HL Deb 07 July 1938 vol 110 cc629-58

THE LORD BISHOP OF WINCHESTER rose to draw attention to observations in the recent Report of the Unemployment Assistance Board on anomalies and problems which arise from the insufficiency of wages to meet the primary needs of many households with children, and to move to resolve, That a Committee be appointed to inquire into and to report on proposals for a national policy of family allowances.

The right reverend Prelate said: My Lords, last month the Unemployment Assistance Board issued a Report which I think is of quite exceptional importance. It was described in The Times as "modern annals of the poor." It gives in great detail a large number of facts concerning the circumstances of those who have applied for poor relief. The whole Report is a document of real social value and importance. I do not, however, propose to wander over many pages of this Report, but shall confine myself to two or three paragraphs. The Board, in making the assessment of assistance, are governed by the Regulation which lays down that, in the absence of exceptional needs for special circumstances, the assessment of an applicant's needs shall be less than the amount which will ordinarily be available for the support of the household out of the earnings of the applicant and of the other members of the household whose needs have been included with those of the applicant.

A number of applicants, however, especially those with small wages and large families, are paid so poorly that the amount which is due to them under the scale of assessment is above the wages which they are ordinarily earning. The Board have therefore found themselves confronted with a dilemma. They either have to make grants the total amount of which would enable the man to receive out of work more than he would receive in work, or they have to reduce the amount which is regarded as generally necessary for a family and go on a lower scale. As a matter of fact the Board have compromised, as a rule. They have given rather less than they might have given, and in many cases rather more than the man would have earned if he had been in work. The report gives one or two cases showing how this works out. For instance, there is an applicant with a wife and seven children. The scale allowance would be 48s. 7d.; his normal wages would be 40s. 6d.; the allowance actually paid was 43s.

The Chairman of the Board, Lord Rushcliffe, in his introduction says: In about 6 per cent., or over 30,000, of the cases the applicant is receiving an allowance from the Board which is within 4s. of his normal wages. An unemployed man is saved various items of expenditure which an employed man must necessarily incur, and in these cases, therefore, it can be said that the applicant is as well off on the Board's allowance as he would be in employment. This position is one which must give rise to anxiety. The Board's obligation under the Act is to provide for the needs of applicants and their families. The Regulations have prescribed the scale by which such needs should be met, subject to the discretion vested in the Board to deal with special and exceptional cases. The applicants whose allowances approximate most closely to the amounts they would earn if in work are mostly men with large families of children. The needs of such households are not necessarily less because the father's normal wages are low having regard to his domestic responsibilities. While, on the one hand, the Board are aware of the importance of maintaining a reasonable relationship between allowances and wages, they cannot disregard their primary duty of meeting need. I think it right to draw attention to these facts and considerations, as they have far-reaching implications and obviously raise questions of very serious social consequence which go beyond the problems which the Board alone are in a position to solve.

These conclusions are confirmed by another report, the report of an unofficial committee which was published a few years ago. This was a report drawn up at the request of the Pilgrim Trust, and published under the title of Men without work. It is a very remarkable document. I think nothing of recent years has been published on unemployment which is so interesting and so searching as this unofficial report. Those who are responsible for it, in referring to one of the districts in Wales, say: The difference between unemployment assistance and possible wages is probably negligible for a man with three children. They find that about one-fifth of those on unemployment assistance are as well off as, or better off than, they would be at work. I need not stress the grave consequences of that. Quite clearly an incentive to look for employment is removed in certain cases. The majority of men out of work would seek most earnestly for work for the sake of having it, but there are a number of men who would feel some hesitation in seeking for work if they knew that while they were out of work their weekly income would be more regular and rather higher than that which they would receive if they were actually in work. Moreover, there is a certain sense of grievance engendered among those who are actually in work when they see those who are out of work obtaining a rather higher income.

But that is not the reason why I am bringing this question before the House. The real reason why I am moving this Resolution is that this problem which the Board have had to face brings to light a very serious cause, the cause of poverty, and that cause is that there are a large number of working people with considerable families who are paid such low wages that they cannot possibly meet the primary needs of their households. This is true, I think, of a large number of unskilled labourers with families of two or three or more children. The position, therefore, is really due to the low wages which so many are paid, and this Report throws a strong light upon the problem. It is very difficult to say how many are actually suffering in this way, but one thing that I think is perfectly clear is that where there are children the children are the worst sufferers. Mr. Seebohm Rowntree tells us after very careful investigation that about one-third of the children in Britain during five or more of their most critical years are insufficiently provided for and that researches on Merseyside and also at Bristol have shown that the children are the worst sufferers. These 30,000 cases to which reference is made in the Report, the 30,000 applicants who are out of work, are only samples of a much larger number of men with equally large families and with equally low wages when they are actually in work. The whole problem of low wages is therefore raised by the question with which this Report deals.

A very interesting inquiry was made some little time ago by Mr. Fraser Brockington into the influence of the growing family upon the diet in urban and rural districts. In speaking of the rural districts he says: We are left with the conclusion that rural workers are able in only a small number of instances to provide an adequacy of diet for their growing families. Where a wage is below forty shillings this would appear to be impossible after the birth of the first child. As the wage rises the date at which insufficiency must occur will be progressively postponed, but it would appear to be inevitable in the largest families of which country dwellers are capable. All the facts point to a very large number of children who are suffering through these conditions. I do not mean for a moment to say that these children are actually starving, but they are deprived of a large number of the necessities of life. They are unable to make the fullest use of the educational facilities which they are offered, and they are undoubtedly unable to gain full benefit from the physical training which is now offered them.

