HL Deb 08 June 1943 vol 127 cc892-930

EARL DE LA WARR rose to call attention to the threatened decrease in population in this country, and to ask His Majesty's Government what consideration they are giving to the problem; and to move for Papers. The noble Earl said: My Lords, it is never very wise to raise in your Lordships' House a subject about which one knows only a little. My excuse for breaking that rule to-day is that there are too many of us who know too little about this subject of population. I cannot see any better way of opening up a discussion of this vital subject than by a debate in your Lordships' House. I do not speak in any way as an expert in terms of knowledge of the facts, and certainly not in terms of remedies, but simply as a layman who feels that here we are at the present moment planning our future policy for education, housing, health, the use of our land in town and country, agriculture, industry, and all our Imperial policies and defence, yet we are taking quite extraordinarily little account of what must, in fact, be the very basis of the consideration we are giving to these problems—that is, the numbers and, equally important, the age composition of our future population by which must be judged our capacity to earn the wealth that will be necessary to pay for all we are intending to do, the population that will be needed for the peopling of the Empire and, if need be, for working and fighting, as to-day, for our very existence.

What is the position? Very briefly and simply it is this, that every 100 women of child-bearing age were in 1939 replacing themselves to the extent of 75 women. Taking that as a basis of calculation, it means that these 75 women will in turn replace themselves to the extent of 57 women. That compares with a rate in 1880 of 155, and in 1911 of 115. Assuming that these tendencies continue it means that by about 1980 our population will be down to 34,000,000 compared with the present 45,000,000. I use the word "assuming" rightly, because it is no good attempting to be a prophet on a subject like this. It may well be that some quite unforeseen happening will occur to alter this tendency and falsify all our gloomy prognostications, but he would be a bold man who would say that we must base our assumptions on a tremendous reversal of what has been, in fact, a very prolonged trend. The gravity of these figures is masked at the present time partly because it takes almost a generation for figures like these to work out in their effect over the whole population. Also there has been a fairly considerable decrease—most welcome—in mortality; but this decrease is among the aged as well as the young, and to that extent has no effect on future population figures. The gravity of the position has also to some extent been masked by the fact that the tendency, just before the war, was for migration to be towards this country rather than away from it.

That really makes the position graver because it means, surely, that these things that are happening to-day are going to settle our future twenty or thirty years ahead. Unless we face up to the problem here and now, it may well be that in twenty years' time we are going to wake up and realize we are exactly twenty years too late. I apologize to your Lordships for giving so many figures, but one cannot illustrate this matter without figures. They do not, however, tell the whole story. Not only are we going to have a much smaller population in 1980, but our whole age composition is going to be vastly different. To the extent of about one-quarter, we are going to be a nation of old age pensioners. That is quite politically true. Again, in 1880, the number of people over 65 represented 7½ per cent. of the whole. In 1930 that 7½ per cent. had gone up to 11½ per cent., and in 1980 the figure will be 22½ per cent., with a correspondingly fewer number of people of working age to support all these old age pensioners. I hope I shall not be accused of taking an unduly cynical view of the politics of this country if I suggest that, with the ever-growing voting power of the pensioner, the tendency will be for pensions to go up in value rather than to go down. These figures, I hope your Lordships will agree, are extremely grave. I do not think I am exaggerating when I say that there really is no other single political or economic problem that compares with this in fundamental importance.

It may be that we have got to accept the inevitable, the unalterable, or it may be that we shall find there are in fact steps that can be taken either to modify these developments or actually to reverse them, but it is absolutely clear that we cannot as a nation disregard them. There is only, so far as I can see, one official note that has been taken of the position. That is in a report published last year, called "The Current Trend of Population in Great Britain" published on behalf of the Minister of Health and the Secretary of State for Scotland. It is a combined report by their two Registrar-Generals. That Report, if I may say so, is completely misleading and therefore extremely dangerous. I cannot see the reason or excuse for a Report of this character unless it is just an attempt to allay public concern on a problem that is in fact dangerous to the extent that the public do not recognize it. If your Lordships look at this Report you will see that the figures do not go beyond 1971. It is an extraordinary coincidence that it is just after 1971 that the figures really become disturbing. If your Lordships can get hold of a copy of this Report and will look at page 4 you will find calculations showing that the situation will be quite all right on the assumption that the birth-rate continues at 700,000 a year, but in an aside, having given that calculation, the Report notices incidentally that we are in fact proceeding at a rate of 25 per cent. below that level.

I refer to the Report because it does seem to me extraordinarily disturbing that officialdom should go out of its way to attempt to destroy the public concern which in fact there ought to be. But there is no reason why we in this House should follow that course. One has to recognize that there are a great number of people who, with some reason, disagree with myself on this matter. It can very well be argued, as they would say, that a population of 5,000,000 or 6,000,000 less than we have in this country at the present time would not really seriously matter. But that is quite beside the point. We are not discussing the question of a population of 5,000,000 less, we are discussing a problem that is to give us a steadily decreasing population logically proceeding almost to extinction over a very prolonged period, and not only a steadily decreasing population but a steady increase of old persons at the expense of the young members of the nation. Why is this thing happening? I think we have got to make some attempt to answer that question before we jump to quick or easy remedies. A great deal more study of the problem is needed before anybody who is wise is going to attempt any final explanation.

We have to ask ourselves, to begin with, is it a question of small families, or is it also a question of the number of women who in fact are not married? I do not know. I notice some figures, to give two examples, showing that in Bul- garia 1.3 per cent of women do not marry, whereas in this country the number is 17 per cent. Is that an important factor? Is it due to economic causes? Is it due to a national loss of fertility? Is it because we have become pleasure-loving? Is it because of lack of religion? Is it that our education gives a wrong objective, particularly to girls, putting before them the aim and object of earning their own living in a shop or as a typist rather than looking for a home? Is it a lack of confidence in the material state of the world following on the last great war, which was succeeded by twenty years or more of industrial depression and unemployment? Or is it something more elusive? Is it something that really calls into question the whole quality of our civilization? The subject was brought out the other day by the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, in a rather different context. Is it something that calls into question the whole content of our education, the whole objective of our national health system, which aims at curing disease rather than at what the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, described as positive health? Is it the effect that living in slums for generations will have on a population, the deadening effect not only of unemployment but of constantly repetitive work upon those engaged in mass production processes?

Arising out of all this, my Lords, there is a very important question, and that is how much will what we call progress, greatly developed education, improvement of the health services, feeding, nutrition, and a gradual rising of the standard of living affect the position? What effect is all that going to have? Is it going to increase this tendency or decrease it? We have to face the fact that it is not always those families of the highest standard of living, the most healthy and the most prosperous families, who necessarily increase at the most rapid rate. There seems to be complete uncertainty in the answer we have to give to most of these questions, and I feel that it would be folly to attempt an answer to them to-day. I think he would be a bold man who attempted a very definite or positive answer on present evidence. Probably, as so often is the case in life, this happening is due to a great variety of causes and I doubt myself whether there is any one single answer or one single remedy.

There are two remedies that are frequently put forward, both to my mind extremely sound in themselves and on their own merits, but quite inadequate, I believe, as a solution to the particular problem. The first is a continued attack on the problem of mortality, particularly amongst the young. Obviously that is something we want to go on with whatever its effect on population. But we must face this, that if not a single girl or woman were to die under the age of fifty—I take that as an approximate child-bearing age—it would only take our rate of production up from 75 per cent. to just under 90. Therefore I say a mere attack on the problem of mortality is inadequate. Then there is the proposal of family allowances. I have never been able to persuade myself that this problem is one that can be adequate on a purely economic basis. We do know, of course, that the child has become a much greater burden than it was in the old days when, to take an extreme case, families put their children into the mines or mills, sometimes even as early as five years of age, in order to add to the family income. To-day children are not allowed by law to go to work until at least fourteen.

