§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ 2.45 p.m.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD JOWITT)
My Lords, in moving the Second Reading of the Bill on which the happiness of so many millions of people here to-day and those still to come depends, I cannot help feeling that the great figures of the past who have played their part in building up our system of insurance are looking down on us to-day. It is a topic on which no Party or no one group of people can claim pre-eminence over any other. If we mention some of the great figures, it is recognizing the fact that a very large number of people have given a great deal of work to this important topic. Mr. Joseph Chamberlain perhaps started the work with his original Workmen's Compensa- 1088 tion Act. There followed Mr. Asquith with the Old Age Pensions Act; Mr. Lloyd George with his great National Insurance Act of 1911; Mr. Neville Chamberlain with his Widows', Orphans' and Old Age Contributory Pensions Act of 1925. Then came the Unemployment Insurance Act of 1934 which first set up the Assistance Board, a project which received so much criticism and yet was a scheme which has undoubtedly made good. This was in no small measure due to the administration of its first Chairman, Lord Rushcliffe, who introduced the humane administration which has distinguished the Board, followed by his successor Lord Soulsbury who has kept up his traditions.
Coming to more recent times, at the early period of this war when our fortunes were very dark, Mr. Arthur Greenwood, who was then Minister without Portfolio in the Coalition Government, with sublime confidence in the victory we were going to achieve, appointed Sir William Beveridge (as he then was) to start the work which led to his great Report, published some two years later, in November, 1942. May I say how glad I am and how glad all your Lordships are that he is with us to-day able to take part in this debate.
Some two years passed during which the Coalition Government had to consider the matter, and they finally produced, after a great deal of trouble and a great deal of energy, the White Paper of September, 1944. A month or so later the Ministry of National Insurance was established, and I became the first Minister of National Insurance. I think I told your Lordships—at any rate, I have said it in another place—that realizing that my tenure in that office might be short, and being anxious to produce some result, I concentrated at once on the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Bill, and in my short tenure of office I was able to complete that Bill; but I have done very litle detailed work on the main scheme which we are now considering. I must say that I think it is a very great credit to the Minister and to the enthusiasm and energy with which he has worked that within six months of achieving office he was able to introduce into another place the National Insurance Bill, which was introduced there in January of this year.
So to-day we mark a very important milestone on our road. We have already 1089 introduced a scheme for family allowances, and the payment of those allowances is going to start, as your Lordships know, quite shortly. I think they come into operation in August. Then we have to introduce a comprehensive scheme for national health services, and a measure to achieve that is now being considered in another place. Then there is this national insurance scheme (the Bill now before the House) and there is also a scheme for insurance against industrial injury—the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Bill, which has received a Second Reading. Then we have to consider—probably by separate Bill—the matters dealt with in the Monckton Report on alternative remedies, which give rise to exceedingly complicated and difficult questions. That Bill must be passed, as I see it, so as to come into effect on the same day as the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Bill. Finally, we must introduce a scheme, which is to be administered by a central department of national assistance, which will mark the final break-up of the Poor Law, and under which financial assistance will be available to all who prove a need, including those special cases in which the insurance benefits themselves may not be sufficient. Your Lordships will realise that however careful your insurance scheme may be, there will be exceptional cases which will require assistance. Therefore the Assistance Board—with all it stands for and has stood for—will be behind this scheme and will be there, still functioning.
Turning to this Bill, we find that to a large extent it consolidates and condenses existing measures. Your Lordships will see that there are very extensive regulation-making powers in matters of comparative detail which will enable us to continue, as is intended, much that has been well tried by long experience of existing machinery and procedure. For example, Clause 43 provides that the machinery and procedure for the determination of claims shall be established by regulations, and it is intended to use here the generally acceptable machinery of the present unemployment insurance scheme. Another large group of regulation-making powers will be found in Clauses 65 to 69, which deal with the transition from the old to the new scheme. Flexibility and speed of action are essential here if the change-over, which affects both contributors and beneficiaries, 1090 is to be carried through with the minimum of friction.
As to the scope of this Bill, I cannot do better than quote from Clause 1:… every person who … bring over school leaving age and under pensionable age, is in Great Britain, and fulfils such conditions as may be prescribed as to residence in Great Britain, shall become insured under this Act and thereafter continue throughout his lift; to be so insured.So you will see that persons who are outside the scope of the present scheme, whether by reason of their income or as not being subject to the risks insured against, will be brought in, and the special arrangements for agriculture, banking, the insurance industry, and also the special exemptions from health insurance such as applied, far instance, to the Civil Service, will go.
There has been much argument and controversy as to the desirability of adopting a subsistence basis for benefits. If by that is meant that you are to have a sliding scale of benefits which vary automatically with the cost of living, then I am entirely opposed to any such scheme; but if it means that you are to keep the scheme under constant review, adjusting your rates of benefit from time to time, having regard to experiences in the cost of living, then I say that is a good scheme, and that is the scheme which is provided for lit this Bill. Under Clause 40 the Minister has a statutory duty to carry out a quinquennial review of rates and benefits.
Now I come to the benefits, and I am not going into matters of detail more than I can help. The leading rate for sickness benefit is 26s. Your Lordships might like to be reminded that that compares with the 24s. which was suggested in the White Paper issued by the Coalition Government and with the present rate of 18s. As your Lordships know, there has always been a very bad anomaly about sickness payments; they do not today carry any allowances in respect of dependants. Under this scheme there will be an allowance of 26s. for an adult dependant and 7s. 6d. for the eldest child, the other children, of course, being taken care of by the family allowances scheme. The Coalition White Paper proposed that after three years' continuous sickness there should be a drop from 24s. to 20s., but we have decided that, subject to there being a payment of 156 contributions, 1091 there shall be no drop in the rate, even though sickness continues for longer than three years.
With regard to unemployment benefit, the rate is the same as for sickness; and it is very important that that should be so in order to prevent people "monkeying about" from one to the other—pretending to be unemployed when they are really sick, and sick when they are really unemployed. As to the duration of the unemployment benefit, we propose to treat long-term unemployment on a rather different footing from short-term unemployment. It is quite certain that if there should be mass unemployment it would be absolutely disastrous to our insurance scheme. The Government, therefore, take the view that short-term unemployment should be borne by the Fund and that long-term unemployment should be the direct responsibility of the State. I think that is healthy. I think it is right that in the matter of long-term unemployment the State should not be encouraged to remain passive and disinterested; it should realize that it has a direct obligation to do something about it, and not simply to rely on the Fund. Benefit from the Fund, therefore, will be limited to thirty weeks in a spell of unemployment, with added days for contributors with a good record of employment over the preceding five years. Nevertheless we realize that during the next few years there may be dislocations, due to the transition from war to peace, which may give rise to genuine industrial unemployment extending beyond the period covered by the permanent provisions of the scheme in Clauses 11 to 13 of the Bill. Under Clause 62, which operates for five years—and only for five years—a claimant who has exhausted his standard benefit may go before a local tribunal (that is, of course, the Courts of Referees) who will recommend what further period of benefit should be paid, and, under the Bill, they are to have regard to his circumstances, but not to his means, and to local conditions, in the light of any general directions issued by the Minister for the guidance of tribunals.
Maternity benefits fall under three heads—the maternity grant, the attendance alowance and the maternity allowance. The first—the grant—will be paid to all mothers who are themselves insured or 1092 who are the wives of insured men. The amount is £4, which compares with only £2 which is paid in some cases to-day. The second, the attendance allowance, is £1 a week, payable for the four weeks from confinement to the mother who is not working. It is intended to pay for domestic help after childbirth, and I think this will prove a most welcome new provision. The third, the maternity allowance, is payable to mothers who are engaged in gainful occupations, and insured in their own right. It will be an allowance of 36s. a week for thirteen weeks, normally from the sixth week before confinement to the seventh thereafter. It is designed deliberately to encourage a mother who is working to stay away from work both before and after her confinement.
I turn now to widows. Our scheme, following the Beveridge Report—to which in so many matters we are indebted—is to provide payments at a relatively high rate for a limited period in order to enable the widow to adjust herself to her new circumstances, secondly to make special provision for the widow with children, and thirdly to provide a permanent pension to the widow who, at her husband's death or when the youngest child reached adolescence, was of an age when she might find it hard to enter or re-enter the field of employment.
The benefits provided, therefore, are firstly a widow's allowance of 36s a week for the first thirteen weeks of widowhood; if there is a child, a widowed mother's allowance of 33s. 6d., that is to say 26s. for the mother and 7s. 6d. for the child, compared with the 29s. of the Coalition Government's proposals, made up of 24s. and 5s. If she is over 40 when she ceases to be qualified for the allowance, she will be entitled to a widow's pension of 26s. a week; if there is no child, a widow's pension at 26s. instead of the 20s. provided for in the Coalition Government White Paper, provided she is over 50 when widowed and had been married for ten years. A further improvement has been made in that the widow who by reason of any infirmity is incapable of self-support at the time when her title to widow's allowance or widowed mother's allowance ceases, will be entitled to a widow's pension no matter what her age may be, so long as she remains incapable of self-support. Those allowances are to be abated if the widow 1093 is earning more than 30s. a week—originally it was 20s. I am not going to trouble you with the transitional arrangements, because they are set out in the Bill, and obviously they are much too complicated for a Second Reading speech. Then there is guardian's allowance. This covers all orphans. The payment of 12s. is as proposed in the White Paper and compares with the 7s. 6d. which is paid today.
Now I turn to an important topic, namely, retirement pensions. The rates we are proposing for the retirement pension are 26s. for a single person and 42s. for a married couple. Those rates compare with the 20s. of the White Paper for single persons and the 35s. joint pension. They also compare with the present rates, which, as your Lordships know, are 10s. each. They replace the existing contributory old age pension, but will be payable only on retirement from regular work or after pensionable age, which is 65 for men, and 60 for women. In attaching that retirement condition, we followed the recommendations of the Beveridge Report and the Coalition White Paper.
There are, however, two improvements. I always feel in very great difficulty in regard to this retirement condition, and particularly with regard to self-employed people, for instance, the person who keeps a small shop. Such a man always used to say, "Well I am never going to retire; I am going on as long as I live. You make me pay, but I am not going to get any benefit." In consequence, we propose this alteration. When the pensioner reaches the age of seventy, the retirement condition is waived. The other alteration is this. Having regard to the lack of man-power, and in particular the lack of young man-power, we must offer inducement to these people to stay at work as long as they can. We have improved the inducement. Instead of giving an extra 1s. to the pensioner for every year, we now give an extra 1s. for every twenty-five contributions, with the result that if a pensioner of sixty-five continues at work until he is seventy, he can earn an extra 10s., so that when he retires at the age of seventy he will be entitled to 26s. plus 10s. which is 36s. There is a margin of earnings of 20s. a week, which has no effect on pensions, but after that the pension is scaled down at the rate of 1s. for every 1s. of weekly earnings in excess of 20s. until the pensioner reaches 1094 seventy, or sixty-five in the case of a woman.
Death grant is an entirely new provision. Generally the rates proposed in the Coalition White Paper, which I think were the same as those of the Beveridge Report, have been adopted, that is, £20 maximum grant for an adult. For those over pensionable age at the beginning of the scheme, there will be no grant, and for those within ten years of pensionable age there will be a grant of £10. Most of the persons in these groups are already covered by existing policies of insurance, but the Government recognizes that the introduction of this benefit necessitates some review of industrial insurance law, with a view to checking admitted abuses, and this is being undertaken. The contributions which are called for for this scheme are, of course, on a substantial scale, and your Lordships will find them set out in the First Schedule to the Bill.
The main rates other than the permanent rates are 4s. 7d. from the employed man, and 3s. 10d. from his employer: that is to say, 8s. 5d. and the permanent rate will be 8s. 9d.—6s. 2d. for a self-employed man, and 4s. 8d. for a non-employed man. You must not overlook that for the employed man there will be in addition 4d. by himself and 4d. by his employer in respect of industrial injuries. I think your Lordships in considering those figures will bear in mind that those contributions cover benefits for which the ordinary prudent man is now making contributions outside the ordinary stoppages from his pay—which he will no longer require to make—and that the actual increased cost to him may not be large.
Now I must say a word about the transition to the new scheme. It is obvious that a scheme of this magnitude must come into operation by stages, and it needs co-ordinating with the other parts of the programme of social insurance such, for instance, as the National Health Service. We hope to have it operating in 1948. But as an advance measure, we propose—subject, of course, to the passage of this Bill—to bring the retirement pension provisions into operation as from the beginning of October next; that is to say, for next winter. It is intended to convert the existing contributory pension of 10s., provided the pensioner has retired, into a retirement pension at the new rate; but if he has earnings, these 1095 will not reduce the pension below the amount at present paid. In other words, no one is going to be worse off by reason of this scheme. From October, persons insured under the existing scheme will, therefore, qualify for retirement pensions under conditions similar to those of the new scheme, but contribution conditions will, for the time being, be on the lines of the existing scheme. New rates of contributions for pensions purposes will also come into operation in October.
