HL Deb 20 May 1953 vol 182 cc704-24

Debate resumed.

5.43 p.m.


My Lords, I do not propose to make a long speech arising out of the most interesting debate to which we have listened to-day. I have nothing to say about the three speeches last delivered to your Lordships, because I find myself in agreement with them, and I hesitate to trespass upon your attention at this late hour by reiterating what has already been said, to which I have given my approval. Listening to the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, I sometimes wonder why he continues to sit across the gangway, because usually we find him putting before your Lordships policy that is similar to our own.

I would say one or two words about the first speech, that delivered by the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Sheffield. In the main I agreed with his speech, but there are one or two points on which I should like to be a trifle critical. I agreed with the right reverend Prelate when he suggested that when dealing with the social services we should do nothing to break up family life. I agreed with him even more thoroughly when he said that when we are dealing with a mother and her infant, we should do all we could to keep them together. The right reverend Prelate went on to say, however, that later on, maybe because of circumstances surrounding a particular mother and her child, it might be necessary for this mother to go to work, and then it would be necessary for the community to find a nursery school for the child. Again we may be in some agreement. But then comes a point on which there appears to be some difference between us.

The right reverend Prelate suggested that employers of labour should be especially sympathetic to such cases and, if they found opportunity, should employ mothers of this kind, at suitable wages. But to-day, employers of labour are living under keenly competitive conditions. They have to look most minutely at the costs which they incur, in order that they should not be undersold by their competitors. It may be true that where employers have a friendly attachment to a particular case, or being good-hearted in themselves, they will do something to provide employment; but, by and large, employers of labour cannot accept the full responsibility which the right reverend Prelate seemed to wish to impose upon them. I, and the Party for which I speak, think that in cases of this kind the responsibility is less that of the employer of labour than of the community as a whole. That is why we prefer that there should be less division between the woman and her child, by allowing, with the help of the community, the women to remain at home rather than to proceed to employment.

I think it was the right reverend Prelate also who suggested that we are not paying enough attention to the needs of the family industrially, and that from time to time employers of labour should give employment to the man with a large family, rather than to the man with a small family, in order that the man with the large family could he helped. It has even been suggested in some quarters—though not by the right reverend Prelate—that there should be some difference in wages between the man with the large family and the man with the small. I want to emphasise this point. Whereas certain employers of labour, out of the kindness of their hearts, or because of their interest in a particular person, might be persuaded to do that, if large families are to be looked after as a general responsibility, then it seems to me that it is the job of the community, rather than of particular employers. The community will more and more do what is required, with the aid of the services of which we are now so proud.

That is my first criticism on the right reverend Prelate's speech. Now a small one, then I have finished with him. Tie right reverend Prelate seemed to suggest that the hospital services, with the consultants as the principal culprits, are rushing children to hospital, rather than having them attended at their homes. When I heard the right reverend Prelate say that, I began to wonder how recently he had been in touch with those responsible for hospital management. I have had two recent cases that I should like to recite to your Lordships, which indicate care on the part of the hospital authorities, the consultants and the normal medical practitioner—the family doctor. In the first case it was a child one month old. Suddenly the child developed violent fits of vomiting. The family doctor was called in, and he at once ordered the child to hospital, because the only way in which that child could he treated was by an operation. The operation took place on that same day. The hospital authorities were most generous and willing, and they acted immediately and with success. The second case was in a neighbouring house to the one I have just mentioned, and concerned a boy of six or seven years of age, very poorly indeed, with heart disease. He was ordered to the hospital by the same family doctor, on these grounds. Although the boy had a good mother and a good home, neither the mother nor the home could guarantee what he needed: interest, but complete rest and complete quiet during a lengthy illness, stretching over months. In fact, the child has now been in that hospital almost twelve months.