I was watching the other day a rather remarkable display of what are called physical jerks and when I expressed some admiration to a man who was sitting near me, an inspector of schools in one of our industrial centres, he said to me: "It is all very well doing this here, but it is quite impossible for this kind of thing to be done adequately in the poorer districts. The children have not the nourishment." The children are not starving. It would be an exaggeration to say that they are starving; yet they are suffering, sometimes from under-nourishment, and sometimes from living in overcrowded conditions which are due to the inability of their parents to pay a higher rent. From these children there may come a C3 population. They may easily later on join the ranks of the unemployable, and it is a serious matter for the future industrial position of this country. The industrial position of this country, its efficiency even, depends largely upon the efficiency of the labour, and that efficiency will be seriously impaired in the future if the present generation is brought up in unfavourable surroundings.

Well, admitting those facts, what are the remedies? I put aside the suggestion that all wages should at once be increased. However desirable that may be, it is quite impracticable. No Chancellor of the Exchequer, to whatever Party he belonged, would really propose an immediate all-round levelling up of wages. It would be a crushing burden on industry. Moreover, for our particular problem it would be unnecessary. It would mean that we should be providing for 17,000,000 non-existent children. The number of children for whom provision has to be made, children of families of the low paid wage-earners, are comparatively few in relation to the whole population. Another suggestion is that the welfare associations should be strengthened, that more free milk, free meals, should be given to the children. Of course all that would be good. I should welcome a considerable extension of our welfare services. But this, after all, would not really go to the heart of the problem. It would mean that children while at school would be given more food, but they would not have this extra food during their holidays, the youngest children would not receive it, and this policy would not provide 'or better accommodation or for clothing and so on.

So we are driven back to the policy of family allowances—that is to say, that to the employed labourer with a family there would be extended the policy which already is in operation in relation to the unemployed. An unemployed man is given an additional allowance for every child that he has. The family allowance policy would mean that an additional allowance would be made for every child the employed labourer has. There is nothing new in this. Miss Eleanor Rathbone has advocated it for years—I think she is the protagonist in this country. The noble Viscount opposite, Viscount Samuel, ten years ago, in the Report of the Commission of which he was Chairman, recommended it for the mining industry. This proposal has been supported by men like Sir William Beveridge and Mr. Seebohm Rowntree, and lately it has had a most vigorous supporter in Mr. Amery both in another place and in the columns of The Times. Nor can it be said that this is simply a vain, unpractical, untried theory. This system is already at work in various countries. In France it has been in operation for some years. It was brought in by the employers. At first it was watched with a considerable amount of suspicion by the trade unions of France, but eventually, with the full support—I believe at the request—of the trade unions it became compulsory throughout France. It is in operation in Italy, it is in operation in Belgium, it is in operation in New South Wales, and in a less degree it is in operation in New Zealand. It is also partially in operation in a number of other countries—Holland, Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and others, Therefore we are confronted with a scheme which has already been tried in a number of countries, and tried with a large amount of success.

What are the main objections to the scheme? Quite frankly, the difficulty I have always thought to be that it might encourage a large family where people could not afford a large family. But that has not been the result on the Continent. The birth-rate on the Continent is still declining in those countries where the system is in operation. After all, I am very doubtful if the fact that the man would gain an extra five shillings a week for a child would make him decide to have another child. Human nature does not work that way. But supposing it does mean an increase in population, is that anything to be regretted at the present time? Some years ago we were afraid of over-population. To-day all the anxiety is in the other direction. I am not sure that even now it is sufficiently realised that unless the decline in the birth-rate is arrested, within sixty years our population will have fallen from forty-one millions to eighteen millions. There is surely nothing, therefore, detrimental in a policy which might possibly lead to some increase in the birth-rate.

Another argument which I sometimes hear against this proposal is that there will be great expense. It depends entirely on the scheme which is adopted. There are several schemes, and some of them undoubtedly would be expensive. It depends also on how far it is to be applied. Is it to apply to every child, or only to the second or third child? It depends also on the way it is introduced. It can be introduced slowly and progressively. Mr. Seebohm Rowntree estimates that for every child over the first three children an allowance of five shillings a week would mean an annual expenditure of £5,000,000 a year—not a crushing amount. But that is exactly the kind of question which ought to be worked out by a Committee. If the noble Lord who is replying for the Government asks me a number of questions of detail about this policy I should be quite unable to answer them. I can only tell him that there might be this or that answer. That, I think, is the position in which a large number of people are who accept this policy in principle. There are a large number of questions which need working out—the kind of scheme which would be most suitable in this country; should the money be raised, as in France, from the employers; should it be raised by taxation and be paid for by the State, or should it be raised by a system of mutual insurance in which the State, the employer, and the employed ought to take their share? Then there is the question of the amount which should be paid, and so on. It is for these reasons that I am asking for a Committee.

I am not asking the House to commit itself to this proposal; I am only asking for a Committee to inquire fully into the matter. Here we have an undoubted problem, a problem which has been brought out in this Report, and a problem which has been stressed time after time, about the inadequacy of the wages of many families to support their children. We cannot indefinitely allow matters to drift on as they are. Therefore we ask for this Committee to inquire into this proposal which may have in it very great possibilities. There are a number of social investigators of the first class, if I may use that term, who believe that this proposal is thoroughly practicable. This Report, Men without work, to which I have already referred, says that the case for some such policy is unanswerable, and you find Mr. Seebohm Rowntree, very cautious as a rule, declaring that the case for it is overwhelming and unanswerable. Therefore we think there is a case for very careful consideration of this proposal. I am as reluctant as anyone to ask for an additional Committee. The multiplication of Committees is one of the curses of the twentieth century, but there will be no waste of time in a Committee of this nature if this Committee really thrashes the matter out, and if it finds that this policy will help to bring health and happiness to a large number of children who at present are living in most unfavourable conditions. I beg to move.

Moved to resolve, That a Committee be appointed to inquire into and to report on proposals for a national policy of family allowances.—(The Lord Bishop of Winchester.)