But many of us would take a great deal of convincing that this is a purely economic problem. We know that never has mortality been lower than to-day and never has the standard of living been higher, but for all that most of us would press the Government to continue that policy of family allowances and would stress particularly the desirability of paying little or nothing for the first or second child in order that it may be possible to be more generous for the third and later children. Probably the middle classes are most hit on the economic side from the point of view of bringing up children. No system of family allowances is going to be of serious assistance to the middle classes. Therefore to family allowances I think we must add the need for making Income Tax deductions for children far less negligible than they are at present. The improvement of our public system of education, to make it easier for them to make use of that system, would also undoubtedly be of great assistance.

I am afraid, as I said at the beginning, that my remarks have not been very conclusive, because, primarily, this is a subject which we have got to raise first in order to get further information. But, to sum up, I would say, first, that the subject presents us with a problem that is serious and pressing and that the only report about it which has hitherto been issued by any Government Department is misleading and, as I said, therefore dangerous. Secondly, there are two immediate steps that can be taken: the continuing attack on the problem of mortality and the granting of family allowances, plus considerable and generous Income Tax deductions in respect of children. Both these proposed remedies, we have to admit, though desirable are inadequate. Thirdly, and most important, there must be further immediate inquiry into the facts and causes and the effects of declining population. I will not attempt to dogmatize now as to whether that inquiry should take the form of a Royal Commission—although I am convinced the subject is worthy of such consideration—or the rather more permanent ad hoc body suggested the other day by the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, for advising the Government on policy and the wider aspects of public health. But there must be inquiry and it must be immediate. Lastly, whilst all our efforts must be directed to correcting this tendency that we are discussing to-day we should always bear in mind that we have got to have a second line of defence. All the plans we are making to-day for the future should take into account the fact that we may either fail completely in our efforts or achieve only partial success. Unless we take that into consideration there is grave danger that the plans we are laying to-day with so much hope may be based on quite false and non-existent premises. I beg to move.


My Lords, with much that the noble Earl has said I mostly warmly agree. There is very little indeed, if anything, from which I differ. In nothing am I more cordially in agreement with him than that this subject is one to which even the uninstructed layman may make a contribution by throwing ideas into the common pool, though he be himself no expert. I have no pretensions to be an expert, I approach the subject from the standpoint of an ordinary citizen concerned with a problem of great moment. It is indeed, as the noble Earl has said, perhaps the most important single economic problem with which our nation has to deal. In the last century the British people expanded both in numbers and in space. That is why the last century is known as Britain's century. If the noble Earl's prognostication is correct, and I believe it is, the grim question which we have to ask ourselves is: Has the tide turned? That is the main question, but there are subsidiary questions which have a very real importance. We have to ask ourselves these questions: Will there be sufficient young men and women in the next generation to maintain the greatness of Britain? Will there be enough of them to defend that greatness in the next generation if, which God fore-fend, the need should arise?

For myself, I say frankly that looking into the future I find the prospects of an ageing and declining population most frightening. There are some—the noble Earl indicated it—who do not take that view, who ask, why is the prospect frightening? Was there not, they say, mass unemployment before the war? If the population goes down will there not be fewer people to share the nation's goods and services? To those who ask those questions the prospects are indeed attractive, but the attractions are meretricious, the argument is fallacious. It is true that there will be fewer to work, and there will be fewer to share, but the stock of goods and services to be shared will be smaller also. The plain fact of the matter is, as the noble Earl said, that the nation is not reproducing its numbers, though the situation is, to an extent, veiled at the moment, obscured by the fact that the old are living longer.

The noble Earl gave your Lordships a few figures. Mine are a little different but they have the same general trend. It is worth the notice of your Lordships that in 1901 the proportion of the population under fifteen was one-third; to-day it is one-fifth, and in 1971, if present trends continue, it will be one-sixth. In 1901 the proportion of old people—that is, for this purpose, men over 65 and women over 60—was one-sixteenth; to-day it is one-eighth, and in 1971, under present trends, it will become one-fifth. Those are not precisely the same figures as the noble Earl gave, but it is the same argument based on the same trend. This is the outcome that has to be faced in respect of these figures and I have put it in concrete terms. There will be 9,500,000 old people to be supported by 29,000,000 only of men and women of working age. Furthermore, in 1971 there will only be 7,500,000 children coming along as compared with 12,000,000 in 1901. And the decline in both the total population and, what is vitally important, the proportion of the population of working age, will have begun, and having begun will gather speed increasingly.

I take a very different view from those who look with calmness upon what I regard as a frightening prospect. The view I would place before your Lordships, concurring with the noble Earl, is that the way to save unemployment and to maintain the standard of living is not to multiply the unborn. If this trend continues there will be more and more old people, fewer and fewer children, fewer producers, fewer taxpayers, and fewer fighters. That is the prospect, and it is enormously important that the people of this country should be made aware of it; that they should be brought up against the sobering truth which they will have to confront at some time or other. We have, in my diagnosis of the situation, to make the people of this country population conscious. We want to create an atmosphere, to create, if you like, a climate of thought in which the people will want, and are going to be encouraged to have, larger families. We have to make larger families the fashion. Larger families must become "the thing."

The facts and their grave implications must he brought home to the people of this country. What are the facts? The noble Earl has referred to some of them. He has pointed out that mothers are failing to reproduce themselves by an extent of about 25 per cent. That is a pretty formidable prospect. The ebb started in 1870, and after 1900 or thereabout the number of births began to fall. But the number was still well in excess of the number of deaths, and the population, round about 1901, was still replacing itself. It was after the last war that the tide really began to turn in earnest. The reproduction rates then fell below unity—they fell below replacement level. But the population was still, for a time, on the rising curve because mortality was still falling, and births still exceeded deaths. But, my Lords, the sands are nearly dry now. If the current trend continues the population, as the noble Earl said, must fall, within the next generation and the decline will gather great speed in two generations. It goes ahead almost in geometric progression.

These are the facts; what are the implications? What are the implications of an ageing and declining population, declining in its virile working section as well as in its total numbers? The onus of production will fall on fewer shoulders; there will be relatively few and decreasing producers. The burden of taxation will tall on fewer heads; the vast sums required for the Budget will have to be found from the productivity of these relatively few and decreasing producers. The responsibility for defence will fall on fewer backs, there will be fewer to work and fewer to fight. And, let us face it squarely, if these trends continue, Britain will be unable to discharge the functions of a world. Power, she will be unable to discharge the obligations of an Imperial Power and partner. And this is not only a matter of defence; it is a question of peopling the empty spaces of the Dominions and the Colonies. As it is—it was said in debate in this House only a few weeks ago—we cannot face the prospect of having to spare our young and fit, and, if things go on as they are doing, we shall be still less able to spare them. We cannot help because of the frightening fall in numbers. But if we were to accept that situation, and to take no remedying steps it would be abdication. That is a situation which none of us can accept.

It is perhaps important, and I think perhaps it is useful, that one should look a little afield and see how we stand in relation to other countries in this matter. It is very remarkable—it has, I think, been pointed out to your Lordships already, and I certainly intended to refer to it—that in the course of two generations the prospective mother population of this country has decreased by two-thirds. Throughout Northern and Western Europe, by the middle 'thirties, the average number of potential mothers born had also fallen, as in this country, by two thirds during the last sixty or seventy years. Even in countries like the United States, Australia and New Zealand reproduction has been only just hovering at the replacement point, and sometimes dipped below. No doubt your Lordships will have seen Professor Harrod's recent pamphlet in which he makes this very striking statement, which seems, unhappily, to be borne out by the facts. "The British, French and Scandinavian peoples," he says, "are in immediate jeopardy." He does not mention the Germans, but the Germans are in no better case, because Hitler's bonuses, though they speeded up marriage and induced first children—and that only for a time—have had no lasting effect on the size of German families. It is not the first or even the second births which count in this matter, but the large families—the third, fourth and fifth children.