I mention those two cases to indicate that at present the health services, so far as doctors are concerned, seem to me to be working fairly well, with the family doctor, in the first place, making the recommendation; the consultants and the hospital doctors accepting the responsibility placed upon them; and all this followed by the care and sympathetic services of the nurses who have charge of the cases. My experience of hospitals is that if a medical practitioner, in order to get rid of difficult cases, pushes them into the hospital when they ought not to go there, then the authorities in charge of the hospital do not delay action and frequently refuse to take them in. I should not like it to be said in these days, even though my Party are no longer in charge of the hospital services, that care in those services is not being properly exercised. I believe that to-day we are improving the services, rather than spoiling them, in that respect.


Perhaps I may interrupt the noble Lord. I hope I did not give the impression that I was making a serious criticism of the hospital services, as such. Being the manager of a hospital, I endeavoured to be particularly careful on that subject. I wished only to point out that there is a danger of a tendency developing—not more than that. One has to watch these things, sympathetically, not critically.


I should not dare to place at the door of the right reverend Prelate a statement which he had not made. But if he will read Hansard to-morrow I think he will understand that I was justified in raising the issue, as I have done

Having said that about the speech of the right reverend Prelate, I should like to say a few words about the speech of my noble friend Lord Pakenham. Your Lordships will remember that the noble Lord indicated that on certain points in his remarks he would be speaking for himself, and not for the Party of which he is a most useful and valuable member. We are very glad to give the noble Lord that liberty to state his case on issues where he is at variance with some of his colleagues. But perhaps I may be permitted to state my view on one or two of the points raised by the noble Lord. He indicated to your Lordships, as a fact, that there were more broken homes in this country to-day than ever. I just cannot accept that as a statement of fact.


That is not what I said.


I know that the noble Lord based what he said, or what I thought he said, upon certain figures, which indicated that there had been a great rise in the number of divorce cases in Great Britain since the war; and that there had recently been a decline, even although the level of divorce cases at this moment is higher than it was before the war. Those figures we accept, although we dislike them intensely; and we think there are grounds for the attempt suggested by my noble friend to bring them down. However, I cannot accept those figures as indicating that there are more broken homes in Britain to-day than there used to be. It may be that, through these divorce cases, more publicity is given to the broken homes. But in my younger days, as I roamed the streets of industrial England, and industrial Scotland as well, I knew of thousands of cases of broken homes which never reached the Press, because the people who lived in them had no money with which to go to the divorce courts. We are with the noble Lord in his anxiety to reduce the number of divorces, if that is a sign of well-being; but I cannot accept it in the way it has been put forward. There is one other point about the figures. I do not accept as a fact that, if there is a divorce, there is necessarily a broken home. It may have been a broken home that caused the divorce—a broken home that could not be healed even by the ministration of the Church or any other organisation. I do not believe that, if a marriage tie is broken by legal operation, because of the presence of disloyalty, that home is necessarily a broken home because of that fact.

I should like to say a few words about the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge—I am sorry to see he is no longer here, because I agree with a good deal of what he said. I have been a great admirer of the noble Lord throughout his life, but there are certain things that I would not accept, even from him. He said that every man and woman should have a right to subsistence gained by insurance. We agree. He said that since 1948 the benefits paid under insurance have become less adequate because of the increase in the cost of living. Again we agree. He said that the means test that may be applied, or is now applied, to public assistance is hateful and penalises independence. Again, we agree. Then he asks the Government what they propose to do, and we associate ourselves with him in that inquiry. Next year something must be done to put the insurance schemes into a healthy state once more; and it would be extremely valuable if the noble Marquess who is to reply, while not necessarily giving many details, could tell us that the matter is receiving the active and sympathetic support of the Government, and that they are not likely to travel the way that the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, seemed to fear. This however is where I join issue with the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge. He wants an insurance scheme from money obtained by a multiple levy, rather than that the costs should fall upon taxation—insurance rather than taxation. I wish to look at that idea for a moment, because this is how it works out.