Of course, this scheme is bound to give rise to many new problems of administration. Indeed, the success of the whole scheme will depend on the extent to which a speedy, flexible and, I will add, sympathetic administration can be built up. What is intended is that there shall be a network of regional and local offices throughout the country, working, so far as unemployment benefit is concerned, in close co-operation with the employment exchanges. For sickness benefit, it is proposed that payment should be by post or in the home of the sick person, where the circumstances make that desirable or necessary. When we have established our full network of offices, we want them to be regarded as centres where all concerned can go freely for advice and help on all questions of social security.
Your Lordships will notice that in Clause 41 of the Bill we propose to set up a National Insurance Advisory Committee on the pattern of the Statutory Committee under the Unemployment Insurance Act. It is to be a small body of informed persons, and if your Lordships will look at Clause 77 you will find a rather interesting feature. I have always felt that there must be very large power to make regulations in order that our scheme might function efficiently. But I was very reluctant to take the control of this scheme out of the hands of Parliament without any opportunity of discussing these regulations, so it is provided in Clause 77 that the various proposed regulations shall go in draft to this Insurance Advisory Committee, who shall examine them, pass judgment on them, advertise them and allow persons who are going to be affected to make representations. Then they will make a report to the Minister and the Minister will report to the House. I commend that scheme to your Lordships as being a rather happy solution of this difficulty. 1096 We have the power to make regulations and at the same time to see that these regulations are properly and adequately considered and that persons who are going to be affected will have the right to put forward their points of view.
Now I come to the question of approved societies. I may say at once, having given a very great deal of thought to the matter, that I started with the strong desire to retain the friendly societies in the scheme. And I may say, quite frankly, that I think all of us who have considered it—Sir John Anderson, Lord Woolton, Mr. Bevin and all others who collaborated with me in the days of the last Government—started from that point of view. I admit that this is a matter on which opinions may differ, but I have found that though I started (and, I think, all the others to whom I have referred started also) with the hope that we should get the friendly societies in, yet on reflection I have come quite definitely to the conclusion that that is not practical administration. The societies have administered in the past, broadly speaking, nothing but sickness benefits paid, in the vast majority of cases, for a strictly limited time and thereafter reduced to a nominal sum—generally half-a-crown or something of that sort. To entrust these societies, with their scattered membership up and down the country—it is quite true that they take in something like one quarter of the total insured population, but they are scattered all over the place—with the administration of this scheme, I am satisfied would spoil the scheme and spoil the reputation which the societies have so deservedly won by the years of splendid work which they have done.
If I may, I will quote to your Lordships some observations made by Sir John Anderson. I think I am in order in doing so. The speech was made during the last Parliament and Sir John was then Chancellor of the Exchequer. He has an absolutely monumental knowledge of this sub-jest. This is what he said:You could not bring friendly societies, whose experience is limited to sickness benefit, and in a few cases to pensions, into unemployment insurance or the other features of this scheme. With every desire to maintain this most beneficent system of friendly societies that we have, the last thing that I should wish to do would be to give them under the new legislation a job which they are not really qualified to discharge efficiently. There is room for difference of opinion but, in my 1097 judgment, to ask them, as a class, to undertake the administration of benefits under this scheme, would be to do them a very great disservice.I speak with some conviction and confidence about this, having collaborated with many colleagues in the Coalition Government on the matter. I found that every one of them started with a view favourable to the friendly societies, but after investigation of the facts they came to the conclusion, with regret, that it was quite impossible that the societies should be used as part of the administrative machinery.
I have left till the last—because this is a matter of a mosaic of detail, and it is very difficult to pick out central points—the question of finance. I think every one of your Lordships will agree that this scheme is a very desirable scheme, if we can afford it. Let us see then whether we can afford it. I am not here going into detail, and I commend to your Lord-ships the report of the Government Actuary on the scheme, which is to be found in Command Paper 6730. There you will find the whole thing worked out in detail. Frankly, speaking for myself, what causes me anxiety is not so much the present cost but the cost which will emerge in the future. So far as the present is concerned, the cost to the Exchequer is but little, if indeed anything, more than the cost incurred to-day on social insurance and related services. If we take the national income of this country as being £8,250,000,000, which is I think a reasonable figure to take, the expenditure on insurance benefits in 1948 is expected to amount to £450,000,000—that is to say about 5½ per cent. of the national income. But the trouble is that these costs go up so steeply that by 1978 it is estimated they will amount to some £750,000,000, or £300,000,000 over the cost of 1948. To what is that increase due?
If your Lordships look at Table 6 of the Actuary's Report, Cmd. 6730, you will find that the entire increase in the cost—say some £30,000,000—is due to the increasing cost of retirement pensions. The cost of these becomes more than doubled in the course of thirty years, primarily due to the fact that the number of beneficiaries, who to-day number some 4,000,000, will by 1978 have risen to a total of somewhere between 7,500,000 and 8,000,000. We recognized in the days of the Coalition 1098 Government, in the White Paper which was issued, that that would be so. We estimated that the cost of these pensions would be doubled in the thirty years from 1945 to 1975, and in the latter year it was estimated that they would cost some £324,000,000. (That was the figure on which we were working on the mortality tables of the White Paper; they are not the same as those on which we are working to-day.) We have improved the rates of pensions over the rates proposed by the Coalition Government from 20s. single and 35s. double, to 26s. single, and 42s. double. And, as I have already explained, we have further increased the increment from one shilling to two shillings for each year of continued service. Those changes, according to our estimate, will involve an additional cost of something like £170,000,000 in thirty years' time. I do not think that: anybody can say we are not recognizing the debt which we owe to our old people, yet there is not one of your Lordships who would say under present circumstances, let alone what may be the circumstances of 1978, that 26s. is an excessive sum for an old person; or that 42s. for an old couple leaves much room for extravagance.
Can we then face this prospect? It entirely depends upon our adaptability to new conditions, and upon the productivity of our people. And that, in its turn, depends upon hard work, good coordination and the adoption of scientific methods and an up-to-date outlook. In paragraph 447 of his Report Sir William Beveridge, if I may give him his old title for a moment, refers to these matters. In that paragraph—and I commend this to your Lordships—he compared the year 1913, the year before the first world war, with the year 1938, the year before the second world war. He pointed out that we had had that world war in which we had lost many of our overseas investments. International trade had never really been given a chance to recover; we had mass unemployment; we had an atmosphere of economic conflict. Yet, in spite of all those facts, the real wealth of this country, notwithstanding our shrunken investments, our lost export markets and all our unemployed, was materially higher in 1938 than it had been in 1913.
Looking at this as a complete realist, as I try to do, I recognize that you cannot 1099 rely in the future, as we have relied in the past, for an increase in the national income merely on the fact that we shall have an increase in the number of income-earning persons. That may not happen any longer. It may indeed be that we shall receive a smaller volume of goods from abroad in exchange for a given quantity of our own exports. The effect of the first world war in using up our investments has been only too well completed by the recent war. All these difficulties, however, can be offset by continued progress in technical efficiency, which is the dominating factor in the growth of real national income. We have shown by our action in the last war the stuff of which our people are made. We hate shown those gloomy prophets who said that any scheme of social insurance would sap the vitality of our people and rob them of their qualities of self-reliance and dependability, that we are not a people who have ever failed to face our responsibilities. And I am satisfied that if British industry can carry into the peace the inventive power, the technical skill and the adaptability which it showed during the war, we shall be able in due time to carry this burden without feeling it an excessive strain. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Lord Chancellor).
§ 3.28 p.m.
§ LORD RUSHCLIFFE
My Lords, I think that the whole House will be grateful to the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, for the lucid, careful and elaborate explanation he has given of what is a lengthy, complicated but very important Bill. As he pointed out, this Bill is founded upon the Coalition White Paper of 1944 which was itself founded upon the report of the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, who, I am glad to say, will speak in this debate after me. I have always heard—and indeed the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor has confirmed it to-day—that the work of the proposals fell principally upon the shoulders of four men: Sir John Anderson, the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor himself, the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, and Mr. Ernest Bevin. As the Lord Chancellor also pointed out, this Bill is part of one structure. It is part of the structure which is being erected for purposes of securing what is called social security, and it must 1100 be so regarded. Family allowances are already law; the National Health Service Bill is now in another place; the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Bill is now awaiting Committee in your Lordships' House. But this Bill, and at least one other Bill, it seems to me, will be necessary to pick up the remnants of the Poor Law. I am not sure, from what the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, said, that there will not be another measure necessary to deal with the Monckton Report on alternative remedies.
Having had some years' experience of these matters, I should be the first to agree that up to now our present system of insurance has been both incomplete and anomalous. I think it is worth saying, however, that, anomalous and incomplete though it may have been, I know well that in the years before the war when many industrial countries were embarrassed, harassed and bewildered at the prospect of unemployment, in their embarrassment and in their bewilderment they came to us for help and for instruction as to how best they could imitate our system and secure the result which that system secured for our people. It is anomalous as the noble and learned Lord has said and I have often thought and very often said—that there should be such a wide discrepancy between, for instance, sickness benefit and unemployment benefit. It is anomalous that there should be no sickness benefit for the dependants of the sick person. Of course it was incomplete because there were certain large classes of the community, the self-employed and the non-employed person, who were not included at all. They have now been included by this Bill.
No doubt it was this consideration that prompted the last Government to set up a Ministry of Social Insurance to administer what should be a comprehensive and unified service. We have in this country, in our Insurance Acts, always proceeded upon the footing that the basis should be contributory insurance. I do not know whether it is sufficiently realized how nearly that whole principle of contributory insurance foundered about the years 1932 and 1933. Just prior to then, and during those years, we were paying immense sums to persons who had no insurance qualification whatever. We called it, to begin with, uncovenanted benefit. It was called "uncovenanted" 1101 because it had no covenant or contract to support it. Afterwards it was called extended benefit. Both meant the same. It meant that we were paying, under the name of insurance, money to people who, as I say, had no insurance qualification at all, or if they had ever had one, had lost it. The effect of that system, which I think was supremely vicious, was just exactly what one might have expected. The Insurance Fund ran into debt to the extent of about £115,000,000. It was running into debt at the rate of about £1,000,000 a week.
The whole system, as I say, was in danger of foundering. If it had foundered, and if we had once abandoned that principle of contributory insurance, I do not think we should ever have recovered it. If that unfortunately should have happened, we should not be here to-day considering a Bill founded upon the principle of contributory insurance. That system was, I think, as the noble and learned Lord said, largely rescued by the Act of 1934. The insurance principle was protected by the Statutory Committee set up under that Act, the first chairman of which was Lord Beveridge himself. If I remember rightly, it was my privilege to extend to him the invitation which I am glad he accepted, and he became chairman, of the Statutory Committee which protected the whole principle of contributory insurance. And I think it did something more. This debt of £115,000,000 gradually became a credit—recently that credit amounted to no less than £300,000,000—and I feel quite certain that, had it not been for Sir William Beveridge and the Statutory Committee, that fund would have been raided by the Treasury exactly in the same way in which the Road Fund was raided, and that would have been the end of it. But fortunately that was not the case. This fund of £300,000,000, or thereabouts, was quite recently (within the last two months, I believe) handed over to the new Ministry of National Insurance, which, of course, is its proper place. The Act of 1934 did something more than I have indicated. It provided not only for insured persons, but for persons who had no insurance qualification at all, and it was, of course, designed to help them. In that Act of 1934, in Section 35—I must say, of course, that the instrument created for this purpose was the Assistance Board—it slates: 1102The functions of the Board shall be the assistance of persons to whom this Part of this Act applies … and the promotion of their welfare.By a later Act of the Coalition Government in 1940—the Old. Age and Widows' Pensions Act—the Board was required to conduct its administration in such a manner as would best promote the welfare of the pensioner. That, I think, clearly shows the importance which successive Governments placed upon the welfare of those people.