Let us look into this matter a little further, because the striking fact emerges that the world balance is shifting. The main feature of the nineteenth century was what has been called "the swarming of the Western European peoples." They swarmed at home, abroad and overseas. They have ceased to swarm. In one country after another, rising living standards have brought falling reproduction rates, so that they have gained a whole new world but they have lost the will to grow. I emphasize that phrase—the will to grow. It is not biology or physical disability or sterility that sets limits to fertility; it is social habit, custom, psychology; it is a matter of deliberate choice. In the words of Sir John Clapham, "it is two-thirds a spiritual problem."

While these nations have lost the will to grow, other peoples still swarm. The cycle of population is still moving upwards in Central and in Eastern Europe. New cycles of population increase are in progress in Asia. I wonder whether your Lordships have looked at the very remarkable figures for Russia. In spite of civil war, invasion, disease and famine, they show a very remarkable trend. In the twenty years from 1920 to 1939, the population of European Russia increased from 103,000,000 to 129,000,000, an increase of 26 per cent. In the same twenty years, the population of Asiatic Russia increased from 29,000,000 to 41,000,000, an increase of 46 per cent. It is clear, therefore, that from the Urals eastward there is a new powerhouse of population and energy which has already done much to save Russia in this war, and is a certain centre of expansion and development in the post-war world. In Japan the rate of increase is at a peak. No doubt it will slacken, but it will long remain very formidable. In the Netherlands Indies, India and China the cycle of increase is still sweeping upwards—checked, no doubt, by death, disease, starvation and war, but still sweeping upwards. It may be that Russia, Japan, India and China will in their turn come to check their growth as their standards of living rise, as has happened in the Western countries, but, as you look round the world, the contrast is very striking and very significant.

The war has done anything but help the Western countries in these respects. All the conditions of scattered Armies, privation, starvation and slavery have struck at the European peoples until, in the words of Sir John Clapham, "I foresee," he says, "a multitude of never-born Europeans which may well exceed the losses of battle." When the war ends and normal home life restarts, are the old trends that have brought the Western world, and this country in particular, to this pass to be resumed? That is the question which the noble Earl has posed in his Motion. Is it inevitable, is it inescapable, that the so-called developed countries, industrialized, commercialized, civilized in the material sense, should cease to grow? I say of Britain at least, surely it is not. It is a matter of choice, and therefore the trend can be turned.

I want briefly to give three aids to this reversal of a course which is leading to national disaster. First, let the people know; inform them of the peril. Second, remove all the deterrents to having a large family. Third, set out consciously to create a new habit and a new custom; as I have said before, make families fashionable, make large families "the thing." It will be a great experiment, because the problem is a dual one: it is the problem of raising living standards and reproduction standards at the same time. In previous times they have moved in reverse; we now have to make them move together. It is a great experiment, but at the same time it is a major test of our civilization. Let me take my three aids—they are no more than aids, because at bottom the problem is spiritual and personal. I say first that it is the duty of every leader of opinion in the pulpit, in Parliament, in the Press and elsewhere not to agitate for more cannon-fodder in the totalitarian sense of Hitler and Mussolini—that is not succeeding in increasing the size of families—but to put the facts and their implications before the British people; because they, after all, have the right and also the duty to decide the future of themselves and of their country. There has been too much reticence, too much coyness, too much ignorance, too much stupidity, too much neglect of the nation's plainest need. What is that plainest need? It is salvation from extinction. Nothing less is at issue.

Remove also the deterrents. I would ask of the Government that from now onwards every branch of social, economic and fiscal policy should be selective, biased and weighted in favour of large families. It was one of the virtues of Beveridge that he did see the family problem as a whole—security, maternity benefit, children's allowances. The Government have accepted the suggestion of children's allowances. I am not here to discuss the amount of them, but I say, do it now. Although they are little enough, they are one small item in the right direction; and these allowances—and this is the only point which I would make on the question of amount—must increase progressively with the size of the family. The programme should be higher allowances for later children. Then, as the noble Earl has said, there is the question of taxation. We must increase the allowances in favour of families; the larger the family, the larger proportionately the help which they must receive, and there the watchword should be bigger relief to later children. Then there is the question of houses, and the intractable problem of rents. The larger the family, the larger the home necessary. There the Government's watchword should be, the larger the home, the lower the rent. I know that that will require the intervention and help of the central and local authorities; but it is vital: the larger the home, the lower the rent. I shall say nothing of the problem of education, except that more help will be required for the later children.

The main point of the argument which I am addressing to your Lordships is that it is large families that are wanted, not simply early marriages and first and second children, in the near future. It is the third, fourth and fifth children that count, and the country must be prepared to give third, fourth and fifth children special terms. That is the condition of our continued existence. But in the last resort, as I have said, it is not the material side, the material aids, that will decide—they are negative and secondary—it is the will and spirit of the parents that count. Give them more help, remove all obstacles, it will still depend on what they choose to do. We have to create a public spirit, a state of mind, an atmosphere in which the State will welcome children, in which the parents will want them for their own sakes and, in the context of the nation's future, for the sake of the free society to which they belong.

As I began, so I end. We have to make large families fashionable, we have to make large families "the thing". They have to be made fashionable to parents, fashionable in the eyes of the State, fashionable among house builders, fashionable in the eyes of landlords, fashionable in the eyes of lodging-house keepers. That stupid cry or notice of which we know, "No children," is anti-social, is anti-patriotic. It must be brought into disrepute, whether "children" is the decision of the married or the prohibition of those who own and run, the nation's accommodation. We have to make large families "the thing". If I have presented your Lordships with a sombre picture it is because the facts I have depicted are in themselves sombre, but there is a light to be seen, and I would put it that this is the nation's mission—to save itself in the long avenues of peace, as it has done on the short, steep slopes of war. It is a high mission for upon it depends the future. It is, worth pursuing; let us pursue it.


My Lords, I feel sure that the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, has rendered a great service in bringing this grave matter to the attention of your Lordships' House. Just four years ago, in Slime, 1939, I had a Motion on the same subject, which was very fully debated. On that occasion many noble Lords, from all quarters of the House, emphasized the gravity of the problem. Lord Stamp, whose death by enemy action has been so great a loss to this House, the noble Viscount. Lord Dawson of Penn, win speaks with unrivalled authority on this subject, the present Archbishop of Canterbury, then Archbishop of York, Lord Snell and several other noble Lords all spoke in the same sense; but: from the Government Bench on that: occasion the debate was ended in a very different mood. The noble Lord, Lord Templemore, whose elevation to the Privy Council has, I am sure, gratified all quarters of this House, speaking then, not I am sure from any depth of passionate conviction of his own, but rather as the mouthpiece of the Department he represented, gave a reply which was characterized by official optimism at its worst.

He quoted a number of figures by the Registrar-General, the general upshot of which was that after all there was nothing very much amiss, that there was a great deal of exaggeration, that trends might be different before long, and at all events that for another thirty years the situation was not likely to be very grave. And that was followed by a Government White Paper much in the same sense, clamping down any feeling of alarm, and by implication discountenancing anything in the nature of a national agitation on this subject. It seems to me that that was quite wrong, and I sincerely hope that the noble Duke who will reply to this debate will be able to speak in a different sense and with a different tendency.