The Government levy a tax upon every man and woman employed. The contributions to the insurance schemes are in the nature of a tax. There is public authority behind each levy which is made. The Government then levy a tax upon every employer; and that again is a tax and not a voluntary contribution. Then there is a third contribution made to the insurance fund out of which the insurance benefits are paid. The Government, having already separately taxed the workmen and the employers, through the general taxation of the country tax them over again, so that the Government can pay their contribution into those funds. I suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, that that is a very clumsy way of doing things. Think of the costs of administering schemes of that kind. Think of the book-keeping to be maintained, in order that the accounts should be accurate and every man covered. My Lords I suggest that if this benefit is to be a community charge; if the responsibility for maintaining our people in health when they are unemployed, or nursing them back to health when they are sick, is to be borne by the community at large, it is far better that it should be borne out of one form, of taxation than out of three. I would suggest to the noble Lord that he should consider more deeply that issue and then see whether he can meet us upon it.

There is one final point that I wish to raise, and that is with regard to the speech of the noble Earl. Lord Selkirk. He rather twitted speakers on this side of the House with being vague and indefinite. To-day's debate was not initiated from this side of the House, and our speakers have been following the general tenor of the debate set by the speeches of noble Lords opposite. But at some future date, to meet the noble Earl, we shall undoubtedly do something to provide him with data into which he can get his teeth, and to enable him to speak with the authority of the Government thereon. But there exists at the present time a series of proposals, some of which are already in operation in a small way but of which others ought to be more generally applied. They are the recommendations made by the Royal Commission on Population, to which reference has already been made. I propose, therefore, with your Lordships' permission, to recall from their Report some of the things they require, so that, between now and the next debate, the noble Earl may have time and thought and substance to prepare his next speech to us. The Royal Commission require these things: more and better housing; more home helps; more sitters in, official and otherwise; nursery schools; day nurseries; washing and laundry facilities; holiday or rest homes for mothers; more children's playing grounds; financial help by improving the amount and conditions of free allowances under the Family Allowances Act, and improved income tax allowances in respect of dependent children. I have quoted these points, but it does not follow, of course, that we on this side of the House necessarily give our support to every one of them. But I was anxious that the noble Earl should not be disappointed, and that he should go away from to-day's Sitting with something to think over before our next discussion on this subject.

6.5 p.m.


My Lords, I am quite certain that we shall all agree that the House owes a real debt of gratitude to the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Sheffield, both for the Motion which he tabled and for the extremely interesting speech with which he introduced it. There is no doubt that this Motion has led to an extremely thought-provoking debate—it certainly has for me, and I think it has for everybody who has listened to it—and, what is more, a debate, even for this House, remarkably free from Party bias. Indeed, if a visitor had come to this House this afternoon and had heard the speeches without having been able to see from which Benches they were being delivered, he would, I think, have had a good deal of difficulty in guessing to which Party the various speakers belonged, so impartial were they. In the course of his remarks, the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Sheffield, raised a number of specific points. On these and on others which have been raised by later speakers in this debate I do not propose to follow him, if he will forgive me. My noble friend Lord Selkirk has already dealt with many of them, and it would be wrong for me to weary the House by traversing the whole ground again.

Of course, as so often happens in this House, the debate has ranged a great deal wider than the Motion which gave rise to it. In effect, I think it can be said to have covered the whole impact of the Welfare State on the family and, through the family, on the social structure of the country. It is with regard to these wider aspects that I propose to contribute what I may describe as a postscript. In doing so, I shall speak like other noble Lords who have addressed your Lordships, quite frankly. First, I should like to say this. I do not know who invented the phrase "Welfare State" which has come to play so large a part in our vocabulary during recent years. Personally, I do not think it is by any means a perfect phrase and, indeed, if any of us heard it for the first time I think we should find it rather obscure. But if I may be bold enough to attempt a definition of this phrase, I should suggest that, broadly speaking, it means a State where the welfare of each is the concern of all. I think that would be a fair definition.

It may be said that there is nothing very new about that, and that is perfectly true. The idea that the more fortunate should provide for their less fortunate brethren dates back through uncounted centuries, almost since the very dawn of history. I imagine that the impulse behind it was never better described than in that splendid passage in the First Epistle of St. John: But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? That, in my regard, is the sort of impulse which lies behind the Welfare State. In this country, the community sense, which is another phrase for the impulse lying behind it, has been, as we all know, of comparatively slow growth. For a great part of our history, the part played by the community as a whole was a very small one, and the poor and the sick and the needy had to rely very largely on private relief. But with the evolution of political and social thought in all Parties, the defect of that system, we must all confess, became ever more widely recognised, and especially, as one of the speakers said this afternoon, over the last fifty years.