My comment about this Bill is that there is not one word in it about welfare. I have looked through it with some care, and I do not think that welfare is even mentioned. I do not, for one moment, think it is not the intention of the Minister that the welfare of those people should be protected—I am not suggesting that. What I am saying is flat there is nothing in this Bill—as there was in those two other Bills to which I have referred—protecting the interests of those people and looking after their welfare. I press for an assurance from the noble Lord who will reply on behalf of the Government to this debate, that that welfare policy will be continued. Under the last Act to which I have referred—the Old Age and Widows' Pensions Act 1940—there are about one and a half million people drawing supplementary old age pensions. Of course, when the basic rate is raised, as it will be under the Bill we are now considering, the number drawing supplementary pensions will be very much less. The point I wish to make, however, is that a mere cash payment does not in every case meet the needs of those old age pensioners.
If, as a result of this Bill—I am not suggesting it will be the result—they should be deprived of the help they have been getting, then I say it would be the most unmitigated calamity. Of these old age pensioners, something like 85,000 are over 80 years of age, and 21,000 are over 85. They are, all old, and many of them are ill; they are very often helpless, and often completely friendless. A cash payment, whatever that cash payment may be, does not meet all their needs, and I say again that it would be a calamity and a misfortune of the first magnitude to them if they were to be deprived of the very experienced, sympathetic and humane treatment they are getting from the officers of the Assistance Board.
1103 In the most admirable report of the Assistance Board which was published last year, there are some examples of the sort of cases where the officers of the Board have been able to give just that service which I have been describing. There are twenty-two examples given, and one knows that those examples are taken out of perhaps hundreds or thousands of cases. May I just read one or two to show the sort of thing I have in mind:Visiting Officer met pensioner in the street and made a friendly inquiry as to his health. Learned that wife was seriously ill with pneumonia and pensioner could not get coal for fire ordered by doctor. Immediate visit to local coal merchant unsuccessful. Fuel Officer was seen"—that is to say, by an officer of the Assistance Board—a permit obtained and delivery arranged next morning.Here is another one:Applicant for a supplementary pension found to be sleeping out in woods. He had just become entitled to a contributory old age pension at 65. He had a brother who refused to have anything to do with him unless he was cleaned up and provided with decent clothing. A special grant for clothing was made and the brother was persuaded to have the pensioner to live with him. There is reason to hope that the pensioner's self-respect has been restored and that he will now live a normal life.There is then this further one I would like to read:Efforts to get woman pensioner living alone to go to a home or hospital had failed. Later her condition deteriorated—room filthy and swarming with mice and other vermin, pensioner clad in a few filthy rags, almost starving as unable to get out and cash pension, and she asked to be admitted to a home or hospital. All efforts to find accommodation in the hospital or institution failed but she was finally admitted to a local Roman Catholic Home where she settled down happily and with improved health.This question was debated in another place. I am not sure whether it is strictly in order, but I hope there will be no objection to my reading what was said by two supporters of the Government on this very point. On the Third Reading, on May 30, Mr. Dames said:I pay tribute to their work."—that is the Assistance Board—They have developed a true social service, particularly in regard to the old people. Old age is a most difficult and heart-breaking problem, particularly among the working classes. These very old people have outlived their generation, and the Assistance 1104 Board have provided them with a living contact with the community that it would be disastrous to lose.There was also an observation by Mr. Brown:There is an idea prevalent in the country that when these regulations are applied, there will be no need for the Assistance Board.I might say, in regard to that matter, that it was made perfectly clear that if it should be found that the increased basic pension was not sufficient for their needs—if for reason of high rates or any special reason the basic pension should not be sufficient—the Assistance Board can supplement it. Mr. Brown said:I plead with the Minister not to allow the Assistance Board to go out of commission. It was strongly objected to when it came into operation some years ago, but slowly and surely, by a simple and humane approach to all the problems affecting our old people, the officers of the Board have won their way into the hearts of the people. I plead with the Minister that he should retain the Board and rechristen it. Call it not 'Assistance Board' but the 'Welfare Board'.I think that is an admirable suggestion myself.
I need not take up any more of your Lordships' time, because that is the point I want to make on this question of welfare to which I personally attach great importance. There are two final observations I want to make. The first has already been referred to by the noble and learned Lord. I refer to Clause 62. I personally do not like Clause 62 at all. The side note to that clause is "Temporary provision as to unemployment benefit." Then it says:Subject to the provisions of this section, regulations may authorise the Minister to pay unemployment benefit to insured persons, on the recommendation of a local tribunal, for such number of days of unemployment as may be specified in the recommendation, being days for which they are not entitled to such benefit by reason only of having exhausted their right thereto.That is just a recurrence of that system of benefits to which I have already referred. Then, as the noble and learned Lord reminded us, this is to last for five years. If this system is vicious, then it ought not to be in the Bill at all, and I should regard the clause as a mere excrescence. If it is not vicious, why limit it to five years? But that is, after all, a Committee point, and I do not propose to argue it at length now. I do confess, however, that I do not like the clause and would prefer to see it out of the Bill.
1105 There is only one further point, to which also the noble and learned Lord has referred, and it is this. It was said, I think by Lord Beveridge in his report, and certainly by Mr. Griffiths the other day, that the success of this scheme is dependent on reasonably high employment: in other words, if unemployment is very high, then, as Mr. Griffiths said, to quote his own words, "the scheme is sunk." That seems to me to place an additional responsibility on the Government, because if by reason of their policy, high unemployment is produced—which heaven forbid should happen—if they should, for instance, disturb a great industry like the iron and steel industry which would result in high unemployment—then indeed there would be included in the common catastrophe not only the industry itself but this great scheme to which we all wish well. These are entirely personal observations, and I speak for nobody but myself. I have tried at any rate not to be unhelpful, and so far as I am concerned I trust your Lordships will see fit to give the Bill a Second Reading and that it may pass into law.
§ LORD BEVERIDGE
My Lords, I am sure I need not say with how much trepidation I rise to address you so very shortly after I have bowed the knee to the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. I would not dare to do so if I did not see here so many old friends and know so much of the traditional kindness of your Lordships' House. I only ask that on this exceptional occasion you should give me exceptional kindness. I am not in the happy position of being the sole or the main authority upon this subject which is now before the House. It is true that I know something of it, but there are others who are masters of it. I hope it will not be thought presumptuous if I refer to the masterly way in which the noble and learned Lord upon the Woolsack has expounded this scheme and shown himself a master of this subject, as he is a master of the art of lucid and telling exposition. Then there is the noble Lord who has just spoken; he has lived with this subject and has a profound human knowledge of one very important side of social security.
There is one other noble Lord to whom I hope I may allude who has a knowledge of it which is perhaps not unknown to all of you and which is in some ways 1106 peculiar. I refer to the noble Lord who will, I understand, answer for the Government—Lord Pakenham. For several years during the war he was perpetually with me, working on one scheme after another, and he was a member of the ante-natal clinic which really presided over the birth of what later came to be called the Beveridge Report. He was a member of that clinic when it was not clear whether a boy, a girl, or twins would be born, but I now realize that it is sextuplets—the Industrial injuries Bill, the National Insurance Bill, the Family Allowances Bill, the National Health Service Bill, the Bill for assistance and the Bill in respect of that terrible problem which was much too hard for me and which I therefore referred to Sir Walter Monckton—alternative remedies.
I need hardly say that I cordially welcome the introduction of this Bill and that I shall give what help I can to further its rapid passage into law. I will not endeavour to deal with the many topics that have been raised, many of them Committee points, but I would venture to make two general observations, one to illustrate what we are doing in passing this Bill, if we do, and why it is important. What are we doing? We are building on the foundations of the social insurance scheme laid by Mr. Lloyd George more than thirty years ago. He fought the battle of social insurance when it needed fighting, and when others of us came on the scene—and many came on the scene afterwards—the victory had been won. Mr. Lloyd George will always be regarded as the father of social security in Britain. We are building on the foundations he laid; we are not merely improving social insurance, we are not simply making it a little better, a little more extensive, simpler and coordinated.
The object of this Bill, and of the other Bills that go with it, is to improve social insurance up to the point where want is abolished. That is the aim of what is called the Beveridge Report—a Report signed by me, though compiled with much help of many kinds in its ante-natal stages. The benefits described in that Report are designed to be enough to keep people, even if they have nothing else. They are designed to abolish want—"want" being defined as not having enough income to buy the necessities of life for yourself and your family at all times—on the condition that you render 1107 service while you can render it and on the condition of the payment of contributions. In effect that main principle is the principle of this Bill, which is a Bill for taking money as contributions or as taxation from people when they have it, putting it into a great fund for the whole of the community, and from that fund, when people are unable to work because they are old or sick, seeing that they have an income which is sufficient for subsistence. In passing may I say how much I admired, as I am sure your Lordships all admired, and how much I personally agreed with the statement which the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack made as to subsistence benefits and what was implied in that term—not a perpetually sliding scale but ultimately fixing upon the Government of the day the responsibility for stability of prices and, in relation to prices, for reviewing from time to time the scale of benefits. That is necessary if want is to be abolished; but in itself what we are doing is, as I have described, a purely financial operation—taking money from people at one time and keeping it for them for another.
This Bill is a financial operation, and a financial operation in the currency of this country; it is a Bill concerned with pounds and not with dollars. I should like to take this opportunity (perhaps having in mind a larger and ignorant audience outside), of making that plain. When I was in the United States three years ago, speaking, as I was asked to speak, upon the Beveridge Report, I found I had always to begin by explaining that it was not a plan for enabling the people of this country to retire from work upon an income provided by Lend-Lease; and in these times I must make it plain that it is not a plan for enabling the people of this country to retire from work so long as the American Loan lasts. It has nothing to do with it; in fact, this measure is one of the few measures of this Government in the economic sphere which will be entirely unaffected by the American Loan and what happens to it. It is concerned with pounds and not with dollars. The other thing to realize is that it is concerned with pounds and not with goods.
Some of your Lordships remember the discussion in another place upon the Beveridge Report when there was considerable argument as to whether money 1108 was or was not a meaningless symbol. Money is not a meaningless symbol, but it is only a means to an end. In the war we came to realize that that was so and that, broadly speaking, for a sufficiently important end you could do almost anything you liked with money. I think money became unimportant during the war but, oddly enough, I think it is becoming almost too important now. People are beginning to think that you can raise the standard of living by raising money wages. That is rot so; you can only raise the standard of living in the country as a whole by increasing the output of goods. I do not want to discuss that, because it is a wider question, but it is important to realize—and I come back at once to what is very germane to the present subject—that in this financial operation we are not doing everything that is needed. We must perform this financial operation of seeing that everybody, on condition of service, has a minimum income for subsistence when he cannot serve, but when you have done that in money terms you have not by any manner of means done all that is wanted.
I hope I am in order in referring to another Bill which will come before your Lordships' House, the National Health Service Bill, because it illustrates my point. To provide a proper national health service involves making arrangements as to what to pay the doctors and how to pay them, but we all know that we shall not get a real national health service until we have many more doctors and many more and better hospitals. It depends upon getting those things and not upon the money operation. I was going to say, with much less eloquence and authority, what the noble Lord, Lord Rushcliffe has just said. I want to emphasize the fact that there are a great many old people to whom welfare is as important as money. I may have misunderstood him but I thought he spoke of 85,000 pensioners over eighty. I think that is true of pensioners over eighty who are living alone, but there are many more than 85,000 pensioners over eighty.
§ LORD BEVERIDGE
That is astonishing, and it does show how vital it is to have welfare for the old as well as money. Now I come to the case of the 1109 sick. The sick need much more than money when they are sick. The unemployed man does not need very much except money to keep him alive while he looks for another job. But a sick man wants much more than that, and the administration of sickness benefit above all needs to be humanized and individualized. From that point of view I am frankly a little sorry for what the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack said about the position of friendly societies. For that reason I still regret the refusal of the Government to use the friendly societies. I do not say for the purpose of all benefits. I have never suggested, and I do not think the friendly societies have ever suggested that they should be used for all benefits. They should be used for the sickness benefit which they have given in the past and which requires individual treatment, as unemployment benefit, for instance, does not need. It did frankly send a chill to my heart to realize that it was contemplated that the only way in which most people would get their sickness benefit would be through the post.
I know the kind of arguments used about this point. It is said the friendly societies do not cover all the people. We all know that. I do not propose that they should be used for anyone but their own members, and I do not propose that they should be used for anything but sickness benefit. I know that it is also said that the only societies which could satisfy any reasonable conditions for coming in would be the great monster societies which do not have much human feeling. I am not sure that that is so. Even it it were so, I would still say that it is worth while to get a variety of those dealing with sickness benefit, because from variety will come experiment, individualization and more humanity. I am not going to say a word here to-day to suggest that civil servants are not human. I have lived too long with civil servants and worked too long with them to suggest anything of that sort. But while civil servants are perfectly human, the unfortunate fact is that anything as big as the Civil Service, merely because of its size, tends to become inhuman.
