: first, those employees who are working under a contract of service all come in as Class I. Then there is Class 11—those who are working on their own account. And finally there is Class IV, those who are not working at all. Each class, of course, pays different contributions and receives different benefits, but everyone in a class pays the same contribution as other members of the class and receives the same benefits as other members of the class.
It is idle to deny that there are very considerable difficulties in applying this principle of universality. There are some trades or professions which have enjoyed a special protection from certain of the risks of working life and have hitherto been exempt, some trades or professions which are immune from certain risks. Some have a different life history, some have an earlier retirement age, some have their own special problems. To deal with 984 these cases we must obviously have discussions with all those sections of the community who feel themselves to be specially affected and in special circumstances, but I hope we shall not break our rule of universality, and I hope that in these discussions we shall always remember that whilst we must try to be fair to each particular group we must also be fair to the fund as a whole. So although it would in my view have eased enormously the legislative programme we have decided to stick to the principle of universality. The White Paper says:Concrete expression is thus given to the solidarity and unity of the nation which has been its strength in war and its guarantee of getting through the difficulty of peace.There has been a good deal of criticism and much interest in our refusal to adopt what is called the subsistence level. I emphasise again that our scheme is a scheme of social insurance which involves premiums which we hope all should be able to pay, in return for which benefits are to be received which we hope will at least take the edge off the mishaps of life. It is not and does not pretend to be a scheme of social security. Social security can only be achieved by many and diverse methods.
§ Sir W. Jowitt
Certainly, economic justice, political justice, justice everywhere, full employment, organisation of the health services, maintenance of a stable price level, a satisfactory housing policy—these things and many others are all necessary ingredients in a policy of social security. Our task is a much humbler one. However well these things may be planned there must always be gaps; there must always be difficult periods in the lives of all of us, and it is to solve these needs and to satisfy those difficulties that our scheme is introduced.
Subsistence needs vary from person to person, from place to place, from time to time, and we believe it to be quite impossible, in a comprehensive insurance scheme, where you must deal in broad averages, to relate individual payments to individual needs. To provide the higher-paid workers with the security to which they are entitled, we should have to exact contributions from the lower-paid workers on such a high rate 985 that they could not possibly afford them. Of course, there remain open to individuals other opportunities of supplementing these benefits. I hope it will not be thought that the Government wish to discourage voluntary insurance. The reverse is the case. We desire to emphasise its importance. Nor do we desire to discourage thrift. Most certainly it is a fact that thrift must and will continue, but for those who cannot avail themselves of voluntary insurance there remains a system of assistance—national assistance as it will now become—which must stand behind.
I would like to ask those who advocate the subsistence basis to address their minds to the question—which is a fair example—of rent. I have been considering this problem, and I have been astounded to find how rents differ even in the same area. If you take, as I have, the rents charged by the London County Council on housing estates in London you will find that the comparable rates vary enormously. If you strike evil days there are many expenditures you can cut down. You can limit this, cut off that, and so on, but not rent. Rent is one of the less flexible elements in the household budget and, as I have said, it varies very much from place to place. Let us assume there are two people, A and B, paying exactly equal contributions and entitled to receive as a right—as a matter of contract—precisely equal benefits. One is paying a high rent, and one a low rent. Are we to pay these people differing sums, in spite of the fact that they have paid the same contributions? Surely, that would not be justice. In those circumstances, we think that the right thing to do is to have this system of ours—reasonable premiums and reasonable benefits—leaving the individual who is put in difficult circumstances to go to the Assistance Board if he is not able to cover himself by voluntary insurance. As I have said, most of the proposals in our plan are not new, but are extensions.
§ Mr. MacLaren
I would like the attention of the Minister, not of the noble Lord on the Front Bench; he is an irritable old gentleman. This is very im- 986 portant because what has been said now will go out and will create a certain anticipation.
§ Earl Winterton
On a point of Order. Is an hon. Member, Mr. Speaker, entitled to class a Member on this Front Bench as "an irritable old gentleman"? Is it not time that we had an end to these ridiculous interventions, by the most conceited Member of the House?
§ Mr. MacLaren
The question I want to ask the Minister is, Can it be accepted as a definite policy, from what has been said, that if what people receive under this scheme is not enough, they can now get supplementary assistance to meet their needs?
§ Sir W. Jowitt
That is the proposal. Anybody who cannot manage on the benefits he gets under this scheme, will be entitled now to go to the National Assistance Board, and, if he can show need, he can get further assistance.
§ Sir W. Jowitt
I was about to come to the question of family allowances. Here we embark upon a wholly new field. I have asked my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education who is, of course, peculiarly concerned in this matter, to deal with some of the details at a later stage in the Debate, but it would be out of place not to say something about it now. Our proposal is to proceed on two propositions. First, we do not think it right to remove from parents the responsibility for maintaining their own children. Secondly, we think it right that the State should help parents to discharge that responsibility. We do not, therefore, propose to pay subsistence, but we do propose—and we attach the greatest importance to this—to pay in kind. We believe that to be the best and the most certain method that the benefit will reach the child and, therefore, we propose that all pupils attending primary and secondary schools under the Education Departments should receive, free, of cost to the parents, school meals and milk up to the age of 16.
In addition to that, we propose that cash allowances, provided wholly by the taxpayer, should be paid, but we do not propose to pay the cash allowance in respect of the first child. We think it 987 reasonable to assume that that child should be maintained out of wages or earnings, but, of course, if the breadwinner is on benefit, then we do pay the 5s. also for the first child. That is going to cost a lot of money—some £130,000,000 a year—and some people speak as though the only alteration we have made in our proposals from the proposals put before us in the Report was the reduction of 8s. to 5s., leaving out of account altogether this school feeding. I believe we are seeing here the inauguration of a new social service of the utmost importance to the people of this country, and I believe that from that service we shall reap rich dividends in the form of better health for our children. Of course, there are difficulties to be surmounted. It is the inauguration of a new system. It will develop; it will expand, and I believe it will grow into something of which we can all be justly proud.
§ Dr. Haden Guest (Islington, North)
I want to ask my hon. Friend the Minister at what date school meals will be given to all children, and whether the figure he quoted is the cost of school meals for all children, or the cost of school meals for children at the present time?
§ Sir W. Jowitt
That is rather, if I may say so, an illustration of detail. The figure of £60,000,000 is based on the assumption that all children will get school meals. The time in which that situation will come about I cannot specify, but the Minister of Education is certainly not going to delay the introduction of this system. What do a few years matter, considering that we are inaugurating a system which is going to last the whole life-time of everyone in this Chamber?
There are certain other points which arise, of course, on this topic, including the question of the person to whom the allowance should be paid, whether to the father or the mother. On this, I know, the very strongest views are entertained. I do not propose to embark on that. I would ask hon. Members not to lose sight of the wood for the trees. This, really, is a not inconsiderable victory for those hon. Members who, like the hon. Lady the Member for the English Universities (Miss Rath-bone), have fought for this for a very long time. May I quote to the House something which was said by no less a person 988 than William Pitt when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer in the year 1796. He said:Let us make relief, in cases where there are a number of children, a matter of right and an honour instead of a ground for opprobrium and contempt. This will make a large family a blessing and not a curse, and this will draw a proper line of distinction between those who are able to provide for themselves by their labour and those who, after having enriched their country with a number of children, have a claim upon its assistance for their support.Pitt said he would introduce the Bill, and he did so, but I see from the "Annual Register" of 1796, that the pressure of public business—the phrase was known even in those days—prevented further proceedings on the Bill. I looked, as a matter of interest, to see what the public business was, and the next public business recorded in the Register is a proposal to alter the date of grouse shooting from 1st to 14th September. I hope we shall preserve a better sense of values this time. One of the first Bills to be introduced by the Ministry of Social Insurance will be the Bill for these allowances.
I pass now from the young to the old. Our proposals are that the retirement pension to a couple should be 35s. a week and to a single person 20s. a week if retirement takes place at the earliest stage. I feel here—and I am bound to tell the House—that there seems to me to be a compelling need for caution in this matter. At the present time there are 16 persons a year over the retirement age to every 100 contributors. In 30 years' time there will be 31—almost double—so that the cost which in 1945 would be £169,000,000 a year would, by 1975, be £324,000,000. Again almost double. That is an increase of some £155,000,000, and that is on the assumption that the fertility and death rates remain as they are to-day. If, by some chance, our medical services should improve, and some cure should be found for some of those killing diseases, those figures would, of course, be completely falsified.
I do not think any thoughtful person can see those figures without some sense of apprehension. Were we right to introduce the full pension at once, or ought we to have waited for some 16 or 20 years? The effect of doing what we are doing is, of course, that in the early years—in the next 30 or 40 years—people will be getting more 989 than they have paid for but, on the other hand, we thought that in a scheme with fixed premiums, fixed to a particular rate, there would have been heart-burnings if people received less than the rate to which the premium would have entitled them, on the assumption that they had paid for a life-time. Consequently, we have decided to pay these rates now instead of waiting a long period of time. We pay these pensions, not on reaching a particular age, but on retirement, and that is a new feature. I think it is a feature worth while introducing, because it seems to me that it may be necessary in the future, if we are to maintain the national income, to encourage those who have reached pensionable age to continue at work. After all, a person who does retire is not debarred from doing anything at all. If he works, so long as he does not earn more than £1 no account is taken of his earnings.
I have been asked to say something about those over 65, because the White Paper does not deal with that matter, and I have received many letters about it. I am talking about the man over 65, or the woman over 60, at the start of the new scheme. If he is already in receipt of a 10s. pension under the existing scheme, that pension will be converted into a retirement pension on the new scale when the new scheme starts, or, if he has not then retired, when he does retire. If he is insured for pension under the existing scheme but has not completed the qualifying period, he will be able to qualify at the end of that period for a retirement pension on the new scale. But a person who, at the start of the new scheme, is neither a pensioner nor insured for pension under the existing scheme, will be outside the scope of the general scheme altogether. That is to say, he will not be a contributor and will not be eligible to receive benefit.
§ Mr. Tinker (Leigh)
Before the Minister leaves the old age pensioner, will he tell us if the position of those now in receipt of supplementary pensions will be at all affected?
§ Mr. George Griffiths (Hemsworth)
Supposing an old couple are now getting, including rent, 46s., as thousands are, will they still retain that?
§ Sir W. Jowitt
Certainly, they will be in no way prejudiced.
Now I come to the question of the limitation of the duration of unemployment benefit. I think everybody who has studied the matter must realise that it is dangerous to have a benefit which is unlimited in point of time, unless it is strictly controlled by some check. There is no doubt that the vast majority of our people—and I emphasise "vast majority"—prefer work and wages to receiving benefits, however generous the benefits may be, but there always has been, and I suppose always will be, a small minority who are apt to bring discredit on the scheme and earn the resentment of their fellows. We regard unemployment insurance as it should be regarded, that is, as a recourse in time of unavoidable trouble. The suggestion has been made that we should have unlimited benefit, but that we should provide, in place of a time limit, that persons should attend, or be required to attend, a work or training centre for, say, six months, as a condition of further benefit.
We have examined that proposal, but we reject it, for this reason. We attach the greatest importance to training. We want to emphasise training in the post-war world, but I do not want training to be regarded as a kind of sanction or test. Training has one purpose only. It is very important to improve the skill and adaptability of our people, but to impose training automatically, after a person has gone through unemployment for a certain time, seems to me to be entirely undesirable. I do not believe it would be an effective check, and I believe it would go a long way to discredit training. Therefore, we thought it better to limit the period, and not make it subject to all these restrictive conditions. We provide for 30 weeks at a stretch—rather longer if the man has a good contribution record—and we entitle him to re-qualify by 10 weeks' work and 10 weeks' contribution. Given full employment, that should cover the great majority of our people. In exceptional cases, there remains the national assistance. It is quite true that national assistance is subject to a means test, but, at any rate, it is not the household means test which caused such heartburning in years gone by. For training itself, we propose a higher rate of unemployment benefit, and we propose that it should continue for four weeks after training ends.
991 I say nothing about the death grant, except that it is interesting to see that, although the taxpayer makes no contribution, the full actuarial cost is only 1.8d. in the case of men with dependants, and 1.1d. in the case of women for themselves The introduction of this grant makes it necessary that we shall undertake a review—we have not yet had time to start—into the whole question of indirect expenses connected with funerals.
I pass to the question of married women, and, from the point of view of insurance, and only from that point of view, married women give rise to great difficulties. The provisions dealing with them are complicated and are set out in the White Paper, paragraphs 106 to 120. Broadly speaking, what we are doing is this. We give employed married women a choice. They can either come in and be insured in their own right, or, if they like, stay out and rely on their husbands' insurance. Wherever you give an option, you always get people opting against the fund. People only opt against the fund if they think that they will benefit, and, consequently, we had to impose conditions. The conditions we did impose are complicated, though not unnecessarily so, and are set out in paragraph 112 of the White Paper. We believe that, in that way, we shall fairly protect employed married women and fairly protect the fund.
I turn to widows. Wherever politicians are gathered together, it is customary to talk about widows. I must make a few observations because the detailed proposals are not set out in the White Paper. Broadly speaking, we think that a young woman left a widow without children ought to receive benefit from the State for a limited period of time to enable her to adjust herself to her new circumstances, and that, thereafter, she should take her place in the working life of the community. We propose to offer her, therefore, benefit to last for 13 weeks at 36s. a week. If she has children, she is entitled to the guardian's benefit, and, if she has only one child, to 5s. for that child. For an elderly widow who has reached the age of 50, has probably been married for 10 years and, therefore, has presumably been out of the employment market for 10 years looking after her own house, as a general rule, we think that, if she has received a temporary 992 widows' benefit, she ought to receive something else, and therefore we propose for her the retirement pension rate of 20S. a week.
We preserve to all widows the accrued or accruing rights under the existing pensions scheme. There are certain widows known as pre-Act widows who are not mentioned in the White Paper, and this is another topic on which there has been some heartburning. Under the present law, the pension of 10s. a week becomes payable at the age of 55 to widows whose husbands, being of the insurable class, died before 4th January, 1926, which was the date of the coming into force of the Contributory Pensions Act. We intend to preserve that right, and these widows will continue to receive that unconditional 10s. pension.
The White Paper says but little on the question of machinery. We realise that the machine must not only be well devised but well administered, and by "well" I mean not merely economically and efficiently—that is important—but I mean also humanely and sympathetically. If I cannot say that the customer is always right, at any rate, I will say that the customer's convenience shall always be considered. There have been in the past valuable personal contacts made by agencies which, if our proposals are accepted, will disappear. These valuable contacts must be maintained, and we do not think that should be difficult, because a very large number of persons now working for those agencies will, I hope, work for the new social insurance scheme. There are many benefits—pensions, for example—which can be subject to some periodic check, which will be paid at the post office. I think that is better, because there will be many more post offices than there can be social insurance offices. They will have books of orders payable at the post office. Unemployment benefit, as at present, will be paid at the employment exchanges. If a man goes round to find work, it is naturally the place where he should be able to get his benefit.
With regard to sickness benefit, we must have a blend of methods, sometimes a postal draft, sometimes payment at the social insurance office, and sometimes at the house. That is a typical instance where we must study as far as we can the convenience of our customers. There will have to be, of course, a large central 993 office, where records of insurance histories will be maintained and kept up to date. Probably, claims for retirement pensions will be made to that office. Then we shall have local offices, to which people can come for guidance and advice, and we shall have to have regional offices. We must try to decentralise as far as we can, rather on the lines of the Ministry of Labour to-day. I think I have said enough to show that there is an enormous organisation job here, and, until it is completed, with central, regional and local offices, we cannot start a scheme of this nature.
Now I come to approved societies. For a long time, for over 30 years, approved societies have been giving valuable services and have established for themselves a not inconsiderable place in our social life. Why then, with this creditable record, have we decided that there is no room for them in the new scheme? I think we must all be satisfied that the present arrangement, under which insured persons can segregate themselves into separate societies, receiving varying benefits, must stop. It is quite inconsistent with the principle of equal contributions. That being so, two further courses were considered. Should we use them as responsible agents, that is to say, disbursing their own money as well as State money, or should we use them merely as paying agents acting on the instructions of the Ministry of Social Insurance? After the most careful consideration, we came to the conclusion that both these schemes were unacceptable. We believe that any such scheme would cut right across the unified scheme which we hope to introduce and would go a long way to destroy the benefits which we hope to get from our unified scheme.
We set out the reasons which have impelled us to this conclusion in the Appendix to the White Paper, and at a later stage in the Debate I hope the Minister of Education will be able to deal with this topic in rather greater detail than I have done. I would like to add that I do not believe for one moment that this conclusion sounds the death-knell of the friendly societies. That gloomy prognostication has been made before, and has proved entirely untrue. I believe, in fact, that if the result of this is that the people of this country become more insurance-minded, then they will be very ready to avail themselves of additional 994 types of insurance which friendly societies will, no doubt, offer.
National assistance is not part of the social insurance scheme but, as I have said, it stands behind the scheme. It has many points of contact with the scheme. It helps those who fail to qualify for benefits and it helps—here I am answering a question put to me before—those who, because of special circumstances, cannot manage on the benefit they get. To-day, of course, the position is this. If a man is unemployed and fit, and he is in need, he goes to the Assistance Board; if he is unemployed and sick and is in need, he goes to the local public assistance committee. A widow with children, if she has a pension, goes to the Assistance Board; if she has no pension, she goes to the public assistance committee. We propose to do away with these distinctions, and we propose to make national assistance extend to everyone, and to include financial assistance to all those persons who prove that they are in need. That scheme will still be administered by the Assistance Board. We shall have to enlarge the powers of the Assistance Board, and we shall, correspondingly, diminish the powers of the local authorities who will no longer pay cash allowances, and will continue only with their institutional services. Thus, we do at last see the break-up of the Poor Law.
§ Mr. G. Griffiths
If the Poor Law is being broken up will not the counties, which pay so much money in rates, be relieved, and the rates reduced?
§ Sir W. Jowitt
The question of the incidence of rates and taxes as between the Exchequer and the local people has to be reviewed as a whole. Many of our schemes are having a profound effect upon it, and the whole block grant system will be reconsidered. The result is this, that Parliament will now have control over the whole system of cash assistance. The standard on which cash assistance is paid, will, of course, be on scales prepared by the Assistance Board for the approval of Parliament. The Minister of Social Insurance will answer in Parliament for the Assistance Board in place of the three Ministers of to-day The Board retains its constitutional status, for this reason, and only for this reason—because we think it important that the distinction of benefit and assist- 995 ance should not be too much blurred by the complete merging of the staff. Of course, although it remains separate we shall seek opportunity to make suitable agency arrangements on the lines which I have just indicated—we shall make the Ministry of Labour pay unemployment benefit.
§ Mr. Graham White (Birkenhead, East)
Are we correct in assuming, from what the Minister has just said, that the Minister of Social Insurance will be directly responsible and answerable to this House for all the transactions of the Assistance Board?
§ Sir W. Jowitt
Yes, Sir, the Minister of Social Insurance will be so responsible. I have left to the last—and I am sorry I have been so long—the question of finance. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is to wind up the Debate, will deal with this, but it is of such fundamental importance, and it is so wrong to think that it is any use propounding all sorts of proposals, unless we see how they are to be paid for, that I must say something about it. The scheme is conceived, of course, on very big lines and has very big financial consequences. If hon. Members will turn to paragraph 171 of the White Paper, they will see that in 1945, if the scheme is in force and stabilised conditions prevail in that year—of course, that is not possible, but we must make that assumption—the cost would be £650,000,000. Ten years later, in 1955, it would be £731,000,000. Ten years later, 1965, it would be £796,000,000. In 1975 it would be £831,000,000. I ask hon. Members to compare these figures with the £411,000,000 which is the cost of these things under present conditions. I ask them to remember that those figures do not include the school meals, which cost £60,000,000. They do not include training, which I hope is going to be greatly developed, beyond £500,000, and they do not include industrial injury insurance, the cost of which in a normal year is estimated to be £23,000,000.
§ Sir W. Jowitt
Yes, they include those. The net result of the whole thing is that in the first year the taxpayer or the ratepayer is to bear 54 per cent. of the entire cost, and, by 1975, he will bear 67 per 996 cent. He starts by paying for half, and in 30 years' time he is paying for two-thirds. It is not possible at the present time to make an allocation as between taxpayer and ratepayer, as I said, but, after all, most people are both, and the net result of it all is that whereas in 1945 he has to find £350,000,000, in 1975 he has to find £550,000,000 and rather more.
I do not want to give the House a lot of statistics but I have selected one figure which has impressed me. When we realise that more than one-third of the total yield of Income Tax and Surtax comes from the ratepayers with incomes of less than £500 a year, we realise that we must not lightly impose further burdens upon our taxpayers. Equally with regard to the contributions, the weekly contribution of 6s. 11d. in Class I, 45, 2d. in Class II, 3s. 4d. in Class 4, are very substantial. I think I have said enough to bring home to hon. Members that this scheme involves very heavy commitments, extending far into the future. It is at once a challenge and an act of supreme faith in the future of this country. If the Government had not felt satisfied that that challenge would be answered, and that faith justified,by a fresh outburst of that creative energy which has marked the greatest, periods of our history and is vitally necessary in the years before us,we should not have put forward these proposals for the approval of the House.
§ 1.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Greenwood (Wakefield)
I should like first to express, if I may, my very sincere congratulations to my right hon. and learned Friend on an admirably lucid statement, and I should also like to thank him for the generous temper which he has displayed, and his general attitude towards this great series of fundamental problems. I am glad we have here the grandfather of this scheme, the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir W. Beveridge). I did take the occasion, when we debated my hon. Friend's Report in the House, to express my own personal thanks to him for the deep debt under which he had placed me, and I think I expressed also the view of the House that we felt indebted to him for having taken on this enormous and onerous task at a time when he had been excessively busy with other work. The scheme has been altered 997 somewhat, and I do not propose to enter into details of it to-day, but my hon. Friends have always played a very active and vigorous part in the support of social developments of all kinds. When the late Keir Hardie, quaintly dressed for those days, entered this House he was a great social portent. This man with the Scotch tweeds and the deer-stalker hat meant very much what my hon. Friend meant and what the Government's proposals mean when he talked of the right to work, when he talked of work or maintenance. We have now smothered those three little words with a new phrase, full employment, or social insurance, but it means the same.