Do not let us undervalue even now the great contribution which private effort has made and can still make towards the care of the sick and of the needy, and, indeed, as an indispensable adjunct to our social machinery. We have been given a great many examples of that fact to-day, and all of us, I am sure, can think of many others. What we have heard this afternoon, indeed, should make it clear that the voluntary services of individual citizens, which were one of our country's greatest glories in the past, are still of immense value in supplementing the work of public organisations and generally cooperating with them. But, of course, that does not mean that to-day the whole burden of social relief could be carried by private organisations; that would be ludicrous, and, as we all know and as I have already said, such an idea has long ago been discarded. Even in our great-grandfather's day there was an increasing realisation of the fact that, however efficient and devoted private effort may have been in these directions, there were inevitably old people, sick people, unemployed people and so on, who slipped through the wide mesh of private relief; and their fate was only too often a tragic one.

With the steady growth in the general population of that community sense to which I have referred earlier, this sad fact became more and more intolerable to the public conscience; and for that reason it was fairly long ago recognised among all Parties that only an extension of the State social services could meet the case. That recognition, my Lords, as I understand it, was the genesis of the Welfare State as we know it to-day. It was, in effect, if I may so put it, designed as a kind of insurance company from which, by paying a premium, the individual citizen could take out a policy against those major catastrophes of life from which he knew perfectly his own capabilities by themselves would be inadequate to protect him and his; and, of course, it has been further elaborated by successive Governments since those times. None of us, in whatever part of this House we sit, can claim the sole paternity of the Welfare State which has come into being over this long period of years through the efforts of all Parties alike.

A good example of that continuity of policy in recent years—I do not wish to be controversial—was, I would say, the Health Scheme, which was adopted in principle by a National Government composed of all Parties and brought into being by the Labour Government who succeeded them. Another example was family allowances, which were passed through Parliament by a Conservative Government and implemented and applied by the Labour Government which followed them. Therefore, we can all claim credit for the creation of the Welfare State. But, if we claim credit for it, we must surely also share the responsibilities to which it has given rise. Above all, we must frankly recognise that, if it has made the main contribution to the solution of one of the world's most intractable problems—that is, the problem of want—it has equally created some new problems to which a solution must be found' if it is not to contain within itself the seeds of its own dissolution.

In particular, we must face the fact, as speaker after speaker has indicated today (and here, I am afraid, after a long preamble I come at last to the main subject of the discussion this afternoon) that it has had certain undesirable repercussions on the integrity and well-being of the family. That is my own belief, and I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, that the matter is of vital importance to this country; for as I see it, even in these days, the family remains the ultimate basis of Christian society. The maintenance of family life, as I think the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Sheffield pointed out—and by family life I mean the life of families not, perhaps, of Victorian size, but at any rate rather larger than they tend to be to-day—is a matter of the first moment to us all.

As has been pointed out in practically every speech to-day, we have to face problems, raised by the impact of the Welfare State on the family, which are largely economic in origin. We must recognise that, however great the social merits of the Welfare State, the great complexity of this machinery makes it inevitably extremely expensive to run. It had been hoped, I think, in certain quarters—perhaps it still is—that the cost could be defrayed by increased taxation of what I believe is now called the "higher-income brackets" who are better able to bear it—as, indeed, they are—than the other sections of the community. But I think it has now become clear that that will not be sufficient by itself to meet the cost; for the higher-income brackets—or if I may be allowed to use the older expression, the well-to-do—are comparatively few and are getting rapidly fewer; there is not much more to be got out of them for a purpose such as this.

The vast bulk of the national income—and I would respectfully point out to the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, without wishing to be controversial, that in this matter I should have thought that national "income" was more relevant than national "capital"—that is to say, somewhere, I believe, in the neighbourhood of 90 per cent., is to-day in the hands of the lower-income group. I believe it is correct to say that.


No; there is a percentage to which it applies but it is by no means 90 per cert.