My Lords, my noble friends and myself are extraordinarily grateful to the right reverend Prelate for introducing into your Lordships' House the Motion which he has just moved. I should like to acknowledge with great gratitude his sustained interest in this and kindred matters that affect so closely the life of the working classes. The facts that he has given at least show that a problem does exist which your Lordships should take into very serious account. It is, however, one that is not always admitted. Whenever we have from these Benches or from this side of the House ventured to urge the need for attention to these matters, His Majesty's Government have first of all seemed to deny that the problem exists, and, secondly, to say that even if it does things are far better in our own country than they are anywhere else, that we spend far more on our social services, and so on. All that may be true, but the fact remains that there is under-feeding both of parents and of children in considerable sections of the population. We know that unemployment is increasing and, therefore, lack of nourishment will become increasingly acute. Until quite recently His Majesty's Government denied that there was any deterioration in this matter, and that we were more or less under a delusion, but both the figures that are published and the Report to which the right reverend Prelate has referred prove that wages are not always sufficient to enable people to buy the food which will keep them in a fit condition to take their part as citizens of this realm.

Sufficient food cannot be bought out of the family incomes that many people receive, and sometimes the food bought has to be of poor quality so far as nourishment is concerned. Now it so happens that in one of to-night's papers, the Star, Professor Mottram, who is acknowledged as a great expert on this matter, tells us that it costs 7¾d. per day or 45. 6d. per week per head to keep a family even fairly well nourished on the cheapest kind of food that can be obtained, and he also tells us that 4,500,000 of the people in Great Britain spend only 4s. or less per head per week. And the Unemployment Assistance Board allow only 3s. per week per child, although a child over ten years costs nearly as much to feed as an adult. Therefore we may lake it, I think, that the problem does exist, and our whole attention should be devoted not to securing any kind of Party advantage out of that grim fact but to seeing how we can try to find a remedy.

I think a part of our difficulty is that for a century or inure English manufacturers and the English political temper have always favoured the policy of low wages. A labourer was a commodity which an employer was entitled to buy in the cheapest market he could find just as he would buy a girder or a load of bricks. Therefore there has never been any conscious desire to sustain the population in a condition of physical fitness. Some years ago I happened to be staying in America with a manufacturer, and I saw his workmen driving up to his factory in their Ford cars. That was to me an astonishing thing. The idea of an English workman driving up to his employers factory in a car would, I think, have created something of a shock, but this manufacturer said to me: "I am pleased to see it. Do you think I would have people see half-starved and shabby workmen coming up to my plant? It would reflect upon my capacity as a business organiser, and I should not like it to be seen." What would have been the position in England if a manufacturer had seen his workmen driving up to the factory in their own cars? First of all he would have been subject to an attack of apoplexy; secondly, he would almost surely have gone immediately to his ledger to see whether wages could possibly be reduced. Now I think it is that attitude of mind towards the wage-earner that has produced this condition. We have never realised that high wages mean an increase to the home market, which is less precarious in all probability than an overseas market.

I only wish to say in conclusion a word about the old argument of population to which the right reverend Prelate has referred. I, too, remember that whenever we pleaded for higher wages the argument both from the employers and the political pundits of the time was: "Well, if you do that the poor will marry earlier, they will have larger families, and the pressure of population on subsistence will reduce conditions to the old level. You cannot do anything; it must be accepted as one of the facts of the world which cannot be altered." Well it has been proved that they were wrong, and out of their own mouths we can judge them, because they are now scolding the working classes because either they do not or will not marry, or if they do marry they will not take the trouble to have children. And now for some years the working classes are going to be lectured because they are not going to produce sufficient children to maintain a surplus of population out of which profits can be made.

There we are. I do not quite know what is to be the outcome. I hope the right reverend Prelate is under no delusion as to what would happen if this Committee were appointed. It would sit and give very earnest attention to the problem, some day it would issue a report, that report would be carefully docketed in the appropriate Department, and unless the right reverend Prelate again introduced the subject it would be forgotten and we should hear nothing more about it. I do not know what else we can do except to lecture His Majesty's Government as they have so frequently lectured us, and to say that this is a human problem as well as an economic and political problem and one worthy of their sincere and immediate attention.


My Lords, I would join with the noble Lord who has just spoken in expressing gratitude to the right reverend Prelate for having brought this exceedingly important matter to the attention of your Lordships' House. He based his case in the first instance on the Report of the Unemployment Assistance Board, and reminded us that there is there a very clear and definite problem which needs solution in some way or other. Obviously, if a man who has a large family has a financial advantage in being out of work abuses may arise in the administration of the Unemployment Acts which were very far indeed from the intentions of their promoters, and if it is the case that a considerable proportion of the working classes would receive unemployment allowances hardly less than they receive in wages, one must ask the Government what proposals they intend to make in that regard. If they reject this Motion, and will not consider the question of introducing family allowances as part of the wage system, what do they suggest? I trust that whoever replies from the Government Bench will give an answer to that very simple question.

But the right reverend Prelate proceeded to base his plea on far wider grounds than that. It is the case, as everyone knows who is acquainted with the social conditions of our people, that in spite of the progress in recent generations there does still exist in our great cities, and in our villages as well, a degree of grinding poverty among large sections of the population which is not compatible with a high state of civilisation of the nation as a whole. That is due unquestionably in some degree to the fact that our wage system, the growth of centuries of the development of our industry, does not pay any regard to family circumstances. In the main, it considers in fixing wage rates a normal family, what is considered an average family. If the average family receives a wage which is supposed to be adequate for the customary standard of comfort then the economic requirements of the situation are met. But where you have a large family you have hardship and poverty.