To me it is a matter of some pride that we have at long last got definite proposals, to which the Government are committed, for the consolidation and reconstruction of the great Social Insurance Services. It is about 50 years, I think, since Sidney Webb elaborated his policy of a national minimum standard below which no citizen should be allowed to fall. That policy still remains the policy of my party. This scheme does not, as my right hon. and learned Friend has stated, fulfil our aspirations. He explained why the Government had not accepted the subsistence basis. I can perfectly appreciate the administrative impossibility of continually altering either contributions or benefits. I appreciate that, but if there is to be no subsistence basis—and admittedly the figures in the scheme do not provide a subsistence basis—then there lies on the Government the very heavy responsibility of ensuring some reasonable stability of the price level, and to that task the Government must give their attention.
There will, in the course of the Debate, in spite of the skill and conciliatory manner of my right hon. and learned Friend, be a good deal of argument as to amounts and the period of time for which benefits are to be paid. I think many of my hon. Friends will criticise both amounts and periods, and it is our desire—it is certainly my desire—that we should during these two days have a free and frank discussion, letting everybody open his mind, so that the Government shall know how the House feels about this. I believe that if we are frank in these two days we may do much to eliminate the expenditure of an inordinate amount of 998 time when we come to legislation. The scheme for social insurance—and this is one of its great strengths, I think—is interwoven very closely with the social services, which are playing an ever-increasing part now in our national life. Unemployment insurance, as such, is the inevitable end of not providing full employment, and of not using training and rehabilitation resources to the maximum to increase the efficiency of our workers.
We had a discussion a few months ago on a national health scheme. That is an essential part of this whole plan of the provision of sickness benefits. It is intolerable in the 20th century, now nearly half gone, that there is still an enormous amount of preventible disease which ought to have been prevented and which should be prevented. One hopes that we shall bring that fully into the picture at a later stage. I was interested to listen to my right hon. and learned Friend when dealing with family allowances. Personally—although I do not say that I would carry everybody in this House with me—from the point of view of social advantage I attach far more importance to services than I do to money, and I hope my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education, when he speaks in the Debate to-morrow, will be able to tell us that he regards the development of school meals and the like as an integral part of the education plan. I think it was Sidney Webb who, many years ago, advocated lessons in table deportment, with materials provided. I would like to see that principle universally adopted in schools. Therefore, I hope my right hon. Friend will tell us to-morrow of the part which he believes school meals and milk will play in improving the quality of education of our children.
What I want to press for most particularly to-day is more information as to when this White Paper will be translated into legislation. I put forward a proposal nearly two years ago that we should have legislation by instalments. The view taken at that time by the Government was that we should have one large comprehensive Measure of hundreds of Clauses and that it should never be allowed to see the light of day until every "t" had been crossed and every "i" had been dotted. I protested against that then, and I am glad to believe that the Government are now rather relenting. I 999 am not prepared to wait until the whole plan is ready in legislative form, nor are my friends. I was glad to hear the Minister say that he hoped that early in the new Session a Bill for family allowances will be brought forward. In my view all the necessary Bills ought to be on the Statute Book before the next General Election. That is due to the people of this country, and it is due to the National Government, who have now accepted these principles, that they should take the opportunity to carry through the necessary legislation. I do not believe that a party Government, on the peace-time model, could carry through a Bill like this without facing very grave perils. If this House, composed as it is now, makes up its mind it can get this scheme. There will be attacks from vested interests. It is no good hiding the fact. The spate of protests grows from morning to morning, but my hon. Friends and I have no intention of bowing our heads to any vested interest. If the Government will stand firm in their proposals they will have our united backing. We cannot afford to have this scheme sabotaged or imperilled.
My right hon. and learned Friend said a few words on finance at the end of his extremely able speech. There are people in this House who have a very uneasy feeling that we cannot afford it. We have got to afford it. We are not going to afford this scheme by whittling it down, or by introducing measures of so-called economy. We can afford this scheme if our people are enabled to work for their living, as the vast majority of them desire to do. A scheme of this kind is not merely a challenge to our people; it is a challenge to the Government. It is for the Government to work hard on plans for full employment, and I therefore hope that in the course of the Debate our discussions will not be impaired by attempts to water down the scheme in the interests of so-called economy. We have shown to the world the quality of our people, and I think we are right to be proud of the quality of the citizenship which they have shown during this war. Our people are entitled to a better deal than they have ever had in the past. It is for us now to give them that deal. I hope and trust that we shall have before us in the King's Speech, in the near future, an undertaking from the Government of their firm 1000 intention to proceed early in the new Session to complete this structure of social insurance, so that by the time the Session ends our people will feel in their hearts a confidence about the future which they do not feel now.
§ 1.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Summers (Northampton)
First, may I be allowed, as a humble back bencher, to echo the tribute which has been paid by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) to my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister without Portfolio who moved the Motion? May I remind the House that important as the scheme in the White Paper is it does deal with the casualties of life and those who, for one reason or another, have their earnings interrupted? It is of infinitely greater importance that we should so frame our policy as to reduce to a minimum those casualties and those whose earnings are interrupted, and that no interests in this scheme should be allowed to grow into greater importance than the general policy that lies behind them. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the task that was assigned to the hon. Member for Berwick (Sir W. Beveridge)—whom we welcome in this House—to review the various social service schemes which were then operating and to produce a Report. That Report has had national significance. The hon. Member not only produced a co-ordinated Report, but it was he who invented the principle that benefits should be related to subsistence. That was a notion which captured the imagination of the public. But the hon. Member went further than that, and claimed that his scheme was the answer to "Freedom from want." I have always regarded a scheme which deals with all people throughout the country, whether they are in want or not, as one which cannot properly be described as one catering for want only. I believe that that slogan has done much to distort people's objective judgment of the scheme, and ought not to be allowed to play a prominent part in their decisions.
But there are other reasons why I support the Government in the major change they make in their scheme from that which is propounded in the Beveridge Report, namely, the refusal to accept a subsistence level. Already, there are signs that people are fearful on the grounds of cost, about which I want to 1001 say something in a minute or two. Once the Government assume an obligation to pay benefits at subsistence rates, whatever that may entail, they accept a far greater obligation than under the proposals and run far greater risks that the scheme will not be capable of maintaining itself in the future. If, therefore, the scheme now propounded should cause a certain amount of alarm and despondency in itself how much greater would the fear have been if the scheme tied itself to subsistence rates?
I think there is an even more important reason to justify the Government's decision. In the Beveridge Report reference was made to the possibility of having to use the full resources of the nation in man-power and materials if a scheme of that kind Was to be supported, and although I do not think it is possible to quote actual words to justify that statement, it was implicit in that Report that if to maintain that scheme direction of labour was called for then direction of labour must be applied rather than that the scheme should be abandoned.
§ Sir William Beveridge (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
There is nothing in my Report to justify the statement that direction of labour must be applied in the circumstances of peace. I am against it.
§ Mr. Summers
I am extremely glad to hear that interjection from the hon. Member, but I do know that there were people who read into his Report—possibly contrary to his views—the fear that to keep that scheme afloat in troublesome times, if people did not participate as we would like them to do, that would be the only way of keeping it going. If the scheme were tied to subsistence rates then the risk of having to resort to compulsion to keep it going would be proportionately greater. Apart from the merits of compulsion, I do not think it is a thing which the working people of this country will accept. Therefore, the bringing in of the scheme by the Government, and the denying of subsistence rates, is, to me, an adequate reason for supporting the Government in that respect.
Reference was made by a previous speaker to the phrase, often heard, "Can we afford it?" At the present time we are raising something of the order of £3,000,000,000 from direct and indirect taxation. Of that sum about £500,000,000 1002 is E.P.T., £200,000,000 is directly attributable to the lowering of the level of allowances associated with post-war credits, and is necessarily of limited duration, and about £100,000,000 is derived from Purchase Tax. So that, quite apart from the question of the rates of taxation, we can look forward to a reduction of at lease £800,000,000 below the present rate, leaving £2,200,000,000. I will make no attempt to estimate any post-war Budget, but it is self-evident that the figures will be infinitely greater than we saw before the war, whether £18,000,000,000 or £20,000,000,000 I do not propose to dilate on. But I cannot believe that any responsible Government would bring forward a scheme of this kind immediately following the White Paper on full employment if they had not confidence that they could support the scheme financially. I would ask the Government, in the part that they play in the Debate, to bring out this point as to whether they feel genuinely confident that, in addition to shouldering this burden with the others that we have already undertaken to shoulder, they foresee a possibility of reducing taxation directly after the war, because I do not believe we can transfer from war to peace production effectively unless taxation is materially reduced, and it is judged by that basis that I ask the Government to amplify the confidence that they display in the financial aspect.
There is another way in which we can interpret the phrase "Can we afford it?" Are we building up a scheme under which people can just lie back and be comfortable, sapping the energy and enterprise which have built up the country and pulled it through the war? Part of that argument is the question of the incentive to work for those on benefit. One reason why I support the policy of family allowances is because of the part that it plays in the disparity between those on benefit and those at work. So long as payment for children was only given to those on benefit, as was the case in the past, and was ignored in the case of wages, those with large families found themselves in a position to draw benefit practically as much as their wages, but once the principle is accepted of recognising children whether the man is in or out of work the margin between benefit and wages is proportionately increased. That in itself should do much to maintain an adequate incentive and so eliminate 1003 the fear that we may be building up a system under which people can just sit back and relax. No doubt we shall hear that the benefits are inadequate, but I cannot but think that those propounded in the scheme will be sufficient to induce people who want to work not to sit back and rely solely on benefit.
It is very difficult to select different aspects of a scheme of this magnitude but I should like to refer to one or two. I am sorry that the benefit which the self-employed are to derive from their contributions is not better than it is. They are to be asked to pay a higher contribution than employees, they have no unemployment benefit, they get no sickness benefit unless they are ill for more than a month, and they get a pension only when they retire from work. I should have thought that, in spite of the risk of abuse, it would be practicable to eliminate some of the hazard in their lives associated with the first month of illness. I have heard it said that 3d. a week increase in contributions would be sufficient to eliminate that period. Whether that is the right method I am not prepared to say, but, when the scheme is reviewed in the light of this Debate, I urge that some improvement in the lot of the self-employed, with particular reference to the first month of illness, may be considered.
Maybe it is too late to suggest that it is of doubtful justification for the employers' contribution to be alloted solely to the employees of the country. I believe there is a good case to be made out, having regard to the many people in the shop keeping world dependent on industry, that they should have some part at any rate of the benefit of the employers' contribution, not necessarily all of it, but, if they could be assisted from the employers' contribution, that would be one way of improving the lot of the self-employed as it now appears under the scheme. The difficulty of collecting contributions from the self-employed and those not employed at all is already acknowledged. I should hope that some system of discounting forward payments might be devised to facilitate collection.
As regards pensions, I welcome the decision of the Government that they should be conditional on retirement. I was glad 1004 to hear the right hon. and learned Gentleman say that we shall need all the productive effort we can secure after the war and that we should look rather to encouraging people to go on working than, as we were apt to do before, encouraging them to give up work in order to make room for younger men. The scheme as it stands provides that a man's pension shall be increased by 2s. a week for each year by which he defers retirement. I should hope that some improvement in that incentive might find a place in the scheme. In the Beveridge Report it was stated that, actuarially, an elderly person deferring retirement was entitled to more than 2s. per annum and that, as it was, a substantial part of what he was actuarially entitled to was going into the benefit fund. Therefore it is my hope, either by that means, or perhaps by allowing him to keep part of his earnings in excess of 20s., that some greater inducement may be offered to remain at work.
In regard to unemployment benefit, I think it was one of the real blots on the Beveridge Report that the training of labour should be regarded as a sanction. Training should be a privilege and not a punishment. But so long as the places where training is to be provided are solely Government institutions, with the traditional handicap which that name carries with it, I do not believe training will be raised to the status and prestige to which the Government themselves would like to see it raised. I believe that the most useful way in which training can be imparted is in close association with existing works, and I hope the employers of industry generally will be encouraged to make available opportunities for training under the Government scheme and that the Government will make it as easy as possible for such facilities to be provided.
There are one or two trades, notably the shipping industry, which have taken steps during the war to eliminate casual labour, and I am informed that they are anxious to preserve that system into the peace and to have a pool whereby men returning from a voyage may look forward to full wages pending another voyage. But, if the trade is to finance a scheme of that kind and contribute to a universal scheme of this kind, it will be asked to contribute twice in respect of the employees concerned as far as unemployment benefit is concerned. Whether 1005 a man in that pool who goes for unemployment benefit between voyages would be prejudiced by having the amount of benefit made up to his wages independently I do not know, but it would be a great pity if a scheme of that kind were precluded from going forward because of the effect that it would have on individuals drawing unemployment benefit under this scheme. Possibly it might be simpler if the pool could be allowed to draw in the benefits which its members were entitled to have for unemployment. I ask that those trades which set out to take care of their own unemployed may have some regard paid to their position and have it dovetailed into the universal scheme which we are asked to endorse.
For many months I held the view that approved societies should find a place as agents in the Government scheme, but the more informed evidence I get as to the present position, the more convinced I have become that the decision not to employ the approved societies, either friendly or industrial, is the only logical course for us to follow. I had always imagined that the visitor from an approved society took care of the insurance needed by the family and, if an official of the Ministry of Security went for basic benefits and that family needed more insurance duplication would follow from a visit by some other insurance body, but I understand that there are already so many visitors in an individual house that it would be difficult to duplicate what is going on at present. If equal benefits for equal contributions is to be the order of the day as it should be I cannot see that the case for individual financial units any longer remains valid.
In conclusion, I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that to support this scheme requires "a supreme act of faith." We shall demand a contribution of about £70,000,000 from the taxpayer at the outset, and this will increase greatly over the next 20 years. At what period in our history can we feel assured of what is to happen in the next 20 years? If we are to hesitate on grounds of uncertainty over 20 years ahead we shall never do anything, we should lack faith in our people and our history. I believe the initial burden can be shouldered and I welcome the scheme that the Government have brought forward.
§ 1.44 P.m.
§ Mr. Messer (Tottenham, South)
I welcome this White Paper if for no other reason than that it spells the death of Bumbledom. It has always been of interest to me to notice that, in the manner in which we have relieved poverty in the past, we have done it by leaving small communities to bear the responsibility for the people resident in their area. That was true of the old unions and the boards of guardians, and it was extended when the county councils took over public assistance, and I have never been able to understand the basis of equity which justified such an arrangement. This spreads over the nation what should be a national responsibility. It means that in future the scales of assistance will not be dependent on the rates of a locality, and that, instead of varying rates of assistance as at present, there will be national uniformity. I hope it means the death of the Poor Law, but we have to face the fact that we do not deal with the problems associated with poverty merely by making cash payments. There is the necessity for what has been loosely termed social service.
Everybody realises that the benefits of this insurance scheme need the background of national assistance. The amount of unemployment benefit might be sufficient to tide over a period without any other help, but a long period of unemployment is bound to mean some augmentation of the benefit. That is also true of pensions. The retirement pension will not be enough to maintain anybody. It will merely be a contribution towards what a person may have saved up and will be an augmentation of savings. The time will come when the pension itself will need augmentation. I shall be interested to know something of the method of augmentation, because, if we are to supersede public assistance by national assistance, we must have some regard, not merely to what is done, but to the way in which it is done. I do not think it is possible to have a national scale which will meet every contingency. What happens in many progressive county authorities when there are applicants for public assistance? They get assistance upon a recognised scale, but because there are certain imponderables, certain circumstances which cannot be taken into consideration when the scales are laid down, review committees are set up. They may 1007 find in, say, the case of a cripple, that the scale is insufficient because he has to pay fares where other people would walk short distances, and that there are particular reasons for an increase on the scale because certain special requirements such as surgical appliances have to be provided. Such considerations cannot find their place when the scale is laid down.
I would like to know how national assistance will be administered in this respect. I have in mind that one of the things to be superseded is the blind person's pension. Blind people have always been regarded as a class on their own. In 1938, when we passed the Blind Persons Act, it was recognised that blind people required considerations which did not apply to the sighted population, and they were given a pension at the age of 40. Blind persons were not regarded merely as people who were suffering from a disability, but as people suffering from a particular type of disability in consequence of which they were assisted in more than one way. In addition to their entitlement to a pension at 40, it was recognised that when they were employed they would require some augmentation of income, no matter what they earned. Therefore, it has been a principle that, whenever a blind person went into a workshop, no matter what he earned, he would receive an augmentation. In some counties it is 15s. a week, in others 10s., and it varies in different places.
The reason for the augmentation is to encourage blind people to work. There is a therapeutic quality in work, something gained out of work other than earnings, and there is a degree of happiness gained as a result of the measure of independence that comes from a knowledge of service rendered. Therefore, although a blind person may earn as much as a sighted person, he is entitled to an augmentation of income. Thus we have recognised that blindness needs compensation, and I had hoped to see that recognition continued in this scheme. We ought to say to the blind person, "You are not merely handicapped in the competition of life, but you have lost something so valuable that we, the community, will do what we can to make up for that which you are lacking." It is true to say that it costs more for a blind person to live than it does for a sighted person, although in some areas when a blind person travels 1008 with a guide the two are able to get one ticket. The blind person often has to pay for assistance. In the higher ranks there are blind people in responsible administrative positions who have to travel from place to place in a car and employ a chauffeur. In other cases they have to employ people to read to them.
There is another question in which I am interested and about which I should like some information other than that contained in the White Paper. What is to be the position of those under superannuation schemes who change their employers? I have nurses in mind. A nurse may be employed under a local authority and be under the superannuation scheme. She leaves the employment of the authority and goes into private nursing. Will she be regarded as under Class I or Class II? Will she be regarded as working for herself or as under contract with the patient? Another type of nurse is employed formally by what is called a co-operative agency, which sends her to certain cases. Is she employed by the agency or by the patient? What is to happen to those nurses who are not under the superannuation scheme of a local authority but are under what is loosely termed a federated scheme, which is a sort of insurance policy? Will they be able to transfer the value of what they have paid when coming under the national scheme, or will they have to continue their contributions if they want to get benefit under the old scheme plus the benefit they will get under the national scheme? These are points of detail, but they are important to those who will be affected by the scheme.
There is a point I want to make about widows' pensions. Everybody realises that a widow of 50 who has been married 10 years or more can hardly be expected, even though she may have no children, to pick up work again. The long period during which she has been divorced from ordinary occupation unfits her for the competition and battle of life in industry. It is right, therefore, that she should be given a pension. I cannot understand why that cannot apply to the spinster, who may have been the little mother in the home where the mother had been taken and who surrendered her right to earn money in industry in order to run the home. If she were a married woman, 1009 she could contract to come under the insurance scheme or she would be covered by her husband's insurance. When she reaches 50 or 55 she is not fit for industry any more than the widow is, but she is not entitled to pension until the retirement age. These are points to which I hope some consideration will be given in order to satisfy those in whose minds doubts exist.
§ 1.58 p.m.
§ Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew (Ayr and Bute, Northern)
I would like to say a word in favour of insurance both of a national nature and a social nature, because I am a great supporter of both. Last year, when we had a Debate on the Beveridge Report, I expressed my alarm that the heavy cost which that would entail would create more unemployment, and that, instead of being beneficial, it would have the opposite effect. After reading the Government's proposals, I am sorry to say that I still feel that alarm. In the White Paper on Employment Policy it was said that employment could not be created by Act of Parliament. That is true, unless we are going to sacrifice our liberties, which no one has suggested we should do. Although employment cannot be created by Act of Parliament, unemployment most certainly can. That is why the estimates of this social insurance scheme rather worry me. We have to realise that we have moved a long way from peace-time conditions owing to the dislocations from which we have been suffering during the last five years. We also realise that the level of employment is one of the fundamental elements in the financial structure of the Government's insurance scheme. The question I ask myself is this: Will this huge cost not increase unemployment, especially in the exporting industries, which are so vital to our very existence in this country? The cost for the first year assumes stabilised post-war conditions, but it does not seem to me to take into account what we have lost by the loss of our old customers abroad and also by the loss of the interest which used to come from our foreign investments
The Government assume that 8½ per cent. of the employed people will be out of work at the same time, that is to say an over-all rate of unemployment among the population in Class I, corresponding to 10 per cent. in the occupations covered by the present general scheme of unem- 1010 ployment insurance. This figure of 8½ per cent, is one which I think is very uncertain. The Government Actuary, in dealing with the Beveridge Report, which assumed the same unemployment percentage rate, pointed out that it was highly speculative and that it implies that longterm unemployment would be reduced to a neglible amount. He went on to say, because he was apparently very nervous of this 8½ per cent. figure:I have consulted Sir William Beveridge on this, and he is of the opinion that it would be reasonable, in the circumstances he envisages in the Report, to contemplate an average rate of unemployment of the order of 10 per cent. among the industries at present covered by the General Scheme of Unemployment Insurance.I am sorry that the hon. Member for Berwick (Sir W. Beveridge) is not in his place. That is only his personal opinion for what it is worth. But let me go on. The Government have arrived at the same figure and we must realise, I think, that if unemployment is greater than this 8½ per cent. estimate the plan will break down. I would like to know how the Government have arrived at this figure, because as far as the scheme is concerned unemployment is the second most important item in it as regards cost. I suppose that the State guarantees the income for this scheme. Suppose the 8½ per cent, is doubled, and that is not unthinkable, because in 1920–21 the rate rose from 5 per cent. to 15 per cent. in four months. If it is doubled the State must, of course, meet the cost, and do not let us forget that the cost for unemployment insurance could not be met by the State in 1931.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman in his interesting speech to-day pointed out that so far as unemployment was concerned the taxpayer was to pay one-third and that, of course, is perfectly true, as long as unemployment remains at this problematical figure of 8½ per cent. But supposing it is doubled, in 1955 the 8½ per cent. will cost £87,000,000. If that percentage is doubled it will mean IS. 6d, in the £ on Income Tax, if we take the 1938 yield, because the suplus over 8½ per cent. has all to be found by the taxpayer. This would happen when the national income was falling sharply. The result would be that heavy additional taxation would have to be put on every employed workman. That is something we need to keep very much in mind.