It depends where you draw your dividing line; but if you were to draw your line at the surtax payers, the £2,000 a year people, I think you would find that the other sections of the population would have over 90 per cent. At any rate, these people in the lower income groups as individuals are far less well endowed than the others; but collectively I believe they hold a great proportion of the national income or revenue for each year. It is, therefore, on these lower income groups that successive Governments, including Governments composed of noble Lords opposite or any others, have more and more to call to defray the cost of the Welfare State. Although I would not in any way dispute what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Kershaw, as to the improvement of the conditions of the working classes during the last fifty years—we are all very happy that is the case—I think we would agree that the burden that falls on these people to-day in the form of direct and indirect taxation has become a pretty heavy one.

I recall a remark made to me not long ago by an American about labour-saving devices in his country. He said that labour-saving devices had become so essential to the modern housewife that she and her husband had to work twelve hours a day to earn the money to buy them. And that, I think, is not entirely unlike the position of the British or United Kingdom citizen with regard to the Welfare State. The weekly sum he has to pay in the form of contributions is so considerable that, as we have been told again and again, the housewife in a great many cases now has to go out to work and is not able to look after the family, because she must supplement the family budget. I think there is no doubt that that in a great many ways has led to undesirable results. We must face that fact.

The extent to which this change in the life of the British family has expanded and become a serious problem is, I think, even now not generally realised, but I saw some figures which were given the other day in the Manchester Guardian of April 17 of this year and I thought them so significant that perhaps noble Lords will allow me to quote them to the House. This is what the article said: There are two to two and a half million married women, between 20 and 49, at work in this country to-day, an unprecedented number in peace time. About one and a quarter million are mothers; over 10 per cent. of these mothers are at work in the first five years of marriage. This means 10 per cent. of all children under five are affected. After five years the proportion of mothers at work increases until it reaches 24 percent. after fifteen years of marriage. Those are formidable figures, however inevitable they may be from an economic point of view. I cannot help repeating—and I do not know whether other noble Lords feel this way—that to me this appears a very regrettable development from a purely social point of view. It is not a question in the vast majority of cases—and here I would entirely agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry—of any irresponsibility on the part of the parents; that is not the point at all but the bad effect arises from the simple fact that owing to economic conditions the mother cannot be where she would like to be—that is, in her home with her children.

It is perfectly true that the Welfare State does its utmost to counteract the evils arising from these economic problems—free education, nursery schools and in many other ways, all excellent in themselves. The State does its best to minimise the bad effects which are being caused. No doubt these institutions are not only good in themselves, but, in many places like Sheffield, to which the right reverend Prelate referred, where there has been great overcrowding, they have additional advantages too. But, excellent though they are, we must face the fact that in certain things the State cannot take the place of a parent, or, if so, then it must be with not nearly as good results. In the old days, for instance, I think I should be right in saying that the basis of education, and especially of religious education, was the teaching which was given by mothers to their children in the homes. No school syllabus, however admirable it may be, can quite take the place of that, and I am quite certain that we must all recognise that the increased godlessness of this country, or lack of knowledge of God which exists and which is such a lamentable fact, is to a great extent because parental education which was the basis of the religious life of our country is not to-day being given, or not nearly to the same extent.

Or take the case of discipline which is imposed upon children in their formative years and which, in a great many cases, leads to self-discipline in their later years. That, too, used to be largely a matter of parental training, mainly done by mothers in the homes. We hear a great deal to-day about juvenile delinquency—and I am afraid it is probably true, though perhaps, as in the case of other things, it is exaggerated, that there has been a tendency for this to increase during recent years. There, again, the State does its best to counteract it, first by the teaching of the schools and, of course, where necessary, by the juvenile courts. Those, we know, are admirably conducted. What is more, they are manned by men and women with special aptitude for their tasks.