Calculations made a few years ago—and I do not know that present conditions will have altered the results very greatly—show that if the normal family is taken to consist of two adults and three children and wages are based on the requirements of a family of that size, there would be in the nation about one and a quarter million children unprovided for. That is to say, there are 1,250,000 children in families with more than three children for whose sustenance the average wage scale makes no provision. Also there are 3,000,000 wives and 16,000,000 children who are provided for statistically who do not exist. This normal average family does not bear any real, proper relation to the facts of the present situation.

Every working-class family in which there is a number of children passes through a period in its life of great strain. The young unmarried workman lives in comparative ease. I do not say absolute ease, but comparative ease. He has few responsibilities as a rule and his wage is ample for his personal requirements. If he marries, during the years when the children are coming and when they have to be maintained before they earn, the working-class family passes through a period of strain which falls with particular hardship upon the wife and mother. She is subject during those years, not only to the physical strain of childbearing, and not only to the amount of heavy work which she has to do in the home, but also to the great strain of having to maintain her whole family on a weekly income which is really not sufficient. It is desperately hard on the wife in a great many working-class families, and it is not surprising that many of them are prematurely aged by the strain. If during those years there comes a spell of unemployment the family exhausts its savings and often runs into debt, and for a long period afterwards is in a position of insecurity and even greater anxiety.

It is no answer to say that on the average and on the whole the working classes of Great Britain are better off now than they have ever been, or that they are able to put by large savings in the Savings Bank and other receptacles of national thrift. It is no consolation to the large family struggling with poverty and debt to say that on the whole and on the average the working classes are better off than they used to be and are better off than those in other countries. Furthermore, when one considers the question of national fitness, to which the right reverend Prelate has drawn attention, the question becomes exceedingly acute and urgent. Playgrounds are important; but good food and drink for the children are much more important, and the question of poverty becomes a matter of great national urgency.

When there was a much lower standard of civilisation in bygone generations these things did not matter. Great numbers were improvident and reckless and their circumstances had no effect on the population. The birth-rate was high and people did not care. Now, with a more educated population and a higher standard of requirement generally, with a population more provident and thoughtful, we find that these conditions, coupled with the invention of methods of birth control, are having an exceedingly marked effect on the numbers of our population. The figures are to some extent speculative as to what future results will be; different experts give different totals, and very possibly present trends may not continue in the future on the same lines. Nevertheless, the fact remains that if present causes operate and if no new factors are brought in, then within a generation or so our population will become, first stationary, and then subject to a very considerable decline. That must have an immense effect upon our whole economic system. It will affect the building industry and all other industries concerned with capital goods. It will affect all industries concerned with the production of consumers' goods; and it will affect the numbers able to go to build up the Dominions and Colonies in future times. It will affect our whole position and status in the world at large. Therefore, I am sure the right reverend Prelate has rendered good service to your Lordships' House and to the country in inviting close attention to this matter.

There are many precedents for taking into account domestic circumstances in dealing with questions of income. He has mentioned a number of examples abroad. In this country our system of taxation recognises that the family is an institution of the first social importance and that family conditions ought to be taken into account. When the Income Tax was low there was no special need for differentiation, but with a high rate of Income Tax it is found, as everyone acknowledges, that equal rates do not fall with equal pressure. So we have in the Income Tax system a most elaborate machinery of allowances and deductions in respect of families and children. Then again in the remuneration of our Army, Navy and Air Force there are marriage allowances and separation allowances. When we have to deal with the unemployed, as your Lordships have been reminded this afternoon, there is a difference between single men and married men, and families in proportion to the number of children. That is one of the difficulties. You have two systems in operation. When a man is employed he receives a wage which has no regard to his domestic circumstances. When he is unemployed he receives an allowance which has regard to his domestic circumstances. As a consequence you find in certain respects two systems which are incompatible with one another.

With respect to the police—a matter with which I was brought into touch when I was Home Secretary during the War—family allowances were paid during the War as in the case of soldiers. They did not continue in precisely the same form, but at the present time a single constable who is not housed in the section house receives a rent allowance of 6s. a week, whereas the married constable is given his actual rent and rates up to 17s. 6d. a week. There you have two men doing the same work, employed upon the same duties, yet one will get 11s. 6d. more than another, and no one raises objection to that system, or says it is wrong because the two men are doing the same work. It is recognised as reasonable and right that a married man, who has to pay more in rent and rates, should receive payment on an increased scale. Similar provisions apply in the higher ranks of the police force and in police forces outside the Metropolis.

Then there is a second point which was referred to by the right reverend Prelate, who was good enough to make reference to the Report of the Commission on the Coal Industry. On that Commission we took evidence on that question, and went closely into it. The Commission included Sir William Beveridge, who may be described as a leading national authority on these matters, and two of the leading figures in the world of finance and industry, Sir Herbert Lawrence and Sir Kenneth Lee. We came unanimously to this conclusion: Irrespective of the level of wages, we regard the introduction of a system of children's allowances—to be paid for out of a single pool, either for the whole industry or for each district that adopts it—as one of the most valuable measures that can be adopted for adding to the well-being and contentment of the mining population. Yet no progress has been made in this matter in general, and that is, I think, partly due to the fact that it does not command the support of the trade unionists.

The noble Lord who has just spoken did not in terms tell us whether the Labour Party, as a Party, support family allowances as a principle, but certainly trade unionists have not given any special encouragement to the movement advocated with so much zeal and consistency by Miss Rathbone. Trade unionists are often very conservative. To Socialists, a principle such as this should appeal, because it conforms to one of the principal maxims of the early Socialists: "From each according to his ability, and to each according to his needs." Yet one does not hear very often from the Socialist Party any very active advocacy of this proposal on the ground that it conforms to that principle. But before anything can be done effectively on a large scale it will be necessary to carry working-class opinion with us.