§ Mr. A. Edwards (Middlesbrough, East)
The hon. and gallant Member says that in 1931 the State could not bear the cost of unemployment. Does he mean the State could not, or did not?
§ Sir C. MacAndrew
I was referring to the time when we had cuts in everything, and the General Election in 1931, because money being paid by the State was bolstering up the Insurance Fund.
§ Mr. Edwards
Does the hon. and gallant Member not mean that the Insurance Fund could not bear it, and the State had to do so?
§ Sir C. MacAndrew
Yes, the State had to bear it. I was saying that I assumed the State was to be behind the payment of benefits in this case, too.
§ Mr. Storey (Sunderland)
Is it not a fact that over a long period the Insurance Fund not only bore the cost but that it now shows a very substantial balance in its favour?
§ Sir C. MacAndrew
That is true, but at the present time everyone is employed. As I said earlier in my speech, in the Government White Paper it was pointed out that Acts of Parliament could not create employment without taking away our liberties. They certainly can create employment if they take away our liberties, but we do not want that. We do not want in peace time what we are getting just now. If there was a great increase in unemployment the scheme we are now considering would not be able to bear the cost. I would like to refer to the White Paper, paragraph 177, which deals with this question of unemployment. It is so important that I hope I shall be excused if I read it to refresh the memories of hon. Members:It will be seen from paragraph 8 of the Government Actuary's Memorandum that the Government have instructed him to assume for the purpose of framing his financial estimates, a national figure of 8½ per cent. of insured persons out of work. This needs explanation. It does not mean that the Government expect that year in and year out this will be the percentage figure of unemployment; they hope it will be lower. But in framing estimates, assumptions have necessarily to be made and in making the calculations for a scheme of such magnitude it was thought a matter of financial prudence to assume a figure of 8½ per cent.The Government take it as a matter of financial prudence to expect that year in 1012 year out it will not be more than 8½ per cent. I hope the Minister of Education will take special note of what I am about to say. Only in one year, in 1927, in the 15 years before the war, was there an average unemployment rate below 10 per cent. In 1932 is was 22 per cent. How the Government come to suggest that 8½ per cent. is to be achieved I fail to understand. In dealing with this point the Government Actuary describes this 8½ per cent. as highly speculative. I have no hesitation in describing it as wild gambling. I estimate that the average for 10 years after the war will be nearer 17 per cent. than the figure given to the House. [An HON. MEMBER: "Does the hon. Member want revolution?"] I do not want any such thing. I am trying to envisage the future, and I am as entitled to have my opinion as anyone else, and I try to argue sensibly. I think it would be fairer to assume an average for the 10 years after the war of nearer 17 per cent. than 8½ per cent. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the right hon. Gentleman who spoke would like to bet on this I would be very willing to back my opinion for £10, and if I win and I am paid—[Interruption.] I do not apologise for being a Scotsman.
§ Mr. Collindridge (Barnsley)
Does the hon. and gallant Member hope to win that bet? Surely we are going to try different methods in the post-war period?
§ Sir C. MacAndrew
There is nothing I should like better than to lose it, but to try and emphasise my point I am perfectly willing to bet, and if I win the money, and I am paid, the money will be passed over to a hospital in my constituency.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, Southern)
Will the hon. and gallant Member not pay any heed at all to the Government's declared policy of attaining full employment?
§ Sir C. MacAndrew
I do. Indeed, if the Noble Lord had allowed me a little longer I had intended to say something on that. I am trying to be perfectly fair. I am not out to make debating points. I see that neither the right hon. Gentleman nor the Minister of Education is prepared to accept my challenge. I am very surprised that they are more financially prudent about their own private purses than they appear to be about that of the 1013 nation. I think this figure of 8½ per cent. has been selected in order to make a good case for the scheme. As far as I can see that is the only reason for taking such a low figure. I cannot see that it is justified on what we have seen in the past or on commonsense grounds. As is said in the White Paper, it needs explanation. I sincerely hope we shall have it. It is said that the Government's assumption represents financial prudence. I think it is the reverse.
My Noble Friend challenged me about the Government's policy on employment. I have studied it, and I have the White Paper here. But let me tell him this. This is all theory; they are to find out how employment is going and to inflate a little to help, or deflate, and so forth. I would like to see it working in practice, and if it does work and unemployment gets down to 8 ½per cent., by all means go on with the scheme, but I should like to see it working first. I am sorry to have spoken for so long, but I have been interrupted. I would say that the greatest social insurance we can give to our people is to give them jobs, food and houses. That is what they want, and everything we do in the way of spending enormous sums of money which must increase unemployment seems to me to tend to do absolutely the reverse of what we all wish to do.
§ 2.12 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Edwards (Middlesbrough, East)
I listened with some amazement to the previous speaker. I did not think there was anyone left in this land so utterly out of date. He asked us to see something in practice. I will give him an example of something in practice which will not prove the case he makes but the reverse. In 1931 we had 2,500,000 people out of work and what was done then? The previous speaker rightly said that the Insurance Fund could not bear the cost, and everybody had to take a reduction in earnings. What was the result? Did it help unemployment, was unemployment decreased as a result? It is a shameful thing that anyone so ignorant of these simple facts should dare to get up in this House and make a speech of that kind. When people's earnings were reduced, unemployment increased by 10,000 every month, and rose from 2,500,000 to 3,000,000. Was that a demonstration or theory? When 1014 money was taken out of the wage packet, and out of the allowances, unemployment did not decrease but increased. It has taken from 1931 to 1944 for this Government to realise that what needs to be done when unemployment increases is not to take money out of the wage packet but to put more into it. In the employment policy White Paper it is said clearly that if unemployment increases we shall not reduce spending power but increase it. That is the effect on the White Paper of the demonstrable facts of 1931.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman who opened the Debate began by quoting a most interesting statement by a previous Prime Minister when he said that pressure of public business prevented them from carrying out very noble proposals. Pressure of public business is again to be given as a reason for preventing this from being carried through; and people like the hon. and gallant Member, who have learned nothing, will keep on repeating these old false beliefs, which are worse than shibboleths. This is a deliberate attempt to sabotage the present Measure. Can any hon. Member tell me of a single social reform ever introduced into this House which, according to the experts, we could afford? I cannot recall a single one that they did not say we could not afford. I wonder how much longer we are to be governed and controlled by this erudite ignorance and these out-of-date statements about economics.
A previous speaker was with the Government in their intention to dispose of the approved societies. Will he, and others on that side, go a little further, and approve of taking the other insurance from the insurance societies? The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir W. Beveridge) told us in his Report that we can give for sixpence, through a Government scheme, what it costs 7s. 6d. to give through the insurance companies. The insurance companies were very indignant about this: they said that it was a gross exaggeration, and that it actually cost only 5s. Does anybody want a more handsome confession of the wastefulness of that system? Does anybody on that side suggest that we should let people have for sixpence what it costs them 5s. to get now? Not a word comes from them. I wonder if the hon. and gallant Member, in giving his own estimate of unemployment at 17 per cent.—
§ Sir C. MacAndrew
I would not like to be misquoted. I said that it would be nearer 17 per cent, than 8½ per cent. My arithmetic makes the percentage 12¾.
§ Mr. Edwards
Let us call it 12½ per cent. Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman telling the country, will he tell the fighting men when they come home, that this system has failed us utterly? I thank him very much for his candour. It will not be lost on the country.
§ Sir C. MacAndrew
I do not think my hon. Friend understood my point. I was talking about what has happened in the past—and history does repeat itself, whatever he may say. During the 15 years before the war 1927 was the only year when unemployment was under 10 per cent. I do not think I am far wrong in believing that 13 per cent. will be the figure.
§ Mr. Edwards
Does the hon. and gallant Member want to fill the prisons, the poor law institutions, and the lunatic asylums? Of course he does not. I would like to bring him to just a little practical economics. He asked for a demonstration. I have worked on a public authority; perhaps he has. What do we find on public authorities? If we have some of our people in some other authority's prison, hospital, or poorhouse, we get the bill for it. Is it less or more than is proposed under this Measure? It costs much more to keep a man in a hospital, a prison, or a lunatic asylum than it does to keep him decently at home. Of course we had a problem in 1931, when we had transitional benefits. We had to keep the people alive. Do not forget that we did starve them for a long while, and that five out of six of the people who went to the recruiting office to defend the hon. and gallant Gentleman's property—[An HON. MEMBER: "That is a rotten thing to say."] Whose property are they defending? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yours."] Mine. That is what I am complaining about. It is not theirs; it is mine and yours.
§ Mr. Edwards
I intended to refer to myself and hon. Members opposite when I said "ours." These men are coming back to—what? They have got nothing yet but promises and White Papers. The only Measure to which the Government are committed is the Education Act, which is already diluted. The Government have already taken a retrograde step on that by putting back the raising of the school-leaving age. The Chancellor's own words are that they will make decisions in the light of post-war commitments when the war is over. That is the sum total of the Government position to-day. They are not committed to anything at all. If it costs more to keep people in poorhouses and hospitals, why do not hon. Gentlemen opposite see that social insurance is much the cheaper way, it is the better way, it is the more efficient way, and it is the way that preserves our self-respect? People should not talk about the cost of this Measure. They should estimate what it is going to save the country. How can we pay for any of these things unless the money comes from the wage packets? People in industry have failed to provide the jobs. Do not put the responsibility for that on the workers—they cannot provide the jobs. Why not penalise the man who has failed instead of penalising his victims?
§ Mr. Austin Hopkinson (Mossley)
Does the hon. Gentleman suggest that employers want to see men out of work, and that they do not suffer as a result of the men being out?
§ Mr. Edwards
They are a mixed lot over there. He may not get fat on it, but he thrives on it. I want to place the responsibility and the penalties where they belong, and the present system does not do that. It is agreed that these things can be paid for only out of the wage packets. If we fail to fill the wage packets, and do not put anything in their place, will that put more men into work, or throw more men out of work?
§ Mr. Hopkinson
Has the hon. Member ever considered where the money for the wage packets comes from? It comes from my customers. If they do not get the work they cannot pay for it.
§ Mr. Edwards
The hon. Member is talking about the size of the wage packets. The Beveridge Report talked about the maintenance and subsistence rate. Quite obviously, if the money is not spent in the shops no orders go to the factories. I have referred to 1931, when the Government tried reducing incomes. The Government of that day cut off immediately £80,000,000 of expenditure on public works. They wrote to the public authorities telling them to stop building houses, schools, and roads because we could not afford it. When they saw the figure of unemployment at 3,000,000 they were alarmed. What did they do then? Everybody who was a member of a public authority remembers that they sent out another note, saying, "Start building houses, schools and roads; and we will find the money." Did that put people into work, or did it not? Was the hon. Gentleman, who thinks himself so progressive, surprised that when orders were placed, and men received wage packets, they spent the money in the shops, and firms went to the employment exchanges to get more men? Why should we go on in this ignorant way, thinking that we can enrich ourselves by withholding money from others? It has been demonstrated over and over again that by taking away from the poor we make ourselves poorer. We should insist that the amounts to be allowed are increased; and under a capitalist system, that would be the finest thing that capitalists could do for themselves—we are not talking now about a Socialist system. People talk as though there were customers somewhere who were not working people. That is a fallacy; the number of people who are not working people in this world would not keep anybody for long. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor made an interesting confession not long ago. Being a new boy, he let out one of the secrets of the school. He told us, what has never been admitted before, that the Government control the cost of living. He said that if people insisted on high wages, the Government would have to consider increasing the cost of living. It has never been admitted before in this House that the Government deliberately increased the cost of living, to make people's incomes worthless.
The hon. Member for Chislehurst (Sir W. Smithers) has been in the habit of 1018 speaking in the country recently, and it there has been anything caddish said about this social insurance scheme, I think it was what he said. I can understand people who are behind the times talking about our not being able to afford these things; but for a Member of this House to say that it is un-Christian to do these things, is about the most caddish thing. Has he ever heard of the man who was asked to give away one of his coats or ever heard of going the second mile? I would have advised him, if he were here, to read a little epistle known as the Epistle of James and then to go and bury his head in shame.
§ Mr. Hopkinson
In the case that the hon. Member has mentioned of giving away one of one's coats to the poor, does he understand this, which is essential, that it is one of one's own coats and not somebody else's coat?
§ Mr. Edwards
The 20,000,000 people in our factories to-day are enjoying a higher standard of living in the midst of scarcity than they ever enjoyed before, whereas before the war people like certain hon. Members deliberately organised scarcity in the midst of abundance. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Will not hon. Gentlemen just stop and think instead of bawling like that? Seventy per cent, of the total production in our factories is used by the war effort and yet people are enjoying a higher standard of life.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Charles Williams)
I think the hon. Member should be allowed to make his speech. We cannot have a continual flow of interruptions.
§ Mr. Edwards
They do not hurt me. They do not trouble me. These things do hurt them, and they have a right to hear them.
§ Lieut.-Commander Gurney Braithwaite (Holderness)
If the hon. Member is going to make these challenges across the Floor of the House, will he give the House the quotation in which the hon. Member for Chislehurst (Sir W. Smithers) described the Social Insurance Scheme as un-Christian. When did he say it?
§ Mr. Edwards
I think that perhaps I should have given the hon. Member notice, and I apologise to the House. He has said on several occasions, and he 1019 rather prides himself on saying it, that we shall go to ruin if we do not watch ourselves. How can he talk in that way to people who have sacrificed everything and who have so little to give? The Prime Minister said we can only win the war with blood, sweat and toil. These people have given, and given freely, without grumbling and without grudging, and hon. Members opposite have the audacity to talk about giving away somebody else's coat. Whose coats are they? Surely, if they belong to anybody it is to the people who have made the sacrifices and who have so little to come back to. Are these people to be provided with jobs, or decent maintenance? I notice that the hon. Member for Chislehurst has now arrived and I will gladly repeat what I said before. I am in the hands of the House, and I was challenged. He has been making speeches in the country regarding social insurance and saying that we cannot afford it.
§ Mr. Edwards
I can understand people who mistakenly, or in ignorance, believe that we cannot afford these things, but I was saying that it is a most caddish thing for people to go round and say that it is un-Christian. I asked whether the hon. Member had ever heard of the man who had two coats, and was told to give one away, and of the man who was told to go a second mile. If he has ever read the Epistle of James—which is worth reading, believe me—he will see that people who went round making speeches like those we have heard in this case were told to "Go away and do the decent things and then come back." To say "Go in peace" before you have given these things is hypocrisy, and I say that the hon. Gentleman ought to read them and ought to be thoroughly ashamed of them. Even under the present system, in the interest of those who have businesses and have to make provision, the best thing they can do is to make these allowances adequate because they go back into the shops and into the necessities of life and so create orders, and thus give employment to men in the factories, so that the people who produce can consume the things they make. There is no other market of the world in spite of what the hon. Gentleman said.
§ 2.35 p.m.
§ Mr. John Grimston (St. Albans)
I hope that the House will forgive me if I do not follow the hon. Member for East Middlesbrough (Mr. A. Edwards) into the very interesting fields he has been traversing. I would like to add my words of welcome to this Motion and to the Government's intention to pursue their researches into this subject, not only because I think that some scheme such as this is necessary, but because it gives the lie to so many rather vocal people in the country, who have been saying for a long time that the Government do not mean business. I always feel very diffident about claiming to speak for serving men, although I have probably had as many contacts with them as any hon. Member. I have found in talks with all ranks that this scheme has caught a hold on the public imagination such as no other scheme has had; that there is a real need for a scheme such as this, and that that need is very widely understood by the serving men. They do not want revolutionary changes. I think we have all found that they want "the mixture as before," but they want improvements. They are very conscious of the terrible conditions which prevailed pre-war in the distressed areas but they do not know that in the London area, for instance, employment was very good before the war, and they have therefore a rather distorted and pessimistic picture of the type of world which existed in pre-war times.
I very much hope, despite the opinions held, no doubt quite sincerely, by many of my hon. Friends on this side of the House, that we shall not hear too much about the exorbitant cost of this scheme. Such talk is irrelevant to the problem, for this reason, that the scheme does not of itself employ more than a very negligible number of our people, and our real wealth is the work which all of us do together. The whole scheme, as far as I can see it, resolves itself into a redistribution, merely, of our wealth along pre-determined lines on which most of us can agree, and the total redistribution is of the order of either two or three per cent. net. Nobody could call that a burden or even say that a charge of that kind is worth considering in such items as the cost of our manufactures for export. Nobody is more keen on export than I am, but, for goodness' 1021 sake, let us preserve a sense of proportion and not overburden an argument of that nature. If it was considered that two or three per cent. was a burden, the whole burden could be thrust back upon our shoulders by a two per cent. devaluation of sterling.
It is a huge subject with which we are dealing and I cannot possibly—nor would the House like me to do so—try to deal with more than a very few items in the White Paper. I will stick to one or two principles upon which I feel rather strongly. I hope that the Government will not consider any words of criticism which I may say as in any way altering my opinion that a scheme of this kind is really necessary. The first thing I regret most sincerely is that it has been found necessary to make the scheme compulsory. I only regret this because I realise that it is usual in, for instance, factory insurance schemes, to make the scheme compulsory but there is always the right of the worker to contract out if he feels like it. There are many people who have a conscientious objection to using a doctor, and I can quite imagine people will have a conscientious objection to insuring in a fund from which a doctor might sometimes be supplied. If the scheme is so good, and I really genuinely believe that it is, why should it be made compulsory? Surely the Government could publicise it with the vast resources at their command, so that people need not have it who did not want it. On page 11 of Part I on Social Insurance three reasons are given why they made it compulsory. They say the first reason is thatin a matter so fundamental it is right for all citizens to stand in together.We would all agree with that, when it came to matters like the survival of the nation, which would include national defence and family allowances, but I see no reason at all why we should all have to contribute to a funeral fund. We are all going to die any way, and why push the money round over the whole of life just to collect it at death? The second reason they give is:That there are many people at present outside the scope of national insurance whose need of its benefits is at least as great as that of many of the insured population.That is a very odd argument for forcing into the scheme people who have no need 1022 of it. It is also a dishonest argument, because so many people who have great need of the benefits of the scheme are still outside it. Most Members would agree that the ordinary housewife is as valuable a member of society as anyone, yet she has no medical benefits whatsoever under the scheme.
§ Mr. Grimston
I apologise for that statement. I could not see it in the scheme, but I had better read it again. The third reason they give, and frankly I do not understand it, is:That without universality it is not possible adequately to maintain the cover needed during various normal changes from insurance class to class.Insurance classes are purely arbitrary and people are free to find their employment in any way they like, and I cannot see why on that account universality should be so desirable. Let us consider some cases of universality. Let us consider two brothers, one of whom works in a factory and the other on his own account as a chimney sweep, a very necessary trade. The chimney sweep, for the honour of employing himself, pays 4d. a week more, and if he becomes sick he waits four weeks for his benefit. The brother who works in the factory waits three days and he pays 4d. less. I cannot believe that that is really necessary. Many of us on this side of the House and perhaps in all parts of the House will agree that the man who works on his own is at least as good a man as he who is employed.
Why should it be assumed, because of the supposed difficulties in administration, that the self-employed man should wangle and, therefore, be made to wait longer to enable people to check on him over a longer period? Another thing I do not like at all is that the man who is in receipt of a war pension—this is page 34—will only draw some part of the insurance benefits for which he may qualify. It seems to me that the war pension, which is small enough in all conscience, should not be used as some kind of means test against the man who has lost some part of his fitness in war service for the country.
A major objection I have is to the death benefit. As I said before, it seems silly, 1023 as we all have to die, that we should all pay for everybody else's funeral before having our own paid for. It seems an expensive way of providing for a funeral. But there is a much more serious objection. I think it shows that the Government have little idea of what the funeral or the dying problem is in this country. The sole effect of paying a £20 bonus at death will be to put the cost of funerals up by £20. That is probably a very contentious argument to use in a maiden speech, but I am convinced of it. In addition, there is the awful problem of the growth of cemeteries on our most valuable sites. Some 500 acres a year of our best building or park lands are taken for cemeteries, and the whole effect of this on our towns in a few years' 'time will be something which we should think about very deeply now. I should be very much happier if the Government would set up a committee to inquire into the cost of dying, which bears too great a relation, at the moment, to the means of a deceased person and too little to the cost of the services that are rendered to him.
One final objection, and possibly my strongest of all, is the abolition of the friendly societies. There is some doubt, I think, in perhaps all parts of the House as to who these bodies are. It has been said that they are the pawns of the big insurance companies. I am talking not of the approved societies, but of the friendly societies, such as the Manchester Unity of Oddfellows, the Foresters, the Hearts of Oak, the National Deposit, and so on. Those bodies are the home and essence of democracy. They are self-governing. They have encouraged, in ways no other society has, the habit of thrift among working people. No one can attend one of their meetings without being very forcibly convinced of their educational value. Many of their members know nothing of even the rudiments of insurance or finance before they join, but after serving conscientiously for a year or two they do know that the money they put into the society provides the fund from which their benefits come.
The biggest danger of the whole of this insurance scheme is that people will come to regard the Treasury, as many do at the moment, as a bottomless well from which they can draw benefits as a right. By abolishing the approved societies the 1024 Government are proposing to go a long way towards encouraging that wrong view among many people. They have put at the back of this White Paper various arguments against using the friendly societies. I will not go through them all, but there are a lot, and they are quite stupid arguments. Hon. Members who have studied them will agree. It even goes so far as to insult the friendly societies by saying:It is difficult to see how a society with scattered membership could maintain personal contact with its members.That is a stupid thing to have put in print. It simply means that the will to use the friendly societies does not exist, and I hope that something I and other hon. Members will say will cause the Government to revise their views and to try to employ them.