I do not want in any way this afternoon to criticise the juvenile courts, but even so I doubt whether these courts can ever entirely take the place of the discipline of the home. For one thing, the punishment is not so immediate and therefore it is not so effective. Then in some ways it is too severe. When a child appears before a juvenile court, to some small extent it is branded as if it were a little criminal, whereas, in the vast majority of cases it has merely been extremely naughty. Again, from another point of view, the punishment is not severe enough. The court is so anxious—at least that is my information from various places—not to overdo the penalty that only too frequently it confines itself to giving the child a good talking to, and the result is that the child rapidly ceases to have any respect for the law. A firm but affectionate mother would, I believe, be far more likely to in stil into the child in its earliest years a respect for what is good and an abhorrence for what is bad; and yet if she is always away at work. she just does not have the chance of doing that. Such are some, as I see things, of the unfortunate results of purely economic repercussions of the Welfare State on the institution of the family; and noble Lords, I am sure, will be able to think of many others for themselves.

Moreover, the issues involved, as I see them, are not only economic. There is also a moral side to this problem which might vitally affect the future of a family. Here I realise that I am touching on very delicate ground. It is, I think, vital that the growing generation should be brought up with right ideas as to the Welfare State, as to what are the proper functions of the Welfare State and what are its proper limitations. Suppose, for instance, a young parent began to say: "I am not going any more to be responsible for the education and discipline of my children. That has become a matter for the Welfare State." There is evidence already that there is a certain section of the population—not, I hope, a large one—which is beginning to take that attitude. Or suppose that those voluntary welfare workers and doctors who have hitherto served the poor in the most devoted manner for little or nothing, were to begin to say: "I do not propose to give free voluntary service any more. It is the Welfare State that should now do that work that we have done in the past." And, indeed, there are some people who would not be very sorry if the voluntary workers did take that line; people who dislike voluntary work per se. We all know there are a certain number who exist. Or, finally, suppose the heads of families were to begin to say: "I am not going any longer to put by money for a rainy day. It is for the Welfare State to look after me when the time comes." It would be a terrible disaster, should any of these things happen.

As we all know, it was never the intention of the original founders of these great national insurance schemes of which we are so proud that the State benefits should take the place of private thrift. Their intention was that it should supplement private thrift. If protection against a rainy day were ever to be regarded as the responsibility of the State alone, and not also of the individual, quite inevitably a steadily increasing obligation would fall upon the community, and it might well be that that obligation would ultimately become one which the community would no longer be able to afford. And, beyond this, the moral loss of such a situation would be graver still. Frankly, I do not believe that that will happen—I have much too great a respect for the British people to think so—but it is a danger which we ought not to ignore. There has, I believe, been a slight danger of ignoring it in this debate this afternoon. It is the only criticism I have of it. Such are the problems of the future as I see them. I speak as a firm believer in this Welfare State in the sense that it is our Christian duty to look after each other so far as lies within our power.

I am bound to say, however, that if the effect of the measures we take were to destroy, or even seriously impair, the institution of the family, we might, I feel, with the best will in the world, find that we had struck a severe blow at the very foundations of our civilization; and we must at all costs avoid that. What the complete solution of the problems that have been posed to-day is, I frankly do not know, and I should be misleading your Lordships if I said anything different. Ultimately, no doubt, we must hope, with the aid of all the new discoveries for the manufacture and transportation of goods, so to build up our wealth that the burden which now seems so heavy may become more easily bearable; and then family life and the Welfare State may, we hope, continue agreeably side by side.

In the meantime, of course, there are numbers of things that we can do, as temporary measures or palliatives, or what you will. The right reverend Prelate and the noble Lords who spoke after him have put forward a number of suggestions this afternoon. The right reverend Prelate talked of nursery schools for the young and, I think, care in their own homes for the old. The noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, who followed him, talked of rest homes for mothers and playing fields for young people. I think there was another noble Lord who talked of increased taxation relief for large families, and others who spoke of the family service units. In particular, two suggestions were made which I should like to re-emphasise.