The attitude of trade unionists rests, I think, on two grounds. Many working people say that whilst a married man has to provide for his family a single man or woman has to put by money, and to save, in order to provide himself or herself later on with a home, or very often has to help parents or younger brothers and sisters. They therefore reject the argument that there ought to be differentiation between the family man and the single person. Secondly, they very often hold the view that the relationship between the workman and the employer is a purely business relationship; that the workman does the work and should be paid for it according to its economic value, and that his own domestic circumstances are irrelevant. They object to questions being brought in, and inquiries made, as to whether a man is married or unmarried, and whether he has children or has not. These things, they say, are no concern of the industrial system but are the man's own private concern. Those arguments no doubt are cogent, and I think they account for the reason why this movement has not made, as yet, great progress among working-class opinion.

They are cogent arguments, but not conclusive, and in my own view the arguments on the other side, which have been already mentioned in this discussion, outweigh those to which I have just referred. Of course it is the case that any question of family allowances ought not to be a matter between individual workmen and individual employers. Obviously, if individual employers were required by law to give higher wages to a man who was married than to a single man, or higher wages to a man who had a large family than to another man who had a small family, those individual employers would have the most obvious financial interest in not employing married men or men with families. It is clear that if any system is adopted it must be on the lines followed in France and other countries. The allowances must be paid into a pool for the industry or for an area or perhaps for the whole nation, and such allowances should be paid out of that pool.

A number of questions arise then for consideration. The first is whether there should be an element of contributory insurance or not. Secondly, whether there should be a State contribution. That is an open question. Some say that there should be a State contribution, and some that there should not. I hope His Majesty's Government, to-day, will not reject this Motion on the ground that this is not the time at which to ask for a grant from the State, because the system can be brought into being without any contribution from the State. There is a great deal to be said in my view against a State contribution. Thirdly, there is the question whether it is possible that this system might be brought into operation first of all for State and perhaps municipal employees, without being applied to private enterprises. Lastly, in this connection, there is the question whether it might not take the form at the present stage of the preparation of a scheme to be brought into operation when wages are rising; and so to give a model or incentive to private industries to establish family allowances, not accompanied by a reduction of the present wages rates, but rather, when trade conditions allow, as an addition to wages, instead of a distribution over the whole of the employees of any benefits which might come from an improvement in trade.

Those are considerations that I venture to lay before your Lordships' House, and I would repeat that it is essential, before anything effective is done, that we should be able to carry with us the general body of working-class opinion. To that end it is most desirable that there should be an inquiry such as is suggested by the right reverend Prelate. We should then obtain an impartial statement of the arguments on both sides. We should have submitted, possibly, alternative plans—a great variety of plans have been proposed, and possibly many of them will be found worthy of consideration—and we should have the Report of that Committee, so that whether their conclusion be for or against this proposal, the nation would be able to arrive at a well informed and fully considered opinion.


My Lords, I think all who are interested in the physical and mental welfare of the people of this country, and all those interested in maintaining the stability of this country, should be grateful to the right reverend Prelate for bringing forward this Motion to-day. The noble Viscount who has just been speaking has not only supported the case for family allowances by giving precedents, but has also indicated the desirability of having an inquiry, in order to put before your Lordships and the country at large the different ways in which a scheme of family allowances could be dealt with. The mover of this Resolution brought it before your Lordships as a result of the publication of the Report of the Unemployment Assistance Board. He has quoted some passages therefrom, and has indicated the very serious situation which was brought out in the preface of the Chairman of that Board, Lord Rushcliffe—namely, that something like 6 per cent. of those who are drawing benefit are as well off (if not better off) when they are drawing benefit as they would be when at work. In the words of the Chairman of the Board, "this position is one which must give rise to anxiety"; anxiety not only due to the fact that a large number of children cannot possibly be getting what is necessary, that the family income cannot meet the needs of the family when these people are in work; but anxiety also in that the incentive to return to work is diminished, if not removed, in something like 30,000 cases by the fact that a man out of work is getting as much as, and may be getting more than, when he was in work.

The right reverend Prelate also supported his case by referring to Mr. Seebohm Rowntree's book The human needs of labour. When that book was published two years ago Mr. Rowntree made out an overwhelming case for action and inquiry. He then estimated that something like £6,000,000 a year would be required to give 5s. a week for every child in a family of more than three. He estimated then that a man living in a town needed 53s. and a man living in a rural district needed 48s., and I think he has increased that figure since by 2S. I refer to that estimate to give some sort of indication of what the possible cost of the scheme might be. If it were necessary to quote additional evidence that the present situation is unsatisfactory, one might refer to the report of Sir John Orr. He there brings up the fact that nearly one-quarter of the nation's children are to be found in the group whose income per head is less than 10s. per week—that is, the poorest classes. I had an opportunity of studying this question when for some two years I was Chairman of a League Committee on malnutrition. We brought out the real evils of malnutrition and its extent even in countries, such as ours and the United States of America, where there is a relatively high standard of living. After spending two years on deliberation we were quite emphatic and clear that the main factor in producing malnutrition was poverty—ignorance in some case4, but mainly poverty.

There have also been a certain number of local surveys, and the right reverend Prelate referred to two: the Merseyside one and the Bristol one. We had one at Plymouth not very long ago, an impartial survey. I should like first to quote a couple of sentences from that report: From the point of view of a social survey of this kind, the really interesting question about incomes is, of course, how far the household receipts are sufficient to meet its minimum needs. And then those who were responsible for this survey tried to define what was meant by the phrase "minimum needs," and they took the "poverty line" used in a recent London survey. The result of their inquiry was substantially the same as that in the other two surveys I have mentioned—namely, that 16 per cent. of the families examined were below the poverty line thus defined.