One further argument—I think it is on page 44 of the Report of the Government Actuary. He says:A high standard of medical certification will be essential as well as the active cooperation of the insured persons themselves, supported by adequate arrangements for medical referees and sick visiting.Adequate arrangements for medical referees and sick visiting exist in the friendly societies. They do not exist elsewhere, as far as I have been able to find out in this White Paper. The Government say they are necessary, yet the Government propose to abolish them. I do strongly ask the Government occasionally to step back from being too close to the great picture they are painting. When they are close to it they can see, perhaps, the details too clearly and the broad proportions not clearly enough. In his speech this morning the right hon. and learned Gentleman said: "Do not let us lose the good which there is in the scheme by stumbling forward towards an aim which may not be obtainable." I say to him, "Do not let us lose the good that there is in existing societies by stumbling forward towards an aim which may not be obtainable."
§ 2.53 p.m.
§ Mrs. Adamson (Dartford)
I should like to congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his maiden speech which we have all listened to with interest and to express the hope that his future contributions to our Debates will be just as interesting. I would also like to congratulate the right hon. and learned Gentleman who opened 1025 this Debate on his appointment as Minister of Social Insurance and to express the hope that he will give a good account of himself in his new sphere. All of us are interested in family life and are pleased that the Government have, at long last, recognised the necessity of putting forward the proposal for family allowances. A great many of the women's organisations in this country feel, however, that the family allowance should be paid in respect of the eldest child also, and we are all quite unanimous that family allowances ought to be paid direct to the mother. We think it would be a small recognition of the importance of the work of the mother. Some of us are anxious to give a new status to the housewife and the mother and, while it is true that the average husband will ensure that his wife receives the money, we still feel that the Government ought definitely, in view of what happens in other nations where family allowances are in operation, to see to it that the payment is made direct to the mother. I express the hope that, at the appropriate moment, this question will be left open to a free vote of the House.
I want to support the plea of the hon. Member for South Tottenham (Mr. Messer) for more consideration to be given to the question of spinsters' pensions. They are a hard-working class, who never earn much money, and are never able to save. I think it is true to say that, when grey hairs appear, they find very great difficulty in retaining their jobs. I think their claim has been completely ignored by the Government in their scheme of social insurance. I wish to emphasise most particularly the widow's position in the proposed scheme, and I want to warn the Government that considerable public feeling will be aroused by the inequalities that will exist amongst widows of various classes under the proposals in the White Paper. The House is well aware that war widows are entitled to a pension regardless of age, whether they have any child or dependent children. There is no means test on the earnings of a war widow, or of a civilian war widow, and there is no limitation on their earnings. Their pensions will continue in future, or until remarriage. There is also in the White Paper the proposal, with respect to other widows, that they should receive 10s. a week under the existing widows' pension scheme. I notice from 1026 the White Paper that some of the rights accruing under the existing scheme will be preserved, and particular reference is made to the many thousands of voluntary contributors who entered the present scheme because of the inducement offered in the provision for widows. I am not quite clear whether the existing rights are preserved only in cases of voluntary contributors, particularly as the paragraph states that the accruing rights under the existing scheme need not be preserved in all cases. I would be glad if the Minister would clear up that point in his reply.
Under the White Paper proposals the right of a widow to a pension is abolished. Instead there is a widow's benefit of 36s. a week for 13 weeks, there is a guardian's benefit of 24s. a week, if there are dependent children, and 20s. a week if the widow is aged 50 or over, provided she was married at least 10 years before. In regard to widows who receive a guardian's benefit of 24s. a week, their earnings must not exceed 20S. a week; otherwise, the guardian's benefit will be reduced. In other words, there will be a means test on her earnings and a limitation of her income. Yet she may have a neighbour whose husband is earning good money who will receive public money in the shape of family allowance, though the widow, because she receives a guardian's benefit, must not be allowed to earn more than 20s. a week.
This House does not impose a means test on the earnings of war widows or civilian war widows, and I want to know why there is this discrimination against civilian widows. What about the widow under 50 at the date of her husband's death with no dependent children? She would be limited to a benefit of 36s. a week for 13 weeks, but she would be entitled to a training allowance to fit her for her new occupation, and I have to draw the attention of the House to the implication of this proposal. Here we have the position of a woman who might have been out of industry for over 20 years, who has spent that time in looking after her home, and rearing her children, and yet will he offered the choice of going into industry and being compelled to do two jobs. She would have to work in the factory or workshop, for the economic reason, and she might have children, young people of adolescent years, for whom she must provide a home, and to whom she ought to give care and atten- 1027 tion in suitable home surroundings. We are going to. compel that woman to go into a factory and try also to run her home, or are going to make her completely dependent on her family. I wonder how many Members of Parliament have received pathetic letters from their constituents, and also from elder sons or daughters who have been compelled to face up to the responsibility of the maintenance of the home and the mother. I say that, if we are talking in terms of giving a certain measure of social security to people, or freedom from want, then we ought to see that justice and fair play in the shape of permanent pensions are given to this particular class of widow.
I want to ask the Minister what happens if a widow, after training for new employment, finds in the struggle to get employment at a high age level, in what may, after the war, prove to be an overcrowded market, that she is unable to sustain herself in regular employment sufficiently long to qualify for unemployment insurance or a subsequent retirement pension. Will she be dependent entirely upon national assistance subject to a means or needs test? If this is so, it seems to me to be a very poor reward for all the good women who have sacrificed so much during this second world war in the interests of, and to preserve, the liberty and freedom of our land.
A point which rather surprises me is the attitude of the Government in admitting that a widow who is ill at the time of widowhood shall be entitled to a sickness benefit of 24s. per week for a period up to three years of incapacity, followed by invalidity benefit of 20s. a week as long as the illness lasts. This seems to indicate a continuing insurance right, or the inheritance, in part, by the widow of her husband's insurance right. In the case, however, of the widow who is fit at the time of her widowhood and who is willing to work the same facilities do not seem to exist to provide for her unemployment insurance. Why this distinction also?
Surely enforced unemployment is a contingency for which provision should be made so that the widow is not unfairly penalised. No doubt the Minister would say that she may be entitled to the training allowance if she desires to take advantage of that part of the Government's proposals, but for what is she to be 1028 trained? Is she to give up her home, and leave the neighbourhood and all her friends in her loneliest days? Is she to be guaranteed a job after she has completed her training? True, she will get a training allowance for at least four weeks after her training course is finished, but if she is then still out of employment, why cannot she receive unemployment benefit? I know it will be said that this is impossible, because she herself has not made any contribution to the scheme, but since, in many of the benefits outlined in the White Paper, the husband and wife are treated as a single team, why cannot the widow inherit the social insurance rights of her husband, entitling her to all the benefits to which he himself would have been entitled had he continued to live?
I beg the Government to consider these matters to avoid a scheme of such noble conceptions foundering because of treatment meted out to different sections of widows, all of whom have lost the companionship and protection of the breadwinner. I urge the Government to see if they cannot bring forward less complicated proposals affecting the widows of this country which will ensure to the civilian widows equalisation of widows' pensions with war widows. I claim that if the Government will do that, they will remove a great deal of injustice and hardship to a very deserving section of the community. In conclusion, I would urge that the scheme as administered so successfully by the Ministry of Pensions might prove to be the ideal scheme for operation in respect to the civilian widows' pension. I do ask for some more favourable consideration to be given to this very deserving section of the community.
§ 3.9 P.m.
§ Major Woolley (Spen Valley)
I should like to pay my congratulations to the hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. John Grimston) on his maiden speech. He displayed a courage in that speech, typical of the Service which he so well adorns. Also, I should like to congratulate the Minister on the statement that he made this morning. He said that he would paint a picture on a broad canvas. He did that with very considerable lucidity. I think I shall be quite safe in saying that my hon. and right hon. Friends on these benches welcome the statement 1029 of the Government as indicated in the Motion, and their intention of interpreting the social schemes envisaged in the White Paper into early legislation. It is particularly gratifying to one who, like myself, is of Liberal persuasion to see in the White Paper schemes of social progress which have been so intimately connected with Liberalism for so many years. For I recall that it was under a Liberal Government in the days of Mr. Asquith—in which Administration there were two right hon. Gentlemen who are still with us in very prominent positions—the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George)—that the foundations of social security were really started by the Old Age Pension Act which gave 5s. a week.
I wish to refer to a few specific points. The first—which I mention perhaps a little critically—is the question of children's allowances. With other hon. Members who have spoken, I agree that it is wise that these allowances should be paid partly in kind and partly in cash. I agree with the hon. Lady the Member for Dartford (Mrs. Adamson) that the question of paying this cash allowance to the mother might be considered because, after all is said and done, some fathers might not be prepared to expend this money as wisely as we should like them to, and if it were paid directly to the mother, I think it would ensure that the child would get the maximum benefit. There are, however, certain classes of children about whom I am very concerned. There is the child who has not yet reached school age. This child, under the scheme of the White Paper, will receive no benefit in kind, for such benefit is given at the schools and the child under school age will not receive that kind of benefit. Therefore, I ask that some consideration should be given to that category of children. Further, there is the boy or girl who goes to school. Assuming that he loses no time at all, he perhaps does not go on more than 200 to 230 days in the year. I am sure it is the intention of the Government to ensure, as far as possible, that every child gets at least one square meal a day, but if the child goes to school only on a limited number of days in the year, what will be the position of children at week-ends and during the holidays?
§ Captain Cobb (Preston)
Surely, this is a completely new outlook, that parents have no responsibility whatever for looking after their children?
§ Major Woolley
I did not say anything of the kind; I did not say that parents have no responsibility for their children.
§ Major Woolley
I am simply quoting the scheme as outlined by the Government, and the Government themselves have quite emphatically stated that the responsibility, in part, belongs to them, and I subscribe to that view. What the Government do insist upon is that a child shall have a square meal a day; that is part of the scheme. Surely, that is the essence of paying benefit in kind. Therefore, I think I am quite correct in using the argument that if the Government themselves are anxious to ensure one square meal a day, they should not do it on only 200 days out of 365.
It has been said that responsibility for children should not be entirely taken away from their parents. Indeed, do any of us believe that 5s. a week, plus school meals, would do that? Those of us who have children know very well that not much can be done with 5s. a week, and it is preposterous for the hon. and gallant Gentleman to infer that I was thinking anything of the sort. I am concerned about the father of a family, who may have been on sickness benefit for a considerable number of years. For the first three years let us assume he has been getting £2 a week for his wife and himself. If he has been on benefit for more than three years it is reduced to 35s., and if he has two children the total income for that household is only 45s. There may have been three years' sickness behind him and perhaps all his savings have gone. If the Government could consider some increased allowance for the child of the parent who is on benefit I think it would be socially wise. I do not want to narrow the margin between wages and benefit too much, but I do not think that some relaxation in that direction would have that particular effect.
May I refer for a moment to retired pensioners? The suggestion made in the White Paper has a very much more immediate appeal than the suggestions 1031 which were made in the Beveridge Report. I was glad to hear the Minister say that such pensions will be supplemented, if necessary, by national assistance.
§ Major Woolley
I would like to know on what basis that supplementation will take place, because, as has been pointed out, two old age pensioners may now be receiving 43s., 44s. or 45s. a week. In dealing with this supplementation I hope the Government will not discourage thrift. One of the points the Minister made was that the Government were most anxious to encourage thrift. There is no Member of this House who has not from time to time been pressed by certain sections of the community to seek to abolish the means test. I have met people who have demanded this abolition, and I have usually found that they were not so much concerned with abolition but rather with the limitation of income. For instance, they usually agreed that a person who retired and had an income of £1,000 a year would have no need of supplementation, but they were concerned about the person who, in his younger days, might have had an opportunity of saving but had been thriftless, and who was receiving a greater amount of benefit, by way of supplementary pension, than a decent, hard-working thrifty person, living next door, who might have saved a little money. Therefore, I plead with the Government to encourage thrift.
With regard to whether we should accept a standard of subsistence, I acknowledge that the Government, in dealing with this matter, must have two factors in mind—general economic conditions and the cost of living. I imagine that the benefits which have been suggested in the White Paper have some relation to the existing cost of living, but what would be the position, if by some miracle, the cost of living were to be halved? Would we find that the Minister would come here and ask for these benefits to be reduced because of the changed circumstances?
§ Major Woolley
It depends upon the amount of the reduction in the cost of living. I put it at a high reduction by 1032 halving the cost of living. In those circumstances, I think we should feel that the Minister would be justified in asking for a reduction. If that is a sound argument, then I think it could be argued that if the cost of Living increased considerably, the benefits should likewise be increased. There is not the shadow of doubt that if the cost of living increased appreciably there would be an irresistible demand for increases of benefit. I would remind the House that the people who would suffer first as the result of any increased cost of living would be those who could least afford it, the casualties of society, as my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Summers) called them, those who are sick temporarily or for a prolonged period, or are unemployed, or become too old to work. After the war we hope for some permanent prosperity of industry. If that obtains, I think we ought to demand an increased standard of life for our people in which case the tendency would be for the cost of living to increase. These are arguments which demand some consideration in accepting a level of subsistence.
Reference has been made to the desirability, or otherwise, of excluding friendly societies from any participation in this scheme. If any one of us were asked to draw up a blue print of a social insurance scheme such as we have here, we might, on the grounds of logic, do the same as the Government have suggested, but I would remind the House that in this matter we are not dealing with inanimate objects. We are dealing with a special class of human beings, who require sympathetic handling and consideration. I can visualise that social insurance offices, staffed by civil servants, would be comparable with local employment exchanges, indeed, they were compared with them by the Minister this morning. The atmosphere of the local employment exchange is not the atmosphere that I want, at any rate, for the administration of our social insurance scheme. There is a human requirement which is not met by the employment exchange, where there is too much of the atmosphere of, "What is your identity number?" and not, as it should be, "Are you Mr. Smith, who is ill, and who has a wife and two children?" I think that friendly societies have established, by and large, a real friendship between themselves and the people whom they serve, have encouraged 1033 thrift over a long period of years and have administered our national health insurance very effectively. It would be a pity if this experience and good will were thrown away.
§ Mr. Messer
Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that approved societies have the right of accepting or rejecting applicants, with the result that they accept only the good lives, leaving the bad to become deposit contributors?
§ Major Woolley
I appreciate the point, but that is no reason why there should not be some alteration in the conditions. The Government are in a position to make conditions which the friendly societies must be prepared to accept.
§ Mr. Tinker
I did not like the hon. and gallant Gentleman's remark about the employment exchanges. The officials at these exchanges are much more human than they used to be.
§ Major Woolley
I am glad that that is so; perhaps there was room for improvement, but even to-day employment exchanges regard human beings as "bodies" and "human material." I am glad to hear that they are better but, even so. I want a more human spirit to obtain in the social insurance office than obtains in the employment exchange.
With regard to finance, there are the pessimists who feel that this reform and other progressive social reforms, spell ruin to the country. On the other hand, there are the super optimists who feel that we have to do nothing other than pass these desirable things into legislation and all our ills will be cured. I subscribe to neither school of thought. I believe that we can afford this scheme if we are worthy of it and work for it. If we become industrially efficient, we can afford it. There are many ingredients in industrial efficiency, one of which is that people engaged in industry shall have removed from their minds the fear of destitution. I believe that without industrial efficiency the country will be ruined. So I plead with Members of all parties not only to emphasise the desirability of this scheme but also in no uncertain terms to impress on the people that responsibility for its realisation rests squarely on the shoulders of the people themselves. I hope the time is not far removed when as the result of this Debate, the Government will translate the plan with certain improvements 1034 which have been suggested into legislative form and thereby add lustre to their magnificent record during the last four and a half perilous years.
§ 3.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Graham. White (Birkenhead, East)
I am glad to have the opportunity of intervening in this discussion for a purpose which I will mention in a moment, but before doing so I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. John Grimston) on a most thoughtful and able contribution to our discussion. I should like to say with what sympathy I heard his plea for reconsideration of the matter in relation to those institutions—the Friendly Societies—which have done so much to inculcate thrift. This is no new feature in our domestic concerns. We have been overhauling and revising many of our institutions in the last few years, notably education and the national health services. In each case we have found in these fields of activity certain important work being done, started perhaps 100 or more years ago by volunteers and by pioneers, farsighted people living ahead of their time. They have done valuable work and they have continued to render very useful service. It is a sad thing and not a useful thing that these elements in our life should cease. If they have to cease, it should be regarded as a misfortune. Consideration should be given to whether without detriment to the general scheme, these qualities cannot be preserved.
I now want to say how warmly those of us who for many years past have been advocating the unification of our system of social insurance welcome the prospect that our hopes are to be realised. In the last 20 years, we have, from time to time, in response to some economic convulsion or social stress, been adding something to the original structure of 1911. We have increased benefits from time to time, and we have brought in new bodies of beneficiaries, and on almost every occasion we have had a new means test. What we have done has been to build up a patchwork pattern of social insecurity, and in many ways those who are subject to it, lose the benefits. The system will condemn itself, because it was possible to have as many as five means tests operating in one family. Those of us who have tried to advocate something better, will be gratified to find that our hopes are likely to be realised.
1035 I should like also to congratulate the right hon. and learned Gentleman on the great opportunity that lies before him. He said he had the job of gathering the fragments. He is, in a sense, the residuary legatee of some half-dozen Government Departments, not overlooking that great instrument for social progress, the Board of Customs and Excise. He has, as he said, a great constructive opportunity and a great constructive task to accomplish. I am sure that if we can help him in that endeavour, it will be our wish to do so. I also wish to associate myself with what the Government say in the White Paper in regard to the services rendered by my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir W. Beveridge) and all his assistants. They have rendered a great service, to which all of us pay tribute, because it is the substantial foundation of what we are now discussing.
I should like to make one or two observations in regard to some aspects of what has perhaps been the major part of the discussion as it has developed to-day, namely the question, Can we afford it? It is unfortunate that so much of our time has been taken up with that aspect of the affair. It is perfectly right that we should count the cost, but I cannot help thinking that we should have been well advised if, in the main, we had relied on the fact that the Government have decided that they can find the cost and that they arc going to put all their weight and energy behind it and call upon us to co-operate with them in that endeavour. We have had some very entertaining, if not useful, speculations about percentages of employment, but this matter is not to be decided by considerations of that kind. It will be decided by the strength of the national purpose in the matter and, whatever the extent of unemployment may be, whatever may be the degree of our wealth, there is another consideration, that if we handle our national and international affairs with so much incapacity that instead of realising our hopes of maintaining the national income at its present level or improving it, it goes down, the need for a scheme of this kind becomes greater rather than less. It is the expression of the social determination of this country that the needs of all shall be met before we en- 1036 deavour to cater for the superfluities of the more fortunate. That I think is a fundamental assumption underlying this scheme. These proposals are described in this ever-so-modest document, the White Paper, so accurate and so cool in its terms that one feels almost that it has come out of cold storage, asrounding off a notable chapter in the history of British social insurance.I suppose that that is all right, but it is a strange under-statement for proposals which rouse the intense interest and enthusiasm of the people of this country and which will have their repercussions all over the world where people are allowed to know about them. Social insurance is not going to be an isolationist policy for any country after the Nazi regime has disappeared. If it is our mission, as I believe it is, that when the Nazis and Fascists are destroyed in Europe we should present to a prostrate continent an example of the best working democracy the world has ever seen, we shall make a great contribution by adopting this policy.
It may seem, at first sight, a long step from a discussion on social insurance in a British House of Parliament to the conference which has just concluded at Dumbarton Oaks, but I would like to put on record as my conviction that the constitutional arrangements for world peace cannot be successful in the long run in preserving peace unless they are built upon an international social structure, a society of nations so co-operating together and having such conditions of life for all people, that their wants will be met and their aspirations satisfied. I think we are making a contribution to that by setting the example in establishing a scheme of social security for our own country. It is all part of our efforts in the International Labour Office, at the Hot Springs Conference, and, I would add last but not least, the Inter-Allied Conference of education ministers of the Allies, with which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education has had a great deal to do, and whose hopes in that respect will, I hope, be fully realised.
For all, these reasons, we must join all in with the Government in seeing that this scheme finds its way as quickly as possible into the field of legislation and is brought to fruition. I hope that the delay which has taken place between 1037 the presentation of the Report to Parliament and the publication of the Government's proposals is not going to set the pace for the rest of the course to legislative achievement. The Government seem to have adopted the saying, a very misleading one, of Robert Louis Stevenson, that it isbetter to travel hopefully than to arrive.At last we are arriving and we are in sight of the station, and I hope that from now on there will be determination and vigour to reach the end. I suggest that when the right hon. and learned Gentleman opens his new office he should adopt the last three lines of the White Paper. The Paper holds itself in almost until the last gasp, and then uses words which, I suggest, the right hon. and learned Gentleman should adapt and put over his door for the encouragement of those who enter, in this form:You will find herein a fresh outburst of that creative energy which has marked the greatest periods of our history and is vitally necessary in the years now before us.There are many things in connection with this scheme on which my right hon. and learned Friend will no doubt wish to obtain our views as occasion offers. There are the questions of the rates of benefit, the relation of Income Tax to this scheme, and whether Income Tax rates are to be reviewed in the light of family allowances. The finance of the scheme may be tipped in one direction by modification of Income Tax. If it is intended to review Income Tax allowances in relation to family allowances, a substantial sum might be set free for the purposes of this scheme.
I should like to say with how much sympathy I have heard the observations of two or three Members who drew attention to the anomalous position of those in Class II, who have to pay 4s. 2d. without getting the same benefits as those in Class I, who have to pay 3s. 10d. Class I receive unemployment benefit and industrial injuries benefit, but those in Class II will not, and it would appear on the face of it, that they will pay 1s. 6d. more than those in Class I. The White Paper says that the majority of those in Class II would be in the same economic condition as those in Class I. That may be so, but I should have thought from my personal observations that there are many grades in Class I, and that possibly the majority of those in Class II, the small shopkeepers and tradesmen, would correspond to the poorer and 1038 less fortunate elements in Class I. Certainly there are in Class II many who have suffered greatly and are anxious about their future after the war. There is no argument in the White Paper in favour of putting an additional burden on the man who is his own employer. The question which arises and which I ask the Government to consider is whether it is just and fair that when the triple partnership which we have had till the present disappears, the self-employed person should have to shoulder the whole of the State share. Why should the State not pay all or at least a portion of the employers' contribution? I do not wish to go into this in detail now, but on another occasion I would point out ways in which this could he done without loss to the fund in the scheme we hope will emerge from our discussions. We agree with my right hon. and learned Friend in his description of it as a great act of faith and a great enterprise. I personally regret the tendency which I think I see throughout the country to-day for people, organisations, trade associations and the like, rather to look to the State to ask what they are going to get from it. I think it is a rather unfortunate development, and that the time has come when everyone should be asking "What are we going to put into the common effort?" and not "What are we going to receive?"