§ LORD BEVERIDGE
Yes, that has done it very well, I agree. I am only saying 1110 that if you do not use the friendly societies, you will throw away one of the natural humanizing, individualizing elements in dealing with sickness benefit. I still believe that second thoughts are better than first thoughts, and I hope that in this respect the second Chamber might be even better than the first Chamber. I do not want to dwell more on that because it is, after all, a Committee matter. May I say a word about the problem of the cost of this scheme. The scheme is, as I say, ultimately simply a plan for re-distributing purchasing power for the goods which are produced in this country, and that re-distribution of purchasing power does not in itself either increase the number of goods or decrease them.
Quite seriously, I have never really been very much moved by the argument that the country could not afford a scheme of this sort, provided all you are doing is to take from people when they have it, enough money, not to provide them luxuries, but to provide them with the minimum of subsistence. Provided that is all you are doing, then I would be inclined to say that the poorer a country is the more certainly it must afford this scheme for seeing that bread for all comes before cake for any. That is the essence of the scheme—bread for all at all times, on condition of service, before cake for any. The poorer we are, the more certainly we must afford it. That does not mean, of course, that the method of financing the scheme, the way you take the money, and the amounts you take from particular classes, are unimportant. They are most important, and I am glad to think that that matter will be under constant review, and the method of taxing, whether it be social insurance taxation or not, does need constant examination.
The cost is not unimportant. Oddly enough, the cost which worried me when I was making my original report was not so much the ultimate cost—because I have confidence in the power of this country to recover after the second world war as it recovered alter the first world war, given time—but the immediate cost. At that time I was putting up something which I thought could be accepted at once. I tried to reduce the cost at the beginning and that, among other thing,. is the main practical difference between that which the Government is now proposing 1111 and which was in my report—the date of introduction of full pensions at the new rate. I proposed, as you know, that the pensions should not rise to their full level until after a transition period of twenty years. That did not affect, of course, young people. The young people would have to contribute as for full pensions and would have time to do so. It affected the older people. I did not think that was a harsh proposal, and I do not think it was a proposal which could be criticized as discouraging thrift, because it only related to the people who were already past the age of thrift—the question of whether they would save for themselves had been settled before. It was, in fact, a plan which followed very closely the New Zealand scheme. New Zealand is the only country which really is still ahead of this country in social insurance.
I am not going to dwell upon that point. The Government have decided that they will find the money to give the full pensions at once, although one must point out that it does not apply to all old people, but only applies to the particular class who are already pensionable. The new classes who are not insured for pension, the small shopkeeper, the smallholder, and the independent worker, will have to wait. I think you must make him wait until he has contributed for ten years before he gets the full benefit. This slight inequity between these two classes was the reason in my mind for my proposals, but this is a matter upon which I do not think we can really go back.
Let me say one word, and one word only, on a doubt which is sometimes raised about this whole plan of insuring a minimum income at all times on condition of service. That is the doubt as to whether that will destroy initiative, responsibility or the penalties for idleness. Well, it clearly does not destroy the penalties for idleness. You do not give unemployment pay if there is work. You do not destroy the incentive to thrift if you say to people, "You are certain of a minimum, and you are free to build on that minimum." Most people, I am certain, will wish to build above that minimum. I am sure that if you really look at the people whose initiative and incentive have most enriched the world, you will find that most of them had social security from birth by having chosen their parents well. I do not believe 1112 that we need fear for a moment that this scheme, if adopted, will destroy the initiative, the responsibility, the thrift, of the British people.
I am afraid that I have already exceeded the time for which I should speak; let me end by just saying why it seems to me that this proposal is so important. It is not only that it is designed to bring about a redistribution of pounds, that is of purchasing power, but it embodies a vital assertion of social principle. How high our standard of living can be depends upon factors which are not in this Bill at all, upon the way in which we manage our economic affairs, our productivity, and the kind of world, internationally, in which this country has to live. That will determine how high our standard of living will be. What this Bill does is this. Whether the standard of living be high or whether it be low, whether the country is much richer than ever before, or has to struggle to be not much poorer than before, we mean to put first things first—bread and health for all people at all times on condition of service, while they can serve, before cake and circuses for anybody. That is the whole principle of this Bill. It is really the principle that was laid down by the author of social insurance after the last war, Mr. Lloyd George, when he spoke of making Britain a country in which only indolence should suffer want. I believe that through this Bill, which so many people have laboured upon, it will be possible to realize that ideal in this country. That is what we are doing in this country.
By free vote of the citizens we are showing that a democracy can assert a social principle like this and carry it out. We are really doing in this country what no other country in the world except New Zealand—I think that is the one which has come nearest to it—has done or is doing yet. We are doing that in this country now, and I hope and believe that if we assert that social principle and carry it into effect we shall be doing something to show, in the world as a whole, that economic security and real democracy can be combined with essential citizen liberties.
There is no lesson which it is more important to preach in the world to-day. I want to end by congratulating the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack and this Government on having the chance to 1113 make that demonstration to the world and on having taken so vigorously the chance that has come to them.
§ 4.12 p.m.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF YORK
My Lords, it is my privilege to congratulate the noble Lord who has just spoken on his maiden speech. It is a great satisfaction to us all that he is able to be here when his offspring appears in this House in public for the first time, and I am glad to feel that, notwithstanding the passage of his child through another place, he is still able to recognize it quite clearly as his own. This House is always ready to listen to speakers when they have a knowledge of their subject. The noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, has an intimate knowledge of many social and economic subjects, and we shall be glad to listen to him for those reasons alone. But when with knowledge he combines, as he has shown that he does, the gifts of eloquence and brevity, we are delighted to give him a three-fold welcome.
This Bill is one of which I think any nation might be proud. If it came before us at any time, our nation would have a right to be proud of a Bill like this, but coming as it does at a time when we are passing through so many and so great difficulties, we have an especial right to be proud of it. It is a Bill, moreover, which does not come from one Party alone. It is a non-Party Bill, supported enthusiastically by members of ail Parties, and it is for this reason that it has had such an easy passage through another place. I support and welcome the Bill whole-heartedly. I support it because of its three principles. It aims, as we have just heard, at the abolition of want, at abolishing it by a scheme of compulsory and contributory insurance, so that the man who claims benefit under it asks not for dole or for charity but for what is his right. It is also—and this, I think, embodies the third principle—a national scheme designed so that those who have employment which is likely to be permanent and who are living under such conditions that their health is likely to be good, are able to assist those who are more liable to ill-health and unemployment.
This measure, when it passes into law, will remove from millions the menace of insecurity through the threat of want. It is difficult for us to exaggerate this, for 1114 ever since the days of the industrial revolution the menace of want has overshadowed the lives of many of our fellow citizens. I remember how, when I was a boy in a country village, I heard, again and again, old people speaking with dread of "the House." I hardly understood what they meant then; but I knew it was something they dreaded. Later, when I visited the whitewashed, carbolic-smelling dormitories in which those old people had to pass, in pauper's garb; their last days, I understood their dread of "the House." Then later, as a young cleric, when I was visiting in industrial areas, I saw poverty; I saw people suffering in health; I saw furniture gradually being sold. The only help which was available to the poor people in those days was through soup kitchens and other forms of charity and occasional outdoor help. I realized then what the menace of want and insecurity meant. Since those days, an enormous amount has been done, as we have been reminded to-day. But even at the present time there are great gaps in our methods of dealing with the unemployed and those who are sick. There are large numbers of people who now come under no kind of scheme of insurance. Benefits under existing arrangements are insufficient, and often far too small. To many the menace of insecurity is still very real. But this Bill, when it becomes law, will undoubtedly bring relief to very large numbers of our fellow countrymen.
The noble Lord has referred to one of the arguments which has occasionally been used against this policy, namely that it will discourage thrift. But does not all experience show that it is insecurity which discourages thrift; that when a man feels that at any moment his savings may be wiped away by some calamity or other, he does not save? It is when he knows that he has a certain measure of security that he is much more ready to save, and I believe that that will be the case under this Act. There are, of course, various points of detail about which, if there were time, I should have liked to ask many questions. There are various matters about which I have some doubt and hesitation in this Bill. For instance, I regret very much that the friendly societies—I am speaking of the genuine friendly societies—are not included in the Bill. They have done such splendid work in the past, and they bring into the task of relief a personal element. Moreover, these 1115 friendly societies have been admirable schools of good citizenship. Those who have belonged to them have learned what is meant by self-government; and I think the strongest barrier we have against totalitarianism in this or any other country is the existence of a number of autonomous societies which manage their own affairs. Therefore I regret anything which would tend to weaken the friendly societies. I recognize that there may be, as the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has pointed out, a strong administrative case against including them in this Bill. I think there must be, for there were something like 150 candidates for Parliament who promised to support friendly societies but who, when they became Members of Parliament, were so convinced by arguments used by the Minister in charge of the Bill, or by the persuasions of the Whips, that they were converted to the other side. Before the Committee stage is over I myself may be converted, although it will be by the arguments of the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, rather than by the persuasiveness of the Whips.
I am bound to say that I view with some anxiety the enormous increase in the number of civil servants which will be inevitable under this Bill. I recognize that it is inevitable, when you start a great scheme of administration, that you must have a very large number of people working it. I regret this. You draw into the Civil Service some of the ablest, the most honest and the most capable of all our fellow citizens. It is impossible to speak too highly of the standard of conduct followed by those who belong to our Civil Service. On the other hand, however, directly they join the Service, and as long as they are in it, they are politically sterilized. They are unable to express their opinions freely on any political subject, and I think it is a real loss to the nation that so many capable people are debarred from criticizing the Government, whatever Government that may be. I know this may be inevitable under the circumstances, but I hope that the Minister will not unduly enlarge the numbers of those who are working in his Department. I have always found that Ministers are quite ready to recognize in principle that over-staffing is a grave evil; but I have not yet met the Minister who will recognize that his own Department is 1116 over-staffed. Almost invariably he feels that any reduction of his own staff will be an almost irretrievable disaster to the life of the nation. I also feel a little anxious about the way in which some of the subordinate members of the staff may administer this new measure. The noble Lord, Lord Rushcliffe, has already hinted that you may have something impersonal in the actions of a large number of people in a Government Department. I hope that very great care will be taken to permeate all those engaged in this work with the spirit of friendliness, so that they may regard those with whom they deal not merely as cases to be pigeon-holed or dealt with according to a set formula, but as individuals with their own anxieties, troubles and needs.
There is a third point, a much smaller point than those I have referred to, upon which I wish to touch. I hope very much that when this measure becomes an Act of Parliament it will be made plain and simple to the ordinary person. It is, no doubt, a masterpiece of draftsmanship; it is, no doubt, fool-proof. But no fool or wayfaring person could possibly understand a good number of the clauses in the Bill. In our Convocation, when we pass a Canon, we pass it in both English and Latin. We discuss it in English, and it is then translated into Latin, and receives His Majesty's approval and becomes law in the Latin form. I sometimes think it would be a very good thing, after our draftsman has done his best on one of these measures, if some capable person would render it into English—possibly it might be the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor; no one could do it better. We might then have two versions. We might have the version with which lawyers would deal, and the version in the vulgar tongue which the rest of us would understand. That is quite a minor point, compared to the Bill itself. I support this measure with all my heart. I congratulate the Government on bringing it forward. I hope that before long it will be law, and that when it is law it will bring relief and happiness to very large numbers of our fellow-citizens.
§ 4.27 p.m.
§ LORD INMAN
My Lords, as a comparative newcomer to your Lordships' House I confess to a feeling of embarrassment in having to speak after the great authorities we have heard to-day. If I 1117 may, with respect, I would add my congratulations to the many others that will be showered upon the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, on his maiden speech. It is peculiarly appropriate that we should have him with us to-day, and I venture to express the hope, already expressed by the most reverend Primate, that we shall have the privilege of the noble Lord's intervention in many future debates.
This question of national insurance is of peculiar interest to for two reasons. If I may be allowed a personal word, I would explain that my own mother was left a widow with four young children, all under ten years of age, and owing to a protracted and, from our point of view, not very satisfactory law suit, we were deprived of much of the money my father had left. I know the terrible struggle that my mother had to bring up her family, a struggle which might not have been so hard if the provisions of this Bill had been in operation. The other reason why national insurance is of such special interest to me lies in my thirty years' experience of hospital work. I have seen the tragic effects of unemployment, of poverty and of sickness. They are the natural allies of the disease and sickness, which hospitals have to treat. I was very greatly interested in what the most reverend Primate had to say about the complicated character of this Bill. I was glad to hear the Minister say in another place that steps would be taken to see that the provisions were simplified. I am sure that that is very necessary. I am aware that these proposals have been outlined in the Press and on the platform, but a great amount of confusion still exists in certain minds on many of the detailed proposals. Only this morning my chauffeur asked what would be the effect of his war pension upon his retirement pension.