That indicates that in a large number of cities there is a state of affairs which nobody can consider satisfactory. Things are better. Whenever I have taken part in a debate on malnutrition I have been told afterwards that those of us who criticised the present state of affairs did not make enough allowance for the improvement which had taken place. Let us make full allowance for the improvement; let us make full allowance for everything which the Government have done; even then there is still a problem which cannot leave us in any state of complacency. That is a point which needs to be brought up. A previous speaker has referred to the campaign for physical fitness. It is very serious when we find that of the children who enter school at the age of five, 16 per cent. show some physical defect. The fact that this is too high a figure is shown by a comparison with the figures for those children who have been through open-air nursery schools, where they have been more properly fed and looked after. Of the children who have been through open-air nursery schools—that is to say, who have been receiving a ration of food in addition to what they were getting at home—only 7 per cent., instead of 16 per cent., show physical defect. That is to say, we could enormously improve the physical condition of infants if we were either to give them more food or enable their parents to' give them more food.

It is also serious to know that 35,000 children die under the age of one, that 14,000 die between the ages of one and five, and that 25,000 are born dead. I understand that the more this question of maternal and infantile mortality is examined, the more evidence accumulates that malnutrition is a substantial and a real factor; that if we can remove malnutrition we shall reduce the maternal mortality rate and the infantile death-rate. I will only quote one very small experiment, that of Lady Rhys Williams. There it was found that among mothers who receive extra food the death-rate is 0.45, whereas among mothers who do not receive extra food the death-rate is 3.5, a very much larger proportion. If you take the death-rate of infants, where food is given the death-rate is 54 per 1,000, whereas if no food is given the death-rate is 83 per 1,000. Figures such as these—and one could go on quoting many others—prevent us from being complacent, even after making full recognition of all that is being done.

Another point which I think was touched on by the noble Viscount who has just spoken was our falling birth-rate. Professor Carr-Saunders has brought out the fact that, if we go on at our present birth-rate and present mortality, in the year 1976 the population of this country will be 32,000,000 instead of something like 45,000,000, and that one hundred years hence it will be well below 20,000,000. If that is the case—and I have no doubt that something like that is true—then it is doubly necessary that we should take every step that we can to improve the physical condition of the remaining population. Anything that we can do to make it easy for parents to bring up large families should be faced. A good deal of discussion is going on in the public Press now about stimulating migration to the Dominions. What is the good of trying to evolve a large-scale migration policy to the Dominions when the prospects are that in a hundred years our own population will be more than halved?

I was reading the other day a very interesting speech made by the present Prime Minister when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, in 1935. He was then dealing with the Budget which he had introduced, and was explaining the proposal for giving relief from taxation to people with families. This is what he said: I have a feeling that the time will not be far distant … when the countries of the British Empire will be crying out for more citizens of the right breed and when we in this country will not be able to supply the demand. I think that if to-day we can give even a little help to those who are carrying on the race, the money will not he wasted. As I understand it, what the right reverend Prelate desires is a scheme which will enable us to discourage the present very serious trend towards a large reduction in the population. There are roughly three ways in which this can be dealt with. One is by an increase in wages; another is by subsidising the feeding of school children and the mothers at maternity centres; and the third is by a system of family allowances. As regards wages, which I understand is the remedy advocated by the noble Lord who spoke as representing tip. Labour Party, I thought that what Mr. Rowntree brought out very clearly in his book was the fact that there would be much dislocation of industry, whether organised industry or unorganised trades, if in a short space of time it was expected to provide adequate incomes so that large families could be properly provided for; delay would ensue and a great dislocation of business and trade. That being so, it seems to me that we must rule that out as the sole remedy for the present unsatisfactory situation.

Then we come to the next alternative, that of subsidising the feeding of young persons. It is very interesting that in the last published Report of the Chief Medical Officer of the Board of Education on "The health of the school child," the opening chapters are devoted to the problem of malnutrition, emphasizing the fact that there is a problem of malnutrition. The Medical Officer of the Board of Education urges local authorities to deal with this, either through subsidising school meals or in some other way. A great deal of evidence could be quoted in support of this. The advantage of subsidising school meals or feeding children in open-air nursery schools—that is, the pre-school child—is that there is no waste of public money. It is sometimes said that if you give a cash payment some of the money would be wasted. If you give the help in kind instead of in cash the prospect of waste of public money would be diminished.

Then we come to the third alternative, that of family allowances. Previous speakers have pointed out that there is no cut-and-dried scheme now before the country. It is possible to give an allowance either after the first or the second or the third child. It is possible to have a flat rate per child, or to vary the rate. I have been examining some of the schemes in other countries. In France, where there was a great deal of suspicion when the system was first introduced, I understand that five and a quarter million workers are covered by the scheme. That is to say, it is apparently working very satisfactorily, and I understand that it has the very general support of the trade union movement. In Belgium it is the same. In New South Wales and New Zealand there is also a universal scheme. In Germany and in Italy great help is given by the totalitarian Governments to large families. In Germany there is an allowance for the third and fourth child and a bigger allowance for the fifth and subsequent children, and there is also a bonus given in case of a birth. In Italy there is a flat rate for each child, and there are other provisions.

I understand the results abroad, in democracies such as France or Belgium or New South Wales, are satisfactory, and I am convinced myself that in the totalitarian States the fact that the Governments are doing so much to help large families, to assist mothers with the feeding of children, is inducing a large number of people to accept the system perhaps more gracefully than they would otherwise do. So what we have to face is that our system here is on trial. We have to produce as satisfactory results for families and for children as is done in totalitarian States. We have to see that we provide as good benefits, as good a standard of life—I am not now talking of freedom and liberty and that sort of thing, I am talking purely of the physical side. Our system is under challenge, and it is up to us to see that we do as much to supply the physical needs of young persons and of families as is done in the totalitarian States. I think we are apt to forget sometimes the sense of insecurity felt by the wives of manual workers. It would be a great benefit to them if they could have something like family allowances. People are apt to forget the close inter-dependence which there is between mental well-being and physical fitness. One of the gravest hardships of the very poor is the frightful sense of insecurity, and therefore mothers particularly tend to get worried, to get tired and run down, and physically unfit. Family allowances, even small ones, would be a tremendous boon from this point of view, and would be of inestimable benefit in removing one cause of worry.