First of all, stress was laid on the importance of the provision of an adequate supply of houses or, as I should prefer to call them in this context, homes—after all, the home is the very essence of family life. You might almost say that without homes family life could not exist at all. It is, of course, inevitable that after six years of total war, during which many thousands of houses were destroyed, and none were built, there must be a severe shortage of houses. That was quite inevitable. But I submit that it must be the object of every Government, whatever their political colour, to replace that deficiency as soon as they possibly can. I do not in any way question the great importance of other forms of building, like schools and factories—all of them of the greatest importance; but for me (and I speak only for myself) homes must always have a special priority, because a situation in which husbands are separated from their wives, and children are parked out where-ever a spare bed can be found for them, could not continue without the destruction of family life and a great increase in the wave of divorce, to which the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, referred. I do not propose to enter into a controversy between the noble Lord and Lord Shepherd on that point.

The other point was, I think, made by Lord Selkirk, and it is one upon which I am sure there will be general agreement. It is, that every effort must be made to stabilise the cost of living. I understood the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, in the very important speech he made this afternoon, to point out, from his great experience, that schemes such as he advocated in his famous Report could be really successful only if they were actuarially sound; and he added that the finance of national assistance at the present time was not actuarially sound. That, of course, may be quite inevitable when the cost of living has been steadily rising for a number of years. Indeed, the noble Lord himself, if he was objective, as I am sure he was, must have anticipated something of that kind even at the time when his Report was written. He must have anticipated that benefits which would have been adequate some years ago would quickly become inadequate with any rise in the cost of living. But, my Lords, at any rate for the moment, that rise is, as your Lordships know, slowing down. In that respect the situation has improved. But I would entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, that every effort must be made, not only by the Government but, what is equally important, by individual citizens, to hold the rise in the cost of living within bounds. That is essential, because otherwise there is, I believe, a very real danger that the Welfare State itself (paradoxical though this may appear) may impose too heavy a burden on its own beneficiaries; and that would be a deplorable situation.

The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, asked what the Government proposed to do about this unsatisfactory situation. At any rate—obviously he thought he was unlikely to receive an answer to that question—he said he would like an assurance that the matter was very much in the Government's mind. He is quite right in thinking that I cannot give him an answer to his first question, but I am happy to give him an assurance that the matter is very much in the Government's mind. I can go further and say that he can be quite certain that there is no complacency at all in the Government about this extremely thorny question.

Now, my Lords, above all, if I may return for just one moment to all these things that we might do—palliatives, temporary reliefs, anything to make the problem less intractable—we must, I suggest (and this applies to all Parties), do our best in everything we say to make sure that the British people understand the realities of our situation, and to raise their outlook to the level of our needs. That is true, I am quite certain, to whatever Party we may belong. Were any of us from unworthy motives to give way to a temptation to hide from our fellow citizens the economic and social dangers, and in particular the dangers to the family, which are inherent in the present position, our responsibility to posterity would. I believe, be very heavy indeed. I can assure your Lordships that the object of the Government, at any rate, and I am sure of noble Lords opposite too, is to strengthen family life in any way they can. It is for that reason that we must all have welcomed so warmly the very lofty tone which has inspired our discussion this afternoon. I hope and think that this debate may be regarded as a worthy contribution to a problem on the solution of which the happiness of our children and the whole future of our race may well depend.

6.39 p.m.


My Lords, may I be forgiven for making one observation which presses upon me, more particularly after listening to the very informing speech of the Leader of the House? He said in the course of his speech that he did not feel very sure what was the meaning of the Welfare State. I submit to your Lordships that the term, "the Welfare State," is perhaps in some danger of being misused. The original idea of the Welfare State was that it is the duty of the State to come to the help of those who need help most. I quite agree with what the noble Marquess has said, that the phrase can be illustrated without going back a very long way. But there is a danger of this term, "the Welfare State," being used to cover something different—to use it as though the advocacy of the Welfare State were the same thing as saying that "the State will provide."

I must confess to some concern at this change in attitude. The Government of which I first was a member undoubtedly made important advances in promoting the Welfare State, in the old and proper sense. They took the case of the old man, or the old woman, who was past work and was in danger of destitution; and they provided out of public funds a limited old age pension, which was not intended to be the equivalent of a full day's wage, but an alleviation of hardship. In many cases the old man would become a welcome inmate of the home of his married daughter, and lie took with him, as his contribution, his old age pension. That was the old idea. In the same way, the Insurance Acts of 1911, providing for sickness and unemployment, provided assistance; but they did not profess to put an unfortunate who was suffering in the same position as an able-bodied person who was earning a full wage. It was all on the principle that the State should come to the help of those who most needed help, and that it should do so, as the noble Marquess has said, with due regard the economic situation.

Now the change which, I think, threatens us, and which it is extremely important to appreciate, is that there is another conception which is also labelled: "The Welfare State." It is the conception that the citizen is entitled to be placed by the community in the same position as though he were earning full wages.




I doubt whether that is economically possible. The direct consequence of it is to encourage the view, to which the noble Marquess has referred, which is held by some people who say, in effect, "Let the State do it. There is no call on my own compassion, or my own generosity or my own sense of duty. Let the State do it." The motives which made our ancestors establish almshouses and hospitals were motives of charity, in the broadest sense. I think that if you say, "Well these services are very much better provided by the State out of public monies"—which would be exacted by high taxation from those who are supposed to be able to bear it—there is a certain danger. There is a danger if we transform the notion of what is the Welfare State into the new conception, that the community will carry on its own back all those who are unfortunate, and put them in the same position as though they were fortunate. It may be that that is an idea which will appeal to some, but it appears to me to be a new conception of what the Welfare State really is.

Think what the ordinary Victorian family of small means did to meet the difficulty of the old person, of the sick person, of the unemployed person. The family effort was on these lines. There were some members of the family who were earning full wages, and they felt it a duty, as being members of one family, to help those other members of the family who were in misfortune. That is a history which can be recalled. a thousand fold in this country, and it is because that was the situation that we avoided the risk of taking the simple line which might be expressed by saying, "Well, here is someone who has been overwhelmed by misfortune; the State must put him in the same position financially as though misfortune had not overtaken him." My Lords, I venture, at the risk of being blamed for interposing after the Leader of the House has wound up the debate, to make that simple observation, because it seems to me that, in analysing this, we have to be quite sure what our real object is in claiming to maintain the Welfare State. The distinction which I am drawing is one which. I think, is occurring to many thoughtful minds. It is necessary, not only to preserve national economy but also to preserve these motives which tend to build up family life, that we should bear in mind this distinction to which I have ventured to call your Lordships' attention.

6.48 p.m.


My Lords, I would impose upon you for a few moments to express my own opinion as to the speech of the noble and learned Viscount who has just spoken. I feel it is rather regrettable that a contribution of such a highly controversial nature should come at the end of what I had regarded as an excellent debate in every sense. In many ways, the remarks of the noble Viscount show an entire misconception of what is the meaning of the Welfare State as understood by any political Party in this country. There are few, if any, who would agree to the conception which the noble and learned Viscount has attempted to define this evening. On some other occasion, when more time can be given to the question of what ought to be the conception of the Welfare State, I am sure that we should welcome a debate on those lines. At the moment, I say merely that we on this side of the House just cannot subscribe to everything which the noble and learned Viscount has said.

6.49 p.m.


My Lords, I can be very brief in replying to this debate. May I say that I count it a privilege to have been allowed to introduce this debate and to provoke such varied and valuable expressions of opinion from all parts of the House—and not least, if I may say so, to have elicited from the noble Marquess the Leader of the House that speech which he modestly described as "a postscript." I feel that in times of rapid change, when it is so easy for our thinking, as well as our prejudices, to apply to what is past, rather than to what is present, it is valuable that rather frequently Members of this House should have this kind of discussion on this sort of topic. The fact that we have touched on so many subjects in the course of the afternoon surely is proof not so much of the discursiveness of our minds as of the fact that the well-being of the family is really fundamental to the whole Christian life.

I hope that I did not appear unduly pessimistic in introducing this subject. I had to assume, of course, the immense change for good in the whole social situation in this country. Just because there has been that immense change for good, just because there has been all this most valuable and beneficial legislation, it is important, without being fundamentally critical of it, that periodically we should look at its tendencies and ask ourselves, "Is that quite right?" or, "Can that be improved?" I do not want to say more, and I ask your Lordships' permission to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.