There are many points which overlap, into which I do not propose to go to-day. It would be a distinct advantage if a brochure could be produced giving the provisions in simplified form, a brochure that could find its way into every home. In the light of the far-reaching proposals of this Bill it is illuminating to glance back over the past. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack referred to the great developments which have taken place during the last forty years. But even now, as has been emphasized, this Bill must not be considered in isolation; 1118 it is part of a very much wider plan. A comprehensive Bill of such a character will have distinct advantages. The social services of this country, although second to none in the world, have very largely been a patchwork of unco-ordinated provisions, with varying rates and governed by varying conditions. When this Bill becomes law, with other legislation now in the course of consideration, there will be one card and one stamp to cover all the aspects of insurance.
Questions of detail will be considered later in Committee, and therefore I do not propose to deal with any of those matters to-day, but I would like to refer to one or two of the questions that have been raised upon the important matter of finance. It was stated in another place that the cost of all the social service schemes will be £500,000,000 this year, rising to £700,000,000 in 1948 and 1949. These are formidable figures. Can we afford so heavy an outlay? I do not propose to follow the noble Lord, Lord Rushcliffe, in quoting what was said in another place, but I would remind your Lordships that the Prime Minister paid a good deal of attention to this question in the Second Reading debate there. He emphasized what I think should be strongly emphasized, that these benefits do not represent something for nothing. They can only be made available to our public if the people of this land are prepared to utilize to the full all our resources of labour and of material.
There are one or two other points that have not been touched upon to-day. When we are dealing with the question of cost, I would remind your Lordships that an enormous sum is lost to this country every year through preventable sickness. I have heard it placed as high as £300,000,000. A good deal of that loss should be made good by the improved health which will arise from the effect of these various measures upon the lives of our people. We Must not overlook the psychological aspect. For many years the people of this country have been suffering from one of the most grievous burdens the poor have always carried—that of insecurity for themselves and their families in times of sickness, old age and unemployment. The grim spectre of uncertainty is vanishing before a new hope in the mind and a new warmth in the heart. And there is a feeling of comradeship about it. We are 1119 all together, as we were during the war—prelate and peasant, professional man and manual worker—all of us are in it. I believe that this measure is one of the finest Acts of real brotherhood that has ever made its way on to the Statute Book. May I, without quoting, paraphrase what was said by a prominent member of the Opposition in another place. He said that every section of the community will learn to understand the difficulties and the trials which beset all other sections, and he went on to say that there is no reason why we should not go forward together as a happier family. I am sure we all echo that hope.
§ 4.36 p.m.
My Lords, so many of your Lordships have puffed out your cheeks this afternoon to give a gentle favourable breeze to this Bill that I realize I have been present at the birth of Venus. I should like to take this opportunity of joining with your Lordships in adding my own personal tribute to the speech which we heard this afternoon from the Liberal Benches, from the father of this measure.
There is one point about which I am very anxious, and, from what happened to this Bill in another place, I think I have every reason to be anxious about it. It relates to the interests of the relieving officers. It is said that this Bill is going to do away with about one-third of the present Poor Law administration, and that, I fear, may mean that we shall lose the services of about one-third of the experienced relieving officers that we have at present in our service. That would be a very great disaster. I number a great many of them among my friends, and I know a certain amount about them. I want from the Government some assurance that those men will be found a place in the scheme which is before your Lordships today. From what has fallen from noble Lords who have spoken, I am perfectly certain that there is room for these people.
The relieving officer, as he is generally known, is a very ancient member of our administrative system. He dates from the reign of Queen Elizabeth. In spite of all the mud that has been thrown at him in the past, I think it is true to say his faults in the past were the faults of the system and his virtues are all his own. The only 1120 thing that I want to take out of the history of the past is to say this, that from of old his position has properly been made very secure in order to safeguard him from improper influences. I want to tell your Lordships exactly what his position is to-day. He holds his appointment until death, bankruptcy, insanity, or (if he has entered into a superannuation scheme), until superannuation. He cannot be dismissed by the County Council which employs him save with the consent of the Minister himself and subject to appeal to the Minister. The County Council may, it is true, suspend him during investigation into his conduct, but they cannot delegate that duty to anybody else. This is the important point. He may not reside out of his district, nor accept other employment, nor run a business.
As a rule he is a man who has passed a professional examination and gained a certificate of competence. His daily hours of duty are twentyfour, and for that reason you will never find a relieving officer going away for week-ends, or among those happy people who can enjoy themselves at the seaside. Your Lordships will observe that the Minister comes into everything in connexion with the relieving officer, yet he is even safeguarded from the Minister, because the Minister, while he may give him general directions as to the way in which he is to administer his powers, cannot tell him to administer relief to any individual. Here we have a man who is neither a civil servant nor a local government officer, though he has an important relation to both. He has trained himself to specialized work and he has been precluded from taking any other work in the interest of the public. Unfortunately his position has been badly weakened by the 1930 Act, which gives the Minister power to dismiss him where he considers his work no longer necessary. It seems to me that it is not consistent with honour that experienced men who have so devoted themselves to our service should be thrown away if they become redundant.
It has been thought right in Clause 67 to safeguard the interest of those employed by friendly societies who may become redundant by reason of the passage of this measure, although I think it is quite possible many of these might be absorbed by the general insurance business. I cannot help thinking it is just as pressing a moral obligation to preserve 1121 from harm elderly men who have been engaged exclusively on a particular job and an important public service and who will be stranded as a result of what is now being done. In another place the Minister seemed to take the view that these men are only indirectly affected by the Bill. He said himself that they do not stand high in the ranks of those who fall to be considered and that it will be time to look into their position at a later date when the final break-up of Poor Law organization takes place.
When the 1937 Act was passed many of the functions of relieving officers were taken over by the Assistance Board, and it was claimed that a great many of the staff were taken over at the same time. If that is looked into more closely, it will be found that it was the junior staff which was taken over and sometimes even the temporary staff. It is only natural that that should be so. The relieving officer is not part of a machine. He is a man who has had a definite responsibility placed on him by Parliament, which he carries out, and he looks to nobody else. As your Lordships know, if he fails to assist a poor person and death results, the Coroner may even name him as guilty of manslaughter. It is only natural that such people would not be taken over into an administrative machine. That leads me to worry about this matter, because if these men are going to be gradually got rid of, until when the final break-up of the Poor Law is considered only a few are left, then it does seem to me rather callous ingratitude for what has been very devoted public service.
When I say "very devoted public service", I really know what I am talking about. It will be a paralyzing blow to the public itself if the wonderful qualities and experience of these men are lost to it. If your Lordships look at the 1930 Act you will see that in Section 17 the relieving officer's duties are laid down pretty completely. They are to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, harbour the 1122 homeless, visit the sick and bury the dead. All cases which fall between the meshes of the various organizations which deal with unemployment, sickness and death are handled by him. For many years I myself have been connected with a great organization which, amongst other things, tries to deal with distress. We have one very good rule, that every one of our officers, of whom I am one, shall regularly visit our pensioners. But when, in order to gain more knowledge and experience in this matter, I made fronds with relieving officers and went round with them on their jobs and sat in their offices, I realized what an amateur I was at this business and how extraordinarily varied are the misfortunes of human life.
Your Lordships ought to have the facts before you in considering this question, and I would like to give you very briefly the routine duties of a relieving officer and also some extras. During office hours he receives applications of every kind from anybody in any form of distress. He directs them sometimes to the Assistance Board, sometimes to the Labour Exchange, and wherever they should properly apply he tells them how to prosecute their claims. He very often has to deal with cases of inheritance. Every kind of case comes before him. For the homeless, by some wizardry, he procures shelter. How he does it to-day, I do not know. I know of one case where the relieving officer found a woman, and I think three children—I have forgotten the exact number of children—who had been turned into the street by a Court order on the very day that her husband was coming back from leave. He could not find her accommodation and took her into his own house and kept the whole of them for six months. That is not in the contract, but that is very typical of the spirit which actuates all the relieving officers whom I know, and I know a fair number.
That kind of service to the public is a very strong ground for real consideration, and I think the noble Lord who is going to answer will admit that. This work has never been advertised or talked about. I think possibly this is the first time it has ever been mentioned in detail in Parliament. But if one relieving officer in the whole country fails in his duty that is news, and he gets all the publicity: in fact, his fault is probably 1123 ascribed to all the four thousand who really do their job.
After his office hours the relieving officer goes to see all his clients, and it really is a pleasure to go round with him and see how he is received and welcomed. Where there is an adjudication officer appointed he goes round usually on Wednesday to adjudicate on claims. I think that is an enormous improvement on the old system on the Board of Guardians because, although everybody's circumstances vary, you do get consistency of judgment. On Thursday payments are made, and these meetings are really amusing when all the old ladies come and have a gossip and thoroughly enjoy themselves. The people who do not appear are visited the same day. That means that every relieving officer sees every one of his cases once a week. I cannot over-emphasize the importance of visiting by experienced persons. That is where the relieving officer's experience—realizing very fully the great service done by the Assistance Board—is of great advantage, because he does visit once a week. Relieving officers are the elder men. It is most important that experienced men should do the visiting. I do not want to compare them particularly with the Assistance Board, but I really do not think the Assistance Board people have ever visited quite so often as that, and when they do I think it is generally the junior people who do it.
It must be remembered also that, as your Lordships know, distress occurs very often late at night. The offices of the Board may be closed, and they may be anything from five to forty miles away, but the relieving officer is on the spot and is on duty for the whole twenty-four hours. An enormous amount of work outside the Poor Law is done by these men, and it is work with which the country can hardly dispense. Let me quote one case that I remember—that of an old lady who, with her husband, was really an Assistance Board case. She was sent to the Assistance Board and, being a foolish person, she did not take her identity card with her and was told to go back again. She came in and vented the whole of her troubles on the wretched relieving officer, but he was able to get in touch with the Board and the matter was put straight. Another relieving officer received a letter: "Sir, I am writing to you to inquire if you 1124 can put me in touch with anybody who would like to have a young baby adopted."
I remember yet another case where one of my relieving officer friends found a man who had been dead for four days and arranged for his burial. It was not one of his cases at all; otherwise the man would have been visited and taken off to hospital. Then again, a doctor appealed to another one of my friends; I went with him and we found a very old lady living with an elderly daughter. The house and furniture were quite good and the inmates were by no means destitute, but the conditions there were quite indescribable. We got the daughter moved into hospital and eventually she died there. I do not think the work of the relieving officer is sufficiently considered. It is extraordinarily difficult work. I have seen a doctor, a magistrate and a relieving officer, by very careful and patient questioning, establish the sanity of a person when every indication seemed to be to the opposite effect.
In all these cases it is the mature experience of these men which is of real service to the poor people of this country. I do not think the old deep-seated hostility to the Poor Law really exists to-day as it did in the past. So far as careful questioning can inform me, I think that people regard all these services very much in the same way. It is quite true that there are some people who obstinately refuse relief and who spend their own savings to the very last penny rather than accept assistance from the public. The relieving officer cannot persuade them to accept it, but I think the same would apply if anybody were to offer relief to these people, who are what I call the irreducible minimum of British independence. I know that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has had a lot to do with this subject, and I am sorry that he is not here at this moment, but I do not think that, with all his knowledge of the subject, he could accuse me of overstating my case.
I believe that the Bill before your Lordships is an excellent Bill, and yet it may break down through some unforeseen contingency. This is a tremendous new step; it is to some extent a leap in the dark. It can never be wrong to increase your margin of safety and in this case I am sure it would be wise to do so. I suggest 1125 that the best margin of safety here would be to retain in the service the unexampled experience of these older relieving officers. There will always be some people, as the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack said in introducing this Bill, who will not be covered by the best-devised machinery. The relieving officer has every detail of our administrative system at his fingertips. If you ask our welfare workers what they do when they get in a difficulty, they will tell you at once that they ring up the relieving officer, who is always at hand to counsel them. If the Government, under this Bill, are unable to make use of these qualities, which I think we still need so badly, I urge them very seriously to make quite certain that if these men lose their positions they shall be generously treated and have no real complaint, because they have done marvellous work for us. One of the difficulties of their case is that they have never advertised themselves in any way at all. I beg my noble friend Lord Pakenham at any rate to consider this point.
§ 4.55 p.m.