As regards policy, I have indicated that as far as I can see there are various alternatives—either family allowances, or increased subsidies for the feeding of children, or a combination of the two. I myself think that probably the right policy would be a combination—increased assistance to local authorities in feeding children, and also probably some national system of family allowances. But I agree entirely with the mover of the Resolution that before anything is done there ought to be an investigation. I cannot see that there is any objection to that, though it would, of course, take a little time. We should then he in a far better way to judge what was the right way of tackling this very real and substantial problem, and I hope very much that when the noble Lord speaks on behalf of the Government he will be able to indicate that the Government are open-minded to the extent of contemplating the possibility of an impartial investigation into the merits of the different schemes, so that the people at large may be able to form a proper judgment.


My Lords, I rise with natural diffidence, as this is the first time that I have had the privilege of speaking in your Lordships' House, and I hope that I shall have your indulgence in the few remarks that I want to make. The right reverend Prelate has powerfully advocated the need for family allowances, and I would like to emphasize one point. It is clear, I think, that we are applying to our wage-earners two entirely different and indeed contradictory systems of benefit. With the unemployed receiving allowances, inadequate though they may often be, we have, as Lord Snell has said, treated labour as a commodity and assumed that the wages are sufficient on which to raise a family. This has proved in many instances to be far from the case, and each additional child has meant a lowering of the whole standard of family life. The problem is very much a question of the size of the family; and the raising of the school age during the last fifty years from twelve to fifteen, and the very desirable limitation of working hours for children, have naturally increased for each parent the cost of rearing a child. As the result, as the right reverend Prelate has shown, by 1998 the population is likely to be reduced to 18,000,000.

Apart from the national and imperial danger of this state of affairs, it will bring very serious social problems. To start with, you will get a shifting of the weight from the young to the old, which will place the burden of old age pensions on a smaller industrial population. The number of consumers on whom industry relies will be decreased, and presumably there will be a decrease in the number of taxpayers on whom the burden of social reform and defence rests. Therefore, from the point of view of the future welfare of the country as well as from the point of view of fairness to the worker living to-day, a scheme of family allowances should be introduced as soon as possible in this country. I am told that the existing social machinery is adequate and, as has been suggested by several noble Lords this afternoon, the money could be found by a joint contribution from the employer, the employed, and the State in the same way as is done in many foreign countries.

Until this policy is in being, a start might be made in the direction of relieving some of the burden from our wage-earning population if every child in our elementary schools could be provided with one good mid-day meal to be taken on the school premises. I do not put this forward as an alternative policy, but only as an initial move in the right direction, which would also be a direct attack on malnutrition. A further advantage would be that it would ensure that the money is spent on the child, and it would ensure that the child would have a good meal and would probably acquire a taste for wholesome food. It would also mean that the child would be able to rest in the middle of the day instead of, as now happens, going backward and forward to its home. Besides these advantages to the child, the education authority would benefit by being able to buy foodstuffs wholesale and at special prices, as the Government do to-day in regard to milk. Possibly the Potato Board and the Herring Board would be pleased to have such a guaranteed market in schools.

I do not propose to go into the question of expenditure at any length, but I might say that assuming there are 5,000,000 children at school for two hundred days in the year, and the cost of a meal is fourpence, that would cost the country £17,000,000 a year if the Government bore the whole burden of the expense. Four-pence may seem a very low sum for a meal, but it is higher than is charged in many of the schools to-day, although lower than in some. Undoubtedly many of these meals are not of a very high quality, but if a great many meals are served, it would be possible to cut the overhead charges and thus increase the quality. The cost of such a scheme in comparison with the benefits it would bestow is small. In conclusion, may I say that in my opinion the time has come when justice demands that encouragement should be givers to the wage-earner with a large family. I am grateful to your Lordships for your indulgence, and I beg to support the Motion.


My Lords, not for the first time the right reverend Prelate has brought a Motion of the deepest social interest before your Lordships' House, and I am sure I am speaking for His Majesty's Government and for the House when I say we are all most grateful to him for so doing. In a way I am especially pleased, because he happens to be my own Bishop at home. Therefore it is a great pleasure to me to be able to answer him on this first occasion on which I am speaking for the Ministry of Labour. If I do not please him to-day, no doubt he will find a further opportunity in his diocese of taking notice of my conduct!

The debate, in addition to the speech of the right reverend Prelate, has given rise to a most interesting discussion. We have had contributions from the noble Lord opposite, Lord Snell; from the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, representing the Liberal Party; a most interesting address bringing in the subject of nutrition, in which he is particularly interested, from the noble Viscount on the Cross Benches, Lord Astor; and, finally, a very interesting contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Holden. I must congratulate the noble Lord on his maiden speech, and express the hope that he will come here and let us hear him a great deal more often. I must take exception to one remark which the noble Lord, Lord Snell, made. He said that if his Party brought forward these problems to the notice of the Government, whoever was replying from these Benches denied that there was any problem at all. I absolutely deny that. I have heard many speeches made by my noble friend the Leader of the House and other noble Lords from these Benches on these questions, and in former years from other noble Lords who have led this House—Lord Londonderry, Lord Salisbury, and others—and never once have I heard that remark made. We know that there is a problem, and a very serious problem, although we do not always try to deal with it in the way the noble Lord opposite might perhaps like.

The right reverend Prelate, in his address, took very much the line which was taken by Mr. Amery in the article which he contributed to The Times on June 24, and in which he advocated family allowances and brought forward some very interesting statistics. I notice that Mr. Amery had a further letter in The Times on this same subject yesterday, The right reverend Prelate divided his speech into two parts. In the first place he dealt with the fact, which we all deplore, that in many cases these people who are unfortunately unemployed are better off under unemployment benefit than they are when they are at work. The second part of his speech was his recommendation of the system of family allowances. The right reverend Prelate quoted from Command Paper 5752, the Report of the Unemployment Assistance Board, and I have another document here which still more brings out what he was proving to your Lordships. It contains Reports of the Unemployment Insurance Statutory Committee made in accordance with the Unemployment Insurance Acts. This document as to the conditions of the funds was issued on December 31 last. It is worth while reading to your Lordships something of what they say.

In paragraph 51 on page 21 they say: Allowing for the fact that a man when unemployed saves certain expenses which fall on him during, employment, and may have greater opportunities for subsidiary earning, it is estimated in the Memorandum that of 411,191 men claiming in August, 9,510, or 2.3 per cent., were as well off or better off on benefit than in their last employment; among 138,220 women the number was 7,24o, or 5.2 per cent. of all claimants. These numbers and proportions in the whole body of claimants are small but appreciable. If, instead of taking benefit rates all together the different rates are looked at separately, the proportions of those who are as well off on benefit as in employment rise steadily to large percentages. Of the 5,293 men on 41s. benefit 530, or to per cent., are as well off unemployed as employed. At a 50s. rate of benefit the proportion as well off unemployed as employed exceeds one-third. In a later passage, in paragraph 55, the Committee say: Unless the standards of subsistence adopted by the Unemployment Assistance Board are too high, a considerable number of large families must be appreciably below the standard, even when the father is in work, and could not be brought up to it by any raising of wages generally that is at all likely to occur. My point in reading this is to point out to the right reverend Prelate and your Lordships that the situation which exists in relation to unemployed assistance is matched by a similar situation in unemployed benefit.

The Government and the country are of course perfectly well aware that it is a very serious state of things, and that it does encourage a certain proportion, I think largely of the younger people who have not been brought up to work hard like their fathers and mothers, possibly to prefer to remain on unemployment benefit instead of taking jobs that they might take. Now these facts show the existence of a serious problem, but there is a wide diversity of opinion as to the lines along which its solution should be approached. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, made various suggestions this afternoon, as did the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, from the Cross Benches, though I think the latter's remarks were chiefly aimed at his particular subject of the nutrition of the people on which he is an acknowledged expert. I did not, however, come prepared to deal with that aspect of the matter.

In the view of the Government there are at least five possible lines of approach to this subject. In the first place there is the question of an increase of wages, but the Government do not think that there is any early prospect of such a change of the wage level as would meet many of the difficulties to which the Statutory Committee of the Unemployment Assistance Board have drawn attention. Secondly, apart from any change in the general wage level, it is possible that employers in increasing numbers might be induced to grant family allowances to such of their workpeople as have large families. There, again, that solution would not, I think, have the approval of the Party to which the noble Lord opposite belongs, and, as the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, reminded us, in order to do any good you must have working-class opinion on your side. I do not think that at any rate at present the Labour Party approve of that solution. In a few cases British employers have adopted such schemes, but their wide extension is not very probable, and any compulsory requirement to adopt such a scheme would in general exclude fathers of large families from employment.

Thirdly, there is the method adopted in certain countries abroad to which the right reverend Prelate referred, under which employers in each of the different industries contribute to their own fund out of which normal wages are supplemented in the case of men with large families. Fourthly, there is the suggestion recommended by my right honourable friend Mr. Amery in a recent article in The Times—namely, the creation of a National Family Allowances Fund out of the contributions of employers, workpeople and the Exchequer. Finally, there is the possibility of the direct provision of family allowances out of the Exchequer. The last two suggestions have not been canvassed very widely, and opinion is, I think, not yet fully formed upon them.

I have dealt with this question and answered the right reverend Prelate as well as I can, and in conclusion I would say again that I thank him for bringing this subject before the House. Not only is it full of interest to all students of politics, but it is of particular interest to anyone who is fortunate enough to have a seat in either House of Parliament as, of course, it directly concerns the life and well-being of many thousands in this country. As regards the Motion I am afraid I cannot accept it. I do not know whether the right reverend Prelate saw that this question was brought up in another place about a week ago. A member of that place asked the Prime Minister a question in very similar terms to the Motion of the right reverend Prelate, and my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said he did not see his way at the moment to set up a Commission. Further than that I cannot go. This is a matter upon which, in the opinion of the Government, public attention may be expected to concentrate, but they do not think it has yet reached the stage when it would be useful to set up a formal body for its examination. The right reverend Prelate will not, I hope, conclude from our inability to accept his Motion that the Government do not appreciate the importance of the subject both from the point of view of the individual and of the community. I would again thank the right reverend Prelate for bringing' up this matter, and I would also express gratitude to noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. As debates in your Lordships' House so often do, it has been instrumental in fixing public opinion on this very important subject.


My Lords, I rise only to thank the noble Lord for the fullness and courtesy of the reply, and to express my disappointment that the Government are unable at present to appoint a Committee to inquire into the matter. I would emphasize the words "at the moment" which the noble Lord has just used, and I hope that possibly if I raise this question again later in the course of this year I may get a more favourable answer. In the meantime I can only ask the permission of the House to withdraw the Motion.


My Lords, before the Motion is withdrawn may I with your Lordships permission say that the position now seems clear. The Government admit there is a problem; they say that there are five methods of approach to the solution of that problem, and they propose to take none of them.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.