I shall not repeat the, I fear, somewhat lengthy arguments that I laid before your Lordships' House four years ago, but I should like to put one statistical fact which was not included among those given by the two noble Lords who have already addressed the House. It is this, that towards the end of the Victorian period, at the time of the census of 1891, of all the married women of child-bearing age one in four gave birth to a child in any given year. At the time of the last census in 1931 the figure was not one in four, but one in eight. That is the central fact of the whole situation, which would have had an absolutely catastrophic effect on the population if it had not been that the death-rate has been considerably reduced in that period, and especially the. infant mortality rate, which has been halved. But still that has gone but a little way towards making good the terrible deficiency in the birth-rate that has occurred within the last half century. Since that debate in 1939 there has been a slight increase in the birth-rate. The tendency has, on the whole, been upward, but it is of very small moment. I cannot believe that the increase has been due to the effect of our speeches in this House, but it has probably been clue to the larger number of marriages during the last few years and that, in turn, seems to have been due to two causes. The marriage rate fell during the great depression of 1931–34, and when that was over probably a number of couples who would have got married in those years but who had to postpone their weddings on account of their hard economic situation, got married later on, and so raised the marriage rate in the more recent years, and consequently the birth-rate. Secondly, the oubreak of war has had the effect perhaps of expediting marriages between young people who had been intending perhaps to wait two or three years but who, when the man was going to face the risks of war, thought they had better get married at once. Furthermore, the fact that marriage allowances are payable to the wives and children of those serving in the Forces may have had some share in such an inducement. So that the slight increase in the birth-rate, such as it is, has been due partly to the fact that we are making good the arrears of the past, and also making drafts upon the future, and it is not to be considered any ground for complacency. For it still leaves the birth-rate very far below the reproduction rate for the existing population, or anything really approaching the existing population, in future years.

Is this prospective fail in population a good thing or a bad thing? Some people think there would be no harm if the population of this country were to fall, at all events by a few millions. You hear it said: "We are too closely packed in this island. We have frequently great numbers of unemployed. Let the population be a little smaller and then the situation in both respects would be eased." We are somewhat too closely packed in parts of this island, but it is a question of overcrowding, and overcrowding is not the same thing as over-population. I have seen a calculation that the whole of our urban population, properly spaced out, with garden cities and garden suburbs, and with what is so necessary—room to live—could be properly housed on 6 per cent. of the area of this island, leaving 94 per cent. for agriculture or national parks and purposes of recreation and amenity. The right solution for the overcrowding of some sections of the population is not to reduce that population, but proper town and country planning. If we had town and country planning we could have on this island a much larger population even than we have now without any overcrowding or feeling that we were too closely packed together.

As for the problem of unemployment, every student of economics knows you may have just as large a ratio of unemployment in a smaller population as in a bigger population. The history of this country shows that when we had a much smaller population than now about the middle of the nineteenth century, there was from time to time a most grave problem of unemployment. Whenever a trade depression came, with a population half or two-thirds what it is to-day, there were hundreds of thousands, even approaching a million, people unemployed. If we were to suppose that the population of this country was reduced by one-third, and if then some cycle of world trade depression came upon that smaller population, we should have exactly the same proportion of unemployed as the larger population had had in the recent past. Therefore it is a fallacy to suggest that a small population is likely to be a cure for unemployment. But if the population of this island were to be reduced by one-third, or approaching one-third, as according to present trends it will be within the life-time of boys and girls now at school, then obviously the nation would be gravely weakened. As has been pointed out by the noble Lords who have just spoken, it means an increase in the number of the aged at the expense of the young. The reduction of one-third would not be equally distributed over the whole range of ages. It would mean the advent of fewer young, but not the departure of more old.

Just as a material body has its centre of gravity, so one may say a population may have its age centre—the average age of those living at a given moment. If the birth-rate is insufficient, the effect is that the age centre shifts further and further back year by year towards the age of 50 or 60. Man-power thereby is lessened, the volume of production falls, while from a strategic point of view the nation is greatly weakened. Furthermore, this country, which has been the breeding ground for the stock that goes abroad to our Dominions and to some extent to our Colonies, would no longer be able to supply the British stock of those under-populated lands. So it is not a good thing that the population should be reduced. Nor is it a question of equal balance of advantage or disadvantage so that it does not matter very much, that there is something to be said on both sides. Redaction of the population would be a grave disaster to the nation, and the peril which faces us is one that should give profound concern to all good citizens.

What is the cause of this extraordinary fall in the birth-rate, this practice of small families which is now spreading to all grades of the population? Unquestionably it is mainly economic. People are more careful about their financial position. They are not careless and easygoing, not caring whether they have six or ten children and letting come what may. It is to a great extent a question of forethought. Young people who might be prospective parents deliberately come to the conclusion that they would be doing their duty better to the next generation if they have one or two children living in comfort, and with care for their education and prospects, than if they have four, five, or six children brought up in hardship and penury. Parliament itself has contributed to this tendency by enacting, quite rightly, that young children should not be put to industrial employment. The effect of that perfectly legitimate and proper measure has undoubtedly been that among the poorer classes each child is not regarded as an economic asset at no distant time, but rather as a long continuing financial liability; while the middle classes in particular, with the high cost of education for their children, have quite deliberately limited the number of their families for what appear to them sound reasons.

With this desire for smaller families there has now become possible the means to ensure the smallness of the family by devices for efficient contraception. The profound effect of this new feature of our civilization has not yet been realized, but it is likely to produce great changes in the customs of mankind in many directions, not only relating to the size of the population but with regard to certain aspects of sexual relations in general. As my noble friend Lord Nathan has said, this is a matter which is within human control. It is not a question of physical sterility. It is not due to any natural cause, if one can use that very misleading word "natural." It does not arise out of any condition beyond human control. It is the result of deliberate decisions on the part of individual parents. Therefore it can be affected by influencing those decisions. In effect, the younger generation says to society, "Your social arrangements penalize families of four or five children, and so long as that is so we intend to have families of only one or two children, or no children at all."

That trend may be changed and, as Lord Nathan has said, may be changed as the result of social actions. In the last debate we had four years ago suggestions were made in that sense. Those I laid before your Lordships then were practically the same as those which have been outlined to-day. Firstly, family allowances. Since then trade unions have abandoned their opposition, consequently the Labour Party has abandoned its agnosticism, and there is a general agreement in favour of family allowances. The Government, following upon the Beveridge Report, have declared they embrace them as part of their policy, tar: the Government unfortunately have on financial grounds decided that the family allowance of 8s. a week after the first child, proposed by Sir William Beveridge, should be reduced to 5s., with the excuse or justification that certain measures arising out of the Social Services will be adopted which will be worth, on an average, perhaps 2s. 6d. per child and that that will be a better substitute. For my own part I do not think so. I think it is essential that the cash money that comes into the household shall be adequate, more or less, for the actual sustenance of the child, and the figure of 8s. ought not to be reduced in any circumstances. Secondly, it is a question of housing accommodation suitable for families and obtainable at suitable rents. Thirdly, general improvement of the public health would contribute to the lower death-rate and possibly to an increase of the birthrate, and would help towards the end in view. But most important—and here I fully agree with my noble friend who has just spoken—is it that influences should be brought to bear by the Government, and through all agencies that can affect public opinion, to influence the sentiment of the nation in this regard.

All our figures assume that the present trend may continue till 1971 and up to the year 2000 and onwards, but trends can be altered. Again and again in political life one sees a tendency going forward that one thinks will, in course of time, carry the nation to such and such a point. But long before that happens there has been some change in public opinion and the trend has turned to quite a different direction. So we should, I suggest, through the Government in general and in the Press and all the agencies that influence public opinion, impress upon the nation that this is a most grave matter, and that the whole health and safety of the country is ultimately involved. We should bring all those agencies which in war-time have proved so extraordinarily successful, those agencies of propaganda which do influence in great degree public opinion and public action, into play in order to make the nation population-minded; and by that means carry on a propaganda for propagation.