My Lords, I am sure that this Bill will receive a cordial welcome on all sides of the House. It is in effect not so much a National Insurance Bill as a Social Security Bill. I will not make any general observations, but I would like to refer to four specific points. First of all, let me say a few words—and only a few words, because the subject has already been well adumbrated—about the use of friendly societies for the purposes of administering State benefits for their members. I believe, and many people on these Benches also believe, that the friendly societies should act as agents in administering State benefits on uniform lines for their members. At this point let me make the position perfectly clear. Only those societies which are nonprofit-making societies, as distinct from profit-making societies or industrial companies, should be given this task, and only under appropriate conditions and regulations. If friendly societies are excluded from the administration of State benefits for their members, they will be greatly handicapped in maintaining their membership and efficiency. At the present time there are some 8,000,000 members of friendly societies. Some of those will doubtless fall out when the new State scheme comes into operation, but 1126 many will certainly remain if the new system encourages them to do so and if the societies are helped to remain efficient.
At this stage I think it only fair to give notice to the Government that on the Committee stage of this Bill there will be moved from these Benches a series of Amendments for the purpose of enabling friendly societies to be used as agents for the purpose of administering State benefits to their own members. Those Amendments are not intended to create a clash between the two Houses of Parliament, but to remedy what we consider to be a serious omission and also to implement the numerous pledges which were given to the friendly societies at the last General Election. I, and many of us on these Benches, feel so strongly on the subject of the justice and desirability of making use of friendly societies and saving them from what will be their death that I feel justified in saying what Mr. Gladstone would have said in similar circumstances: "Providence has decreed that we, unworthy as we are, shall be its holy instrument for protecting the friendly societies from a speedy and horrible death."
There are three other matters in regard to which I hope the Government has an open mind. First of all, there is the treatment of self-employed persons with regard to sickness benefit and rate of contribution. It is a matter of satisfaction that this section of the population has been placed on the same footing as employed persons in the matter of sickness benefit and the waiting period. But a higher rate of contribution has been fixed, namely 6s. 2d. instead of 4s. 7d., and that higher rate may, and probably will, cause hardship in many cases. It would be fair, I suggest, to adopt a sliding scale of contributions and benefits to help certain cases, such as, for example, rural craftsmen and fishermen. Secondly, on the question of the determination of claims, it is desirable that regulations under this Bill shall—not may—be framed so as to give the individual a right of appeal to the High Court from decisions of the National Insurance Commissioners.
Lastly, let me say a word about another controversial subject, namely, Clause 12 of the Bill which stipulates that after 180 days of unemployment an insured person shall lose the right to benefit and must appear before a tribunal which will decide whether national assistance money 1127 should replace benefit. Let me come to the point at once. It is hoped that on mature reflection the Government will delete Clause 12 from the Bill altogether. Subject to these four criticisms, which I hope are not entirely destructive, I am sure the Bill will receive from all quarters a very cordial welcome and will mark another great step in our progress towards complete social security.
§ 5.1 p.m.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
My Lords, I think that the Government cannot be dissatisfied with the reception which this Bill has received in your Lordships' House this afternoon. Indeed, it is one that bears remarkable testimony to the wonderful spirit which prevailed in this country during the war. We were all banded together to fight off the invasion and to defeat the greatest menace that has ever threatened our shores. Yet at the same time, although the Cabinet of those days had highly important and indeed vital day-to-day decisions to make which affected victory itself, it had the energy and the time to lay plans for the future. Our confidence in our ultimate triumph was so sure that we felt in a position to go ahead and to lay the foundations of what we hope will be a happier and fuller life for the people in this country. It is out of the plans then made that we get five or six measures—I am not quite certain which—dealing with this general subject of social security. Two or three of them are now on the Statute Book and we are dealing with another to-day.
Let me say for myself and for those for whom I am privileged to speak that we whole-heartedly welcome it. Indeed we are part parents of it. It came out of the marriage of all the main political Parties during the war, and the fact that that marriage has now been dissolved—even though it were dissolved before the end of the gestation period of some of the children of it—does not mean we in any way disclaim the offspring. I was a member of the committee which dealt with these matters in the early days of the Coalition Government under the present Lord Privy Seal, and I was at the meeting when the decision was taken to call in my noble friend Lord Beveridge to help with this matter and to form what he I think described as his ante-natal clinic.
1128 Perhaps I may not only be allowed to congratulate him on public grounds on coming to this House after his long service to the State, but on personal grounds as well, because I find it good to have an ex-Master of what without intending to be controversial I will say is not only the oldest but the best college in Oxford. I thought perhaps that would be slightly controversial. At any rate it is nice to be able to welcome an ex-Master of one's college to this House, especially when he is a past-master of the subject which we are discussing on the day of his arrival. I think we should all like to pay our tribute to him and to the body of able civil servants over whom he presided and who worked with him to produce the Report which bears his name.
I should also like, if I am in order in doing so, to pay my tribute to the efforts of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack in this matter. It was he who had the task of shaping this legislation in the first instance. If I may go back to the family metaphor his job was that of the kind and homely mid-wife—I assure him I use the word "homely" in the English and not in the American sense—and he had to get everything ready for the birth of this new infant. There is no doubt that after the efforts of so many there has certainly been born a strapping great infant, a Bill of eighty clauses and twelve schedules. While we welcome its birth, nevertheless it is quite legitimate for any partner in the production of the progeny to say, "This is not quite what I hoped to see our baby would turn out to be." In general form of course it is excellent.
The right time has come and the opportunity has been taken to unify in one contribution those contributions previously made for health and unemployment benefit. Administrative cost ought to be saved by this provision alone. But there is still a lot of saving that might have been made by having these different benefits all paid out from the same source. It may be said that it is convenient still to pay unemployment benefits from the Labour Exchanges and the widows and retirement pensions from the Post Offices, and that argument may well be right. But if it is, why do we not continue to pay out the sickness benefit also through the channel through which it has largely been paid in the past? I am referring, of course, once 1129 again to the friendly societies. I think it was the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack who quoted Sir John Anderson as having come to the conclusion that it could not work because they could not deal with unemployment insurance.
I am not suggesting that they should. Unemployment insurance, as I understand this measure, is still going to be paid out through the Employment Exchanges. I shall be corrected if I am wrong, but I believe that that is the intention. There is no question therefore of the friendly societies under this measure having anything to do with unemployment insurance. Nor will the regional offices which the Minister of National Insurance is setting up have anything to do with paying out unemployment benefit. It seems to me that if all three benefits were paid through the same source there would have been a good reason, or a plausible reason, for getting rid of the friendly societies, but if you are still going to pay out these three different categories of benefits through different sources, for the life of me I cannot see why you do not use friendly societies as one of them.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
Will the noble Lord forgive me for interrupting him. It is not merely a problem of paying out; it is a question of authorization, of investigating circumstances under which payment is to be made. That will be done by the same office. It is not so much a matter of unemployment insurance; there is industrial injury, maternity and all the other things which have been mentioned.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
I still understand that unemployment benefit will be paid out on the ipse dixit of the manager of the labour exchange, so that is one person who is dealing with one bit of this consolidated scheme. In regard to the retirement pensions, once the facts are ascertained and the persons concerned are said to be entitled to retirement pensions or widows' pensions, I suppose those pensions will go on being paid out through the Post Office. But there does not seem to me to be any reason why the facts should not be ascertained by the friendly societies, as agents of the Minister, and the decision, if you like, taken somewhere else. It is an administrative matter, and whether or not—if it has to be referred back for higher decision—it should go to 1130 the Minister and then the man be authorized to pay it, I still think you should use him as a vehicle between the possible recipient of payments and—
May I interrupt the noble Lord purely on a point of information and elucidation? Does he desire that the friendly societies should be used as agents for the payment of everything except unemployment insurance? Does he mean that the ascertainment of the facts, for example, of eligibility for old age pension, should be performed by the friendly societies?
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
No, I gather that up to date they have never done anything about widows' pensions and retirement pensions. I am not quite certain who has to ascertain who is entitled to those pensions, but whoever ascertains that, they have been paid out through the Post Office. I am not suggesting that the channel should be changed for that. Retirement pensions would presumably be dealt with in the same way. A widow's pension is, after all, very similar to a retirement pension; in one case the unfortunate person is compulsorily retired from being a wife, and in the other case one retires when one comes to a certain age. The facts in such cases are easily ascertainable. But I do not know who will determine, under this scheme, whether, for instance, I myself may be entitled one day to a retirement pension. It would be interesting to know who actually is the person who will make that decision. If a decision were made in my favour, I suppose that: I would be notified and I would get paid through a post office When I cared to call for my pension—that is, if I ever became compelled to do that.
I do say, however, that sickness benefit is something completely apart from retirement or widows' pensions. After all, we have had National Health Insurance sickness benefits since 1911. It is quite true that they are of different amounts and that some alteration is going to be made in this Bill. Widow's pensions have been going also for a considerable length of time—from 1926, I think. There is no reason now, I suggest, why they should be jumbled up together, and why you should not continue to use friendly societies for work that they have done extremely well in the past.
1131 That is the administrative side. But what I believe we have to look at in all these things is the person who is going to be the recipient, and see what kind of service we are going to give him or her. These friendly societies have done this work now for some thirtythree or thirty-five years. I understand that the Minister now says that some 1,500 to 2,000 offices will be set up in the country to deal with matters under this measure. That may sound quite a lot, but when one realizes that there are ten times as many post offices as that in this country, and that to reach many of them entails a considerable walk in some country districts, one sees that the new arrangement will mean that a lot of these people who will be entitled to benefits will be pretty far off from one of the 1,500 or 2,000 offices. The result will be, I suppose, that the work, in the main, will be done by the post. I suppose the person concerned will be sent a form to fill up. For my own part, I am often rather appalled when I look at some of these forms. They nearly always contain two or three questions which seem to me quite irrelevant to the subject, but to which one must nevertheless give an answer. I am not blaming this Government particularly in this matter, but somehow it always seems to be the case that the forms which are issued require one to spend some little time in reading the questions and deciding upon the appropriate answer.
One has had the advantage of sitting at the feet of people like Lord Lindsay and Lord Beveridge and others, and one has had at any rate a smattering of a good education; therefore one finds it possible to deal with these forms. But it is difficult for the people who live in cottages in our countryside. A lot of them get all mazed up, and indeed many of them would find it impossible to fill up some of the wretched forms without assistance. But if you had the men from the friendly societies still visiting the sick people and assisting them in filling up their forms, what an advantage that would be. These friendly society people know how to do it, and they can fill in the forms on the answers given to them by the people concerned. So by leaving out the friendly societies, for the purposes, perhaps, of what officials think will be a nice clean administrative machine, we are depriving people in the cottage 1132 homes of this country of a service that has proved to be a good one for the past thirty three or more years. I do hope that on all these matters the Government will think again. After all, there is no harm in thinking again if one realizes, as Lord Beveridge has said, that second thoughts are best.
Another problem that will be avoided if the Government do think again is the difficult question of paying compensation to those officials of the friendly societies who will be displaced under the Bill as it at present stands. I am not referring to the type of people about whom the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, spoke so eloquently, but many friendly society members will be out of a job when this service is taken from them. There are provisions for compensation in the Bill, but I am told that the Minister has laid it down that nobody will receive compensation unless at least 50 per cent. of his or her time has been devoted to this social insurance work. That may be the right place to draw the line, but it is very bad luck on a person who loses 40 per cent. of what he or she lives on every week. Hard cases will undoubtedly arise amongst the members who have been doing this work in the country districts for a very long time. That difficulty, however, would not occur if the Government would make up their mind to adopt second thoughts. And I am sure such second thoughts would be very acceptable to 199 of their supporters in another place who happened to give that pledge at the General Election to which reference has already been made. Such second thoughts would also be helpful generally, because the pledge was given on the signature of the officials and the present Secretary of the Labour Party. I urge the Government, with all sincerity, to think again, and I hope that they will take a different view. Unless they do this I believe that we shall set up this infant of ours—to go back to my metaphor—on somewhat rickety legs, and that he will not walk with such satisfaction amongst his neighbours as he would if we allowed these existing channels to continue.
Our whole object should be to provide courteous, prompt and efficient service to those who are participants in this scheme. After all, they are not getting these benefits on charity. They will be paying quite considerable sums for them; 4s. 9d. a week for a man, and 3s. 9d. a week for 1133 a woman earning more than 30s., is quite a considerable sum out of the weekly packet. I am not saying that it should be less, but if we are asking them to pay that amount we should see that they receive the very best service for it. We must also realize (although I think it is wise to do it), that we are putting a still greater burden upon industry. It must react on the cost of production since it is bound to put up overhead charges. Unless you can cut down costs by more modern machinery, or by more scientific methods, you must have increased prices, owing to the greater amounts that the employer will have to pay on each of his workmen. Let us therefore see that we do get the very best kind of service and the best benefits for the initial payments that will have to be made to get the scheme going.