§ 3.46 p.m.
§ Mr. David Eccles (Chippenham)
It is becoming fashionable to say how out of date and inefficient we are in this country. I welcome this White Paper as solid evidence to the contrary, and I agree with the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) that this is a piece of administrative machinery which we can recommend to the rest of the world as a British product. I welcome the White Paper, and add my congratulations to my right hon. and learned Friend for the way in which he presented it. The discussions here to-day and outside the House, seem to show that there are two big questions which require to be answered. One is, Ought the rates of benefit to be related to subsistence? The other is, Could we afford to raise any of the rates of benefit? Though those two questions are different, I do not think they can be answered separately, because if it is a fact that it would not be prudent to raise any of the 1039 rates of benefit substantially from what is proposed in the White Paper, we could not possibly get subsistence to-day.
It has been said that linking rates of benefit with subsistence is not a very necessary thing to do, and that the Government's departure from that principle is not serious. I take the very opposite view. I regard it as most serious, because until the community can guarantee to every citizen a minimum which will suffice without any extra income, until that great guarantee is given we cannot have complete freedom from want and 100 per cent. security. That is a goal Which we have to achieve as soon as our resources permit. I do not think they permit it to-day. Some other hon. Members argue, and I should expect the hon. Member for Berwick (Sir W. Beveridge) to argue, that whatever level of benefits we pay, that level ought to be linked to subsistence. There is great force in their argument. If the price of clothes and food were to double, then the level of benefits proposed would be manifestly unfair. But I expect the Government to reply that they intend to watch prices closely, and that they intend to see that there is no big movement in the value of money. I say that with confidence, because the House will recall that the Prime Minister, in his broadcast of March of last year, said some very important things about the stabilisation of prices after the war. He used these words:Over a period of 10 to 15 years there ought to be a fair, steady continuity of values, if there is to be any faith between man and man or between the individual and the State.That is a very important statement, to which I hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer will refer, and will expand when he winds up the Debate to-morrow, because the only effective answer to the demand for linking rates of benefit with subsistence is an assurance that the Treasury can and will, with the understanding and help of the nation as a whole, maintain stable prices.
I pass from the principle of linking benefits to subsistence to what I consider to be the much more practical question of whether we can afford to raise substantially any of the proposed benefits in the White Paper—because that is what hon. Members intend to propose for the particular sections of the community 1040 with which they have sympathy? In the White Paper itself it is said it is an essential feature of an insurance scheme that equal contributions should provide equal benefits within a class or a group. It must be obvious that if equal benefits provide for the full minimum requirements of everybody in every part of the country, some people will receive considerably more than their minimum wants, and the Fund must pay out more than is necessary in some cases in order to pay out what is strictly necessary in all cases. A family living in a 5s. a week cottage in the country will have different requirements from another family living in lodgings in town for which they pay 15s. or 20s. rent per week. Therefore, if we provide minimum subsistence for everybody, some of our money must be badly spent. There is no escape from that. I think it is therefore of the greatest importance to see whether we shall, in the years to come after the war, have sufficient resources to lay out money unnecessarily for the sake of this principle of subsistence for every body without proof.
If hon. Members agree with me that there is a limit to the amount of our national resources which we can devote to social insurance and social services, they must face this choice: Either they must take the whole available sum and divide it in equal benefits among all the recipients, or they must take that sum and divide it in two parts, the one part to give a reasonable and equal level of benefits to everybody, and a much smaller sum to be used as a reserve fund by the Assistance Board or some body of that nature, to deal with hard and special cases. One cannot answer which would be the best way to deal with our resources unless one has some idea of what their amount will be. Therefore, I propose to examine that point.
My argument will be based on this assumption, that no hon. Member is prepared to set up a system of social services which has permanently to be financed out of loans. We must pay for war out of loans, we must borrow money against which no productive assets are created, but if we do that in peace time for any period inflation would undoubtedly result. Therefore if any hon. Member wishes to raise the benefits under this scheme he must tell us whether he considers the 1041 additional money should come out of contributions or out of taxes, or out of both. The proposals before us are not quite 50 per cent. insurance. If the contributors, either the insured persons or the employers, were to pay more into the Fund, the benefits could be corresponingly raised.
Let me take first insured persons. Their weekly payments have to come out of their existing level of earnings. I suppose it is quite clear that if there was pressure to raise wages to cover these contributions, and that pressure was successful, the burden would be added to the costs of production; prices would rise; the value of the benefits would go down; and the scheme would be defeated. Anyhow, I imagine that the Treasury made a close calculation of the weekly sums which insured people can pay on their present earnings. It would not be surprising if the independent worker jibbed at 4s. 2d. a week. That payment will look pretty high to him. But there is another, more compelling, reason why we should not increase the contributions. These contributions are a form of regressive taxation, they fall equally on all incomes, and, therefore, the burden is more heavy on the lower income groups. That is a good reason for not trying to get any more money by way of increased contributions from insured persons. What about the employers? Their contributions are a direct burden on costs, and must fall unequally on different industries, according to whether the labour bill is high or low. Agriculture, mining, and building must be among the worst sufferers. I dislike these win-or-lose additions to costs. They reduce the volume of employment and our power to compete. I am a firm believer in the principle that what the Government take out of industry or of agriculture they should take out of profits, and not add on to costs. That is a good enough reason, in the interests of the workers as well as of other sections of the community, for not trying to increase the employers' contribution.
There is no escape from the fact that any attempt to increase the rates of benefit from what is now proposed must fall on the taxpayer. Therefore, this is the crucial question: how much can the taxpayers stand in the years immediately after the war? I do not know the precise answer to that question—nor does 1042 any Member of this House, not excepting my right hon. Friend the Chancellor—but it is possible to discuss the magnitudes involved in a useful way. That is what I will try to do. Before the war the Budget was about £1,000,000,000 a year. I will assume that, after the war—let us say in the 10 years from the defeat of Germany—the Government will have £1,000,000,000 to spend, after meeting the service of the Debt and after paying for the Armed Forces. That is a very generous assumption to the Treasury, because it assumes a much higher national income and much higher rates of taxation than before the war. I very much doubt whether the people of this country will allow their Government to continue taking the same proportion of their incomes as they have willingly given up during the war, but suppose they do. Then we shall have a Budget which my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Summers) calculated at £2,200,000,000—I was going to suggest £2,100,000,000, so there is not much difference between us. Of that £2,100,000,000, we can guess that £1,000,000,000 will be required for debt service and defence. That leaves £1,000,000,000 for all other purposes.
What do we know of the commitments that we have already against that £1,000,000,000? I do not wish to weary the House with figures, but if any hon. Member cares to add up what we know already about the cost of war pensions, of the service of loans for housing and town and country planning, of education, of subsidies, either to agriculture or to keep down the price of food, of the health service, of Colonial development, of shipping, and other things of that kind, he cannot make the total less than £500,000,000. That will leave only £500,000,000, for social services and other odd items. I apologise for so much mathematics, but we are now in the region of something like an estimate. [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman laughs; but someone must make the estimate, and I am doing so now because I regard the Government as having neglected their duty in this respect. The White Paper says that for Part I alone we need from £350,000,000 to £460,000,000 in the 10 years when the scheme will operate. Add £20,000,000 for workmen's compensation, and finally £60,000,000 for payment in kind to school 1043 children. It is obvious that the Government have stretched to the limit the power of the taxpayer to contribute to this scheme, on any optimistic basis which we can reasonably adopt to-day. I think it can be done, but it would be very imprudent, on any such calculation, to do more.
I do not seek to carry the House with me in any form of mathematical accuracy. I seek only to establish this one point, that our finances are going to be so tight that it would be absolute folly to commit ourselves to unnecessary expenditure; and giving subsistence to everybody is spending money unnecessarily. That will mean laying out badly many millions of the taxpayers money. There are many vital projects, in which we are all interested, some of which would have to be shelved if we went in for a full subsistence rate of benefits with our present prospects. I, therefore, feel convinced that the Government have been right in saying, "So much we can guess will be available for social services. We will split that sum into two. By far the greater part we will use in creating a fund, so that we can give equal benefits for everybody on a reasonable level, and the rest we will set aside for the Assistance Board which will be there to plug the holes when they appear in the insurance scheme." That is the only prudent thing to do until we have repaired the damage of the war, and until the, national income is firmly established on a much higher basis than before the war. I am convinced that that time of economic prosperity is coming. As soon as it does, we shall have to improve this scheme.
In my judgment, one of the ways of bringing it about is to explain to the people of this country, a great deal more clearly than has been done up to the present, their economic and financial prospects after this war. I conclude with an appeal to the Chancellor to come down and tell us what are the prospects after the war, on the best knowledge that he can obtain, and not to shirk from telling us two plain truths—one, that the war has got to be paid for; and the other, that it can be paid for, and this scheme as well, but only with strenuous and united work, and in no other way.
§ 4.5 P.m.
§ Mr. Collindridge (Barnsley)
I have listened throughout this Debate from the 1044 time that the first word was uttered and generally speaking the tone has been splendid. The Debate has reached, up to the present, a very high level. If I have to except the combative interlude between the hon. and gallant Member for North Ayrshire (Sir C. MacAndrew) and my hon. Friend the Member for East Middlesbrough (Mr. A. Edwards), my comment on that would be that I think the hon. and gallant Member for North Ayrshire brought it on himself by feeling that our post-war position is not going to be advantaged in the measures we take to deal with the post-war period as a result of the sad experience we had after the last war. I give credit to hon. Members opposite in that they are, after that bitter experience, going to deal with things differently, but the hon. and gallant Member for North Ayrshire felt that we would go along in the same old bad way. As I listened to that speech, I wondered how our lads now fighting on the Continent against fearful odds would visualise a Member of the House of Commons saying they were likely to go back to the conditions that their people experienced after the last war.
I want to pay a tribute to the right hon. and learned Gentleman who introduced the plan to-day, largely because of his clarity: his explanation of it was splendid. It may be that we shall differ on some of the proposals that the Government have in mind in the White Paper, but the presentation of the case was good. It has been delayed many months, but we who may in some respects be critical must say that by means of this White Paper we are taking big steps forward in our social services. It may lead, and no doubt will lead, to a continuance of some anomalies unless we remove them in these Debates. There were the persons on short-term unemployment, long-term unemployment, the sick person, the invalid and the aged and we treated all differently, but they are now becoming entitled by means of the White Paper to not full equality but more equitable conditions.
There is this to be said—and I am sure the Government will agree—that it is better now to clear away some of the weaknesses of the White Paper rather than to accept the White Paper and have a repetition of long Debates, which are often a waste of time and effort owing to the bad treatment that we have meted out 1045 to the recipients of the social services. I want to join issue a little with the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles). I feel that there is strong justification for linking these payments to subsistence standards. Freedom from want is our ideal and we must have regard to how want comes about. It is because individuals and families lack the purchasing power to buy the things whereby they live. If we give them payments, and have no concern as to what these payments will buy, there will be weakness from the very foundation of the idea. Many people are crying out—and some hon. Members opposite are not exempt from this—for the abolition of the control of prices. We know by past experience that where there is a shortage of commodities with uncontrolled prices up go the prices of goods. There is full justification for saying that, unless we concern ourselves at this juncture with prices, we shall have in this House of Commons, even if we accept the White Paper as now printed, Debate after Debate, and the payments embodied in the White Paper will not meet the cost of living to which our people will be entitled to free them from want.
It has been defined that social security benefit should be so calculated that, at the current cost of living, it will provide the recipient with a basic minimum sufficient to keep him in a state of physical well-being. Do the Government deny that definition of the subsistence standard? It is an argument of hon. Members opposite that we cannot cater for that condition. I think it will be difficult but not impossible. I have had the advantage, with certain other hon. Members, of visiting other countries within the last few months and I feel that although that objective has not been fully achieved in these countries, at least steps advantageous have been taken towards it. In New Zealand social security is based upon subsistence standards and an increase in the cost of living entitles the recipients to increased consideration in payments. The New Zealand Government in 1942 decided on this principle legislatively. Where the cost of living increased 2½ per cent., the people who received those wages and State benefits were entitled to 5 per cent. advances in wages and benefits. What has been the effect of that? It is fair to say that the standards have not been raised so much 1046 because the impelling urge which has affected employers and the Government has been to keep the cost of living within reasonable limits I suggest at this juncture that, in deciding on this White Paper, with the huge cost involved, we should face the fact as legislators. If in allowing the cost of living to increase we were faced with increasing the social security payment, that would be the finest urge amongst all of us, without exception of party in this House, to keep control of the cost of living.
§ Mr. Summers
With regard to New Zealand, will the hon. Member agree that, in order to meet the objectives mentioned by the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles), to pay subsistence allowances to all would distribute a lot of money unnecessarily; and that in the New Zealand scheme the test of need plays a far greater part than it does in the Government's White Paper?
§ Mr. Collindridge
If my hon. Friend, whom I was happy to join in this tour of New Zealand—and we were so friendly en route—had allowed me, I was later in my speech going to refer to that scheme and the particular phase of it my hon. Friend has mentioned. Perhaps I had better deal with that now. The right hon. and learned Gentleman made a very brief reference to New Zealand and stressed the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Summers) mentioned, in this sentence, "That in New Zealand social security payments related to a means test." Let us see what they are. I give a brief outline of the scheme. Starting with contributions, there is a 5 per cent. levy on all income for contribution for social security in New Zealand for everybody. So we must start off with the idea that the tax burden of social security is thereby placed on the broadest back. In short, to the man with £5 a week, as compared with the man with £10 or £20, there is a less pro rata payment to social security. What are the benefits? My hon. Friend is partly right and so is the Minister, but they have not told the other half of the story. Superannuation benefits are not related in any way to income. There is at the moment the acceptance in New Zealand of the scheme of my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick (Sir W. Beveridge), namely, superannuation spread over the years of the future and increasing in benefits until 1047 a certain goal is reached. They started in 1940 with a £10 per year contribution to everybody of 65, increasing by £2 10s. a year until 32s. 6d. per individual is reached irrespective of the means of that individual or what he was doing, or what his income was at 65. There is a huge chunk of social security at the eventide of life without any means test whateyer.
The next benefit to the aged people starts not at 65, but at 60, and it gives to everybody at 60—I will come to the means test later—32s. 6d. a. week. That means that a man and his wife who are old age pensioners would receive £3 5s. a week in New Zealand. Let us see what the conditions are that my hon. Friend mentions, and which the Minister just briefly touched upon in his scheme, because the hon. and gallant Member for Spen Valley (Major Woolley) rather moved me. I think we have got to be reasonable in our antagonism to the means test. Frankly, I have always tried to adopt that. attitude. It was only because of the harsh and onerous conditions associated with the means test that we had the volume of protest in Britain that we did.
Let me quote one instance in my own division. There are two brothers in my division, both recipients of old age pensions. One came to the eventide of life at 65 without any resources at all. He had had bad luck, although it is fair to say that he was the sort of individual who liked a little of the pleasures of life, a drink of beer or a shilling on a horse—no disrespect to him for that; he was moderate. Some hon. Members may think that was the reason why he had no resources, but it really was not. There was the other brother who saved, never backed a horse, was a teetotaller and who, at the age of 65, had saved £400. Brother No. 1 received for himself and h s good wife a pension of 10s. each and then received the advantage of a supplementary pension, which made it into 35s., plus 12s. for rent, which gave 47s. and 3s. he received from the Yorkshire Miners' Association, was disregarded, thereby making 50s. He also had a disregard of 5s. from his colliery, which brought the total to 55s. Not too much as things go. The thrifty brother, who had had a little better luck, had £400 invested in the local co-operative society. The interest on that £400 was 4s. 7d. a week, so there was 1048 4s. 7d. added to the 10s. each—£1 for the couple—making 24s. 7d. altogether, got through frugality; but that frugality involved a denial of the right of those two people, who make up part of the backbone of Britain, to receive supplementary pensions. What a handicap to thrift.
Look at New Zealand. Disregards allow the man and his wife to have £3 5s. a week, to own their own house, and to have £1,000 invested, not in war stock, but anywhere—in a building society, cooperative store, the Post Office or a joint stock bank. Should we have much complaint in this country if we disregarded £1,000 of capital of working-class people? Not likely. In addition to that in New Zealand the individual can own his own house and he can receive money from any endowment insurance policy that may be paid to him after he is 60, whatever amount it may be, and he can have, in addition, an annuity for which he may have paid or which his company may have given him. Additional to all those disregards he can have £1 a week from any other source. A means test of that description is totally different from what we have here. I speak for myself, but I believe I shall carry a lot of people in the country with me when I say that if we had disregards of that description the means test would not be so bad.
I want to come now to the benefits for sick people and invalids in New Zealand. Any invalid or sick person in New Zealand gets 32s. 6d. a week and an additional 10s. 6d. a week for his wife and 10s. 6d. a week for each other dependant. Blind people, as mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for South Tottenham (Mr. Messer) not only get those payments, but are given a disregard. I listened with interest to my hon. Friend when he spoke about giving encouragement to those who are sightless and who feel that they are outside the pale at present. In New Zealand blind people are encouraged to train and to get a job that they can do. A man would receive 32s. 6d. a week, as I have said, plus 10s. 6d. for his wife and 10s. 6d. for each child, and is allowed to earn £3 a week without affecting his benefits at all. Widows without children get 25s. a week as a basic rate and are allowed to earn another £1 a week. If a widow has a child she gets 30s. a week and that 1049 child is paid for at the rate of 10s. 6d. a week and every additional child similar.
I do not want to take up too much time but I feel that, in fairness to a country which we all respect, a country whose men we were proud to have helping us in those dark days of 1940 in our Battle for Britain, I ought to say quite candidly that unless we had united and had their help at that time, there might never have been an opportunity for people to stand up for social security in the manner we are doing now. I will conclude, if I may, by saying that I have a feeling that in the matter of these retirement pensions there is a duty to accept what has been offered. I think this day is, in short, an investigation or clearing-house day, and that he to-day who is silent about things which he feels ought to be done, when he might have made his voice heard upon a particular point of view, will not have much complaint if the White Paper is accepted without improvement. That is why I have put, I hope, constructive points.
I wonder whether we could not have the vision at this juncture to recognise that a retirement age of 65 is, for some members of our community, a little bit late. I have done two types of job in my life. I have been a coal miner for many years, and, before I came to Parliament, I was a checkweigher, which is a sedentary job. The job of miner calls for the strength of the strong. Hearing and vision must be unimpaired in those who descend the bowels of the earth to get the nation's coal. In the other job a man has to be awake, but the stress and strain are less exacting. I want to ask this House whether we could have more vision and consider some scheme whereby the miners, who, after all, have rendered service under great difficulties, cannot be considered for pension at an earlier age. It has been done in other parts of the world. I saw Soviet Russia, in 1937, doing this. There was a pension scheme at 60 for everybody who worked on the surface, but, for those who descended the pit, pension started at 55, even in the lighter jobs, and those who worked at the coalface and had 25 years' service at the coalface were pensioned at 50 with three-quarters of the last year's wages. We want the dirty work of this country similar to mining which is fraught with so much hazard, done by somebody, and we have got to see that it is done, but we must make this arduous and dirty job, 1050 which none of us here want to do, much more attractive and acceptable to those upon whom we call to do it.
I suggest this. If we cannot do it by the White Paper and this plan, with our minds made up and schemes prepared, is it too much to ask that a scheme should be put forward to the two sides in the industry by the Government, such as is adopted in some countries, on the basis of a tripartite contribution from the employers, the workers in the industry, and the Government?
§ Captain Prescott (Darwen)
With regard to the retirement pension in old age, under the White Paper, when a person retires, if he earns anything above £1 a week, his income is reduced, but he may have any income from investments, which is entirely disregarded. Does not my hon. Friend think that that is the answer?
§ Mr. Collindridge
I must be candid. I was endeavouring to compare our two schemes. It must not be thought that I do not grasp with both hands this White Paper scheme. I have already said so in meetings I have addressed, and I shall continue to do so. If I am asked to choose between what there is now and the White Paper plan, I say I am 100 per cent. for the White Paper scheme, but, if I am asked to choose between the White Paper scheme and schemes which I know are much better than this, then it is my duty, on behalf of the people I represent, to put that point of view for improvement. I am not unaware that there are great costs associated with this. We have seen in this war that, with all its destructive waste in man-power and resources, people have, at least, been living on a higher standard than formerly, and I am not unaware of the inevitable rejoinder which may be made that there is a legacy of unpaid debt waiting for us. Maybe so; but I believe that the best way to meet that particular position is by deciding that we are not going back to the bad old state of things that existed between the two wars, in which we had a policy, not of high production and plenty, but of restriction. My hon. Friends on the other side of the House will accept me as being reasonable in this regard, when I say that while those restrictions brought on the disaster they did, they did one thing worse. When I talked to men in my own division and told them to 1051 do their jobs to win the war and increase production as much as they could, I could look in their faces and see the question, "We will do it, but, after this war, what then? Is it to be what we had between the two wars, or is it to be something better?"
Candidly, unless we are prepared to achieve a state of things which will prevent us having "sad, seething South Wales," or "neglected Newcastle" and "jarring Jarrow," and even my own "blighted Barnsley," where, with a population of 80,000, we had 10,000 unemployed—unless we can alter that system, we shall not only be unable to reach social security, but we shall be unable to preserve the harmony that we shall want for post-war reconstruction. Therefore, I ask my hon. Friends on all sides to get down to this question. I feel sure that there are responses in the Members of all parties in this House for tackling this question. I think the Debate will serve a good purpose and I ask my right hon. and learned Friend on the front bench to introduce speedy legislation to effect these changes.
§ 4.33 P.m.
§ Mrs. Cazalet Keir (Islington, East)
The general approval that has been given to the Government White Paper has shown conclusively how real, intelligent and deep-rooted the tremendous reception was which the public gave to the Beveridge Report nearly two years ago. I should like also to congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend who moved this Motion to-day on his very lucid and able speech. I think the Government have certainly made full amends for the rather unfortunate, or should I say peculiar, way in which they dealt with this matter when we last debated it in February last year. It is a great addition to the House on this occasion to have the hon. Member for Berwick (Sir W. Beveridge) as a participant in the Debate rather than only an interested spectator in the Gallery, as I remember him on the last occasion.
I would like to confine my remarks mainly to Part IV of the White Paper, which many of us hope the Government will see their way to implement at the earliest possible moment, as it has nothing to do with the insurance scheme. I suppose almost everyone welcomes the intro- 1052 duction of children's allowances, even if they do not agree with the actual amount, but I have often said that 5s., 6s., 7s. or even 8s. will not, in itself, bring about an increase in the birth rate, but there is very little doubt that, combined with steady employment, it will help to destroy a certain amount of anxiety amongst people who wish to have larger families. In reply to the Debate, I hope that the Minister of Education or the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be able to say quite clearly and definitely that these allowances are to be paid direct to the mother. In asking for this, I do not think we are losing sight of the wood for the trees, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman suggested in his opening remarks, because in paragraph 53 the Government seem to have attempted some sort of compromise on this question. It is true to say that there is almost universal agreement that it is both right and just that these allowances should be paid direct to the mother who, as we all know, is responsible for spending the money on the children. As the hon. Lady the Member for Dartford (Mrs. Adamson) said, is there any better way in which the Government could show that they intend to raise the status of the housewife and the mother than by paying these allowances to her as a right? One additional good reason which could be advanced for doing this is that employers are far less likely to take children s allowances into account in wage negotiations if their separate character is emphasised from the very start. I do hope that before the end of this Debate the Government will see their way to accede to overwhelming public opinion on this matter.
I do not intend to-day to argue about the amount of these allowances—whether they should be 5s., or 8s. as the hon. Member for Berwick suggested in his Report. Personally, I should have preferred a higher allowance and something paid for the school meals, but this is not the policy of the Government and, as far as I can ascertain, it is not the view of my own constituents. What we are anxious to know, and one or two hon. Members have referred to it, is more about the whole question of school meals and milk. I believe it is true that about 1,500,000 children in elementary schools are receiving these meals to-day, and there are somewhere between 4,000,000 and 5,000,000 children altogether. I 1053 think the Minister of Education said in answer to a Question the other day that he is planning a three-year programme to cover 75 per cent. of children. What additional benefits in cash will be given to those parents who do not get the school meals for their children? I know he would agree that it would be obviously unfair if there were two families each with, say, four children of school age, one living in the London area where school meals are given, and the other family living in another area where they are not given. They would both be receiving 15s. in actual cash allowance, but the one living in London would also be receiving 15s. worth of meals. I am calculating the meals at 9d., which I think the Minister, in answer to a Question in the House last September, said was the full cost. In fairness, it is quite obvious that some compensation in cash will have to be given until meals are made universal, and I hope the Government will say exactly what they have in mind for dealing with this matter. I wonder if they would also say if they have any particular scheme in mind for dealing with children under five. Are they also to get additional meals and milk? I am not absolutely clear whether the cost of £60,000,000 is calculated on meals for all schoolchildren in elementary and secondary schools in holidays as well as in term-time.
There is another point I would like to mention in connection with the maternity grant. Would the Government consider making the first maternity grant rather higher than £4? It is quite obvious that there is a fairly large initial outlay on equipment required by the mother for the first baby—the pram, the cot, and various other things—which can be utilised for subsequent children. I have had a number of representations on that point, and should be very grateful if the Minister would view it with sympathetic consideration. Another matter about which there is a great deal of feeling, and which was referred to by the hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. J. Grimston) in his maiden speech, is with regard to people who fall into Class II and who, as we have heard, pay 4s. 2d. but who will receive no sickness benefit until after they have been ill for four weeks. I know that is better than the so-called "Beveridge Scheme" by nine weeks, and the difficulties as to the cost and control are argued at great 1054 length in the White Paper. However, would it not be possible, if a person remains sick, say, for eight weeks, to reimburse him something for that first period, in the same way as the employed person is reimbursed for the first three days if illness lasts over four weeks?
Finally, could the Government say why, in paragraph 156, they hesitate about the desirability of establishing a statutory Committee to watch over the whole of this scheme? It seems to me that it is absolutely essential, for it does away with the bureaucratic plea that we hear so much about, and it assures us all of an independent annual report. It is, of course, true that to make our democratic system work properly in days of peace, we must get back to the party system. In fact, the Prime Minister has told us that we shall be returning to it once we have defeated Nazi Germany. I am equally sure, however, that the best way to make this social insurance work smoothly and effectively when peace comes is to get the maximum amount of agreement now between all parties of this House. I hope, therefore, that the main provisions of this Social Insurance White Paper will find their way on to the Statute Book before the next General Election.
§ 4.43 P.m.
§ Mr. W. J. Brown (Rugby)
When my mind goes back to the three-day Debate we had on the subject of the Beveridge Report some months ago, I must say that I expected to find the White Paper now before the House a very much less satisfactory document than I, in fact, do find it. I should like my first words to be words of congratulation to the Government on producing a distinctly better White Paper than many of us anticipated would be the case.
§ Mr. Brown
If my hon. Friend were to do that, he would be in great error because, during that Debate, I had the unfortunate experience of sitting throughout most of the three days and failing to catch your eye, Sir, so that whatever emotions and thoughts I may have had on the subject of the Beveridge Report were concealed from the House of Commons and would not, therefore, properly be now the subject of an apology by me. I want to commence by saying that this is a much better paper than certainly I expected, but I want to plead for certain improvements in it.
I think that at the outset one ought to say just a word on the question which dominates every Debate on social reform, namely, whether the country can afford the expenditure involved. Whenever that question is put I always wonder what lies behind it. I am certain that in some cases the question is insincere, when it is put by people who know perfectly well that we can afford it, but who find that query a very good alibi for refusing to face the responsibility involved in dealing with social problems. I do not suggest, however, that the hon. Member opposite, who spoke just now with considerable feeling, was at all insincere in what he said. I detected on his countenance, and in his grey hairs, no sign of insincerity but the symptoms of political innocence, and I am sure that in saying what he said he was completely sincere. But what he said rested upon three assumptions, none of which is true. The first assumption was that we are already producing to the maximum of our capacity; the second was that no improvement of production is possible; and the third was that technical progress has come to an end to-day, and will never get any further in our life-time.
Well, I affirm, first, that this country is not producing anything like the wealth it could produce if it was engaged to its full, capacity. When one reads that the cotton industry is 50 per cent. inefficient, when it could be made 100 per cent. efficient; when one knows the relative figures of efficiency in the aircraft industry in this country, as compared to that industry in America—which I will not reveal at this stage so greatly is the comparison to the disadvantage of our own country; when one recollects the state of the coal industry—is there one among us who 1056 would say that this country, either now or before the war, was producing anything like the total volume of wealth that it could produce? It has been pointed out that in the years between the two wars we had anything between 1,500,000 and 3,000,000 unemployed in Britain. How can any community which has that large number of unemployed be producing anything like the total amount of wealth that it could produce if its social arrangements were more sensibly run? Let me take another test, the test of the use of machinery. It is common knowledge that our resources of machinery in Britain were not being used to anything like 100 per cent, capacity. If one said that they were being used at 60 per cent. capacity of efficiency, then probably that figure would be higher than the actual facts of the case would bear out.
The second assumption is that technical progress has stopped. During this war we have learned so much, have experimented so much, and have discovered so much, that from that cause alone there ought to be a great rise in the wealth-producing capacity of this country when the war ends. As time goes on, all our experience shows, that further technical development renders completely out of date the estimates of a decade and a generation ago. So it is that while every time, over the last 100 years, whenever a social reform has been mentioned in this House, the query, "Can we afford it?" has been raised, experience has shown that the country can afford it, and does afford it, and that all the anticipations of the prophets go by the board. Knowing Governments in general, as I do, and Treasuries in particular, if they say that we can afford it then I regard that as a triumph of understatement.
§ Mr. Cove (Aberavon)
Will my hon. Friend tell me why, in view of all he has said about technical advances, the country cannot afford it?
§ Mr. Brown
Nobody knows better than my hon. Friend, who represents the teaching profession in this House, that if I attempted to answer that question I should be out of Order and incur your displeasure, Mr. Speaker. I refuse to incur your displeasure, Sir, much as I should like to discuss the issue that my hon. Friend has raised. Having disposed of that, I now wish to plead for more generous provision in certain respects. First of all, I am troubled about the drop in sickness benefit when a man has been on benefit for three years. Under the provisions of the White Paper he drops from 24s. a week to 20s. Any man who has been living on 24s. a week, or anything remotely resembling that sum, ought, at the end of three years to have an increase rather than a reduction. I am not asking for an increase now, but I am saying that the difference between 24s. and 20s. is so small that the Minister ought not to ask for that reduction at the end of three years.
The second thing that troubles me is this: When a man is not on benefit ho does not get the allowance in respect of his first child. That is regarded as the family's free contribution, so to speak, to the rise in the national birth rate. But when he is on benefit he does. Certainly, that is better than no benefit at all, but I am trying to point out that when a man is on benefit he has no spare cash resources to devote to his children, and that instead of giving only 5s. for the first child when the man is on sickness or unemployment benefit that figure ought to be at least 10s. To do that would cost about £15,000,000 a year, and inasmuch as the Government propose to make that amount of profit by not giving pensions on an age basis, but on a retirement basis, I think the country could well afford to meet this extra expenditure.
We had to-day from the Minister a magnificently clear and comprehensive speech. One thing that members of the legal profession are always to be complimented on is their clarity. I know of only one profession which is superior to the legal profession in that respect, and modesty forbids me to mention its name, although it is represented in this House by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. In his speech the Minister expressly repudiated the idea that the Government were proceeding on what he called a subsistence basis He gave very cogent reasons for 1058 arguing that a subsistence basis was extraordinarily difficult of application. Whatever benefits this White Paper gives ought to represent a certain purchasing capacity, which ought not be at the mercy of the variations in the cost-of-living figure. The whole conception underlying the Beveridge Report was that society ought to give, not so much £ s. d. a week, so much as a certain basic minimum standard of physical subsistence, which the hon. Member for Berwick (Sir W. Beveridge) measured, in terms of current prices, at such and such a figure. Some months ago the Chancellor of the Exchequer told us that the Government intended to allow the price level to rise by about five points, and in these days, when the Treasury pays enormous State subsidies in order to keep down the price of certain commodities, it is plain that to a degree at any rate it is within the power of the Government to control the actual cost-of-living figure. The temptation to Governments to control that figure in a sense which will make these benefits of less value than they appear to be on paper is too great for us to leave in existence.
§ Mr. Evelyn Walkden (Doncaster)
Does not the hon. Member's argument mean that the whole issue that he is referring to is bound up with the continuance, the effectiveness, the function and the future of control as we understand the application of control?
§ Mr. Brown
Again if I have failed to convey that, I have failed in clarity. It is within the power of the Government, within certain pretty wide limits, to control the actual cost-of-living figure, and one does not know in what direction that control will be exercised. But what I do know is that these figures would become meaningless if we find, as we may find, a very sharp upward movement in the cost-of-living index figure at a later date. And there are certain reasons for apprehending that we may. One is that we shall finish up the war with a national debt of £25,000,000,000. It is going to be very difficult for any post-war Government under the present system to service a National Debt of £25,000,000,000, on top of military expenditure and social services, with the pound at anything like the pre-war level. And as a matter of necessity the Government will be deliberately choosing. the path of inflation, though not uncontrolled inflation because 1059 the Government does not trust that motor car enough to want to see the brakes off completely. If anything like that happened, the subsistence figures which are at present represented by the money figures in this White Paper, would bear no relation whatever to purchasing power.
I should like the Government to agree categorically that these figures should be revised in the light of the cost-of-living figure from time to time. Do not let it be said that that cannot be done, or that if it is it will start a wages-prices spiral, because that would not be true. In Australia they have a system of fixing a minimum wage in each State, below which no adult person can be employed, and that minimum wage is revised from time to time on the basis of the cost-of-living figure. If they can do that, surely we can review these figures in the light of the cost-of-living figure, in order to ensure that these pretty inadequate figures should not become still more inadequate by reason of fluctuations in the cost of living.
May I say a word about the approved societies? Most of us have been badgered pretty heavily by them, and I fear for the moral stability, under pressure, of many Members of the House. There is an election coming along. It is astonishing how responsive we become to the possible feelings of the electors when there is a General Election not far off. It is the heart and kernel of the White Paper that the State must take over the approved societies, and every Member of the House, on whatever side, who genuinely values the White Paper, and the scheme that it represents, must set his face against the pressure which is used and will be exercised on us in that respect. Unless the approved societies are brought in the scheme substantially goes by the board. But I want to make a plea for the staffs of the societies. I regard it as utterly necessary that the societies should be taken over, but I think it would be equally wrong for us to say that we have no moral responsibility for what happens to their staffs. I hope the Minister will be able to find places for many of them in his new Ministry and that if he cannot find places for some of them in the new Ministry he will agree in principle that, having deprived them of their livelihood, we have a moral responsibility to compensate them for their loss. I hope we shall have a clear and comprehensive 1060 statement as to how the Government conceives itself to stand in relation to these staffs.
I want to reinforce one point that has already been made. I hope and pray that this scheme goes on to the Statute Book before the next Election. We are all more or less in contact with the Armed Forces. We have sons, brothers, relatives and the rest in them. One of the things that troubles me about the Armed Forces is the degree of political cynicism that is being expressed on all hands, not merely about the Conservative Party, which would be natural, but about all parties in the House and about the political structure generally. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the Independents?"] As far as I can gather, they shine in solitary grandeur.
It is bad for the country that the troops should have that mood of cynicism and despair about the House of Commons, about political parties, and about the future. It is in their minds that what is likely to happen with this White Paper is that it will be adopted in principle to-morrow night, but that there will be no legislation until after the General Election. Then, the election—during which the White Paper will be used as the carrot for the electoral donkey—safely negotiated, and legislation introduced, the process of whittling away will begin. It may be that suspicion is utterly unjustifiable. It may be that nobody has ever thought of putting this thing to electoral use—I say "it may be"—and that any such suspicion is an unworthy imputation. I would, however, like to see the suspicion given the lie by events. I say to all parties that the House could do no better thing at the present time to revive faith in Parliamentary democracy, than to see that this Measure reaches the Statute Book before the General Election, and not after.
I regard that as important on many grounds. When the war is over we shall feel social strains in Britain greater than anything we have been through. In housing we are going to have a most explosive social problem. I believe that the length of the war, its duration and its severity, must inevitably provoke corresponding social strains and stresses, and I would like us to get over them in an orderly disciplined fashion. An essential condition for that is belief on the part 1061 of the British people in Parliament and the instruments of democracy. Nothing could do more harm than any suspicion that this issue of social security, which is so important to the average man and woman, is being made the plaything of party politics. If that impression were to get abroad it would add materially to all the difficulties of the post-war period. I beg the Prime Minister, while the House is in its present position, and in the mood which all of us are in, to try in this problem to achieve the greatest possible measure of agreement between us, and to have it embodied in legislation, not after the next election has come and gone, but between now and then.
§ 5.9 p.m.
§ Sir Waldron Smithers (Chislehurst)
Some of my hon. Friends and I thought it our duty to put on the Order Paper an Amendment to the Government's Motion—in line 1, leave out from "House," to end, and add:while welcoming the aspiration to establish a solvent system of Social Insurance, declines to give its assent to proposals calculated to raise hopes which may not be realisable at a time when the financial and economic future of the country is in the melting pot, and until the millions of voters in His Majesty's Forces overseas can, through the medium of General Election, register their opinions.I have a difficult speech to make, and I ask the House to listen with patience. We want to make it clear that no criticism is implied of the war policy of the Government, and I can speak for myself when I say that there is no greater admirer of the Prime Minister than I am. The first duty of the House of Commons is to be the guardian of the public purse, and we should be failing in our duty if we did not examine every post-war Measure very carefully. I listened with care to the right hon. and learned Gentleman's speech, and I began to wonder whether he had lost all sense of responsibility. The right hon. Gentleman who was until recently Financial Secretary to the Treasury, speaking on 29th September, said he earnestly hoped that hon. Members would devote a good deal of thought and care in their speeches to the financial aspect of this matter. The House will forgive me if I carry out his wishes.
I ask the House to examine the background of the Government's proposals. I give the facts in short headings. Taking, roughly, the last 30 years, the social 1062 services have risen from £63,000,000 to passed or envisaged Measures of £1,400,000,000, so far as I can estimate. In the same period, and largely because of the cost of the social services, our trade balance has gone down from £207,000,000 plus to £53,000,000 minus. So we are £260,000,000 worse off. The National Debt has gone up from £661,000,000 to £24,000,000,000. Last July the Chancellor told us, in answer to a Question, that the pound sterling on certain bases was worth only 14s. 2d., and I am told that the purchasing power is still declining. The war is not yet over. The then Financial Secretary said on 29th September:We have been spending money at a colossal rate and using our capital resources without hesitation in the hour of our national need. Do not let us imagine that this can go on indefinitely. To do so would be to live in a fool's paradise.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th September, 1944; Vol. 403, c. 712.]The first words of the Introduction to the White Paper are:The first duty of Government is to protect the country from external aggression.If I were allowed to move an Amendment to that I would like to insert "and internal" after "external" and make the words read:to protect the country from external and internal aggression of extremists and ignorant people.What shall it profit Britain if she gain the whole world and Germanise her own soul?
The test of any scheme is, Will it work? I say that this scheme is unworkable, that it will break down financially and administratively, and that it is contrary to the natural law. The unknown factors are so great that the Government have no right to gamble and to raise hopes which cannot be realised. Let us wait for a General Election and put this question before the people. If they say, "Yes," the blood will be on their own heads. This Parliament has no mandate to carry out a controversial measure like this, and it ought to be left to the people to settle. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said in his opening speech, "Do not lead me into temptation." That old petition is still true now; the people are being tempted. Ninety per cent. of them do not know the first thing about invisible exports and international trade.
§ Sir W. Smithers
They do not know how the trade of this country was built up over 200 years under a system of individual private enterprise, and they do not know the rocks ahead. These things are vital to every home. We may soon, I hope and pray, be done with blood and tears, but toil and sweat will still be our portion. [Interruption.] However much hon. Members may laugh and jeer, I am determined to speak the truth as in me lies, because truth alone shall make our country free. My purpose in opposing or criticising these proposals is just as honourable as the purpose of those who support them. I seek the welfare of the poor just as ardently as those who support these proposals, and believe me or not, this Amendment was put down in their interests.
I have been called a reactionary. May I give one definition of the word "reactionary"? It is: "One who snatches another one back from the edge of a precipice." These proposals will have an effect the very reverse of that which is intended. Instead of providing social security, they will so undermine the position of Britain as to bring social insecurity. These proposals will make further demands on the earning capacity of the nation, and further reduce our ability to compete in the export markets. Mention has been made in the Debate of New Zealand and Australia, and their social services. New Zealand and Australia can do many things that we cannot do, for the one simple reason they are self-supporting, which we are not and cannot become. [AN HON. MEMBER: "And they have Socialist Governments."] You can try Socialist tricks in New Zealand but not here. May I mention one more country? Germany is a self-supporting country. After the last war Germany went bankrupt. Her internal currency was valueless, yet in the period between the two wars, she was able to feed her people and build up this awful war machine which has brought us these five years of misery.
§ Sir W. Smithers
Because she was self-supporting. That is the main reason. Britain is the one big country in the world 1064 that is not, and cannot become self-supporting. That is absolutely true. In order to exist we have to import from one-third to one-half our food and raw materials, in spite of the increase in production of food during the war. To import, we must export. We must export physical goods, because in the cause of freedom and liberty we have parted with most of our invisible exports and overseas investments. We have to export at a price which the foreign consumer can and will pay, or we go under, May I call the attention of hon. Members in all parts of the House to this fact? It is the consumer who always pays. He pays for the rates, taxes, and social services.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)
The hon. Gentleman is entitled to make his speech in his own way.
§ Mr. Buchanan (Glasgow, Gorbals)
On a point of Order. What are the interruptions? The other day the Prime Minister and other Members interrupted me for more than 10 minutes. The hon. Member has not been interrupted nearly as much.
§ Sir W. Smithers
The cost of social services must come out of industry, and must be a burden on industry, and the foreign consumer refuses to pay the cost of our social services when their costs are added to the cost of production, as they must be. When Lend-Lease and the princely gifts from Canada cease, one of the risks we in this country run is the risk of starvation. It is because of our social services policy of the last 25 years—which was meant to bring security—that we have placed ourselves in the greatest peril. After the war, when Lend-Lease stops, Mexico will not sell us oil, or Brazil coffee, or America beef, if we can only pay for them in Socialist slogans. It is true that we were the best consumers—
§ Earl Winterton
May I on a point of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, ask if those of us who differ from the hon. Gentleman's speech will be permitted to laugh, or will that be considered a breach of Order?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I think the Noble Lord has been long enough here to know the answer to that question.
§ Sir W. Smithers
It is true that for many years we were the best customer of the world, and everyone was glad to send us food and raw materials. But the world will not send food and raw materials here unless we can pay the bill. With regard to this further increase in the demands on industry, on taxes, and on contributions for social security, I would like to quote what Commissioner Lamb of the Salvation Army—not the hon. Member for Chislehurst—said the other day. His words were:The country has during the last decade spent over £1,000,000,000 on the relief of able-bodied men and women and got nothing for it but a heritage of misery and demoralisation.In the last 25 years there has been an increasing decline in our exports, notably in coal and cotton piece goods. Of course the war has worsened the position. For 15 months we stood alone, and risked everything, and saved civilisation. I would call the attention of hon. Members to pages 51 to 53 of the recent Board of Trade White Paper relating to the export trade of the United Kingdom. In 1938 our export trade to all countries was of the value of £470,000,000. In 1943 the total was £232,000,000. That has somehow or other to be caught up, before we can think about better times and conditions for our people. I ask hon. Members of all parties to face these facts with courage. Party slogans and political theories will not feed our people. Only hard work and production at the right price can do that. In a recent pamphlet issued by the Fabian Society entitled "A word on the future for British Socialists" it is stated:After the war Bulgaria, Norway, and even France might live largely on their own productions eked out by a modest proportion of international trade. They would live poorly, but just live. We, on the other hand, under such conditions could not live at all. … It is a mere mirage to suppose that we could exist on our own foodstuffs and our own domestic produce and our own domestically produced raw materials. In the past we have paid for these and other imports with our exports. But even before the present war we were no longer doing this on a sufficient scale. We were living on capital. If there had been no war we could not have gone on in that way indefinitely, and the very possibility of our continuing to live in that way has disappeared.1066 That is an amazing admission, coming from the Fabian Society. Of course the position has been made much more difficult by the increase in the building-up of war factories in the Empire and in foreign countries, which will be turned to peace production, and will thus lessen the demand for our manufactured goods. If we are to live, we must have elasticity and freedom in our business and trade, and not more and more compulsion and State control.
The social insurance proposals of the Government are proposals to organise poverty. The other day I was at a meeting in my division, and a very keen young Left-winger got up and said, "You gentlemen in the House of Commons are no fools; you. paid Sir William Beveridge to organise poverty." The late Mr. Ramsay MacDonald said of the 1931 crisis that it was not the distribution of wealth that was the problem, it was the existence of wealth. If it was true then, it is true to-day. The Amendment says that the future economic and financial position is in the melting pot. How can the Government put forward these tremendous proposals? I want to make one or two quotations. The first is from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. On 25th July, after telling me, in reply to a Question, what certain services were going to cost, he said:The remaining major services in this field are housing, for which no estimates of prospective commitments are yet possible, and war pensions, the cost of which will depend upon the future course of the war."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th July, 1944; Vol. 402, c. 590.]The national resources are limited; there must be priorities; and I say that it is wrong for the Government to promise so much, when they are not in a position to say definitely that they can carry it out. No sensible man would say that he knew what the future financial position of the country will be. We have no means of finding out what the ultimate cost of this war will be. The country is still in danger. The danger to its physical life has not passed, unfortunately. The danger to its commercial life has still to come. We shall need all the foresight we have if we are to rebuild our commerce. From the commercial danger of the nation there follows the danger to all those hopes of a better world which depend on the solvency 1067 of our national finance. Those are words spoken by Lord Woolton, the Minister of Reconstruction.
I have read the White Paper carefully two or three times. Uncertainty is the theme. The words "a mosaic of detail" are used and paragraph 33 describes the scheme as "a change of very great scope and consequence." Can the Government say what the estimated cost will be? It is a waste of time for Government officials to prepare statistics, in pounds, shillings, and pence, when no one can say what the purchasing power of those pounds, shillings, and pence is to be in future. On page 39, the White Paper says, with regard to the basis of their unemployment figure, that it isa notional figure of 8½ per cent. of insured persons out of work.Then they say that "this needs explanation"; they "hope it will be lower." This scheme, which will affect every man, woman, and child in the country, one of the biggest schemes ever introduced, is based on a notional figure. You could not run a fish-and-chip shop on a notional figure.
I turn to the Government Actuary's Report—paragraph 37. I ask hon. Members to read it. I will quote only a few of the uncertainties. He says:The estimates … are necessarily based on peace-time conditions. … It is impracticable at the present time to attempt to measure with any precision the changes which may occur. … Further, the war is not yet finished, and it is impossible to assess the extent of future casualties. Many of these changes will, no doubt, have direct or indirect consequences which may materially affect—I would ask hon. Members to listen to this:—the realisation of the estimates.He gives three instances:(1) The future level of unemployment and the proportions of the unemployed who will be entitled to unemployment benefit … (ii) the future level of sickness, in respect of which conditions will differ radically … (iii) the effect on the cost of pensions of making the grant of pension dependent on retirement from work.On page 57, the Government Actuary goes on to say:It will be appreciated that the actual experience, when the new scheme has been brought fully into operation, may prove to differ materially from the assumptions made.1068 Yet, with that report of the Government Actuary, the Government bring in these proposals. I ask hon. Members to read paragraph 37 most carefully before coming to a decision. It is the most honest paragraph in the whole of the White Paper. We ought to be thankful that we have a Government Actuary who is independent and cannot be brought to book. The whole scheme stands condemned by paragraph 37. The enactment of these proposals should be postponed until we know better where we stand. I understood that there was a proposal that after the war we should have a four-year plan. Then we should know what the National Debt would be, and what our liabilities would be. To introduce these proposals now is a terrible mistake.
Goods and services must be made available at the right price before they can be equitably distributed, and the standard of living must be determined by the size of the national income, measured in real terms. Paragraph 186 says:When the new scheme is in operation it will be for the nation to respond by a fresh burst of that creative energy which has marked the greatest periods of our history and is vitally necessary in the years now before us.That paragraph is one of the gleams of light in the whole proposal, for here the Government, composed of members of all parties, admit that capitalism, private enterprise, individual freedom, has been the reason of our success in the past; and they say that it is vitally necessary in the years now before us. Yet they introduce proposals to undermine creative energy. With incentive and initiative strangled, what guarantee is there that our people will make the efforts which are necessary to produce the goods and to render the services at a price which the consumers will and can pay? If they do not the whole scheme falls to the ground, and we are—
§ Sir W. Smithers
No, much worse than where we were. We are then faced with the risk of starvation. Up to date the evidence is all to the contrary. Higher wages and more security are resulting—and hon. Members opposite know this—in a diminution of output, notably in the coal and building trades.
§ Sir W. Smithers
Ask the Minister for Fuel! The T.U.C. advocates a 40-hour, five-day week, with no reduction of earnings and with holidays with pay. I would like to ask responsible trades union Members of Parliament, What is the economic basis for that claim? Why not advocate a 24-hour week and have done with it?
§ Sir W. Smithers
Everyone welcomes the efforts that are being made to secure a more neighbourly spirit among the nations of the world, but nothing can overcome the fact that some nations produce that which others cannot, and that some are in cold, and some in warm climates. The harvest may be good or bad in different parts of the world. The steam-roller of the law of supply and demand always leaves us on the hard highroad of reality. The Minister of Reconstruction has recently said that the future, as he sees it, is not going to be a bed of roses for any class in this country. The only thing that these proposals do not insure against is laziness. When our men on the sea, on the land and in the air are dying that we may live, here we have men going on strike in different industries for the most trivial reasons; they are very often unofficial strikes. When the men come home they will have something to say.
§ Sir W. Smithers
We are fighting this war for freedom, and I beg hon. Members not to lose it to the bureaucrats at home. These proposals indicate, more and more, State control. You cannot compel a man to work. You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make him drink.
In the Government Actuary's Report on page 44 are given the rates of benefits in shillings and pounds a week and the estimated expenditure in millions of pounds. What sort of pounds? What are they going to be worth? If this rake's progress, this expenditure, goes on, it is absolutely certain the purchasing power of the pound sterling will go down and down, and no one knows where it will stop. Contribu- 1070 tions will be more difficult to collect and will be worth less. If they are collected there will be, I foresee clearly, demands and strikes for higher wages to meet not merely the contributions, but the increased cost of living. Is it proposed that the benefits will rise and fall with the rise and fall in the cost of living? If so, we shall get into what we know as the vicious spiral. It has been pointed out in the Debate that some of these contributions will be a very heavy burden on some small householders. In Appendix III it says:The payment of contributions due will be enforceable by legal proceedings.Suppose the people say, "We do not want to pay these contributions" and there is a kind of sit-down strike; it may lead to very serious social disorder.
The Government are in this position. They may have to come to this House in a few years' time, if these proposals are enacted with a big Budget deficit, and say, "We are sorry, we cannot pay it except in depreciated pounds"—pieces of paper that you cannot wear and cannot eat". Instead of being a lifebuoy, which many people think the proposals are, they may well be a millstone round our necks. Since I put this Amendment down I have received a mass of correspondence and the bulk of the people write, "We do not want these schemes. We would rather make our own arrangements and go to the friendly and approved societies." In paragraph 157 reference is made to the fact thata wide network of local offices will be established".That simply means the setting up of more bureaucrats throughout the country to inquire into our daily lives and to register us, and it means the setting up of local Hitlers everywhere. In the rural districts there will be great hardships if the house-to-house visiting which is at present done by approved and friendly societies is stopped. Many people will have to go six to 12 miles into the various towns and wait in a queue to see Government officials. We have had enough of this during the war.
§ Sir W. Smithers
I want to call attention to paragraph 16 on page 62, which says: 1071Disputes on liability to contribute … will be determined by the Minister, who will have the right to submit the question for decision to the High Court. …Unemployment benefit. Decisions will be taken in the first instance by Insurance Officers.Sickness, invalidity and maternity benefits. … Decisions will be taken in the first instance by Insurance Officers.Pensions and widow's and guardian's benefit … will be decided by the Minister subject to appeal to the … High Court on questions of law.Here we are, with open eyes, going to set up these officials all over the country. The Government answer that they may have no real power, but we all know what tremendous power they really have. I want to ask one or two questions before I sit down. Can the Minister who is to reply tell us how much staff will be required at central headquarters and throughout the country, and is there an assurance that sufficient experienced staff will be available? And what will be the cost? Will the benefits be liable to Income Tax and will the contributions be allowable as an expense in calculating liability for Income Tax purposes? There has recently been issued a new Exchequer Bond of 1¾ per cent., less tax. I understand that the actuarial calculations for these proposals are worked out on the basis of interest at 3 per cent., free of tax. Will the Chancellor of the Exchequer prepare a revised estimate on a basis of 1¾ per cent., less tax? On the general outline in this increase of Government control Dean Inge has said:The right to life and liberty and the enjoyment of property lawfully come by and conscientiously used have for 2,000 years been regarded as the natural rights secured by the Law of Nature which is older and more sacred than any human enactments. A Government which transgresses these natural rights has no moral claim on the obedience of its citizens.If we heard the Government say they were going to abolish the law of gravity, we should say they were mad, but it is an equally flagrant breach of the natural law to say that things will not be very hard after the war, and that we can have more security and more ease then. That is not true. State control can only be kept in being by force, and the same forces and the same tendencies that are at work here to-day, were at work in Germany 25 years ago. Hitler is the inevitable result of Socialism. If people 1072 disagreed with him, he cut their throats, and when too many people disagreed, he had to go to war to unite the country. It is Germany's fate which we are in some danger of repeating.
My last word is this. The Prime Minister on 3rd September, 1939, said:We are sure that these liberties will be in hands which will not abuse them, which will use them for no class or party interests, which will cherish and guard them, and we look forward to the day, surely and confidently we look forward to the day, when our liberties and rights will be restored to us, and when we shall be able to share them with the people to whom such blessings are unknown."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd September, 1939; Vol. 351, c. 296.]On 21st November, 1940, the Prime Minister said:Parliament stands custodian of these surrendered liberties, and its most sacred duty will be to restore them in their fulness when victory has crowned our exertions and our perseverance. "—[OFFICAL. REPORT, 21St November, 1940; Vol. 367, C. 26.]Yet the Government are introducing proposals which increase State control, and are fastening more and more shackles on to us when we are fighting the war abroad to remove shackles from other people. An outstanding feature of the broadcasts from the liberated peoples of Europe was that they were free. They were not worried too much about the loss of their material possessions. They were free.For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?
§ 5.49 P.m.
§ Mr. Hynd (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
The Minister this morning, in introducing this scheme to the House, drew a very striking contrast—as it was intended to be—between the situation in the House to-day, in relation to the proposals for social progress, and the situation in 1790 something or other, when Mr. Pitt first suggested children's allowances. But it is evident from the speech we have just heard, that the contrast is not complete, and that we still have those voices from the past among us to-day. I think the reception given to the last speech—deplorable as it might be from the point of view of Order—is indicative of the fact that the House of Commons has certainly developed somewhat from those days.
§ Mr. Hynd
However, what has been said by the hon. Member for Chislehurst (Sir W. Smithers) is, after all, merely a straightforward expression of what is in the minds of only too many in this House even to-day, because, as has repeatedly been said, on every occasion when any advance is social arrangements was proposed, we inevitably have this question of the unnatural defiance of the natural laws, and the ability, or inability, of the country to afford this or that Measure. When the hon. Member for Chislehurst talks of these natural laws in terms of the 48-hour week, a minimum standard of wages, and so on, he just leaves anybody with any concern for economics, orthodox, or otherwise, gasping because it is very difficult, if not impossible, to apply one's mind to such fantastic suggestions. I shall be interested to hear from any hon. Member on what natural law the 48-hour or the 50-hour week, or a minimum wage of £2 10s. or £5 a week has ever been established, or how it can be contended that any infringement of these limits is a breach of the natural law. That kind of policy, apparently, indeed quite obviously, still persists in certain quarters.
We had it expressed in more moderate form by the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles) when he said that our aim must continue to be the original aim which this White Paper does not now pretend to express—freedom from want. It is true that that was the original intention of the scheme which was prepared by the gentleman who is now the hon. Member for Berwick (Sir W. Beveridge), but the hon. Member for Chippenham while submitting that freedom from want must continue to be our objective suggested that our resources did not permit of our achieving that objective to-day.
Here we have the fundamental difference in the approach to this question by different mentalities in this House. The question of what our resources permit to-day is not, in my submission, a question of balanced Budgets, or closely calculated estimates of what the country's financial position may be after the war. The resources of the country to-day are the total amount of output of total resources of all kinds available for distribution among the people, and, as has already been said, it is precisely at times When these resources are in short supply 1074 that it is most necessary, and most desirable, that there should be the maximum amount of sharing out. In fact, it is because of the acceptance of that very policy that we have been able to survive these five years of war when, in fact, our resources have been at the very lowest ebb.
I do not want to be led too far into discussing the various arguments that have been put up on this question of cost, but two or three hon. Members on the other side who have spoken have insisted upon it so much that it is desirable that some of their points should be replied to. The hon. Member for Chislehurst, again, made very great play of the fact that it is impossible to-day for anyone to estimate precisely, or even approximately, what our financial position is likely to be after the war. The hon. Member deduced that it is impossible—and indeed that it would be a national crime—to proceed with these proposals, or with any measure at all of social insurance or social security. He objected to any increase in wages; he objected to reduction of hours on the same basis. Surely, that argument means nothing more nor less than that unless and until we can correctly assess the financial position of this country, at any time after the war, we must proceed to abolish all our social services, reduce wages to a minimum, or abolish them altogether, and increase hours. If that is rejected, then, obviously we have got to make the best of the circumstances as far as we can foresee them and proceed accordingly.
The same argument was used by the hon. Member for Chippenham when he suggested that the whole question of the possibility of this scheme must depend upon how much the Treasury will have at any stated period after the war. The hon. Member has apparently overlooked and forgotten the epoch-making discovery which the Government expressed in the White Paper on full employment, that full employment—which, incidentally, is one of the fundamental conditions on which this social insurance scheme depends—in turn depends on the amount of money that is in the hands of the people to buy the products of industry. That is accepted by the Government in the White Paper, and, if that statement is correct, then I do not think we have to worry about how much the Treasury will have.
§ Vice-Admiral Taylor (Paddington, South)
Is it not necessary, for full employment, to have a very large increase in our export trade?
§ Mr. Eccles
My hon. Friend rather misunderstands my argument. I did take into consideration that we would have full employment, or nearly full employment. The national income which I assumed in my calculation was over £7,000,000,000, as against £4,250,000,000 before the war. With this in view, and assuming that the Government policy of full employment is carried out, with a scale of taxes as we know them to-day, we should still only have a Budget of £2,300,000,000 or something of that sort. I beg my hon. Friend not to think that I am pessimistic about our policy to achieve a high and stable level of employment.
§ Mr. Hynd
The hon. Member for Chippenham did make the suggestion that, at least to some extent, this scheme would depend upon how much was available to the Treasury, at a particular time. I am submitting that the answer to that is how much is in the taxpayers' pockets, which depends necessarily on the amount of employment, and what a man gets in the way of wages or social security of in any other form, because it is from that that the money is spent. It is, therefore, from that basis that production is developed and consumption encouraged and so on, and the idea that we can deal with this purely human question of human needs from the point of view of advance actuarial calculations as to the position in the post-war world, is one which I do not accept and which I do not think many hon. Members on this side of the House accept. It is, in fact, denied by our whole experience of social legislation in this country.
1076 As has been said in almost every speech from this side, whenever this question is raised, as in 1939, when a small increase was suggested for old age pensioners, we were told that we were taxed to the limit and that a small increase in the pension would have brought our financial structure about our ears in ruins. Within a few months of that Debate, I believe, we were passing a Supplementary Vote of Credit for £1,000,000,000 on top of the Budget, and, in another few months, one for another £1,000,000,000, and we have proceeded like that from time to time throughout the war and no question has been raised. I do not want to be taken too far into this question about the financial basis, because there are so many points in connection with this scheme that it is impossible to go over them all in the course of a single speech.
Before dealing with the particular point which I wish to emphasise, I would say that the primary consideration of hon. Members on this side of the House is that the scheme should be placed on the Statute Book at the earliest possible moment. Any criticisms or suggested modifications from this side are made in the hope that it will be possible to embody them in the scheme, and not in any way as meaning that the scheme should be delayed in the slightest because of such suggestions. Many aspects have been suggested for modification, and all with more or less justification, but there is one which I think has not yet been sufficiently emphasised and which is, in my opinion, the most urgent of all. That is the question of the retired worker. I submit that he is in a special position. It is true that the Government scheme is better than the scheme of the hon. Member for Berwick in certain respects. In respect of the old age pensioner it will be accepted with acclamation throughout the whole country, that the proposal, in the original Beveridge scheme, of shutting out from full benefit the entire present generation of old age pensioners has been dispensed with in the Government scheme. But, even with that improvement, I submit that the Government rates show no relationship to the real needs of the old age pensioner.
I know it has been suggested by the Minister that this is not intended to be a subsistence scheme, but, at the same 1077 time, it is clear from the fact that the rates have been generally standardised at 24s. and 40s. for a couple, that the intention is to provide some kind of a bare subsistence level for people with no other resources. The fact is, in regard to the old age pensioner, that he is being paid actually less than the man who is out of employment through sickness or for other reasons, and that, in spite of the fact that—in my submission—the situation of the man temporarily unemployed through sickness or other reasons is much less acute and much less serious than that of the man permanently unemployed through old age. After all, the man who is off for two or three months, or even a few years, on account of sickness or other reasons, has always, at least, the prospect that when he does resume work he may be able to make up for it and repay some of the debts which he has had to incur in his struggle through that difficult period.
The retired worker is not in that position. The retired worker is finished. The retired worker has to pay all his expenses currently and, if he borrows money, he has no further income when he returns to work in order to meet his borrowings. And yet the anomaly remains in the White Paper that not only does the officially retired worker not get an additional benefit over his more fortunate colleagues, but actually gets less because the proposal is that as against the 24s. and £2 for the sick and unemployed worker, the retired worker is to be paid only £1 and 35s. I presume the Government answer to that will be that there is an additional value in the fact that this is more or less a permanent payment for the remainder of the retired man's life. Again, there may, be a certain actuarial justification in arguments of that kind, but in dealing with a scheme like this, which after all is based entirely on real human needs, purely actuarial calculations must be modified in certain directions.
It may be suggested, again, that the needs of the aged person are less than those of the young or middle-aged. I rebut that completely. In fact, I would be prepared to submit that in a properly organised, sensible society, it is precisely the old and feeble worker and his wife who should be given the priority for such comforts as first-class carriages on railways, who should be given the first call 1078 on and the ability to pay for, if necessary, such things as taxi-cabs. After all these are the people who need that kind of thing. Yet these are precisely the people whom you see crowded into the most uncomfortable corners of third-class railway corridors, if they travel on the railways at all, or stumbling along the sidewalks of the street, while the more physically capable are rolling by in taxis. I realise that is fantastic, Utopian, and probably amusing to most hon. Members of this House, although it appears to me the most natural and sensible arrangement in any society, and I do not pursue it.
I submit, however, that from the point of view of the very humble creature comforts, the needs of the elderly retired worker and his wife are much greater than those of the young and more virile. He needs warmer clothes and more coal to keep him warm, more transport—even if only on trams, trolley buses and omnibuses—and he has to be able to afford this if he is to have any kind of comfort at all. I submit, too, that when a man has done 50 years' work in the pits or factories or on the railways, he has certainly earned, at least, that very bare measure of comfort from the nation. It is because of these points that I submit quite seriously that the retired worker is in a very special position, and I hope the Government will give this special consideration, even over and above those other and, as I have said, in some cases justified claims, that have been made for particular sections, for the modification of what must be considered anomalies. The aged worker, however, is the man who has built up the prosperity of this country and the power of the British Empire. He is the man who has made it possible for us to consider submitting a social insurance scheme in this Parliament today, and in view of the fact that he is in such a situation, the Government should, at least, consider giving him not less than his colleague who is temporarily laid off work because of sickness or ordinary unemployment.
There is one further point in connection with the position of old age pensioners which I wish to mention. That is the fact that the provisions in this scheme for the old age pensioner are—unfortunately in my opinion—directed towards driving the pensioner back to work after he has 1079 reached pensionable age. I think that is contrary to the whole spirit of the White Paper and to the whole conception in which this proposition was approached in the first instance. The party to which I belonged in 1937 produced a scheme of pensions which, broadly, was comparable with the scheme outlined in the White Paper, but, contrary to this provision for driving people back to work after they should have retired, and after they should have the opportunity of enjoying at least a little rest in the twilight of their days the basis of that scheme was to encourage these people to retire from work. If we are to deal seriously with the question of full employment after the war, I suggest that is a more sensible approach even if you rule out entirely the human considerations which I have mentioned. I think the Government will probably realise that this discrimination against old age pensioners in the rates of benefit, the attempt to drive old age pensioners back to work when they are really beyond it, when they should not be driven back to work—that this particular section of the White Paper is the least encouraging and might even be regarded as the most serious blot on a proposition which has the generally enthusiastic support of the country and the House, with one or two very manifest exceptions.
It is a scheme which has been broadcast all over the world, a scheme which falls very far short, I agree, of the original conception mentioned in the Atlantic Charter—freedom from want. The Minister has assured us that it does not represent that idea but, nevertheless, we went to the I.L.O. Conference at Philadelphia and assured them that we intended to implement that phrase in the Atlantic Charter by a social security scheme. This social insurance scheme falls very short and the Minister, in opening, made a modified apology for that fact. But because we are so anxious to get it on the Statute Book, in some form or another, if only as an acceptance of our responsibility to those fellows who are over in France, and Italy and Burma to-day, and their dependants at home, in spite of its shortcomings, we are prepared to give it our wholehearted support. I submit, however, that if there is a serious blot in the general make-up of this scheme, it is that in regard to the old age pensioners, and I earnestly appeal to the Government to consider that very seriously.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir Ian Fraser (Lonsdale)
Considering the shrewdness and financial wisdom with which wage earners have for so long built up and managed their friendly societies and their trade unions, it astounds me that Members of the Labour Party, who claim, with little justification, especially to represent them, should be so touchy when anyone from any corner of the House asks Parliament to consider what something will cost. Now every shrewd manager of every business, public or private, and every shrewd manager of his home, must take into account what a thing is to cost, and any Government which neglected to take such matters into account would be guilty of negligence. I do not myself take the gloomy view which the hon. Member for Chislehurst (Sir W. Smithers) took about this matter, though I confess that when the proposals before us to-day are added to all the other proposals which are in train for consideration and action during the next few years, I am bound to ask myself not whether we can afford it, but whether we have the labour, materials and resources to carry them all out. I am in full support of this particular scheme, and I agree with the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown) that it would be politically wise to carry it through and bring legislation to completion before the next General Election. I will not take up time developing the argument for that. I think it can be put in just one sentence, that it would be a pity to make a matter like this, about which such great expectations have been raised, a principal factor in a large election with the parties bidding each other up, and the electors feeling that the Government had not all the time been sincere in their desire to bring about this scheme.
I think it is a sensible scheme, and that it is proper and right for all our people to combine to take care of those who are old, unemployed or young. I do not think that that necessarily suggests the regimentation or "Germanising" of our people, as my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst seems to believe. We are surely wise to concert our efforts to look after those who, from time to time, will fall on evil days. I welcome the proposal for a single payment, a single card, a simple system which can be worked. As to the question whether it can be afforded, surely the answer is 1081 that if the nation is to be poor after the war then there will be all the more reason for sharing, so far as we can, what commodities and goods and services are available. But if, on the other hand, the nation is to be prosperous then there will be built up, by these contributions, a substantial fund which will enable higher benefits to be paid as the years go by.
Much was said by my hon. Friend about our starving if our export trade is not revived. I do not think any of us would dissent from that, but while there was a risk that we might starve during this war it did not occur to any of us not to divide our foodstuffs equally among us. The money represented by old age pensions or sickness allowances is, after all, only a share of what we taxpayers are willing to give to those classes of people who receive them. If we are to be poor then I hope, myself, that the children, the sick and the old will at least be provided for as decently as may be. To concert our efforts now to plan for dividing what there may be in a reasonable manner does not seem to be as crazy as my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst would have us believe. On the contrary, I welcome this scheme; I think it is well thought out, and I hope it will go on the Statute Book without undue delay.
I have one or two points, or criticisms, to make. The first is in the form of a question about disabled ex-Service men. I, and others, have complained from time to time that the pensions paid to disabled ex-Service men are, in many respects, not adequate, and remain inadequate for those who are unable to work. But for those disabled ex-Service men who can work, and who can, therefore, make contributions to a scheme of this kind, and who can enjoy its benefits when they fall out of work, or become old or sick, for them, if the social service benefits as a whole were added to their inadequate pensions, they might not be so badly off. The Government might have gone some way towards meeting some aspects of the arguments we have put before them as to the inadequacy of war pensions. I submit to the House that he who, pays a contribution must be entitled to draw equivalent benefit. It is the essence of this scheme that there should be one contribution for each class. I am not asking 1082 that there should be any variation of that, because it is administratively necessary and desirable that there should be one contribution. But, as I have said, he who pays a contribution should draw equivalent benefit. So, if a disabled man gets a job—and Parliament has declared its intention, under the Disabled Persons Act, of getting him a job—and if he earns wages and comes into the scheme, and pays a full contribution, will he, or will he not, draw full benefit? I think the Government should give a clear answer to that question before the end of the Debate.
I turn to another special class of people—the blind. There has developed in this country a system whereby local authorities have special committees to look after blind people, who have been treated exceptionally—I will not say exceptionally well but exceptionally in the sense that they have been treated differently from others who are poorer. These special committees have given to blind people what is called domiciliary assistance. There are many cases where domiciliary assistance is, in fact, substantially higher than the allowances which would be given to blind people under this scheme. I believe that the House will feel that at least no blind person should get less as a result of the introduction of this Measure of social reform, and I hope the Government will declare that that is the case, and will make the necessary adjustments to ensure that that is the case. The hon. Member for Berwick (Sir W. Beveridge), in his Report, proposed that there should be a special disability pension for civilian blind people, the theory being one with which I must cordially agree, because even though a blind person is in full work the handicaps of blindness remain. It handicaps his way of life, the carrying out of his job, and the enjoyment of many of the amenities which other people enjoy. Many of the public amenities provided by the taxpayers for themselves are not to be enjoyed by those who are blind, although they pay the same taxes, and, therefore, I welcome that proposal in the Report. It has now disappeared from the Government's White Paper, and I would like to know why.
I am glad that any idea of treating the agricultural industry separately on a lower basis has been abandoned alto- 1083 gether. There was a time when that industry paid smaller contributions and received lower benefits. That has gone by. Let us hope that the Government will see to it that the agricultural industry is able to afford what, after all, is a very substantial contribution which has to be made, both by the agricultural worker out of his wages and by the farmer on behalf of his men. Do not let those of us who represent agricultural constituencies plead for any reduction. Rather let us urge the Government to make the best possible efforts for that industry to pay a full contribution so that the people in that industry can enjoy full benefits.
Finally, this is an act of faith. After the war we shall go into the future, as a result of the hardships, shortages and rationing that we have shared with our neighbours—I shall, at any rate—sensitive to the fact that in the past many of us have not been aware, or if we were aware of it have not been sensitive of it, that a great many of our children were not properly fed and that a great many of our old people were living in conditions which were a disgrace. I hope it will be true that our taxpayers, rich and poor, will be willing to go on paying higher taxes than in the past in order that the least fortunate among us, the old, the sick and the crippled, may be better cared for than they have been between the two wars. It is in the belief that our country means to do that, and that it can do it by hard work and good living, that I meet the very great cost of this proposal with equanimity and wish the Government good luck and all speed in bringing it into effect.
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Rhys Davies (Westhoughton)
I welcome the tone of this Debate. There has been a great change in my time in the attitude of mind of the House of Commons towards social insurance. I have not heard a single word uttered to-day to the effect that the employer cannot afford this plan. It has been alleged, of course, that the State may not be able to bear its own contribution, but it has never been seriously argued that the employer cannot, and that is a very great advance in thought. Neither have I heard it suggested to-day that we should not expand our social insurance 1084 services because there are so many people who are too ready to impose upon them. I can remember most if not all these social insurance schemes coming into operation. I well remember, for instance, the first Workmen's Compensation Act, and the argument put forward then, which has nearly all disappeared and was never mentioned in this Debate, was that so many people would malinger and exploit the funds. I can assure the House, as one who has administered social insurance benefits for 35 years, that the number of people who try to impose on these mutual aid funds is too infinitesimal to bother about in any actuarial calculations.
I confess that I am hopelessly biased in regard to what my right hon. and learned Friend is going to do with widows under this scheme. Over 20 years ago I moved a Motion in favour of widows' pensions, and I disagree entirely with his attitude in abolishing them. [Interruption.] After a given period you are abolishing the pension of the widow where there are no children.
§ Sir W. Jowitt
We are not abolishing any pensions. Every existing pension is continued, but we are not giving pensions to young women without children after 13 weeks.
§ Mr. Davies
I want to ask my right hon. and learned Friend if he will, reconsider this point, because under this plan a childless widow when the 13 weeks have elapsed after the death of her husband, will receive training in the hope that she may be able to get a job. As far as my constituency is concerned, the only job for the vast majority of widows who would lose this benefit after 13 weeks is the wash tub, and I object to that. I understand that the pension of a widow whose husband dies on the battlefield, however, continues whatever her age, whereas if the same man dies in industry his widow's pension stops after 13 weeks. I feel very deeply on this problem.
Let me say something in connection with insurance as such. My experience goes to show that when contributions are paid, either by the employer and the employed with or without State subsidy, or in a tri-partite agreement as in this plan, the benefits are payable as a matter of right, but when there is no contribution the State and the municipality invariably 1085 impose some test of means when paying benefits. The hon. Member for Berwick (Sir W. Beveridge) has performed excellent service in elevating this problem of compulsory mutual aid among the working people as he has done in his Report. This is, of course, compulsory mutual aid. When hon. Gentlemen talk about thrift, let me say from my experience that what compulsion by the State does is not so much to destroy the element of thrift, but to compel the few who are thriftless to prepare for the rainy day that must inevitably arrive. To that extent compulsion is all to the good in their own interests.
I understand that all the assets of the approved societies and the total amount now in the unemployment insurance fund will go into one pool under this scheme and that all benefits will be payable out of that pool. If that be so, will the actuarial calculations, mentioned in the White Paper, be based upon the whole assets and liabilities of these schemes, or will there be a separate valuation in respect of each of the benefits? I ask that because I can never believe that there is an actuary in the world, however clever, who could provide calculations upon unemployment insurance. If the Government could assure the actuarial calculator that unemployment will never rise above 8 or 10 per cent., he could make a report, but what Government in the wide world can promise that unemployment after the war will be constantly below 8 or even 10 per cent.?
With regard to family and children's allowances, I take it that the Government in introducing these have the population problem in mind. The background of a great deal of these schemes is naturally the problem of population. The right hon. and learned Gentleman was right in reminding us of the constant growth of the proportion of the aged to the total population, and those who study the vital statistics are getting alarmed about the future of the British race because of the steady decline in our birthrate. I have never believed, however, that a monetary consideration as such has the slightest influence on the birthrate. I think that those who argue that 5s. per week for a child will increase the birthrate are living in a fool's paradise. I hope I will be pardoned if I pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman the 1086 Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), who laid down the basis of all these social insurance schemes in 1911; but let us be frank, for he borrowed all his ideas from a German, Prince Bismarck, who established a similar scheme in Germany in 1885. When the right hon. Gentleman advocated his scheme there were indications then of a decline in the birthrate, and he offered 30s. maternity benefit with the idea, although he did not say so in so many words, that it would increase the birthrate. It is a strange commentary that, in spite of all the State has done by way of maternity benefit, by increasing the amount, by clinics, and so on, the birthrate has declined until the present war came; it has gone up a little recently.
To me the advance made by the Government by the introduction of this scheme is this, in brief: The present scheme of insurance is obviously a means of sharing the poverty of the poor among themselves. This scheme enlarges the area of the contributors, and by that process it is a great step forward; it compels the better-to-do to help the poor to bear their burdens. Because of that I heartily welcome the scheme.
§ Miss Rathbone (Combined English Universities)
May I ask the hon. Member one question? Does he really mean to tell us that economic obstacles are no deterrent to parenthood? Or does he mean that the proposed allowance of 5s. a week is not enough to remove the obstacle? If so, might not 8s. or 10s. have a more satisfactory effect?
§ Mr. Davies
It is a very strange thing that those with the largest incomes have the smallest families. That is the answer, and that is the case throughout the world. Let me make it clear that I am not arguing against family allowances; I support them. What I am arguing is that monetary considerations have not the slightest effect on the birth rate; the issues are much deeper than cash considerations.
§ 6.37 p.m.
§ Sir Stanley Reed (Aylesbury)
In the few minutes I shall occupy I should like to direct attention to the three main points in this White Paper. Those who have had the opportunity of studying the working of our social insurance cannot doubt the necessity for gathering up all the loose ends in one comprehensive 1087 form, covering the whole community and universally, and on those grounds I wish to give this scheme my loyal and full-hearted support. I would suggest that the most valuable part of this Report relates to children's allowances. Those of us who have been engaged in industry have found that one of our hardest tasks is to reconcile the economic position of the bachelor and the married man. It is quite true that we do a certain amount in the way of Income Tax relief, but it does not go far enough, and I think this reform goes a very long way indeed to remedying the inequality which has vexed so many of us, because we all desire to see the married state almost universal amongst our people. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend and the Government will set their faces like flint against any pressure to make the whole of these allowances cash allowances. I hope they will adhere to the scale they have laid down, because if the State is to find this money out of taxation we have to see that a fair share goes into the children's "tummies," and helps to build up their more robust bodies.
The Minister of Education is to be responsible for administering the food in schools. Will my right hon. and learned Friend urge him to lay his plans boldly and resolutely, if not extravagantly? After all, his expert advisers will give him a wealth of detail about vitamins and calories, but these will mean nothing unless the food is attractively cooked. Otherwise, much of it will go in a pig bin. There will not be good cooking without well trained cooks and adequate cooking appliances. I would like to support the proposal which has been made that these children's allowances in cash should be given to the mother, who is responsible for the maintenance and the welfare of the children. I should like to throw out a suggestion which may be impracticable, but I would be bold enough to make it. Will the Government consider whether these cash allowances should not be in the form of a deposit in the Post Office Savings Bank? Families living on a weekly wage are apt to cut their budgets rather fine. It is the unexpected expenses such as on boots, clothes, etc.—and children wear out lots of boots and shoes these days—which upset the family budget. It is, at any rate, worth considering if it would be possible to have them in the 1088 form of a nest-egg in the Post Office Savings Bank.
I come to the question of death benefits. With all respect to my right hon. and learned Friend, I think he has missed an opportunity of very considerable social reform. The most careful inquiry has convinced me that a death grant of £15 is absolutely sufficient to provide a decent and reverent funeral, and to cover all miscellaneous expenses. The sums of £20 for the adult and corresponding figures for others represent—I do not like to use the word "waste"—an excess of expenditure which could be very well used in other directions. My right hon. and learned Friend may say truly that the death grant represents only a microscopic figure of 1.8d. for males and 1.1d. for females. May I remind him of one who was a great ornament to this House, who had a not undistinguished record in the way of finance, William Ewart Gladstone, who said:The Chancellor who does not look after candle-ends is not fit to hold his officeI would like my right hon. and learned Friend, in this matter, to look after candle-ends. Seeing that the great majority of our people are already covered against death expenses by voluntary insurance, and seeing that he has made certain differentiations—the man over 65 gets nothing, the man between 60 and 65 gets only £10, and children under ten, unless born after the passing of the Act, do not come within the scope of the scheme—why not take the bull by the horns and say that none shall come within the scope of this Act unless they start their payments after the passing of the Act? In that way, I think, a sum, which may run possibly into hundreds of millions, may well be put into more productive efforts for the welfare of the community.
There is one thing which I wish to say very emphatically. I view with profound regret and invincible repugnance the proposals of the Government to abolish the approved societies. An hon. Member said that we were getting sensitive on this matter because of pressure from the friendly societies. He must speak for himself. I can only speak for myself. For the last 18 months I have been urging the friendly societies to put their case before Parliament for judgment so that they might be assured of a fair deal. It is rather surprising to me as I 1089 go up and down the country to find how little is known of the work of friendly societies, such as the Oddfellows, the Foresters, the Rechabites, the Buffaloes, and others. I think the reason is that these societies do not advertise. It may be a little cynical to say that because they do not advertise they get little notice in the newspaper Press. But these societies have done a great work during the last 110 years. At a time when the State was almost indifferent to the sufferings of the sick, to the needs of those who died, and to the question of any form of retirement pension to those who were at the end of their industrious life, these friendly societies filled the breach.
They provided for a decent funeral, they provided sickness benefits, they provided pensions. How did they do it? It was not done as a profit-making enterprise, but by banding together as a voluntary service. It represents what I think is one of the finest elements in our national life, that is, association for mutual benefit. When the Insurance Act came into force these friendly societies were invited to co-operate in making it a success, and they have done so. Now the approved societies are for administrative convenience, to be thrown aside and to have no part in the administration of this great development of our social services. That is not worthy of the Government and is not worthy of the sanction of this House. An hon. Member said that these approved societies were to be both the pith and kernel of the new social organisation. That is not the fact. I find no mention of that in the report on which this White Paper is based.
Why are these approved societies to be thrust aside? Why are friendly societies and industrial insurance companies to have no part in this wider insurance solely as a matter of administrative convenience? In that my right hon. Friend has fallen short of his own standard. He has set forth in the White Paper that the keynote must be administrative economy. Does any Member in the House think that to take out this great body of voluntary and part-time workers, and those other experienced workers, and substitute for them a State bureaucracy, will make the administration more efficient? Does anybody think that to ignore a system under which the work has been carried on during the last 30 years and apply another 1090 system will not make it more difficult? It is an absurdity. The only valid argument used in this special pleading as to why approved societies are not to be employed is that we cannot continue an organisation which has not a direct financial responsibility for the administration of societies. What is the touchstone and keynote of efficiency? It is an organisation such as is laid down by the Government actuary himself—careful medical supervision, and that careful medical supervision will be in the hands of the Government officer himself or the local government officer and not in the hands of the approved society.
I feel these things so acutely that I have been glad to put my name to an Amendment to ensure their rights. Whether it will come to a division I do not know. All I am saying for myself is that, if I can find two just men to act as Tellers, I shall go into the Lobby against abolition if I have to go into the Lobby alone. As I go up and down the country I find a very great and widespread anxiety as to what is to be the effect of this astronomical expenditure on social finance and on the taxation system. I have great confidence in the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I do not believe that he and the Government would put forward this proposal if they were not convinced of our financial capacity, but the country wants a little more than that. I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman to urge on the Chancellor, when he closes the discussion, to say whether he thinks it is within our financial capacity and to give the country the facts and figures and arguments which led him to that conclusion.
§ Mr. Leslie (Sedgefield)
The Government White Paper outlines a long overdue Measure, not by any means a Socialist scheme, which does seek to provide an instalment of social justice. It seeks to remove, to some extent, the spectre of economic poverty from the lives of those haunted by it. The Leader of the House has declared on several occasions that social security must be our first objective after the war, and this has been emphasised by several Government speakers on public platforms. To recognise that individuals are not responsible for the adversities of sickness and unemployment and inevitable old age, and that these should be a collective responsibility, is a policy to be commended. Again, the 1091 recognition of the whole family is timely, and to seek, by family allowances, to alleviate the strain from burdened shoulders should be welcomed. The greatest asset in the national balance sheet is the health of the people, and this scheme goes a long way in that direction. The scheme, however, is not without certain defects. For instance, why reduce sickness benefit after three years, when the invalid will be in a worse financial position? Again, why limit unemployment benefit to 30 weeks but give a longer period to the more fortunate citizen who happens to have a good employment record? Perhaps this reflects the Government's view that national policy and sound international relationships will eliminate long periods of unemployment. Well, we can all hope that that will be so.
Again, the provision for training for the unemployed is certainly a good thing subject to the suitability of the training and the hope of employment at the end. What will happen after training if no job is available? Will only unemployment benefit be payable, or do the Government intend to provide work for trainees? The difficulty of providing an acceptable scheme for the self-employed is fairly well admitted, but some better protection should be given to voluntary contributors. For instance, in my union, when the shop assistants, being voluntary contributors, started businesses on their own account, they continued to be voluntary contributors. Many, by their wisdom, have secured benefits from the first day of sickness. That is the way that our approved societies work. To cut the benefit to four weeks would be decidedly unfair. The treatment of old people is, I think, niggardly. Surely, the combined pension should be £2 instead of 35s. Let equality of treatment be the order here. In the case of widows, would it not be wise for widows to inherit their husbands' insurance rights, irrespective of an age test?
As other speakers have said, we have been inundated with pamphlets, circulars and letters from approved societies, insurance companies and friendly societies. The employees of the approved societies are naturally concerned about their future. It should be a matter of honour to this House to accept responsibility for the continued employment of those with practical experience in approved society administration. The success, of this central administration 1092 envisaged in the White Paper will largely depend on the choice of insurance officers and staffs. The Government have at hand thousands of ready trained administrators who should be given first preference for these positions. Some assurance should be given to those employees, not least to allay the fear of those gallant young men and women formerly in approved society employment who are now engaged with the Forces. Then it has to be borne in mind that approved society employees have the experience and have been so trained in human contacts that if they were taken over they would ensure the success of the scheme.
In the case of insurance companies' approved societies we need not weep many tears. These have no democratic basis, the members have no voice in their administration, and their benefits are trivial in comparison with those of well-administered trade union approved societies. Contrast, for instance, my own trade union approved society with an insurance company's approved society's benefits. We pay 23s. in sickness and from the first day—that is 5s. more than the statutory benefit; we pay 20s. to women, and maternity benefit £2 15s.—that is 15s. more than the statutory rates. We give free dental, free optical and surgical appliances, convalescent home treatment and rail fare, nursing during illness, and payment to the hospital for in-patients. But despite all these benefits which my approved society give they believe that compulsory insurance should mean equal benefits for all, so that the miners and others in dangerous occupations should not be worse off. In the case of insurance company agents, they are normally engaged only part-time in the field of social insurance. Their loss of income may not be very much, and may be offset by increased concentration on their other forms of business.
Then again the friendly societies need not despair of their future. The benefit rates provided in the White Paper do not give full protection, and friendly societies will have a big field to explore. An assurance to the approved societies that their employees will be given full consideration and not be jeopardised by the claims of temporary wartime civil servants, would do much to allay anxiety and secure the good will of those best fitted to administer the scheme. I sincerely hope that the Government will give 1093 heed to those suggestions which I have outlined. Some hon. Members have asked whether we can afford all that is contained in this scheme; I say that we cannot afford not to afford what is contained in this scheme.
Ordered:That the Debate be now adjourned."—[Mr. Beechman.]Debate to be resumed To-morrow.