My Lords, I am sure we are all deeply grateful to Lord De La Warr for having brought this Motion before your Lordships to-day. The subject we are discussing cuts right to the root of statesmanship, to the future and safety of our country. I do not disagree with anything that has been said by any noble Lords who have spoken as to the desirability of taking this step, that step or the other step. I venture to think that the real root cause of this very serious fall in the birth-rate is something that has not yet been mentioned. This fall began, so far as I can interpret figures, in the decade 1780–1790. There was not a very large fall till 1830, but from 1830 onwards this trend has made itself manifest. That may sound a ridiculous statement because we all know of the enormous increase in population that there was with the change in economic conditions following the industrial revolution. But in point of fact the fertility rate was lower and the increase of population was the result of a vastly increased survival rate. That increase in survival rate has gone on progressively and is going on, but of course it is not the same thing as having an adequate supply of young life.

I happened to be looking, not with reference to this debate, at a volume England 1870–1914 in the Oxford History last week and I came on the statistics for that period and going back to 1850. They show, what your Lordships all know, that there has been a steady fall in the birthrate and that that fall is differential, affect- ing more severely the families of what one might describe as the more prosperous classes, and especially the families of the more intellectual classes, and affecting less severely agricultural labourers, miners and unskilled workers. Then the Oxford History goes on to say quite definitely that this is due to the spread of the use of contraceptives. I doubt if that is true to anything like the full extent. Contraceptives were not being used in 1780; they were not being used to any extent in 1830. The first propaganda in favour of contraception was in the years 1822, 1823 and 1824, or about that period, anyhow. And yet at that time the birth-rate was definitely falling.

Now we do know, and we know quite well, that that tissue which is the most mysterious, precious and interesting of all living tissues, the germ plasm, has its own life history, and it does move in directions which are very difficult at times to follow. Beyond all this question of the fall in the birth-rate, I am certain there is a biological problem and a biological problem of the most serious kind. I think it was Sir Archdall Reid who first pointed out that within the range of any one people you could get a family whose germ plasm was falling in its vitality, and I think it was he who coined the phrase "the curse of the heiress," the dying family with its possessions gradually concentrating on one girl who then becomes the heiress, is married and the curse of the heiress falls on the family into which she marries and obliterates the life. That is a fact which has frequently been observed and it does mean that there are strains in the plasm which have not got the reproductive power.

This whole question of what is happening to the germ plasm is such that it is possible to understand it in the human being only slowly and you have to turn to animals to see what is going on. We do know this quite definitely, that if you take any book on the physiology of reproduction you will find a whole chapter in it dealing with that matter. Take Marshall's book. In a whole chapter you will find that wild animals brought into captivity, whose conditions of life were changed, at once show, perhaps a complete cessation of, or anyhow a drop in, reproduction. You will find page after page describing how changes of diet change reproduction. You will find that when increasing quantities of meat are being eaten by animals you get an immediate fall when you pass a certain point in the rate of reproduction. Exactly the same thing happens if the animals are fed on too fat-forming a diet. You get fatty degeneration of the genital glands and a fall in reproduction.

Now go back to what we have just noted about the human population. Its fall in the birth-rate began in the decade 1780 to 1790 and came along slowly during the period of the Napoleonic wars. The fall was still slow during the economic chaos after the Napoleonic wars. Then in the 1830's it begins to go down at the very time when the whole standard of living was going up and when the whole conditions of life were changed by the tighter packing of people in the cities. Does not that suggest to your Lordships that there might be something comparable between that and the experience with regard to animals? It does to my mind.

It might be due to the whole change that was taking place in the conditions of life that this germ plasm, this marvellous tissue which had passed in a never-broken chain through generation after generation, which had tolerated the most dreadful privations and survived the most dreadful struggles, yet suddenly, in some places, in the human stock, seemed to lose its capacity, or, one might almost say, its desire, to reproduce. It is a strange thing that with all this new luxury, this new increased nutrition, we Should have a sudden drop of that sort in reproductive power.

But there is something more about the germ plasm. The noble Lord, Lord Nathan, spoke of making large families a fashion. Why did they go out of being the fashion? If you were to take the germ plasm which forms part of the genital glands of each male and each female who is normal and healthy, and give it a colour, and you examined the body of an individual, you would find that colour diffused through his whole body. You would find that that colour was colouring the thoughts of that individual, and if there were a strong and active germ plasm there would be a desire to have children. After all these millions of years, during which the germ plasm has survived and forced people to reproduce, do you think that if it were still as strong and active in these people it would be borne to earth by trivial points, trivial demands for social prominence or whatever it might be? I do not think so. This disease, which is affecting the whole of the North-Western white race—Scandinavia, Germany, France, ourselves and the people who have gone from these countries to America—came on them progressively, as various articles of diet and changes in the proportion of the diet were associated with the great rise of prosperity due to the application of power to industry. It is quite wrong to say post therefore propter. I believe that much of this unwillingness to have children has really got its origin in the germ plasm which itself is not actively reproductive, and that is affecting the psychology of human beings.

It seems to me that either we should have a Royal Commission to go into all these points, as suggested by the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, or, as I believe would be much better, we should form the real General Staff of Health of which I spoke the other day, because this question of reproduction is part of what I was then speaking of. The positive health of the individual comes from the positive health of a stock, and the positive health of a stock is only possible where you have a positively healthy germ plasm. It is spread out in time, not in space. It forms a network and it is a most remarkable net because at each knotting in that net the germ plasm itself blossoms forth as a new individual who is to be the servant and support of that stock, and in turn is to make arrangements for the weaving of further meshes in the net. This description of the plasm as a net is an old simile or metaphor, but it has always been very helpful to me in my thoughts on this group of subjects. The germ plasm apparently has the capacity of immortality on earth as contrasted With the short-lived individuals who carry it, support it and serve it in their day and generation. It is the germ plasm, through the most marvellous mechanism, that is now gradually being uncovered by biologists. There is no doubt whatever that while it is within the body of the individual it profoundly modifies his mind and thought and outlook.

There is one snag that frequently comes in during discussions of this sort and that is a confusion between reproduction and sex. In the female mammal, including women, the actual reproductive act, not the birth of the child, is the formation of an ovum which is passed freely into the cavity of the body. That goes on from the time of puberty to the time of the menopause without anybody ever knowing anything about it, least of all the woman herself. One after the other these ova are passed out. In the body of the male the sperms are formed and they are then collected. The only part that sex has to play in connexion with reproduction, the actual sexual act, is in the passage of the sperms into the passages of the female. The actual sexual act bears no more responsibility for the sperms that are passed than the postman delivering a letter at the door has for the contents of the letter he delivers. This may sound rather irrelevant. It is not, because you will find that there is a good deal of evidence to show that as the function of reproduction tends to recede the tendency to sex increases.

This is all getting rather esoteric, rather far away perhaps from the points which were originally raised by the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, but it is not really so far away, because what I am trying to do is to suggest to your Lordships that there is a wide biological field of which there is some knowledge but of which there is also great ignorance. I would urge most strongly upon your Lordships that we should say to the Government: "We have got this population problem, we realize all the general implications such as have been talked of to some extent by the noble Earl, Lord De La War, Lord Nathan and Lord Samuel, but we want to know whether there is anything more behind it, whether there is any biological knowledge which will help us to answer the question. Is there any hope, at the present stage of scientific knowledge, of finding a way to reverse this trend, if it be in fact a trend, of the plasm?"

You have got to have a scientific staff, not doing research work, but doing the sifting of knowledge that is acquired, or you must have a Royal Commission to decide whether such a staff is desired. I would beg the Government to realize that there are grounds for believing that there is a biological problem at the back of this. It might be, for example, in cer- tain places, due to substances such as coffee. It is most extraordinary the effect that coffee, strong coffee, can have on the human being. It actually changes the shape and sometimes the activity of the germ cells—you can see the change under the miscroscope quite distinctly. It may be due to all sorts of things. There may be electrical conditions which affect reproduction and development—nobody knows. Therefore I think that it would be well that we should ask the Government to initiate steps, one way or another, to have this whole problem most fully investigated, not assuming that it is only a political problem, but believing that it may also be a biological problem, a biological problem which, within time, may be solved.