I am sorry that the amount of the contribution for the self-employed person is as high as evidently actuarially it must be. The sum of 6s. 6d. a week for a man, and 5s. 5d. for a woman, who is self-employed, will cause a number of people below the limit to contract out who would not do so if the sum were less. It is a lot for the little man to pay—the man who goes round mending chairs, or with a tinker's outfit and a knife-sharpening machine. The more people we have in this scheme the better, and these people to whom I have just referred are the very people we do not wish to see left out when sickness arises or the time comes for them to retire. In passing, I would like to know from the noble Lord who replies into what category those of us who regularly attend this House may fall. I am not talking about those who are Ministers of the Crown, because their position is quite clear. But are the rest of us non-employed persons, or are we self-employed persons? When I come here I often think that although technically I may fall into the category of a non-employed person, I ought really to have the credit of being self-employed for such contributions as I make to your Lordships' House.
I do not desire to make any comparisons between the rates as they used to be and the rates for which the Government are providing. I think it is better to look at this scheme quite realistically, and to see how in general we can test what the improvements will be. I adopt as a very simple test, which I find works quite well 1134 in assessing what is the value of money in this country to-day compared with what it was, the price at which one can send an ordinary postal packet, a letter, to a friend. Before the 1914–18 war it was Id. Between the two wars, it was 1½d. Now, it is 2½d. It is just as well to look occasionally and see how the benefits of 1911 compare with those proposed. I agree that there is a great improvement in that we have dependants' benefit now, but the sickness benefit for the ordinary person in 1911 was 10s. a week. According to my formula, which works out extremely well, the comparable rate to-day should be 25s. The cost-of-living index figure, I know, would not show that increase, but I do not think that the noble Lord will pray in aid of the cost-of-living index, because in all the years I was in the House of Commons members of his Party were saying that it was the most appallingly unreliable standard by which to judge. But if these benefits are compared in the way I have suggested, there is not that very great improvement that the mere figures in £ s. d. might lead us to believe. One of the things which we have to ensure by the hard work of our people is that we avoid inflation and maintain the value of the pound. Otherwise these benefits will very soon be worth considerably less.
I want to speak about two or three main matters before I sit down. I am glad a way has been found to allow a man to go on working beyond the age of sixty-five, and to give him an incentive to do so. A lot of men have preferred to go on working rasher than just sit back and contemplate their end, and I think it is a very good thing that they should do so. I am reminded of the man sitting outside in the village, who was asked what he did and who answered: "Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits." Luckily, a large part of our population do not wish to do that. We do not want them to do it, especially at the present time. I am glad to think that encouragement is given to the man by paying an increased retirement pension if he decides to go on working for another five years. I assume that if he likes he will still be able to go on working after the age of seventy, provided he is still fit to do so. I gather, however, that if he does that, he will not get any increased pension, though I assume that if he goes on working for another couple of years he will still be able, at the end of that 1135 time, to draw the increased retirement pension which he has earned by reason of his additional five years' work. Perhaps the noble Lord would be good enough, when he comes to reply, to deal with that point.
I should like to say just one word with regard to the death grant. If we turn to the Second Schedule of this Bill, we see that the amount of the grant up to the age of three is £6; between the ages of three and six, £10; between the ages of six and eighteen, £15, and over eighteen, £20. One rather wonders how those mystic figures have been arrived at. Until I began to read the Bill, I thought it might have something to do with the size of the coffin, but apparently it has not.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
When one comes to look at Clause 22, one realizes that these are not fixed payments, and I think that something ought to be said to make it quite clear that they are not but that, as appears from the Schedule, they are maximum payments. It does not say so, but that is evidently what they are intended to be, because when you come to look at Clause 22, you see that the claimant has to show that he has reasonably incurred, or reasonably intends to incur, certain specified expenses which will be allowed for in the grant up to the £10 or the £20 as the case may be. I would much sooner see a lesser sum given as a death grant, and let the person have it, whether he can prove the expenses or not. I do not think that it would be desirable after the funeral, or before it, to collect the undertaker's bill and the bill for mourning clothing or something else. I would much sooner see (and I believe you could save quite a lot of administrative expense and quite a lot of annoyance if you adopted this method) these amounts granted in the form of a fixed payment which a person will get in any case, upon a death being proved. That is better than having to go through the formula of sending in the hills and showing all the expenses. I do not know financially how it would work out, but I would rather see a maximum grant of, say, £19 given without all this worry of sending in details of expenses and proving that they come into the requisite category. I believe by so doing you would cut out a tremendous 1136 amount of administrative expenses and a lot of annoyance and worry. I would suggest that the Government should look at that particular matter.
I come now to Clause 62, which is one in respect of which my noble friend Lord Rushcliffe had a few comments to make. This is the clause that deals with what used to be called uncovenanted benefit. I do not think that the Government has dealt with this matter in the right way. I do not believe that the Court of Referees or Regional Tribunal, or whatever you care to call it—I believe it comes to the same thing—is the appropriate body. I consider that we should deal with this matter through the Assistance Board. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, in his very clear exposition of this Bill at the start of our proceedings to-day, said that the Assistance Board will still be there, standing behind this scheme. It would be far better to leave that Board to administer this particular provision in Clause 62. Then you will get uniform decisions throughout the country. At present it is quite true that the Minister will send guiding directions to those tribunals, but I believe that there will be conflicting decisions, just as there were with the old Boards of Guardians.
With such experience as I had of the Assistance Board, I found it an extremely kind and courteous body. During the days of the "doodle" blitz, I went round, mostly in the South-West of London, where the "doodles" mainly fell, to see how the people were being dealt with when they had lost their homes. I went to two or three different parts to see how the Assistance Board people were dealing with the paving out of the quick grant, which was of such great help to the people who had nothing in their pockets, or probably only just a few shillings, and who had lost everything through their houses falling down on top of their possessions. I found that the Assistance Board people were most kindly, sensible, and prompt in their action. I should have thought it would be much better to leave the administration of Clause 62 to those people who, in the past, have had a great deal of experience in this kind of work.
I cannot leave this measure without making one other comment, and that is about the appalling number of times in which, under this measure, matters are 1137 left to be dealt with by regulations to be made afterwards.
There are some cases where it is completely justifiable that you should have regulations, but there are others in which I think the Bill should prescribe what should be done. There are no fewer than sixty-four different occasions—I counted them very thoroughly, and I have numbered them in my copy of the Bill—on which the Minister may or shall make regulations on this or that. There are one or two instances which I would particularly like to bring to the attention of your Lordships. Under Clause 25 (2) regulations may be made to make the payments less than those set out in the Second Schedule. I do not know, but that seems to me, unless there is some very good reason for having it in, a little bit steep, because contributions are collected on the basis of one schedule, and what has to be paid and what benefit is obtained is in the next schedule. I do not think that the Minister ought to have power to alter those by regulations. The funny thing is that regulations under that clause are not among those regulations that have to be laid before each House of Parliament.
Then Clause 28 disqualifies a person from benefit if he does not make his claim within such time as is laid down in the regulations. It may well be that there must be differentiation between a person living in a big city and one living, say, in the outer isles of Scotland. Regulations under that clause ought to be among those that may be looked at by either House of Parliament. It should not be possible for a man to be deprived of a right for which he has been subscribing maybe for years, before he knows of the existence of a time limit within which he has to claim it. I do not suppose your Lordships will have objected to my pointing out a few of what I call the spots on our child. Those are some ways in which we hoped the offspring might be better looking, and might perhaps be a little more buxom than it is. On the whole it is a very good child. Its success and happiness in life will depend—as I think the happiness and success of each of us in life depends—on how much service we can give to those with whom we live, on whether when it grows up it gives that service to the men, women and children of this country which in all their sufferings and in all their fortitude they so richly deserve.
§ 5.45 p.m.
My Lords, I am sure we all agree that this debate has been thoroughly worthy of the occasion, and it is a memorable occasion. We are called upon to give a Second Reading to what I would describe as a great act of atonement for the past, a great act of justice in the present, a great act of faith in the future. The noble Lord who has just sat down said many things with which we agree and one or two things with which we do not altogether agree, but he said one thing that was of great consolation to me personally when he said there is no harm about thinking again if your second thoughts are best. I am very glad to have this indemnity form him because I was one of those who quite recently took the view—and I did not take it for the first time quite recently—that the friendly societies could be used as agents under this scheme. I had the privilege, as has been mentioned, of working under the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, to whom I shall be referring in a moment, and I learned at his knee many lessons, among them the importance of using friendly societies in that capacity if it was at all possible.
But in the last few months I have had even closer opportunities of seeing how such a proposal would work out in practice. I have formed the conclusion—and it is still a free country where you can change your mind and, I hope, an honest one where it is as well to say so when you do—that that would not be in the national interest, mainly on administrative grounds. I shall reply to the general argument advanced by the speakers on that subject later, but I felt it right to mention that straightaway. Although I am sure the noble Lord would be reluctant to bring forward an argument of this kind, if I were asked whether at the General Election I advocated their claims—if by chance he had one of those bits of paper which contained an assurance—the answer would be that I would no doubt have signed anything he could produce. Noble Lords may remember a play of Oscar Wilde's where someone asks the question: "What would life be without coffee?" to which the reply was given "What is life with coffee?" That describes my fortune at the General Election. I have no Qualms of conscience about the matter now, but I am glad to have been allowed to get it off my chest 1139 and to have been received so far with toleration.
I will attempt to reply to the points that have been raised by the speakers. I think we must all have felt that Lord Rushcliffe spoke not only from great experience but from a very wise mind when he talked to us about the Assistance Board. We all know what he has accomplished there. He is one of the great Conservative social reformers, if I may so describe him. The strange thing about Conservative social reformers—and I speak in no controversial sense; I once had ambitions of that kind myself—is that they do their best work either before they join the Conservative Party or after they have ceased active contact with it. I have in mind Mr. Joseph Chamberlain, a great Radical in his social reform days, and Mr. Winston Churchill, who was a Liberal when he carried his famous measures before the last war; and the noble Lord himself who, since disembarrassing himself from too close contact with his Party, has done such splendid work for the Assistance Board. He was kind enough to inform me that he would raise this very important welfare point. I therefore felt it right and my duty to your Lordships' House to approach the Minister of National Insurance to allow your Lordships to have an answer to-day.
While the Minister did not know all or much of what the noble Lord was going to say, he replied in the manner in which one would have expected him to reply. He appreciates the high value of the welfare service which the Board has been able to provide for pensioners and he is in full sympathy with the purpose underlying the Board's recommendation regarding the continuance of such service. Your Lordships will appreciate, however, that what is to be done in this connexion cannot be considered in isolation from the Government's general plans for national assistance. That is the message from the Minister which I felt it proper to lay before your Lordships' House.
I come now to the speech of my old friend and master, the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge. When we worked together we were too busy planning the lives of others to plan much of a future for ourselves, but if we had ever discussed these things I doubt if we should have expected to be facing one another from 1140 quite this angle this afternoon. Indeed, seeing him there metaphorically dressed, as he was dressed in fact earlier, in his baronial robes, I can only think of the words of Robert Louis Stevenson when, after a somewhat prim beginning near Edinburgh, he found himself in the South Sea Islands, dressed, if I recall rightly, in a loincloth. Recalling those words to the House, I salute the romance of destiny. The noble Lord has spoken to us with incomparable experience in this field, but perhaps, to show that I am no longer entirely subject to his control, there is one point on which I would like to make a small correction. He is under the impression that the Minister may be inclined to limit the home service in connexion with health payments, but the Minister has made it plain that he will find out from each individual whether the home service is preferred, or whether the individual would prefer to go to a central spot and draw the benefit there, or whether he would prefer to receive the payment by post. I make that small correction which I know the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, will accept. I feel that I cannot pass over his contribution without saying that to my mind his name will always be associated with the whole idea of social security in this country. He was, after all, the social architect who gave concrete form to what had hitherto been ideal and aspiration.
Now I come to the very impressive contribution of the most reverend Primate. One of the things that struck me most when the Beveridge Report came out was that all the Churches in this country were equally and ardently enthusiastic in its favour, but I cannot help mentioning that it was somewhat of a disappointment to those of us who were in any way behind the scenes that no specifically Christian evidence was tendered during the preparation of the Report, although of course many of those who gave evidence were themselves strong believing Christians. I remember mentioning that precise point, once the Report did come out, to leaders of all denominations and it was clear to me that such a position would never arise again. Indeed more than one denomination gave evidence before a subsequent unofficial enquiry into full employment which the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, led.
I cannot quite pass over the fact, because I am sure it would interest your 1141 Lordships, that both the late Archbishop Temple and the late Cardinal Hinsley took an exceptional interest in this matter before they died. The most reverend Primate wondered, among other things, whether we could reduce the number of civil servants, and he also raised the question of the friendly societies. I will come to both those points in a moment when I attempt to reply to the main case put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin. As to the question of simplifying the Bill—and something of that sort is very necessary—I can say that the Minister is taking active steps in that direction. It may not be known to the House that the right hon. gentleman, the Prime Minister, was, when the Bill of 1911 came out, employed in promoting it throughout the country as a piece of national work, and it may be that some future Prime Minister—I do not say from which side of the House he may come—will find an opportunity of national service in precisely the same way at the present time. At any rate, I know that the Minister is particularly anxious that the work of simplification and, if you like to call it that, propaganda, shall be undertaken.
The noble Lord, Lord Inman, made many remarks that deserve much attention, and one particularly with which those of us on this side of the House at any rate, and I daresay other noble Lords, agreed. He argued against something that flowed from the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, namely, the suggestion that this is simply a redistribution and that in itself a scheme of this kind does not affect the national income. I have no doubt that the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge was thinking of the short run, and in that sense, of course, it is true that as a result of moving figures about in ledgers, or taking from one person and giving to another, or taking from one person at one time and giving to the same person at another time you do not increase the flow of wealth immediately; but it is part of our case, and no doubt part of the case of other noble Lords, that a measure of this kind will in the long run, by removing want and preventable disease, greatly strengthen the people of this country, thus enabling them to perform much more laborious tasks and to increase their output in the future.
1142 The noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, raised a special point of great concern to a comparatively small but most deserving body of men. It is one which deserves close consideration by the Minister and therefore I will not put him off now by saying that the matter has already been decided. I have been able to trace some of the statements on this subject—I am not sure if I have them all—which were made in another place, but it should be plain to the noble Lord, and he should draw consolation from it, that the position of these officers will not be much affected until the Bill which is concerned with the breakup of the Poor Law is due. When that time comes their position will, of course, be worked out in detail. There is no disposition on whatever to overlook their case or to underestimate the service that they can render to the community.
If all the prognostications are fulfilled, there should be about 1,300 of them affected by this Bill.
It is certainly a matter which is receiving consideration not only by the Minister of National Insurance but also by flu. Minister of Health, who will come very much into the picture when the Bill I have referred to is promoted. I understood from the noble Lord, Lord Meston, that he was not able to stay and I certainly accept his apologies. He intimated that two kinds of amendment were going to be moved at the Committee stage, and since we are undoubtedly looking forward to some fairly compact and possibly hard-fought discussions at that stage I do not intend to take up much of your Lordships time to-night in dealing with the topics that will then be raised. He did, however, raise one point of considerable general interest apart from the question of the amendments when he suggested that there was some weakness in a flat rate scheme—a scheme whereby the contributions will be the same for everybody within a certain class and whereby everybody will receive the same benefits, instead of some system whereby the higher paid workers pay a higher contribution and receive a higher benefit. It is quite true that in almost all countries except our country, Eire and New Zealand the proportionate system is used; but it is our tradition to use the flat-rate system, and while the possibility of supplementing it in some ways is certainly not excluded I do not 1143 think there is any likelihood in the years to come of its being abandoned here.
I now come to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, who will perhaps forgive me if to-night I do not embark on the whole friendly society controversy. I feel sure we shall be returning to that subject again. I would repeat that my convictions on this point have been changed as a result of knowledge and not as a result of pressure from the Whips. There is no difficulty here in serving both God and Ammon! I will state the issues rather than attempt to solve them finally to-night because I feel that that will help us when we come to the Committee stage. It seems to me that it is possible to argue this question of the friendly societies from three angles—from the angle of national man-power (which we all agree it is most important to conserve), from the angle of the people who are to receive the benefits and from the angle of the societies themselves. I would say personally—and I say this strongly and with conviction—that from the angle of national man-power it must be a saving to adopt the scheme in the Bill rather than the kind of scheme which the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, seems to have in mind. A slightly different kind of scheme seemed to me to be adumbrated towards the close of the discussion in another place by the chief Opposition spokesman there and a considerably different one by the friendly societies on the last occasion on which they gave forth an official utterance. But, whichever precise scheme one takes, I cannot for a moment accept the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, who, if I may say so, is an administrator not only of very great experience but of the highest possible repute, and I wonder if he really believes himself that he will save man-power along the lines he suggests. There would be one way, perhaps, of saving man-power—
I felt that the burden of the noble Lord's argument was to prove that. If that is not so, I at once withdraw. We on this side are anxious to save man-power, and if the noble Lord differs from us then we must accept the difference.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
I do not want to be extravagant with man-power. All my argument was that it would save man-power. I have not enough knowledge to know which way it would act. Of course, a considerable number of these men in the friendly societies will be doing similar work throughout the country. That is what I was trying to make clear on the saving of man-power or the reverse.
§ LORD BEVERIDGE
Would the noble Lord answer a question elucidating this point? He said that it is clear that this would save man-power. Is that on the assumption that the friendly societies go out of existence? If the friendly societies' voluntary system is to go on alongside the compulsory system, then I venture to suggest that his inference that he will save man-power is probably mistaken. I will not say more than that.
We can all hold different views of probabilities in this matter. I believe that man-power will be saved in this way, on the assumption too that the friendly societies will continue. I would like to make plain at this stage, solemnly and deliberately, that the Government believe there is a great future for the friendly societies. There is no intention of liquidating them. But we are absolutely definite in our decision that under no circumstances can they be used as agents for the purpose under discussion. There is also the question of the beneficiaries, of those who receive the service, and there is the question of the friendly societies themselves. I myself think that the position of those who actually receive these benefits is the most important factor of all. Only recently—I do not know how it is to-day—the Minister stated in another place that he had received no protests from individuals who felt they were going to lose a service of value. There were many protests from the friendly societies or from people whose jobs were affected, but none from the beneficiaries under the Bill. That is something which I think must be placed before the House if we are talking about the ruin of cottage homes. I cannot myself see that if the service is going to be the same—
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
Well, is the service going to be the same? I understood it was going to be with a completely different personnel working in from 1,500 1145 to 2,000 offices, and much more by post than by a visit to the houses which has been the practice of the friendly societies in the past.
My articulation is very bad, or so my friends tell me, but a few moments ago I did reply to a point raised by my noble friend Lord Beveridge that the Minister in future was going to take special trouble to find out from each individual whether he wished the service by post or in his home. That option is something which is not always conceded to-day, so if I say the service is the same I am really being rather generous. We on this side think it will be a good deal better.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
Is everybody who asks for the service in his home going to get it? At the same time, he is going to get the man from the friendly society if he wants to have a supplementary insurance. How are we going to save man-power?
The answer is that as far as possible an option will be offered to people in a much more forthcoming way than at present. That is the ideal under the Bill. Finally, we have the interests of the friendly societies themselves. As noble Lords are aware, there are various provisions for compensation in the Bill. No doubt we will discuss this matter in greater detail later on, but I can only hope those provisions will prove satisfactory.
The noble Lord went on to raise other points of interest. First of all, he asked whether in this House those who are not members of the Government would count as self-employed or non-employed. The answer would appear to be that they would count as non-employed. I am not going to make an absolutely firm answer. I am not going to say that in the course of discussions we might not get new light thrown on it, but that appears to be the case so far. If we take those we may call without offence the great rank and file of the House, who do the donkey work, then I am afraid they might find themselves described as non-employed. However, most noble Lords have other occupations, and I do not think the stigma, as it were, would settle on them finally. If they leave this House and go about outside and are asked to which category they belong, I do not think they need say, 1146 "I am afraid I am one of the non-employed." It is more probable that they will find some other way of working into the active group.
I was asked by the noble Lord whether you could go on deferring your retirement after seventy. The answer is that you can of course continue working, but that the ten shillings a week supplement for a single man is the most you can collect—2s. a week for five years. You can collect that by the time you are seventy, but there is no opportunity of adding to that later on. The noble Lord raised an interesting point about the death grant. I understand that he is mistaken in one of his assumptions. This is a fixed sum, and not a maximum. It would not be tied up precisely or minutely to the exact sum expended on the funeral. There may be a chance of further elucidation, but that appears to be the position. This is a fixed sum which would be given to you if you had to make substantial expenditure, even though it might not work out at precisely £20—it might be £15 or £25.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
I do not want to interrupt the noble Lord unnecessarily, but a person is entitled to a death grant if… he has reasonably incurred or reasonably intends to incur, in connexion with the deceased's death, expenses to which this section applies.Then later on Clause 22 says what the exceptions are. What I was suggesting was that somebody would ask for accounts of how you spent this money, or how you intended to spend it, and I should have thought that it was very much better to dispense with it and give the fixed sum.
I expect the noble Lord will agree with me when I say that that is a Committee point of considerable importance, but at the moment I would just like to correct him in his views that it is intended to be a maximum rather than a fixed sum. My information is that it is intended to be a fixed sum. The noble Lord then raised a question about the number of regulations. The short answer, which is perhaps all you would wish me to detain the House with to-night, is that if we did not have a large number of regulations, this Bill would have taken two years to pass through Parliament. There are other factors involved however, in a case of this kind, where we are building something on a very large scale and 1147 where many of the precise contingencies are hard to foresee.
On one point he raised I think there is an element of misapprehension. He mentioned section 25 (2). He seemed to be under the impression—and certainly if you do not look at the little text at the side of the page it is an impression which you might easily derive on this reference—that there is a possibility of reducing benefit in ordinary circumstances. Now this is intended to deal, as the noble Lord will see if he looks at the bottom of page 25, with cases where contribution conditions have been only partially satisfied. Obviously we shall get a lot of quite unforsecable conditions—
When we reach the Committee stage the noble Lord will be able to deal with that. I was attempting to elucidate the intention of the clause at this the Second Reading stage. Finally the noble Lord raised the issue of Clause 62. We understand that we are to have a debate on that when a special Amendment, prompted from the Liberal Benches, will be brought forward. I am not going into this in detail, but the problem of how to provide adequate benefits for those who are unemployed for a long time has hitherto defeated the best brains and the highest intentions. Various attempts have been made in the past, and I hope that I shall not be letting down the Government or the Minister if I say that the fact that this has been confined to five years suggests that we do not regard it as likely to prove a permanent feature of legislation. What will happen at the end of five years we cannot foresee. I say that our Government would fall, as any Government would fall, if we failed to avoid the mass unemployment that we saw in this country before the war. In other words, this is a transitional clause intended to deal with a situation which we cannot tolerate in this country. That is the whole significance of the clause, but of course its details may require fuller discussion in this House.
The problem is obviously not very easy. If you say to a man when he is unemployed: "You can draw benefit for ever unless some work is offered which you find suitable," you may be placing too 1148 heavy a responsibility on the Government. Before the war, far too heavy a responsibility was placed upon the man. We have determined to have done with all that. We have shifted a great part of the responsibility for finding work from the man to the Government, but still some responsibility remains upon the man to co-operate with the Government. I suggest that when we discuss this clause in detail we look at it from that point of view: that we regard the primary responsibility in the future as pressing upon the Government and its agencies, but that we desire and require a clause which elicits some co-operation from the man. It must be co-operation without the hardship—which sometimes was felt, I am afraid, in spite of all that noble Lords like Lord Rushcliffe could do—and the humiliation associated with the means test. There is no question here of using the pre-war sanction of the means test. That is eliminated for ever.
I do not wish to detain your Lordships for more than another minute or two. I would merely acid that we, on this side of the House, with all our tendency to attempt to improve upon what has gone before, do not look back upon the years between the two wars as years of unrelieved misery. We know that the system under which we were then living brought much unhappiness, but, at any rate, there has been under it much happiness too. Nor are we on this side of the House so young and innocent as to believe that human legislation can abolish all the ills to which flesh is heir. But we do say that before the war there lay a shadow of insecurity over the lives of the vast mass of the people, and we say that, not only did it affect those who came under its shadow directly, but it poisoned the source of national good fellowship. We believe that this Bill, to which all Parties have contributed, will do much to abolish that terrible blight and shadow. We believe that it will bring happiness to many millions, that it will bring unrelieved satisfaction to the many thousands—some of them very humble men and women—who have laboured for long years for this and, if I may say so respectfully, will bring honour to us in this House when we give it a Second Reading.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.