§ 3.9 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL rose to call attention to the prospective decline in the population; and to move for Papers. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, may I 601 ask leave to bring to your attention a question which I trust you will all agree deserves your very earnest consideration? The matter of the probable decline in the near future in the population of this country is causing, as the facts become more and more known, widespread concern among many people. It is strange how questions such as this appear in different and indeed opposite lights in different periods. At the beginning of the nineteenth century Professor Malthus's famous essay caused deep concern in this country, and indeed in all countries. He showed that food supply could increase only slowly, in arithmetical ratio, one, two, three, four—in that proportion; while population, if unchecked, would increase in geometrical progression, two, four, eight, sixteen, and so forth; so that there was a probability that population, if unchecked, would soon outrun subsistence, and widespread poverty, destitution and starvation would follow. In that age the great problem, therefore, was how to put effective checks upon the increase of population. Now, on both sides of the account, the situation is entirely changed. The means of production have increased beyond all anticipation. The application of science to agriculture, the use of machinery in transport, by sea and by land, opening up vast new areas of the world to agricultural production, have relieved mankind of all anxiety on the score of scarcity of food, and the problem now is only how to make these stores accessible to all peoples and to all classes in the nations. At the same time that production of foodstuffs and other commodities has increased so vastly, the means having been discovered to control the birth-rate this has had profound effects upon the human race, and the increase of population now is checked and will soon be replaced by a decrease.
§ What are the facts with regard to the national birth-rate? The calculations are somewhat intricate. It is not enough to take merely the crude birth-rates and death-rates of the population and compare them: the future depends upon the age constitution of a population and upon other factors. The matter has been repeatedly investigated in recent years by expert statisticians. I will give your Lordships merely a few summary results of their investigations, and I am sorry to say that the figures only relate to England and Wales. Scotland apparently has 602 been ignored in this connection by the statisticians, although Scotland of course gives us not the least valuable, in many respects the most valuable, part of the population of these islands. But Scotland, unhappily, has at present almost a stationary population already.
§ The chief point for consideration is the number of live births per thousand women of possible child-bearing age, which is taken by the statisticians as being from fifteen to forty-five. That is the crucial figure. I do not go far back for purposes of comparison. I will only go back as far as the year of the census of 1891. The birth-rate had been somewhat higher in previous decades, but at that time the number of live births per thousand women of those ages in England and Wales was 129.8. At the last census in 1931 the number had fallen to 64.3—almost precisely halved. At the previous period in 1891, of married women between those ages in any particular year one out of every four would give birth to a child. In 1931, of women of those ages only one in eight gave birth to a child in any particular year. This is a phenomenal change, of course, wholly unprecedented, and a change not spread over centuries, but taking place in the course of a single generation.
§ There have been, of course, some counter-balancing factors. The death-rate has fallen greatly, though not so greatly as the birth-rate. At that earlier period that I took the death-rate was 19.7 per thousand; now it is in the neighbourhood of 12.4 per thousand. And in particular the infantile death-rate has fallen with very great rapidity. During the present century the strenuous efforts made by the State, by local authorities, by social workers and by the medical profession to reduce the infantile death-rate, have had a phenomenal success. In 1901—I go no further back than the beginning of this century, when this movement really began to take effect—the number of infants under twelve months who died was 140,000, or one in seven of all the births of that year. Now the number has been reduced to 35,000—one in sixteen of all the births. That is to say that 100,000 babies who would have died in the previous generation are now saved alive.
§ There is another counter-balancing factor, in relation to migration. In the earlier period emigration was considerable 603 from this country to the Dominions, the United States, and elsewhere, sometimes reaching a total of 60,000 a year. Now the net movement is inverted—is inwards; and, instead of people leaving the country year by year, there is an inward movement on balance of 20,000 to 30,000 people. But these counter-balancing factors—the reduction in the death-rate, particularly in the infant death-rate, and the change from emigration to immigration—are far from counter-balancing the phenomenal fall in the birth-rate.
§ Various estimates have been made as to the result of these trends, if continued into the future. Those estimates must necessarily be hypothetical. There may be a change with regard to the number of births. There may be a change with regard to migration. Other factors may arise. But the estimates that have been made by statisticians are very disquieting. One, by Dr. Laybourne, points to the conclusion that, if present trends continue, by the year 1970 our population will be greatly reduced. The population of England and Wales is 41,000,000; it is estimated that by 1970 it will be reduced to 30,000,000. Another estimate by Dr. Charles, which in the opinion of other experts is based on strong probabilities, shows that the actual decline in population will begin in the very near future—in 1941; and at the end of this century—within the lifetime of boys and girls who are now at school—the population of England and Wales will be reduced by one half. Instead of the present 41,000,000 it will be 20,000,000. Of that population, nearly one half-46 per cent.—will be over the age of sixty. These, again, I would emphasize, are hypotheses—possibilities, some think even probabilities; they can hardly be regarded as certainties, because tendencies may change and these calculations may prove to be wrong. But they do rest upon expert authority, taking into account all the factors so far as they are known or can be reasonably foreseen, and your Lordships will agree that they are such as to demand the immediate and earnest attention of the British nation.
§ These being the facts, I would invite your Lordships next to consider whether it is to be regarded as a good thing or a bad thing that this population should be stationary or should be reduced. Is that 604 to be welcomed or to be deplored? That depends very largely upon our general philosophic and religious outlook. There are many who are led by the anxieties and perils of the present period in which we are living to take a view of black pessimism. They are almost inclined to think it would be better if the human race never existed, and that our duty is to bring into the world as few people as possible because the inheritance we have to offer is not worth having. But those who take a survey of the broad sweep of the history of mankind know well how often some turn of events, unforeseen and unexpected, may completely change the situation and remove disasters which seemed to be imminent and inevitable. It will be twenty years before the children who are born to-day reach manhood or womanhood, and in those twenty years much may happen, and may happen for the better. May be, the storm cloud rising from Germany, which now overshadows civilisation, by then will have burst or have been dissolved. But coming to the essence of the matter, anyone who, takes a wise philosophic view will agree that life itself, in spite of all its chances and all its sorrows, is still a most noble adventure. Life is the supreme gift with which we have been endowed, and the universe is so ordered that we have power to bestow it upon others. Let us not then, more than we must, withhold that gift.
§ From the standpoint of the nation as a whole, it is obvious that a great decline in the population must be of very grave import. There are some who think that this country is over-populated already and that it would be no bad thing if we were to be, instead of 40,000,000, a people of 30,000,000 or even 20,000,000. They point to our overcrowded cities, our slums, our impaired countryside, and they draw the conclusion that the decline in population is to be welcomed rather than deplored. But surely the truth is not that this island is over-populated, but that its population is badly distributed. Over-population is one thing, overcrowding is another. Overcrowding in England was far worse in the nineteenth century, with a smaller population, than it is today. With a larger population overcrowding might be overcome. It is a question of right town and country planning; it is a question of the preservation of large natural areas for national parks—an important matter to which I 605 could wish His Majesty's Government would give somewhat more attention than they do. We may be able to cure these evils which are now attributed to excessive population by a better allocation of the people and by better preservation of the amenities.
§ From the economic point of view it is obvious that a decline of population must mean a great diminution of productive power. There are those, again, who hold the fallacy that because there are 1,500,000 unemployed the country must necessarily be over-populated, and that if our population were reduced by that number we should get rid of unemployment—an obvious fallacy, as every economist knows. The number of the unemployed in any country at any time may have relation to the size of the population, but more often does not. In the nineteenth century, when the population of England and Wales was 10,000,000 to 15,000,000, there were periods of terrible and widespread unemployment and distress, whereas in the year before the War, when the population was 36,000,000, the whole of the people were employed and there was something in the nature of a shortage of labour. Indeed, a declining population may increase unemployment instead of diminishing it. It will have the greatest effect, for example, on the whole of the building industry: and if the prospect were established that towards the end of this century our numbers would be reduced from 40,000,000 to 30,000,000 or 20,000,000, there would be a great number of industries of all kinds which would be thrown by that very fact into depression and into a period of decline.
§ It is hardly necessary to point out to your Lordships how grave would be the effect upon revenue if the number of producers and taxpayers were seriously reduced and the effect upon our national finances owing to the burden of pensions for an older population; and the heavy charge of debt which we are handing on to posterity could hardly be borne by a greatly diminished population. Obvious also is the strategic aspect. The manpower of a nation is an essential element in preserving its position in the world. Germany already has a population of 80,000,000, and in the last six years her population, by the excess of births over deaths, increased by 3,250,000 or 4 per cent. Russia is increasing her numbers by 2,000,000 every year, and Japan is in- 606 creasing her population by 1,000,000 every year. We have to consider also the duties of this country from the point of view of the population of the Dominions and the Empire at large. It was the overflow from this country which created the American Colonies, now the United States, helped to create Canada, created Australia and New Zealand, and has largely, of course, established our Colonies and contributed to the growth of South Africa. It has redeemed vast areas of the world, and helped to spread British ideas over one quarter of the globe. That fructifying stream seems now to be dried at its source. Unless it can be again enabled to flow, England will not be rendering the service to the world she was able to do in previous generations. Therefore I suggest to your Lordships this conclusion, that a decline during the present century in the population of Great Britain by one half, as is forecast by some, or even by anything approaching it, from a national standpoint would spell disaster.
§ I would like your Lordships now to consider what are the causes of this prospective decline, and afterwards how these tendencies could be met. The causes of the decline, which is not limited of course to Great Britain but applies to many other countries of Europe and of the world, are due to no physiological change in the human race but to deliberate, conscious, human action. Children are not born because prospective parents do not wish them to be born and have found means to prevent conception without forgoing marriage or intercourse. There is no one who questions that that is the main cause of this trend which affects most of the countries of the world.
§ What is the reason why people are led to take this action? Here, again, there can be no doubt but that over a large part of the population it is due to economic causes—to poverty or to fear of poverty, to the burden which is imposed on an ordinary working-class income by the arrival of any large family. Someone has said, what is the use of trying to keep the wolf from the door when the stork keeps on flying in through the window? The strain imposed upon the mothers of working-class families who have to maintain as best they can five or six children on an ordinary wage is an exceedingly heavy one. Furthermore, parents often have to consider very carefully what is in the best interests of the 607 children that they already have from the point of view of nutrition, of education, and of their prospects in general, and the choice often presents itself to families, not only amongst the poorer classes but also among the middle classes as well, whether it is their duty to consider the numbers of their family or its quality, whether it would be better to have fewer children living on a higher standard than a greater number on a lower standard. There is also the question of housing accommodation, and the present-day custom of building small houses or flats which give no adequate accommodation for larger families.
But there are also non-economic reasons at work. One is the health of the mother. That is a prominent fact in the minds of many prospective parents. Others are the sacrifice of enjoyments that is involved by the larger family, the future prospects of the children in all classes of society, and, again, the fear of war, to which I have already referred. In fact a recent Committee which investigated this matter, as a side issue to its investigation, reported that almost any circumstance which may render life more difficult or the future more uncertain may be reflected in a disinclination to have children; but the Committee proceeded:
We are satisfied that purely selfish motives predominate in only a small minority of cases, and that the motives are usually a care for what are regarded as the best interests of the parents and the children.
Those being the facts and those the causes of the position, then what remedies ought we to adopt to deal with the situation that I have described? There are some who have suggested, perhaps on religious grounds, that the practice of contraception ought to be suppressed by law. The Inter-departmental Committee to which I have referred, which had to deal with the unsavoury subject of abortion, a very strong and representative Committee under the Chairmanship of Mr. Norman Birkett whose Report was published a few days ago, said:
We cannot accept the contention put forward in some quarters that the use of contraceptives to avoid pregnancy is fundamentally and in all circumstances wrong, and we doubt whether that view would be shared by more than a minority of persons in this country.
I do not propose to enter into the pros and cons of this question, which would
rather be a subject for a separate debate if that were ever desired by members of your Lordships' House, but I should not myself be prepared to advocate any course aiming at the suppression of these practices. I believe that even if that were attempted it would be highly improbable that any such methods would succeed. And, after all, contraception is not the cause of the decline in the birthrate; it is the means by which it is effected. The cause is the desire for small families or none, and the means has always been celibacy or later marriage, and now the use of the practices to which I have referred. The better course would appear to be to diminish the cause, that is, to remove the desire for smaller families, rather than to attempt by legal prohibition and penalties to deal with the means.
§ The essential point is this, that it is to the social interest, the interest of the whole community, to maintain the birth-rate, but it may not be at the same time to the individual interest of a particular person, and the problem is how to reconcile the two. That is indeed the problem of statesmanship throughout the whole social field—how practices and customs which are beneficial to the whole community should also be made advantageous to the individual. So far as the economic aspect of this question is concerned, I have myself no doubt whatever but that a most effective means is by the institution of a system of family allowances as part of or as supplemental to the wage system of the country. We had a debate in this House a year ago on this subject inaugurated by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester, who moved for a Committee to inquire into the question of family allowances. He had strong support from many quarters and no opposition, but I am sorry that the Government gave a negative, and I fear I must in honesty add, a perfunctory reply without showing any recognition of the great importance of this issue.
§ The question of family allowances is again a somewhat technical one. Various plans have been proposed and put into practice in different countries. The allowances may be given as an addition to wages either with State subventions or without State subventions, or they may be provided by extending the system of social insurance, in which case the em- 609 ployers, the workmen and the State would contribute. If an addition to the wages is paid by the employers then the sum must be put into a pool, otherwise the individual father of a large family might be refused employment if the employer had to pay him a higher sum because he was married and had children, and the practice invariably is in such cases, where it has been applied on a large scale, to create a pool so that no such possibility may arise. During the debate to which I have referred I was surprised to hear the noble Lord, Lord Templemore, who is going to answer us to-day, make the observation that any compulsory requirement to adopt such a scheme (that is family allowances) would in general exclude fathers of large families from employment. Since the whole purpose of the scheme is to encourage families it would be strange indeed if its advocates had not foreseen that difficulty. The fact is that in all such schemes on a large scale pools have been brought into operation and no such result has ever occurred.
§ In France, where this question of population is one of very great concern to every patriotic Frenchman, this system of family allowances has been adopted for many years past, first on a small scale, involving small sums, but later, after experience, it has been developed on a much larger scale, and under the decrees of the present Government the allowances have been very greatly increased. At the present time in France no fewer than 7,000,000 of workers are covered by wage schemes involving family allowances. That means the great majority of the workers. Excluding domestic and agricultural workers there are 9,500,000 workers in France and 7,000,000 are paid family allowances based on the average wage in each Department. There is 5 per cent. added to wages for the first child, 10 per cent. for the second child and 15 per cent. for the third and subsequent children, so it is a very considerable addition. No less than 3,300,000,000 francs were distributed in France in 1937, in family allowances, which is £20,000,000 at the present rate of exchange, and the amount this year and last year will probably be far more. There are also partial or limited schemes in Belgium. Germany, New South Wales and New Zealand.610
§ In this country the idea is familiar to us as respects the armed forces, where the wage, so to speak, of the soldier, sailor or airman is supplemented according to the requirements of such family as he may have. I had to deal with the question during the War in 1916, when I was at the Home Office, and the rising cost of living put a heavy burden upon the Metropolitan Police Force. To give an all-round increase of pay would have involved an exceedingly heavy charge on the Exchequer. We met the difficulty by giving family allowances in respect of the wives and children of the police. That principle is still continued in the police force, but in a different form. The married policeman gets an allowance for rent and rates which may run up to as much as 11s. 6d. a week which the unmarried policeman, doing exactly the same work, does not receive. Unemployment allowances are, of course, based on a similar principle. That has given rise to great difficulty which has been discussed in this House. Unemployment pay, being based on the principle of family needs while ordinary wage schemes take no account of family circumstances, has had the result in many places that a man with a large family gets nearly as much, or actually as much, when out of work and receiving these allowances, as when he is in work and receiving only the ordinary wage. The conclusion that I would suggest is that our wage system, which treats on the same footing a single man and a man with a wife and three or four or five children, where the income of the wage-earner has no relation to the family for which he has to provide, is fundamentally wrong, anti-social and should be changed.
May I ask the noble Viscount who pays these allowances in France? Are they paid by the Government or by the employers?
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
There are State contributions, also contributions from the employers and, I believe, a contribution from the district also. There is a further aspect of this matter which deserves to be considered. There has long been in this country a controversy which has proved intractable on the question of equal pay for equal work by men and women. Women wage earners urge, by arguments which appear to be unanswerable, that it is unjust that a lower wage 611 should be paid for the same work to a person who is a woman than to a person who is a man. That, it is urged, is unjust and is mere sex discrimination. The men in some of the public services reply by argument which seems incontrovertible, that it would be profoundly unjust to pay the same wage to a single woman who has no family responsibilities, which is the case with the majority of the women employed, as is paid to a man who has a wife and children to maintain and the expenses of a household to provide for.
The only solution of this is to pay a standard wage for similar work both to men and women, with family allowances in respect of responsibilities that may devolve upon them. The Royal Commission on Coal, of which I had the honour to be Chairman in 1926, recommended unanimously a system of family allowances to be introduced into the coal industry, and one of the members of the Commission, Sir Kenneth Lee, Chairman of the great textile firm of Tootal, Broadhurst, Lee and Company, has introduced family allowances, paying 5s. a week for each child in excess of three. The firm find the cost to them is less than £1,000 a year and they are now extending it to include the third child at a rate of 4s. Pilkingtons, the glass manufacturers, Cadbury's, Robinson's of Bristol and other firms have introduced the same principle.
The advance of family allowances in this country has been very slow, mainly, I think, because of the opposition or indifference of the trade unions. Some of the Labour leaders have urged that family allowances may check increases in the general standard of wages and may divert money from other useful social reforms. The matter was referred by the Trade Union Congress to a special committee which by a majority reported in favour of the principle of family allowances, but when it came before the Trade Union Congress in 193o, this recommendation was rejected in spite of the strong advocacy of the principle by the miners' leaders. It was the same in France at the beginning. The trade unions generally opposed the system, but now it has, I believe, after experience, the general support of public opinion in France. In our last debate I was glad 612 to notice that my noble friend Lord Snell spoke in favour of an inquiry. I hope that to-day he will again urge this upon His Majesty's Government. It is only if opinion among the working population at large is favourable to this scheme that it can be introduced on any large scale. It is important that it should be introduced, I believe, for it is clearly by far the principal measure that can be adopted on the economic side to deal with this problem of the decline of population.
There are a number of other matters which should be dealt with parallel with this. It is necessary to make child-bearing as safe, as painless, and as inexpensive as possible for every mother in every class of society. We have, of course, a national system of maternity benefit under the health insurance scheme, and there are maternity and child welfare clinics all over the country. It is due to them that the infant mortality rate has been lowered so greatly, as I have mentioned. If it were not for that the problem would be far graver than it is. Then there is the question of housing estates and the accommodation to be provided for large families. There are more than one hundred local authorities now which make special provision on their housing estates for larger families and may grant rebates of rent in such cases. The question of extending national health insurance to the child dependents of contributors is also a matter of importance. The campaign for better nutrition which is now actively proceeding is again a factor. The removal of the marriage bar in certain occupations—for example, the education authorities not employing married women teachers and the banks forbidding their junior clerks to get married—also deserves consideration; and there is further the problem of taxation. The reliefs for wives and children which already come under the Income Tax might well be further extended.
Those are the considerations that I desire to lay before your Lordships for your attention. It appears that what is needed now, in view of the gravity of the circumstances to which I referred at the outset, is a population policy: that the nation should become population-minded, that we should endeavour to set on foot a current of public opinion which would run for marriage and parenthood and not against them. There area no 613 doubt some reasons against and drawbacks to a policy of this kind. Your Lordships will remember Dr. Johnson's famous reply to an importunate young man who said to him, "Mr. Johnson, would you advise me to marry?" "Sir," said Dr. Johnson, "I would advise no man to marry who is not likely to propagate understanding." I am afraid, however, that it is impossible to devise any sieve which will sort such men out, and we must take the risk that other qualities might be propagated.
If there is to be a population policy and the nation is to become population-minded, influences will be brought to bear upon all who are dealing with questions such as those to which I have referred: the Legislature, Government Departments, local authorities, employers, trade unions. If all were alive to the importance of this problem, many measures directly and indirectly affecting it could be taken. But they should be alive to its importance, for surely, my Lords, this is a matter which is not trivial and is not remote, but is grave and is urgent. I have put upon the Paper a Motion in quite general terms, without specifying any particular proposals, for I did not wish to press my own ideas upon your Lordships to-day but rather to elicit, if it may be so, the opinions of members of your Lordships' House who are interested in this matter. But I might make one definite suggestion, and that is that the whole matter, and especially the question of family allowances, should be regarded as proper for investigation by a Royal Commission. I submit that for the consideration of His Majesty's Government and for discussion by the public in general, for it is necessary at this stage to give guidance to the nation on a matter which deeply affects its future strength and welfare. I beg to move.
§ 3.53 p.m.
§ LORD SNELL
My Lords, the subject that the noble Viscount has introduced to your Lordships is one of very great importance, and perhaps even fundamental importance, to the future of our country. He has placed the general issues before the House with the neatness and comprehensiveness which always accompany his public declarations. Your Lordships have doubtless been impressed by the impending danger, not merely of 614 a fall in the total of the population, but also of the production of an ill-balanced population, which would have certain social reactions of very great importance. I do not view the prospect of a fall in the total of the population as likely to be a calamity. I believe that the real problem of population is qualitative rather than quantitative, that it is Darwinian rather than Malthusian. I think the alarm that is created by contemplating a reduced population is based on the assumption that the economic conditions which have been associated with our country are stable, that they are not likely to undergo any change, that we shall have no population with which to colonise or to sustain our trade under our export system. But we have to look at those problems in the light of current tendencies. After the Napoleonic wars it might be said that England was the only effective commercial Power, that she could market her goods almost without competition throughout the world. But that time has gone by for ever, and the tendency of our export figures seems to show that a smaller population in the future may possibly be an additional security rather than a calamity. But I may not enter into that wider problem to-day.
I should like to make a few observations on the matter as it has been placed before your Lordships by the noble Viscount, not dealing with the propositions in detail but trying to contribute what a certain section of those for whom I speak feel upon this matter. I think the question of age proportions is the more important of the two aspects of this matter. In thinking of the coming preponderance of older people over younger, let us not forget that the War robbed us of something like a million of potential fathers, and that war itself is dysgenic in its effects. It takes from the population the most vital members and leaves behind those whose vitality is not so great. Then there is the problem of the possibility of some influence being exerted on this question by the growth of women in the professions and industries. There are, I believe, in the Civil Service at the present time something approaching 100,000 women. I am not against that: I think a woman is as much entitled as a man to choose what her career shall be. But it may happen that a certain portion of those 615 millions of women who are in professions or in industry may prefer a carrer to a home and a family.
Then there is the question of what Nature herself has to say in this matter; and, after all, hers is the last word. There have been in history, I think, periods of comparative sterility. Those periods have passed away, and we remember that marriages are not always blessed by children. Then there is the question of housing. The landlords put a premium, as it were, upon people with small families or no families, and the number of young people who are refused house-room because they have a growing family is really an important aspect of this matter. And I would suggest that one of the remedies should be to remove the war barriers, such as they are, to marriage and the production of children. Reasonable men fear to have children who may be bombed in their homes or killed in the trenches or elsewhere. In this matter it is just futile to lecture young people on their duty to posterity, for they have a most effective reply. They say: "What have you senile people done to produce a nation in which our lives will be secure? This country, in which we have to live, and for which we are asked to provide children, has been produced by yourselves."
I want also the removal of certain social barriers. Your Lordships may not perhaps remember as acutely as I do the state of things which existed two generations ago, when the poor were almost universally reproached, by all respectable people in this country, for wanting to marry and to have families. They were told that they were improvident, and that they thought of nothing more than to have children which other people would be compelled to keep. There was in the East End, in Stepney, at that time a church known as the Red Church. It did not mean the redemptive colour which finds its useful home on these Benches, but it was, as I thought, uncommendably orthodox. It happened that marriages were so popular in that crowded area that the responsible clergy married them in batches on Sunday mornings, or at other convenient times, and that was the subject of an enormous outcry from the people at that time. They spoke about the "devastating torrent" of children, 616 until a young person was really frightened to death to think of committing this anti-social act of marrying.
I dare not reflect whether that lonely, but gloriously detached, freedom in which I have myself been permitted to live was caused by this admonition, but I know that through that period, and at a later date, I reflected that it was much more certain that a young man had ancestors than that he would have posterity. I was quite sure he had two parents, and that those two parents had two parents, which made four, and that those four parents had parents, which made eight, and they also, making sixteen, and so on in that geometrical ratio to which the noble Viscount has referred, and I made the deduction that at the time of Adam and Eve there really was not standing room on the earth. So I, in a way, got through that period of anxiety. I recall also that at that time the Income Tax was only about one shilling in the pound, and the outcry was almost as great and as shrill as it is now. To-day, when the younger people have taken the advice given to them and there is no longer a sufficient number of children, they are called selfish, and appeals are made to them about the empty cradle, and so on. There is really no possibility of satisfying the governing classes in this country.
Then I would like to say something about the problem of an ill-balanced population, which I think is the more important aspect of this problem. It is possible that this is only a temporary period, and that a new equilibrium will be established. The noble Viscount spoke about the fall in the mortality of children, and also, I think, about the lengthened life at the present time. It may be that some of us are living too long and that it would be a patriotic act to depart at an earlier age. It may be that a time will come when on a man's tombstone it will be written that he "did his bit by dying at fifty." This subject has two ends to it. It is not only that sufficient children are not being produced but that many people are living to a greater age. The causes may be, as I have said, subtle, and that Nature herself may have more to say about it than we believe. The new figures of recruiting, so far as they are available, seem to me to be extraordinarily encouraging. I do not know if the same standards are being main- 617 tained, but if the standards are being maintained that prevailed under the old examination, then there is reason for congratulation as to the improved health of the younger members of the population. The old figures were simply appalling. Between October, 1925, and September, 1937, out of every 870,000 applicants to join the Army 480,000 of them, or 55 per cent., were rejected as physically unfit, or out of the last million men who volunteered for service during the last fourteen years 670,000 of them were rejected. Most of those rejected men must be still alive, and it may be that that has an influence on the reduced birth-rate to which the noble Viscount has referred.
I will not go into the question of malnutrition, partly to save time and partly because it has been sufficiently indicated by the noble Viscount in what he has said, but it may be taken for granted, to quote Mr. Amery, who is not, as your Lordships know, a person of revolutionary mind, in a paper which he read before the British Medical Association on April 28 last, that:The coming of every child after the first one or two involves a lowering of the standard of life for the whole family.I wish someone would tell me why any parent who loves the two children that he has is expected to produce four children that he cannot properly feed. The remedies that are suggested have been enumerated by the noble Viscount, and I will not go over them except, speaking in a general sense, to say that increased security for life is the real, great need. In New Zealand, where they have had a Labour Government for some time, not only the marriage-rate but the birthrate has increased very considerably. It is higher now than it has been for ten years. And that suggests that the coming of a Labour Government in this country would help to solve the problem which is causing you so much anxiety.
I would like to say before I close that it is my privilege, and sometimes my duty, to try to place before your Lordships what people in the Labour movement are thinking about common problems, in the hope that that view may be useful to your Lordships in deciding what to do. In regard to family allowances, the Trades Union Congress, as the noble Viscount has said, have always had some reservations. They ask what effect would family allowances to parents have 618 on wages and on negotiations regarding wages. If the family allowances came from a wages fund—not the old classical wages fund, which has been rejected, but the earned reserves of firms—the tendency would be to employ unmarried men or men with no children. And if such allowances were paid by the State to parents it would be the parents, rather than the children about whom the trade unionists are concerned, who would get the benefit. The incidence would fall unfairly on different classes of employment and in different industries. If the wages came from a pool, they think that the incidence would fall hardest where the employees are predominantly male, as in mining, engineering and so on, and, if used to subsidise children, there would be a lower wage for the childless as compared with parents who have children.
I am not putting forward this summary of their conclusions as representing entirely my own opinions, but I do think that they are matters which must be taken into very serious consideration. The trade unionists feel that the same results could be got with fewer dangers through an extension of social services, through free meals and the supply of milk, by rent rebates to large families, and by extension of personal reliefs from Income Tax so as to encourage marriage in that way. They think that cash payments for children for the first year or two might help, and that healthy homes at cheap rents would certainly have a decisive influence. I have tried quite quickly to put these views before your Lordships, and I will not comment further upon them, but I will join with the noble Viscount in pleading that this most important matter should be taken into urgent and very serious consideration. What form the inquiry should take I do not presume to suggest, but that an inquiry is needed I am altogether certain. I renew my thanks to the noble Viscount for bringing this matter so forcibly before your Lordships' attention.
§ 4.14 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT DAWSON OF PENN
My Lords, it is common ground that this question is fundamental to the welfare of the nation. But if it be true that both the quantity and the composition of the population are deteriorating the fact almost covers all schemes of 619 social betterment with a sense of futility. First may I say how strongly I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Snell, that in looking at questions of population we must consider the quality of the people far more than our forefathers had to do, and for this reason. The day is gone by when Nature did it for us. We had a large number of children born, a big turnover, and Nature took off the weaklings, and in that rough-and-tumble way the more fit tended to come to the surface. But to-day we are very properly trying to preserve our people, and the result is that we have to do something to take the place of Nature's methods, that is, we must construct for fitness, and therefore the quality of the people born becomes a matter of first-rate importance. But I think that if the noble Lord will look at some of the graphs authoritatively issued, the fall in the population is too great even if you do have regard to quality.
In fact, this country has failed to reproduce itself since the year 1925. At its peak year, 1880, 100 women during their fertile period produced 150 girl babies—because, after all, the men do not matter, the future mothers are those we have to calculate. That no doubt was in keeping with the views on population of that particular period. It was a time when trade was expanding, and no one would wish that 150 women should produce 150 future mothers today. But there has been since that date far too steady a decline. There has been very little flattening out of the curve, and it has gone on, so that at the present day 100 women produce only 76 girl babies, or future mothers. It is fortunately true that the curve has flattened out a bit during the last two or three years, and one hopes that that is a portent of a better state of things. For however much you regard quality, there must be a big enough population for an adequate turnover if you are going to bring the fit people to the top.
I also agreed with the noble Lords who preceded me in this, that what is even more important than the numbers is the composition of the population. In 1881 if you took the people over sixty compared with the people under twenty it was a proportion of one to six; in 1931 the proportion was one to three; next year 620 it will be one to two: that is, for every one person over sixty there will be only two under twenty. Now we come to the hypothetical calculation. If the present trend goes on, by 1960 there will be an equality—one and one. That would mean, if it went on, that there would not be enough young lives coming in at the bottom to reinvigorate and replenish the nation. With an ageing population you do not get enough vigour, enough adventure. Already, I would remind your Lordships, there is more accommodation in the schools than there are children to fill it. There were 12,000,000 under the age of fifteen in the year 1921 and if this movement goes on there will be only 6,000,000 of these young people under fifteen in 1951. Without wishing in any way to go back to former days, for I regard it as completely unreasonable and impossible, those figures are a little alarming, and there is no getting away from them. It is true, as the noble Viscount said, that a change may come over the land. All I can say is that the curves and graphs do not point that way at present, and unless there is a different plan with regard to children and families I can hardly expect there will be much change.
If I may, I will pass to discuss the causes of this low reproduction rate. It is sometimes said that the effect of civilised conditions is to reduce the fecundity of both men and women, or I should rather say reduce the amount of fecundity. There is no evidence of any mass tendency in that respect, though there are features of modern life which do perhaps reduce fecundity in certain instances, but these are medical questions which are already receiving attention. We cannot get away from the fact that the dominant immediate cause of this diminished size of families is contraception. Contraception is extending amongst all classes and in all creeds, and it is a notable thing that even those organisations which have the strictest hold upon their people do not hold them with regard to contraception. Contraception grew into our midst. It came here as the result of social changes, not of a double dose of original sin having been suddenly launched among our people, not due to ill thinking, but due to the evolution of life. Contraception, I take it, is only a specialised example of man's gradual control of natural forces.
621 If we go back to the forties of last century we can perhaps establish a good contrast between that time and to-day. I cannot illustrate my theme better than by taking some of the well-known families. It is well known that the Gladstenes and the Lyttletons were fast friends and that they often lived under the same roof for some period of time. On one of these happy occasions when the two families were gathered together under one roof there were eleven children under seven years of age. The comment one naturally makes is, "What a delightful nursery it must have been!" On another occasion there were seventeen children under twelve years of age. Each century has its own customs, and that was a fine period which made a great contribution to the strength of our nation, but we must face up to the fact that that particular state of affairs amongst the ordinary people of the country involved a terrible wastage of life. The babies came along every eighteen months until the mother's fecundity was exhausted, and that high reproduction rate was only possible because there was a concomitant high child mortality. The figure of infant mortality in those days was 160 per 1,000, whereas last year it was only 53 per 1,000.
One of the things that made contraception inevitable was that infant mortality was reduced. The safety valve of the high death-rate was taken away, too many children lived, and therefore it was economically impossible to keep them. A way out had to be found somewhere. I put it this way. It is one thing to have nine births with four deaths and five survivals as against nine births with one death and eight survivals. That made a tremendous difference, and some way out had to be found. We could not ask the people of this century to adopt methods of restraint which our forefathers did not adopt. They went on producing children through the whole period of fecundity. If that was no longer possible, some other way had to be found, and therefore contraception came into the picture. There was nothing new in contraception. It was simply the prevalence of contraception that came into the picture. One of the first examples of contraception was to be found about the year 1840 in France when, owing to changes in the conditions and laws of the land, the French peasants began to 622 reduce their children to two. That caused considerable perturbation, as one would naturally expect, in those days, amongst their confessors, and these confessors referred the matter to Rome through Bishop Bouvier. Rome, with great statesmanship, replied: "It is not for you to ask questions or to deal with this matter unless you are appealed to." That custom, begun in France in 1840, has continued ever since.
It is not that contraception was new. It grew—it had to grow—into our social fabric because of the changed conditions of our people and because of the very laudable reduction in the infant death-rate. Take the case of John Wesley. John Wesley's mother produced nineteen children and of these thirteen died. John Wesley was one of six who survived. I put it to your Lordships that that was rather an excessive cost even to produce a John Wesley, to kill thirteen children in order to get six. I pass to another point. Take the woman of to-day. She has a larger outlook than had the mother of a previous generation. She is determined that her maternity shall be a matter of choice, not chance. She makes her maternity a planned part, not the wasteful whole, of her life through twenty years, as used to be the case. She selects her times, and it is interesting to note that there has grown up a greater value attaching to the individual child life.
I venture to say that the women and mothers of to-day, as mothers, have never been beaten in the way they train their children. Why then do they not have more? Why do they keep their families down? May I suggest certain reasons? The chief one, I think, is anxiety—anxiety in some form or other. There is first, as the noble Viscount said, the fear of unemployment, want of careers for their children. They think that if the population is decreased there will be more employment to go round. They do not realise that if you push that too far, if you starve the country of young lives, you are depriving it of producers. Although I am no economist, I can see that if you deprive the country of producers you cannot do otherwise than ultimately increase unemployment. Then there are other fears and anxieties one hears about, such as high taxation, making the rearing of children more difficult. There is one other thing existing in 623 the imagination. These mothers think that their children will have the same anxieties as they have, forgetting that what we think are anxieties the young regard as adventures. There is a third group, a rather interesting frugal group, who have but one child—single-child sterility people. These people think that if they have only one child they will be at an advantage over their neighbours in the conflict with life; but I venture to say that they have lost their sense of values: the chances are they stand to lose and not gain. There are all the difficulties surrounding the single child, the anxiety of the parents that grows with each year and is reflected in that child, the absence of child companionship and conditions of loneliness.
There is another and physiological error to be considered. Those parents have to learn that the completion of the maternal cycle at suitable intervals—conception, gestation, parturition, and lactation—that turning round of the maternal clock at intervals, undoubtedly tends to preserve youth and vigour as against those who reject maternity. Similarly there is the contraction of the mind in the one case and the broadening of the view in the other. I do not think there can be a doubt that maternity repeated over suitable intervals and to a reasonable extent adds to the health and happiness of the mother herself, and therefore of her family. Lord Snell referred to an interesting group, and that is the people who marry in their early twenties. Before contraception was an established institution such marriages were often impossible, but with contraception there is this advantage, that these people can come together at an early age and share their lives together. That is a very prevalent custom, as I think this example will convince your Lordships. In a big store employing a large number of young people 75 per cent. of the girls who ask for leave to be married will at the same time ask if they can come back after their honeymoon. That means that child-bearing is not going to be a sequel of that marriage. I do not see that there is disadvantage in that provided they are young and provided, broadly speaking, they do not postpone parenthood after the age of twenty-five, but there is the risk that they are apt to extend that childless period too far, and cling too long to the good 624 time of the moment rather than have regard to the more lasting comforts and happiness which attach to family life.
I venture to ask myself what are the remedies for these social distempers. I suggest that the first is further knowledge—a knowledge which will allay fears about maternity, give instruction, and bring home to people a sense of values. I think it will be agreed that the British people are very responsive to well-reasoned sense. If these matters were put before them and the difficulties about parenthood cleared up, I believe it would bring about an altered state of affairs. My suggestion would be that a parenthood instruction service should be set up. If you teach people how to rear babies in your infant child welfare centres, is it not reasonable to go a step further back and teach them the wisdom of producing them? If once they realise that a population depends on an adequate quality of young lives reinforcing the country from below, and that a country to live and be strong must, like everybody else, constantly be born again—if that matter were brought home to them my belief is that it would be their pride to play their part in contributing in each generation towards the younger and newer life.
The second remedy I suggest is social and economic. Contraception has brought about a great difference. Before contraception children were an inevitable accompaniment of all fertile marriages. Children had to come along; the relationships of married life did not exist without the children coming as a natural consequence. Therefore the State had no direct interest in the matter. Children came along anyhow, but once you get contraception introduced children become voluntary contributions. It is open to the parents to give or not give, and from that moment the State has a share in the responsibility for the children of the future in a way that never existed before. Therefore we need to study what are the conditions unfavourable to the production of children.
The first thing that we should see to is that parents who are otherwise willing to bear their quota of children should not be financially penalised. I know that is a vexed question, but I cannot see anything but good in the State taking an interest, as undoubtedly it has an interest, in encouraging these voluntary contributors of children by helping them 625 with some form of allowance. They are doing something for the benefit of the nation and I think the nation should help to see them through. What particular form that help should take seems to me to be a matter for inquiry, but as I see it the family allowance should relate to the children and not to the workers. It should be payable to the mother, if possible. It should relate to welfare and have little or no connection with wages. Whether the family allowance is to be paid out of an insurance scheme or as part of a welfare scheme, whether it is to be paid by money or by tokens seems to me to be another matter worthy of inquiry; but if you pay it by tokens you should ensure—and this is an important matter—that the money goes towards nutrition. The tokens should secure milk and such like things for the children. That would be a practical way of seeing that any family allowance went for the purpose for which it was intended.
May I pass for a moment to the question of housing? It always appears to me deplorable, as you go along these blocks of tenements, to find in how few of them has there been adequate regard to the bringing up of families. They go up, stage after stage, when it is probable that you cannot go beyond four or, at most, five floors without causing such inconvenience to mothers that it is practically impossible to do the children well. As I see it, you must provide for small communities in such a way that the children can have easy access to the air, to créches, nursery schools and other necessities. And there are such places. There is an interesting one in this town at Kensal House which shows how well this difficulty can be met. In that house children can be got down to the air, they can be accommodated in créches and nursery schools, mothers are able to go out, and there is a club for both husbands and wives.
There has been built up in this country, one by one, services which aim at producing strong, capable and happy people, but there are gaps in those services which I venture to think imperil the structure of the whole. One of them is this serious matter of inadequate parenthood. Another, I venture to say, is the want of implementation of the Fisher Act which provides for continuous education after leaving school. I believe if that 626 were put into operation some of these difficulties which we are discussing to-day would be dissolved. I would ask the Government, if they are thinking of an inquiry, whether it is not time to link up these great services into a connected chain of effort. It is true, I am afraid, that there is a serious prospect of the population deteriorating too much in numbers and deteriorating in its composition. It seems to me that it should be the first and foremost task of constructive statesmanship here and now, before the evil comes right upon us, to inquire first as to the facts and then as to the remedies. For, after all, the most important thing for this nation is that our people shall be adequate in numbers and stable in their civilisation.
§ 4.44 p.m.
§ LORD STAMP
My Lords, the problem which has been presented to your Lordships to-day is a matter of practical urgency rather than a mere academic exercise. Yet it is over ten years since the facts that we are studying now, the certainties of our population in the immediate future, were being worked out. It is over five years since popular notice was widely drawn to them, and the attention of the Government also secured. I do not wish to deal with those portions of the problem that relate to the quality of the population, important as that is, for at that period of discussion I held, and publicly stated, that the approach of the differential birth-rate is a more significant fact for the future of society than any discovery of science or any other solvent of the old social order, national and soon international.
I would rather deal with the quantitative aspect of it. The reason why, despite all that has been said, there is very little popular apprehensiveness on the subject, is that we are still living under the social illusion of continuous expansion. You can see it in discussions by urban district councils and borough councils, and even in discussions in this august place. We have got so used for a hundred years to this continual increment that we are not yet attuned to the thought, not merely of becoming stationary, but of a reversal of the process. We must deal with the preliminary question of what we should do in this matter in the light of a stationary or falling population. That should be the first element in the discussion. I will not 627 deal with the difficult economic question of the optimum size of the absolute population. I do not think that it need bother us very much whether it should be 50,000,000 or 30,000,000. The practical and urgent problems are due to the change of trend of population. The average attitude of mind is: "Oh, we have heard these population prophecies before, and they have always gone wrong." What we have to bring home to people is not merely that there are certain trends to be seen from expert graphs going into the distant future, but absolutely inescapable, inexorable facts passing into the next twenty years and literally on top of us at the present moment. After all, those who are going to be twenty-one in twenty years time are already born, and nothing we can do can alter the fact.
It is to those facts that I would draw your Lordships' attention. So I shall not speak as noble Lords have already done of various remedies for reversing this tendency, but will deal with some of the economic problems which the Government will have to face. I am quite sure—we can see it coming from a number of quarters—that within three or four years we shall have at least one Royal Commission dealing with the problems arising from this. I am concerned to know what is the nature of the information and equipment that will be before them for dealing with these social and economic consequences of a reversal of trend. Students of demography have been pressing for a quinquennial census. The principle has been fully admitted, because in the Census Act, 1920, provision has been made for a quinquennial census being brought into being by an Order in Council. I took a part in pressing in 1934 for such a census in 1936, because there were many important decisions to be taken involving assumptions about the redistribution of population, which a census deals with, the occupational changes, which are also shown by the census, and very important questions relating to age distribution to which your Lordships' attention has been directed. But the necessity for that census was not felt by the Government at the time, mainly for financial reasons.
I would like to press this question of a quinquennial census for several reasons. If during the past century, with a much more leisurely time limit of change than 628 we have to-day, a ten-year census was right, surely something much more frequent is now necessary in view of the more rapid pace of modern life and the remarkable changes that are taking place, because we no longer have a merely automatic growth of population to cover up all our mistakes. These things have to be much more carefully budgeted for by precise information. Even if we avoid the worst element of a planned society we do need the exact social knowledge which we shall acquire and which will give us a handsome return upon any expenditure that may be involved.
I should like to touch upon just one urgent problem, which was mentioned in passing by one noble Lord and which is really right upon us now and illustrates the trend of the immediate problem before the State—the school problem. The boys aged thirteen to eighteen in England and Wales in 1938 numbered 2,100,000. In seven years' time, in 1945, they will be 1,787,000, a decrease of 315,000, or over 15 per cent.; and the figures are going to be very much lower than that in the later years. The effect of this decrease was felt before it was understood. Several years ago the public schools suddenly realised that they were not getting their usual recruitment in the lower forms from the preparatory schools, and that they were getting some boys from the preparatory schools into the next forms, the forms a year later.
They found on inquiry that the preparatory schools, not being recruited at the very lowest age from the infant stage and in order to keep up their numbers, were holding on to these senior boys for an extra year. No complaint was made that they were coming up badly educated: the year that had been transferred from the public school to the preparatory school had been well spent. But the change did mean that the lower forms of the public schools were overstaffed, and it looked as though there might be a new social problem. As we know, staffs of these lower forms are recruited very largely from the class of sports blues at the 'Varsities, who are intellectually capable of dealing with these boys and who contribute their value towards the school life in other ways. It looked as though this might become a restricted occupation and that the profession of the 'Varsity blue might be a very difficult one for the future.
629 Now this problem in the last few years has been working its way up through the schools, and we find that one great school has had to close a whole house and others are facing an immediate diminution by over 100 boys. In consequence the Head-Masters' Conference are meeting and discussing with agitation what is to be done about it: shall they have an orderly and rationalised way of meeting the problem for the future, or shall it be a haphazard competitive struggle among them? They are already discussing whether the proper way to handle this problem is not through a Royal Commission, for which the Government would be asked, or a Departmental Committee, or some other public Committee of that kind. That is just an example of one field of social life that is already affected, and within five years we shall find this same plea for Royal Commissions and Departmental inquiries spreading in other directions. Are we to have a dozen inquiries which will cover all these different aspects and yet have many common features of overlapping, or will the Government give attention to the idea of putting on foot a Royal Commission which will take a comprehensive view of these problems as they are arising and as they are immediately before us?
I will come to the question of the shift of the age-groups in a moment, but the economic effects of these diminishing numbers on overseas trade, on capital investment, on housing, on the reserve funds of the unemployment insurance and their capacity for benefits, are extremely far-reaching. It is very important that they should be looked at before they become acute. The distribution, for example, of new labour for occupations will no longer be done automatically by changes in the stream of new labour. We shall need to make our transfer on a much more systematic scale, with actual knowledge of the flow and the need. We shall want to know the age-distribution of labour in the declining industries and its effects in the distressed areas. The 1921 census included a dual inquiry as to occupation and industry: an inquiry as to work-place and an elaborate inquiry into dependency. This was dropped in 1931, mainly because of finance but also on the plea that we were about to have quinquennial censuses and to introduce these particular features at particular places. I would not press for a moment 630 for overloading any particular census; each particular census can specialise in one or two features. But I would urge upon your Lordships the importance of the re-introduction, the re-insertion, of the fertility inquiry of the census of 1911; and that, I think, should take precedence of other inquiries because of the urgent necessity of the information for such bodies as a Royal Commission, or others which are considering these problems. At the moment all our calculations have to rely upon foreign comparisons. We have to go to the figures of Sweden, transpose them, and assume that they are correct for this country, because we have no later information on those problems than the census of 1911.
The question of the number of children born of each married woman, the number of children still living, and the duration of marriage are not merely academic questions to satisfy statisticians, mathematicians and population experts. They are the essential basic information, not merely for population problems but also for housing. Great blunders have been made in the subsidising of housing in various districts because of ignorance of the number and the size of the different types of families. If subsidies are being given, they should be given with a definite knowledge of the requirements and the immediate trend of the size of families for the houses of different sizes.
I would also make another point on this question of tackling the problems that are so urgently before us. A gap is left in our recent population statistics which is within the power of the Government to fill at an early moment. The occupation of the husband is done now by a schedule that is positively rudimentary, and, being rudimentary, is probably dangerous, or at any rate misleading. This ought to be made similar to the census of occupations. The Government, when the Bill was going through, claimed that it was unnecessary to insert any provision for this because they already had the power to revise this schedule of occupations. I would press that at an early stage this very archaic schedule should be brought up-to-date. The value of the information it gives must be very seriously diminished, because it is impossible to analyse the information by an up-to-date occupational classification. I would stress the importance of this fact for this very obvious reason. So far as policy-making is concerned, it is 631 not much use knowing that the net reproduction rate for the whole country works out at a certain figure. That is very important when it is urging you to remedial measures; but when you are studying point by point adjustments required in industry and the public expenditure, it does not help you. If we are to devise any rational policy, we must know what the net reproduction rate is for those who are doing certain occupations or belonging to certain classes. Then and only then can we plan legislation which will, so to speak, touch the spot.
We might well discover that the rate was over unity for certain groups—perhaps the lowest paid and for the miners—and only 50 per cent., only half unity, amongst professional workers. So, as a matter of practical urgency to deal with these problems, which will become acute and are already becoming acute, I would urge that the quinquennial census be established, that precedence be given to fertility questions from the census of 1911, and that these questions of classification of occupations should also be given attention. I would also urge that thought be given to the nature and scope of a Royal Commission which shall take up all these different problems. The problem for which the Headmasters' Conference are going to urge that they should have help will merely overlap over a large part of its area with the same problem in other directions. A Royal Commission would not be dealing with an academic problem: by the time it had become immersed in the issues that arose out of the information that was already available, the information derived from the census of 1941 would be coming to it, and it would then be able to deal with these matters in a rational and intelligent way. My Lords, I apologise for any incongruity or impropriety in a maiden speech that deals with population!
§ 5 p.m.
THE LORD BISHOP OF NORWICH
My Lords, I am sure that the first words I ought to speak—and I know that in doing so I shall have the House entirely with me—are words of warm congratulation both to ourselves and to Lord Stamp for the speech which he has made. The noble Lord is one of the few men whose words, when reported in the newspapers, are quite certain to be read and studied by 632 all those who have not been privileged to hear them. Whether he is reviewing the railway work of the year, or is speaking to the British Association, or, as we hope may often be the case, we hear him in this House, we have always looked forward, and shall look forward, to his utterances with the greatest satisfaction. It is a source of strength to us in this House that he is able to speak here authoritatively as well as in other places.
We have had an extremely interesting discussion, and I am sure we are much indebted to the noble Viscount for the way in which on an intricate, elusive and far-reaching subject he has been able to set before us, concisely and fairly, the evidence on the problem which confronts us. We are indebted to him and also to those noble Lords who followed him. I suppose we all listened with very marked attention to what the noble Viscount, Lord Dawson, had to say on the subject. He has been able to give us a guidance that few of those who sit in this House have the information qualifying them to give. I think great interest attaches to his remarks about the way in which in old days infantile mortality brought about the same result as is now achieved by conscious and intentional limitation of the family. They arrested my attention for more than one reason. I thought he might have given us the classic story of Queen Anne. I think she had fifteen children, only one of whom grew up from infancy, and he died at the age of eleven. Perhaps coming nearer home I may speak of the doings at the Palace of Norwich, where I live. A hundred years ago there was a Bishop of Norwich who had thirty-seven children, and what was more remarkable he had two brothers, each of whom had thirty-two. I think I have got my arithmetic right. The total number of first cousins amounted to a hundred, and yet the whole of the County of Norwich is not populated by those people. What became of those hundred first cousins I really do not know. I am afraid my house shows a falling off. I married late in life, and my family is represented by one.
We have heard much, to-day, about the quantity of the population and the quality of the population, but most that has been said about the quality of the population has been in comparison between old people and young people—those under twenty and those over sixty, 633 and so on. We have not heard much about the quality of the population in another aspect, by which I mean that we believed, and for some years it was true, that the reproduction rate was much smaller in those who belonged to the middle classes and to the upper-middle classes, than in those poorer members of the population. The noble Viscount, Lord Dawson, made it plain to us that contraceptive measures are spreading, and have spread, to the poorer members of the population, but as I see it a very grave issue in the whole question is the question of leadership and capacity, and so on, of which Lord Snell spoke.
A very grave element is the actual quality and capacity of the children who are to be born. It is very clear that if we get on with a smaller population we do want that population to be not only of A1 fitness, but we also want them to be boys and girls who will grow up to be capable men and women. Many nations would be in a very parlous condition if they could only point to the large numbers of their populations, while the better stocks were becoming less fertile. I hope before this debate is over someone else more capable than myself will throw a little light upon that subject. I believe also that we have other considerations in front of us, such as what it is that deters the people of whom I am chiefly speaking from having large families. I cannot think that the question of fear and alarm at this present day, with the anxieties of the present international position, have had much effect either with the rich or the poor, for after all this decline in population dates further back, to a time when it cannot have been influenced by such considerations. The fear of unemployment does go further back, and whether that applies equally to the better stock as to the weaker stocks is, I suppose, a matter of opinion.
I am inclined to believe that one reason—it may seem a small reason, but I believe it is a very real one in the households of the better stocks of people—that deters women from having children is the impossibility of their being able to manage their households without any domestic help from outside. There has been rather a strange increase, in the disinclination of women and indeed of men to undertake domestic service, and I believe you will find that the number of women will be far greater than you expect 634 who dread to think that if they have more children they will have no one to help them to cope with household matters. They may be right or wrong, but it is, I think, a matter which deters better-class mothers from increasing their families, as they know all the time that they are going to increase their own personal tasks in domestic management to an extent with which they do not believe they can possibly cope.
I have been thinking also of what the noble Lord, Lord Stamp, has said. I happen to be the governor of one or two boys' and girls' schools, and I have heard on the various boards of a suggestion from the Headmasters' Conference that it is important that a Royal Commission should sit to look into the matter of the depopulation of the public schools. I confess this is only an isolated aspect of the whole question. It may be—I rather incline to think that it is—the case that public schools were initiated in a confident and eager spirit in days gone by, without looking forward in the way that Lord Stamp has said that we ought to look forward; but there is no doubt that, while some of the leading schools are full and have a good waiting list, there are others that are going downhill altogether in the matter of numbers. Personally I can see no way in which a Royal Commission can help them. I believe their only salvation lies in amalgamation, and it would be far wiser for some of our public schools which are failing in this way to join their resources together in regard to the number of the pupils than to vie with one another in a competitive way. No doubt a great deal of this fall in numbers has been due to our secondary schools. There are so many boys and girls who can get a good education in a secondary school that the need to go to a public school, in spite of the great traditions of the public school, is becoming less urgent; and there are many people who contend that the education of a secondary school, the pupil living at home, has a great deal to be said for it, as compared with the education of boys and girls right away from their home influence.
Sometimes we discuss things here and not very much happens. We hear interesting speeches and go away better informed. I think, however, that the suggestion just made by the noble Lord, 635 Lord Stamp, is one that ought to be taken up rather quickly. We shall soon be having another census, and it may be that it will be impossible to deal with this subject adequately till we have had another census. At the same time it might be an advantage if a Commission were appointed, though the members could at present go little further than discuss what new questions might be raised in the next census. There would still be time to do it, and then we might have more useful and more complete information to hand by the time that this Royal or other Commission set to work to make recommendations.
One other humbler suggestion, but in line with what I have just said is this: If it were possible so to relate the question of the unemployment of women with the urgent demand for their employment in domestic service, a great service would be done to the country. It would be possible to say that any girl who was directed to turn to domestic service should have domestic service of only a certain quality, by which I mean certain hours of work, certain times of leisure, and so on. It may be difficult to tell a girl that she must apply for a service which she looks on almost as slavery; but it might be another thing if our unemployment authorities were put in a position where they could direct a girl into domestic service with an adequate guarantee that the terms of her service would be honourable and excellent and better fitted than industrial employment to make her a good wife and mother in the years to come.
§ 5.16 p.m.
My Lords, this has been a very interesting subject of debate, though a highly involved and technical one, and one on which perhaps I ought to feel myself scarcely qualified to speak, the ramifications being, as I say, extremely numerous and highly technical. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, in introducing his Motion, has covered admirably the bulk of the economic and statistical ground. I should like to say that in particular I myself am in complete agreement with the noble Viscount in the matter of his basic, though apparently unreasonable—one might almost say unseasonable—optimism with regard to the future. I suggest that we should all try to overcome the temptation to 636 despair for the future—to despair so much that we apparently begin to prefer extinction to continuation, and in particular as far as England's rôle in the world is concerned, a rôle which is, and must be, the important one befitting a community that has reached so high a degree of civilization.
As far as the noble Viscount's recommendation of family allowances is concerned, I have no doubt that that is, on general lines, the proper method to pursue, but I am quite convinced that such a method is inadequate without accompanying propaganda. I am encouraged in this view by what I believe to be two facts. One is that in France, in spite of family allowances, which the noble Viscount informed us have been in operation for some time, and in spite of encouragements such as the Prix Monthyon, which is given to a family that has produced the maximum number of children over a given period, and in spite also of the influx of extraneous elements of the population in the form of foreign labour, the total population continues to decline. This may, of course, be partly due to the French attitude towards the inheritance laws, which were initiated by the Code Napoléon—it certainly cannot be due to any decline in the belief in the family as an institution, a belief that remains very strong indeed in France. But whatever the reasons, I believe it to be a fact that this decline continues, in spite of everything. The other fact is that the same situation, in very different circumstances, exists in Italy. Signor Mussolini, unless I am very much mistaken, has instituted since his arrival in power not only inducements but deterrents. He offers family allowances, but he also inflicts a bachelor tax. Nevertheless, since he has been in power the birth-rate has done nothing but decline.
So we see for very different reasons—I suppose you might say, on the one hand, the reasons would be defensive and, on the other hand, possibly aggressive—both these countries desire their populations to rise. This has not happened, and I suggest that the principal reason is the reason the noble Viscount, Lord Dawson, mentioned in his speech—namely, the depressing and universal incertitude about the future, an incertitude which weighs upon the more delicate sensibility of women far more 637 than it does on men. I should like to suggest, if family allowances are to be introduced, that potential mothers must have pointed out to them that, at any rate as far as they are concerned, it is necessary not to despair of the future, and that the part they are to be asked to play is one which continues to be worth playing. In other words, I would advocate family allowances accompanied by intensive propaganda. Otherwise I am very much afraid, if one may use a comparison perhaps of some vulgarity, you would be taking the horse to water but the horse would refuse to drink. I am very glad to support the noble Viscount's Motion, and hope that the Government will deal with the matter as quickly as possible.
§ 5.22 p.m.
VISCOUNT ST. DAVIDS
My Lords, in rising to address your Lordships for the first time, I am afraid my only excuse is that I happen to be reading various books on this subject. One of the things that struck me was the system which has been operating in France since 1933 under which wage pools are made compulsory. This system has been extended from industry to industry, but even now it is nowhere near complete, because, for example, the industry of agriculture is still outside it. The noble Lord, Lord Snell, mentioned various ways in which the problem might be relieved. I do not see, unless free education is made universal, how a large body of the population can gain much, for the education of children is one of the biggest expenses people have to meet. Even under the French system, and then only in certain cases, the State pays no more than 50 per cent. of the cost of the child. I feel that such a system as the one I have mentioned could, with benefit, be adapted to this country. Under any other system a small ratepayer, for example, would get nothing. He would not get free milk. It is not only the person who needs free milk and other council aids whose children ought to be encouraged. After all, whether a man's income be £50 a year or £50,000, a bachelor is always richer than a married man.
One point which has been mentioned as tending to lower the birth-rate is the difficulty families have in finding suitable houses, particularly flats. If the income of the married man as against the 638 bachelor went up, that problem would solve itself. After all, the companies and councils which build flats and houses produce them to be lived in, and if there were people who could afford to pay for bigger flats and houses, I have no doubt such accommodation would be provided. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich mentioned one extraordinarily large family. I think that could be beaten by some of my cousins, for at one family gathering over 300 turned up. Another personal matter, if I may be allowed to mention it. I was very pleased when the noble Lord, Lord Snell, suggested that something might be done about Income Tax rebates for families. It does not affect him, but it does affect me, because although not a veteran member of your Lordships' House, I have already got a small son.
§ 5.26 p.m.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF YORK
My Lords, I feel I ought to apologise for intervening in the debate at this stage, having been unable to be present earlier. The business that came on in the Church Assembly this afternoon was such that I was obliged to be present, though the noble Viscount who introduced the debate very kindly told me the hour at which it would begin. But I was here in time to hear the concluding part, at any rate, of the speech of the noble Viscount who has just addressed the House, and can assure him that we shall look forward to many more contributions from one who obviously is giving much thought to these questions of public interest. There is a particular aspect of this matter on which I should be greatly obliged if I might say a few words, and I hope I am not straying beyond the scope of the Motion before the House.
I was very much concerned a little while ago with an inquiry into certain aspects of the problem of unemployment. A Committee which was originally brought together by my efforts was taken under the wing of the Pilgrim Trust, which added two members for the purpose, and with the aid of the Pilgrim Trust conducted an inquiry of which the report was published under the title Men without Work, which has made a considerable impression. It was the first inquiry into that problem on anything like the same scale which had regard 639 almost purely to the human as distinct from the industrial and economic aspects of the question. The main point of that inquiry was to urge the great importance of the principle of family allowances which I understand from what I have just heard, and from what the noble Viscount informed me, has been one of the matters discussed in the House this afternoon. There is here an aspect of the matter which affects the population question.
Recent inquiries have shown that the older men who are out of work for a long time prefer to get back into work even if their wages will bring them an income rather smaller than they could obtain from the various forms of relief as well as insurance open to those who are unemployed. But with the younger men that is not the case. On the contrary, they would rather remain unemployed even though the wages that they might earn are slightly greater, and we are there threatened with a very serious problem both from the point of view of industry and also from the point of view of the supply of population. The vital matter, of course, is that under the system that we have adopted, inadequate as some of us feel the provision for family allowance to the unemployed has been—whether as great as the nation could afford or not, yet inadequate for their needs—it is possible for a man with a considerable family to get a larger income while unemployed than he might get in the particular trade to which he belongs in employment.
There is also, I think, the obvious evil in the recruiting of the population largely from the unemployed ranks, and from those who are content to remain unemployed. We want on all grounds, both on the ground of encouraging population and on the ground of securing that the families of the future belong to households which are taking a responsible place in the life of the country and are contributing their share to its prosperity, to ensure that a man in work shall always be rather better off than the man out of work, and yet we must avoid anything like starving the children of those who are out of work. I see no way, without the most profound modification of the entire economic system, which we might or not welcome but which certainly calls for a 640 much larger inquiry than we have in mind this afternoon, of modifying that except by the method of family allowances, whereby you could secure both that there was encouragement given to the bringing into the world of the future citizens of whom the nation will stand in need, and also that they are born to families where their presence is not regarded as an inducement to the parents rather to be unemployed than to be in work, so far as the choice is open to them. To put that before them is a very serious diminution of the moral discipline under which the children will grow up.
I was particularly anxious, in case it had not already been said, as it may have been, to introduce this as rather a collateral argument in defence of the whole proposition of family allowances. I fully realise how large a proposal that is, that it can only be adopted after the most searching investigation, and that the means of doing it will require the greatest care in their provision. But if we can obtain a public opinion strongly in support of the principle we can by degrees find a way to bring the principle into operation, and from the result of a rather peculiarly close knowledge of some aspects especially of the long-term unemployment problem, I have been brought to see another reason, not unconnected with that of the supply of population, which should induce us to look very favourably on the proposal for family endowments.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ LORD TEMPLEMORE
My Lords, we have, as was to be expected, had an exceedingly interesting debate, and I am sure we are most grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, for having brought this subject before your Lordships to-day. We have had a number of exceedingly interesting speeches, and we have also had two maiden speeches, one from the noble Lord on the Cross Benches who, I see, has left the house, Lord Stamp, and one from the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, who sits on the Liberal Benches. I should like to congratulate both noble Lords on their contributions to the debate, and to Lord St. Davids may I say that I frequently in former years before I came to this House sat on the steps of the Throne where I used to hear his father speak? Lord St. Davids is one of our younger Peers whom we want to 641 see here often, and we hope very much that he will frequently join in our debates.
This debate has really divided itself into two parts. First of all there was the Motion of the noble Viscount to call attention to the prospective decline in population, and then there was the demand for various remedies, the chief of which, I think, was that for family allowances which was specially pressed by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, and was supported by the noble Viscount, Lord Dawson, and particularly by the most reverend Primate the Lord Archbishop of York, who has just spoken. The noble Viscount and others in the debate have referred to statements by numbers of eminent statisticians and mathematicians who have prophesied certain downward movements of the birthrate. I should be the last to criticise them, but it does seem to me to be only too easy for those who are not mathematical or statistical experts to treat these predictions as being of more objective validity than their authors would claim. Long-range estimate s of population depend entirely upon the assumptions made, and while they naturally make full use of the present and recent experience, they cannot fail to involve the estimator's own view as to whether the present trends are to continue or to be accelerated or diminished over a period of future time.
This is eminently a subject where one must have reliable data, and complete data are not yet available. The most comprehensive material we possess at present on which the facts and figures in my speech are based this afternoon are at the disposal only of the Registrar-General, who is continuously studying that material. The experience of the Registrar-General tends to the view that some of the forecasts which have been published expect an earlier decline in the population of the country than the facts appear to justify. Some of the estimates previously made have already been falsified or discarded, and during the past six years the realised experience, as year by year it has been available, has pointed to a postponement of the date when a decline is possible. Here may I refer to the estimates of Dr. Charles which were referred to by the noble Viscount who introduced the Motion? There arc, I think, a certain number of defects in the estimate that population would continue to decline from 1933, whereas in 642 fact, as I shall show later on, it has improved and the population of the country to-day is materially in excess of the estimates for 1938–39. Now I should hesitate to say that a decline of population is not in sight, but there are some interesting features in the situation which suggest the need for caution, the chief being that for the first time since the beginning of the decline, which I think was in 1873, the birth-rate in this country began to rise in 1934 and this tendency to rise has continued unbroken for five years in succession. I think this is a very interesting feature and may possibly suggest to your Lordships and others that a definite check to the long-continued downward movement has begun. At the same time I should not like to rely on that completely, for it might possibly be dangerous to put too great a value upon it.
§ LORD TEMPLEMORE
I can give the noble Viscount figures. Whereas the percentage of increase in population decreased until in 1933–34 it was 31 per cent., in 1934–35 the figure was 43 per cent., in 1935–36 45 per cent., and in 1936–37, 44 per cent. Certainly in 1937–38 there was a little decline to 42 per cent. But these figures emphasize the need for caution in attempting to forecast the date and rapidity of a decline in population as a basis for the examination of consequences of that decline or the consideration of measures designed to counteract it. In considering the kind of causes which under the new conditions may be affecting the voluntary contribution made by the community, account must also be taken of another factor, and that is the economic question. It may not be unreasonable, I think, to associate the marked check in the decline of the birthrate during the last five years with the relative progress made during that period in the economic recovery of the country. Slight indications have also been noted in a number of other countries of short-range association between the birth-rate and the employment rate, though in no case has the data been sufficiently substantial to justify any real conclusions. The considerations in this matter are so elusive that it is very difficult to isolate them in such a manner as to secure convincing evidence. Without suggesting for a 643 moment that the prospect of a decline of population is not to be reckoned with as a possibility after the next fifteen or twenty years, I think that the matter is a far more open one than is generally believed, and that it is difficult to form any definite conclusions about the occurrence date or rapidity of a decline.
A number of measures to counteract the expected decline in the population have been suggested this afternoon, among them being a system of family allowances. As the noble Viscount recalled, we had a debate on this subject of family allowances on July 7 last year. It was raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester who I am sorry not to see in his place to-day. The duty of answering for His Majesty's Government fell on myself on that occasion also and I very well remember—I have read the report of the debate again—that the right reverend Prelate was thoroughly dissatisfied with my reply and that the noble Viscount opposite wound up the debate in a very humourous and, to me, unexpected manner by expressing in a very few words his opinion of His Majesty's Government in general and I suppose myself in particular. As regards family allowances, I should like with your Lordships' permission to examine the experience of other countries in this matter. A number of countries have adopted family allowance systems. The noble Viscount this afternoon mentioned France, Belgium, Germany, New South Wales and New Zealand. But in general it is not possible to detect any significant association between the incidence of the allowances and the corresponding history of the birth-rate movement.
I am dealing with this system of family allowances simply from the point of view of the trend of population and not from any standpoint of social justice or equity. The allowances have usually been instituted as a measure of social justice rather than with the direct object of stimulating the birth-rate, and they were in many cases originally confined to small sections of a population. Where they have been subsequently extended the changes have been too gradual to make any great impression on the birth record. In France and Belgium the family allowance systems may be said to cover the bulk of the 644 populations, and whatever the original reasons for their introduction, have come to be regarded in recent years as a possible means for keeping up the birth rate. It is conceivable, of course, that the fertility rate might have been lower without them but the available data in the possession of His Majesty's Government are insufficient either to support or to deny the contention that they have influenced the fertility rate in any way. There has certainly been no radical variation in the birth-rate, and in fact no changes at all so conspicuous as that observable in the records of this country since 1933. And I would ask your Lordships to note that these changes took place without the application of any artificial stimulus whatever. The only country with a record of a material increase in its birth-rate ensuing apparently from statutory political measures is Germany, in which the birth-rate rose from 14.7 per thousand in 1933 to 18 per thousand in 1934. For this change the introduction of a system of non-interest-bearing marriage loans, 25 per cent. of which is cancelled on the birth of each child, is held to have been partly responsible.
Turning now to our own country I wonder what sort of a reception would a proposal to pay family allowances receive here. I do not think that even its warmest advocates here this afternoon deny that this is a matter on which neither public nor official opinion has yet become crystallised. There is, in fact, a very considerable difference of opinion about the desirability of adopting proposals of this nature. As the noble Viscount and the noble Lord opposite said, the matter was discussed in 1927 and 1930 by the Trades Union Congress General Council and it is probable that the trade union leaders still view such proposals with a good deal of uncertainty, if not actual suspicion, for there is in many quarters a considerable fear that a system of family allowances might ultimately result in the lowering of our standard of wages, or that family allowances could only be granted at the expense of other social services which should be developed first. In rejecting the proposal the Trades Union Congress seemed to have in mind that equal work would attract, not equal pay, but varying rates dependent on the size of the worker's family.
The noble Viscount mentioned some of the possible lines of approach to this 645 problem. I referred to them in my speech last year, and I will not go into them in detail now. Briefly they are: firstly, a general improvement in the wage level; secondly, that employers in increasing numbers should grant family allowances; thirdly, a scheme by which employees in different industries should contribute to their own fund; fourthly, the creation of a national family allowance fund out of contributions by employers, workpeople and the Exchequer; and fifthly, the possibility of direct provision of family allowances out of the Exchequer. The last two suggestions have not been canvassed widely, and opinion is not yet fixed on them, but I have to say that the view at present of His Majesty's Government is that they have no ground for thinking that such a proposal would be likely to receive sufficient support to justify their introduction.
I will now return to the main point of the noble Viscount's Motion—namely, the decline in population. Before 1875 the rate stood at a general level of about 35 per 1,000 population per annum. It then fell almost uninterruptedly for more than half a century to the minimum of 14.7 per 1,000 in 1933. Since then the position has been reversed and a small improvement has taken place. The more sensational and pessimistic forecasts of the future population of this country have been based on the assumption of a continuance of the decline below the 1933 minimum, whereas if the present level is maintained, even without further improvement, I am informed that it is unlikely that the population would fall below the current total of 46,000,000 for two or three decade;. The fact is, as I have said, that we want far more data before we can reach a basis for Government policy or action. His Majesty's Government have not been forgetful of the question and have already taken steps to collect such data.
Just over two years ago on February 10, 1937, there was a debate on this very subject in another place, and a Motion was moved by Mr. Cartland which I should like to read to your Lordships:That this House is of opinion that the tendency of the population to decline may well constitute a danger to the maintenance of the British Empire and to the economic wellbeing of the nation, and requests His 646 Majesty's Government to institute an inquiry into and report upon the problem and its social and economic consequences and to make recommendations in regard thereto.There was a very full debate on that Motion, which was answered on behalf of the Government by my right honourable friend Mr. Hudson, and in the end the House of Commons accepted that Motion. As a direct result the Population (Statistics) Act, 1938, was passed, and came into operation on July 1 last year; that Act made it possible for the first time to ascertain at the registration of each birth the age of the mother, the duration of her marriage and the number of children previously born to her. It was passed with the express object of pursuing and extending the inquiry into the predisposing causes of the decline in the birth-rate.
From the information which will thus be obtained valuable light will be thrown on the varying incidence of fertility in different sections of the population, and a body of data will be built up from which details of the changes taking place from time to time will be immediately detected; but the collection of this data will, of course, take time. Even if this does not directly reveal the basic causes of these changes, it will serve as an indispensable background of fact, both for the testing of variations in regard to the previous basic factors and also for estimating and measuring the results of any concerted attempts to vary their natural course.
The material derived from the first six months' operation of the Act is now in course of being examined and analysed. A report will be published, and will be followed by similar analyses of each year's returns as they become available. To utilise the facts so obtained, however, these annual analyses will have to be associated with the corresponding analyses of the total number of potential mothers in the community as determined at a census, and the provisional information and inferences obtained from the annual records of the next two or three years may be expected to be revised and extended when the 1941 census returns become available.
When the data become available, we shall be able to see whether the position is such as to demand action, and if so, what action would be most likely to prove effective. In this connection I see a cer- 647 tain difficulty in holding out any hope of the Royal Commission which was recommended so strongly by the noble Viscount, by my noble friend Lord Stamp and by other speakers. A proper examination of the position depends not so much upon the trend of population itself as on the causes responsible for the trend, for the understanding of which a knowledge of the facts yet to be revealed under the new Population (Statistics) Act is necessary. Therefore I see a certain difficulty in setting up a Royal Commission in the near future, although naturally that suggestion, along with the others made by your Lordships this afternoon, will be brought to the notice of the Cabinet.
I do not think I have left unanswered any question that was asked me. The views expressed by your Lordships and the suggestions that have been made will be most carefully read by my right honourable friends in the Cabinet, and I took particular note of the suggestion made by my noble friend Lord Stamp about the five-yearly census. Whether that will be possible or not I am sure I have not any idea, but he may rest assured that his suggestion will be carefully considered. I have dealt as well as I am able with this important subject. While I do not think that His Majesty's Government, who after all have, I suppose, the best information on this subject, take as gloomy a view as some of your Lordships who have spoken, they fully realise the importance of the matter. At any rate I hope very much that this debate which has taken place to-day will have fulfilled what I believe to be the main object of the noble Viscount in bringing it forward—namely, to educate the people of this country in a matter which may in a few years become vital to our nation and the Empire.
§ 5.57 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord for the speech which he has just delivered. He has rightly interpreted my object in bringing forward this Motion as a desire to ventilate the subject for the public information and also to elicit the views of members of your Lordships' House. I certainly should not apply to his speech the somewhat acidulated criticism, to which he made reference, that I made on the occasion of the debate of a year ago. 648 Nevertheless, the speech made to-day on behalf of the Government was, as is very often the case in these days, very optimistic in spirit and quite negative in conclusion.
With regard to the actual facts of the case, I pointed out with emphasis that the estimates given of future trend of population must necessarily he hypothetical and dependent upon certain estimations which might or might not be fulfilled. As to the improvement in the birth-rate in the last two or three years, I was quite unable to follow the noble Lord's figures which he gave me in answer to the interruption that I ventured to make. So far as I recollect the figure of the actual change in the birth-rate, it has been minute, and little more can be said than that the birth-rate in the last two or three years has not continued to decline. The noble Lord said that the figures that are available to the Registrar-General indicated that very probably for the next two or three decades the population might remain stationary. Even that is no very great consolation in view of all the circumstances surrounding the case; but I do not think the noble Lord denies that there is a prospective decline, or that the present facts indicate that there will be an ultimate decline in the population instead of an increase which would contribute to the strength of the nation and of the Empire.
With regard to the postponement of the appointment of a Royal Commission, it is of course true that such a Commission would have to rely very considerably upon the information that is being collected under the new Act. But that information ought to be forthcoming after no very long interval, and a Royal Commission would have other matters, such as the general inquiry into family allowances, which it could undertake meanwhile. I trust, therefore, that if the Government are favourably inclined in principle to the appointment of a Royal Commission to deal with the whole of this group of subjects, including those to which Lord Stamp referred, they will not postpone it unduly. Thanking the noble Lord, Lord Templemore, for his speech on behalf of the Government, I would ask leave to withdraw my Motion.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.