My Lords, may I be permitted to say a word or two upon this subject? I happen to own a very large number of cattle, and the Cambridge authorities have been doing a great deal of work connected with the reproduction of my cattle, because, somewhere about two years before this war, some of my animals began to show signs of so-called sterility. It was not really sterility, in the full sense of the word, but delayed fertility. Up to now it is still undecided as to why these animals, which in other ways were perfectly healthy, did not reproduce themselves as rapidly as they should have done. I can only say that in the last year these animals, or their younger sisters, have recovered. It may be because we have paid more attention to the bulls. It may be because I have had more and better food grown naturally in the neighbourhood for their support. But at any rate the trouble, this sterility, as it has been called, has disappeared. On the other hand, I have seen it occur in an older herd in Surrey. It may be due to food, but it probably is not the same trouble as I had at my place.

I am sure that when you look into this matter of the growth of the population you find yourself dealing with something which is very complicated. I feel that besides all the political reasons—which I really believe have their effect—there are these biological reasons of which the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, has just spoken. I am sure that these biological factors can have the effect which we see at this moment. I urge the Government to take some steps that may co-ordinate and co-relate all these various pieces of informa- tion which are being elicited rapidly in connexion with the study of animals and animal reproduction, so that the knowledge may be applied in dealing with the question of human reproduction. It seems to me that, at the moment, there is no authority and no means for collecting all that information. I submit that it is of vital importance that these matters should be watched all the time, and I hope that the Government will do something in this direction.


My Lords, I will not trouble your Lordships very much with data. It may seem that the facts are abundantly clear and that their significance is ominous. We have had a fall in the birth-rate steadily from about 1880 onwards, so that now too women, in the active generative period of their lives, who at one time would have produced 150 girl babies—for it is only girl babies, the potential mothers, that count—will now produce only 75 or 76. So it is clear that the nation is not replacing itself. Hitherto many people have thought little of this. They have been disposed to say: "Why worry?—the nation is still increasing in numbers." They have missed the second significant fact, which has been brought out clearly by several noble Lords to-day, that the composition of the population has been going wrong, that there has been been an increase in the proportion of people over sixty and a decrease in the proportion of those under twenty. This means that the inevitable thing will happen, and you will have a nation which is no longer replenishing itself. You have the pensioners beginning almost to overreach the producers, and life, the life of the country, like the life of the family, is in a poor way when it is deprived of the force, the vigour, the love and the adventure of youth. A nation, like a family, is dependent on young lives coming up constantly to replace those which are wearing out.

Those two facts, the change in the composition of the population and the decline of the birth-rate, are accepted by every-. one. Now my noble friend Lord Geddes has taken what I may call the biological long view, and I agree with him that there is a matter for inquiry, not by a Royal Commission, I suggest, but by a widely representative scientific body of inquiry like the Royal Society. But when I come down to what I may call the near view—and I think that, for our purpose, we may content ourselves with comparing this century with the last century—from all the evidence known to me there is certainly no diminution in the love of children in this country. I should say that there is very strong love of children, and that, in my judgment, it is not diminishing one whit. Side by side with that there has developed a more sensitive conscience about the individual life.

If you compare this century with the last, the value which is attached by parents to the individual child is, in my submission, greater than it was in the last century. That is not due to any greater virtue; it is due to biological and social facts. The explanation, as I see it, lies in the big difference between man (and possibly some of the higher apes) and the other forms of animal life. With most of the animals to which we are devoted, sex relations are limited to what may be called the mating times; they are conditioned by the purpose of reproduction. I need take only certain familiar examples. If that were not so, would those of us who are fond of dogs be able to keep them at all? We are able to make dogs our faithful companions only because they have no use at all for the female except in season. Again, let us remember happy days of stalking in Scotland, where we saw the stags holding proudly aloof in the heights, as if there were no hinds in existence; and then, as the rutting season comes on, they descend gradually and live together for a short period, and then the stags go back to the hills. Those two examples illustrate the fundamental difference between the human race (and possibly some of the higher apes) and animal life.

In the human race, sex relations have a double purpose: not only do they serve the purpose of reproduction, but they are part and parcel of the physical attachment between people as husband and wife, and their periodical satisfaction is part of our civilization. We have therefore a different problem to face. In the last century one had a succession of pregnancies every eighteen months to two years, going on from the date of marriage until the fecundity of the couple had exhausted itself, and so there was a large birth-rate; but I would point out that if all those children had lived, life would have been economically impossible. The real safety-valve was the high infant death-rate. The pregnancies of the last century far exceeded the number of surviving children. In hospitals, when one asked women how many children they had had, they used to reply "I had twelve and buried six." It was taken almost as a matter of course. People were accustomed in those days to lose their children, and expected to lose them, but our girls would break their hearts at losing one. Let me take the famous example of John Wesley. John Wesley was one of nineteen children, thirteen of whom died. To-day that sort of thing would never happen, and, if it did, we should probably say that for thirteen children out of nineteen to die was a large price to pay, even for a John Wesley. Think of the wastage of it all! Still, it is a fact that sex relations were rendered possible by the fact that there was a large infant death-rate.

Then there arose a social conscience. When people talk of the degeneration of the world I would point out that the social conscience to-clay is more developed than it was in the days of our mothers and grandmothers. A social conscience arose first of all from the dislike of losing children, and secondly from a dislike of the large infant death-rate. What happened? Whereas in the Victorian days the infant death-rate was 160 per thousand, it has come down and down until it is now 49. When you take away the large infant death-rate, it is economically impossible to have these large families; you cannot have them if some of them do not die off.

In my submission, it was that gradual pressure of events which led people not to the knowledge of contraception—because contraception was known, as my noble friend opposite said, at the beginning of the last century—but to bring contraception to the front of the stage. In this century people say that they do not want quantity of children but quality. In the old days, there was something like the survival of the fittest; the weaklier ones showed a greater tendency to die off, and there was some sort of rough-and-tumble which brought the fit ones to the top. To-day medicine is keeping people alive—not perhaps always desirably, but it is its duty to do so. So there is only one alternative, and that is to go in for fitness; and that is what this generation is doing, and doing well. I hope I have made it clear—and in saying this I am sure that my colleagues who are in practice would agree with me—that the love of children is as great as ever, and the care of children has never before been so great. The amount of trouble which mothers take, and their intelligence in looking after their children, far exceed what would have been found fifty years ago.

I now come to the question of why parents keep their families small. I have scant belief in an insufficient fertility. If people have once had children and then decide to wait—sometimes too long—before having another, that is no lack of fertility. In case after case one finds that if contraception is taken off pregnancy begins, although not always as quickly as one would wish. I do not dispute with my noble friend Lord Geddes that there may be in the background a change in the germ plasm, but I am now taking the short view as between the last century and this and trying to compare the conditions. Why do parents keep their families so small? First of all, I think it is a first reaction to the knowledge which contraception gave them. Unfortunately there took place what I always regard as a great historic error, and that is that the Churches made the fundamental mistake of condemning contraception as such. By doing so they put themselves out of court. The average young person to-day says: "We have no use for them at all; we have made up our minds, and we mean to have contraception." The Churches put themselves out of court because they went against contraception as such. If, on the other hand, they had said that contraception rightly used is perfectly right—as in my judgment it is—and if they had said "But it must be used rightly; and it is your duty to secure adequate parenthood," then the Churches would have had the influence which they do not now possess. That error has slowly to be lived down. I suggest that one of the causes of smaller families is what may be termed anxiety and fear. There is no doubt, as has been said, that there is fear of unemployment, there is fear of want, there is fear for the careers of the children. For many years that has been noticed and, since the total population was increasing, people did not appreciate the gravity of what they were doing.

I come back to the question of family allowances. It is agreed on all hands that family allowances are sound, if only for this reason, that before the days of birth control a child was inevitable when two people married, and therefore it was not in the interests of the State to take any interest but now a child is a voluntary contribution to the welfare of the State. Without going into the question of the amount, I would say that family allowances are, and will be, a great help as a contribution for every child that is born. But I do not think that alone will be sufficient. I get a fairly large correspondence, and I would like to quote a letter from a middle-aged married woman of humble origin. I do not know who she is, but she just touches the truth here: Taking the class to which I belong, the £4 to £6 a week wives, we think about poor old Beveridge. He means well, but does he honestly believe that giving us 8s.a week will get more babies in Britain of the sort that he wants? That letter goes on to refer to what is my second point, and that is the importance of housing. The writer says: We wives— no amount of family allowance is going to encourage us to have a family of four or five, unless you are going to give us better and more sensible houses to live in She also says: You go to one house, you find it is so built that the perambulator won't go into the front gate, nor will it go in at the door She goes into details one by one. For example: Just imagine putting the lavatory upstairs, and my boys all rushing in dirtying the house immediately I have done it up. I have no one to help me, no domestic help I think the points of this simple woman about housing are very apt.

We have to realize that children should be a choice, not a chance. Young married people should be told that the determination as to whether they have a child or not is their responsibility. I think on many grounds it can be brought home to them that the way to get health and preservation in life is the periodic use of the function of reproduction. There is little doubt that if children are suitably spaced, not all coming on top of one another, that will preserve the lives and the health of the parents. That is especially true in these days of safe maternity. If I may say so, is it not time that our Prayer Book altered its service for the churching of women? The service for churching of women belongs to the septic midwifery days, and contains an exaggerated recital of the perils and trials of childbirth. What we need to impress on young women is that their pregnancy and maternity are safe proceedings.

I believe that propaganda is what is wanted—propaganda pointing out that the population is going down, that it depends on parents whether England remains a great Power, that the possession of children will bring them health and the enduring happiness of family life. That is of much higher value to them than the frittering away of their early years. I have very little doubt that, with a suitable propaganda, with family allowances, and with good housing, it will be possible to impress on their minds that it is in their own interest to have larger families, suitably spaced, and that they will be made to feel proud to play their part in contributing to the future of their own country.


My Lords, I am sure that your Lordships will agree that my noble friend has rendered a really valuable service in calling the attention of your Lordships' House and of the public generally to this tremendously important question of the future population of our country. The question is one which bristles with difficulties. It is a hackneyed saying that you can prove anything with figures, and vital statistics do not, differ in that respect from other figures. The figures themselves, of course, cannot be disputed, but the inferences to be drawn from them both can be, and are, very violently disputed. People who are well placed to take a really authoritative view maintain that there is no reason to be alarmed about the present downward trend of the birthrate, while others who have made a profound study of the question view the figures with the utmost alarm. I am bound to say, speaking for myself, that I am among the alarmists. I came across this question first some years ago when I was collecting evidence for the Report of the Oversea Settlement Board, of which I was Chairman. It very soon became clear when we were considering the question of emigration, that the moment was rapidly approaching when there would be no spare population at all of suitable age to emigrate. That was what first brought me into contact with this question. I am bound to say that until then I was among those who viewed the figures with complacency, and those people have been singularly silent in your Lordships' House this afternoon.

But if it is possible to dispute the inferences which may be drawn from the actual figures we have, the actual figures of births and deaths and of the ages at which death takes place, it is still more possible to disagree when we get into the realm of opinion, opinion as to what the tendency in the future is likely to be. To start with definitely known and ascertained facts, it is beyond doubt that the birth-rate per thousand of our population has fallen, and fallen steeply and rapidly, from the quinquennium 1876– 80, when it stood at 35.3 per thousand until quite recently, when in the quinquennium ending 1935 it stood at 15.3 per thousand. It is a staggering contrast. I do not want to weary your Lordships with a great list of figures, but I do ask you to consider that period rather more closely because it is possible, I think, that important deductions may be drawn. In the following figures I am taking each period of five years ending in the year I quote: In the period ending 1865 the birth-rate was 35.1 per thousand; 1870, 35.2 per thousand; 1875, 35.4 per thousand; 1880, 35.3 per thousand; 1885, 33.5 per thousand; 1890, 31.5 per thousand; 1895, 30.5 per thousand; 1900, 29.4 per thousand; 1905, 28.3 per thousand; 1910, 26.4 per thousand; 1915, 23.8 per thousand; 1920, 20.4 per thousand; 1925, 20.3 per thousand; 1930, 17.1. per thousand; 1935, 15.3 per thousand. That is a very remarkable list of figures, showing a steep and progressive decline in the number of births per thousand of the population.

This subject of the decline in the birth-rate is one in which all kinds of people take very great interest, and from which the protagonists of every kind of view draw ammunition to support their own arguments. The pacifist is fond of saying that women will not bear babies to be killed in the next war; but the figures I have quoted hardly tend to support that view. The decline began long before we thought of world wars at all; it began at a time of great prosperity. The social reformer says that women will not bear babies to live in slums, to be unemployed, and draw the "dole"; but the evidence tends to show that the birth-rate is, if anything, higher in the slums than in garden suburbs, and higher in those classes which suffer most from the impact of economic stress than in those which enjoy a considerable measure of social security. By all means clear away slums and improve the housing of the people, but I do not believe that in themselves those measures would be a solution to this baffling problem. It is fair to say, on the other side, that in considering these figures it must be borne in mind that these years we have been considering followed the gigantic and outstanding growth of population in this and other Western countries which was undoubtedly one of the great population surges of all history. In our own country the population was more than trebled during the nineteenth century, and it is clearly impossible for that rate of growth to have continued indefinitely. If it had our population by the year 2001 would have been 111,000,000, and by the year 2101 more than 300,000,000. That rate could not have gone on.

The problem is by no means confined to this country, as Lord Geddes pointed out. Nearly all the countries of North-Western Europe, with the exception of Russia, are faced with a similar phenomenon. In Germany and Italy, as your Lordships will be aware, very considerable efforts were made by the Governments to stimulate the birth-rate, and these efforts are of considerable interest in studying the problem. In Italy the campaign had comparatively little effect, and though it is impossible to dogmatize about these matters, it seems probable that this was because the inducements offered were not very substantial and because Italy was still, relatively, a fertile country with a relatively high birth-rate, and therefore one less capable of expansion. In Germany the efforts made to stimulate fertility did meet with a substantial though by no means remarkable measure of success. They got their birth-rate up from just under 15 per thousand to just over 19 per thousand; but it is striking that, in spite of the considerable material inducements, propaganda, medals, all kinds of methods, the Germans only succeeded in getting their birth-rate up to just about half what it was fifty years ago. As Lord Nathan said, it is probably true that to a considerable extent that stimulated birthrate was not a permanent addition to the country's population, but represented an ante-dating, an anticipating, of marriages and births which would in any case have taken place. The Germans attribute one-third of the increase to that cause, and believe that nearly two-thirds of the increase was of a permanent nature.

The problem in Germany differed from ours in one very important respect, which was that birth control in Germany was practised to a very large extent, not by means of contraception, as here, but by means of abortion. There seems to be very little doubt that by enforcing laws against abortion, and by using the formidable machinery of Nazi power to terrorize the medical profession, the German Government had a weapon to its hand far more potent than any a Government in this country would readily find if it decided, for any reason, to try and stimulate the birth-rate. The war came too soon to make it possible for any definite deductions to be drawn from the German experiments. They had only been going on six years or so, and in a matter of vital statistics six years is not long enough for any real judgment to be formed. But it seems fair to say that their efforts by means of propaganda and material inducements did meet with a certain measure of success. They did produce an immediate increase in the birth-rate. But the moment you leave the realm of actual figures and enter that of opinions almost any conclusion may be drawn. Those who take a gloomy view of the trends of population maintain — and I think there is a good deal in the contention—that all these efforts did no more than ante-date births. They encouraged early marriages, and they did for a limited number of years stimulate the birth-rate, but it is not established that they did the fundamental thing if a larger population is desired— that is, increase the number of children per family.

There again I am in agreement with the noble Lord opposite (Lord Nathan) and others that that is the real fundamental fact we must face. If we want a larger birth- rate we must take measures to secure larger families. The average family of the Victorian era has been replaced by the smaller family of to-day. These Victorian families created and, to a very large extent, peopled the British Empire and made an important contribution to the United States. They are not being born to-day. It does not seem probable, as far as one can study the trends, that they will be born in the future. The tendency is not confined to this country or to Western Europe. It is almost equally marked in the Dominions of Australia and New Zealand, where at least it cannot be urged that overcrowding is the cause. In Australia the birth-rate has fallen from about 27 per thousand in the decade 1901–11 to 17.1 in 1936. In New Zealand during the same period it has fallen from 27 per thousand to 16.6. In Canada it still remains relatively high at 20 per thousand, but there is reason to believe that that figure is accounted for to a large extent by the very high birth-rate in the Province of Quebec. In South Africa the figure is still high among the white population—24 per thousand—but there, again, the white population is by no means all of British descent; if you take the people of British stock it seems probable that the tendency is very much the same.

As I have indicated, opinion comes into these matters to a very large extent. I cannot, as Government spokesman, make myself responsible for a definite statement, but the opinion has been expressed by competent persons that the birth-rate equivalent to a full replacement under the conditions obtaining in Great Britain today would be in the neighbourhood of 19.5 per thousand. We are well below that now. By replacement rate I mean the birth-rate that will maintain the population at a constant level. In this country and in many other countries, as well as in the Commonwealth of Australia and in New Zealand, the birth-rate is well below this figure. It is quite impossible to make any authoritative statement as to future trends. It seems tolerably clear that in order to maintain the number of births per year required to keep our population stable, let alone to increase it, there will have to be a very considerable increase in fertility in future years owing to the fact that the mothers of the generation immediately following our own have already been born. There will in twenty years be substantially fewer women of child-bearing age in Great Britain than there are to-day.

Your Lordships will expect me to say something about causes, but here we leave the realm of fact altogether and it is impossible for me to do more than give a catalogue of possible causes, every one of which has some advocates but none of which can be regarded as more than one out of many complex factors all tending towards the same end. There is the fact that in days gone by a family was the only possible insurance against old age for the great majority of the wage earners. On the low wages prevailing in the nineteenth century they had little or no opportunity of saving. There was no old age pension and the family was, in fact, the only possible provision against starvation in old age. There was also the fact that children. in those unregenerate days be-came wage earners at a very much earlier age than they do to-day and thus became assets instead of liabilities very much sooner. It is the fact that a child's expectation of life to-day is vastly more secure than it was, and that the urge to have a considerable number of children in order that there may be at least some survivors is therefore less than it was. There is the biological factor to which the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, referred in his most interesting and stimulating speech.

There is also that factor, which I for my part am inclined to think has been exaggerated, which has been described as the competition between a Baby Austin and a human baby with all the other allied causes in the way of increased opportunities for spending money outside one's home instead of rearing a family inside it. I am inclined to think that is a factor, but I believe it is a factor which has been exaggerated, because the sinister phenomenon of a rapid fall in the birth-rate has taken place in countries and communities where the Baby Austin does not exist and where the other factors which have been mentioned do not exist either. In Bulgaria, for instance, there has been a steady and rapid fall in the birth-rate, yet in that country many of those things to which we are inclined to attribute the decline in birth-rate do not operate.

Then there is the fact that methods of contraception have become readily available and understood in every household. Many people believe this to be the fundamental cause, but I am by no means sure that this is so, and that it is not rather the case of a demand creating a supply than a supply creating a demand. Again, there is evidence for believing that the birth-rate has fallen among communities in parts of the world where birth-control has resulted from the practice of abortion rather than from contraception so that you cannot be sure that is one of the main causes. I am inclined to think that an important contributory cause is the fact that one of the desires most deeply implanted in the human breast is the desire to give one's children at least as good a start in life as its parents had, if not indeed a better one, and it may well be that the constantly rising standards of living of the years during which; the fall in the birth-rate has been so marked has made this desire so difficult of attainment that this has been an important contributory factor. I can express no definite opinion.

I have given your Lordships a series of possible reasons, or possible contributory reasons. My own experience has been that the more one studies this question the more baffling it becomes and the more one realizes the necessity of avoiding generalizations and over-simplification. The subject is one of immense importance. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, raised the question of whether in fact we could afford a decrease in population. To answer that I think we have only to ask ourselves two very simple questions. Are we burdened with a surplus of man-power to-day? Have we the people to populate the countries of the Empire which will undoubtedly carry, and carry successfully, a very much larger population than they have today? It is a striking fact that in the year 1913 the movement of population outwards from England to the Empire was 223,521. In 1937, the last year for which I have figures, the net movement was 8,056, and that movement was inwards to this country and not outwards to the empty spaces. I think those two very simple facts answer at once the question whether we can afford to view with equanimity a rapid decline in our birth-rate. The subject is one of great complexity, and much confusion may arise through an insufficient appreciation of what are debatable issues on the one hand and what on the other hand are the real facts which may be obscured through a dependence upon statistical ex- amination and demonstration for their establishment.

My right honourable friend the Minister of Health believes that it would help to a clearer understanding of the position, both on the part of your Lordships' House and of the public generally, if the more technical statistical elements were isolated and dealt with in the form of an impartial statement covering the whole of the necessary statistical background. With the object of meeting what is felt to be a real need in this respect, my right honourable friend proposes to publish a document on the lines of the recent White Paper, in which the statistical outlook would be set out and discussed in a reasoned and balanced manner. Such a document would necessarily be confined to the factual aspect of the question, but would take into account such evidence as has become available since the preparation of the White Paper to which my noble friend referred, and it could embrace a longer future period than is dealt with in the document which, as the noble Earl pointed out, does not go beyond 1971.

I hope I have said enough to satisfy my noble friend that the Government are thinking about this question. I should like to say once more how very much I think the House is in the noble Earl's debt. We have heard from all quarters of the House most interesting speeches in which there has been expressed a singular unanimity of view. A powerful demand was made from many quarters for a really authoritative inquiry into this matter and I will see to it that that request is passed on to my right honourable friend. I hope, therefore, that my noble friend will be satisfied, and that he will realize that the Government have an eye on this question and will pay careful attention to the representations which he has made.


My Lords, I hope your Lordships will agree that this debate has been worth while. It has resulted, I think, in a quite unanimous expression of opinion as to the importance of this subject. I am sure all who have spoken in this debate would like to thank the noble Duke, the Duke of Devonshire, for the reply which he has made on behalf of the Government. I am not quite sure whether to sympathize with him for the brief he received from the Government or to congratulate him on the extraordinarily good job that he made of it. It is perfectly clear that he is just as conscious as anyone in your Lordships' House of the true position. I think we are all glad to know that the Government are prepared at least to make one step forward by having a statistical inquiry. At one moment my heart dropped when the noble Duke said it would be on the same lines as the last, but later he rather corrected himself. I do not think the Minister of Health should in any way feel that he is going to satisfy your Lordships' House or the country merely by a statistical inquiry. That is only the beginning. I think it only right to withdraw my Motion and wait for this inquiry— I was going to say the end of it but it depends on how long it takes— and then give Notice to bring this matter forward again. I beg leave to withdraw.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn