§ Considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ [Mr. EMMOTT (Oldham) in the Chair.]
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Mr. LLOYD-GEORGE,) Carnarvon Boroughs
This is a purely formal Resolution in order to enable us to introduce the Bill. The Prime Minister, I think, in his speech last week, said that the Bill would be circulated and printed and that it might be in the hands of Members this week; but that cannot be done until this formal Resolution has been concluded in the House of Commons. Therefore I trust that the right hon. Gentleman and his supporters will help us to get this formal Resolution through in order to enable Members to get a copy of the Bill at the earliest possible opportunity.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That it is expedient to provide for Old-age Pensions, and to authorise the payment, out of moneys to be provided by Parliament, of any Expenses incurred for that purpose and connected therewith."—(Mr. Lloyd-George.)
§ MR. CHAPLIN (Surrey, Wimbledon)
I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that I wish to do nothing whatever which could be regarded even for a moment as endeavouring to obstruct this measure, and still less to retard the time when we shall have the Bill in our hands. I was going to make a suggestion which I think will be for the general convenience of the House, and that is that this Resolution might have been postponed until we had an opportunity of seeing the Bill. I do not quite understand from the right hon. Gentleman whether the passing of this Resolution is a necessary preliminary or not to the introduction of the Bill.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
I have grave doubts on the subject, but if the right hon. Gentleman says it is so I have no more to say. The Resolution is a very broad one, and I am going to ask one or two questions with regard to it. I do not know whether there is anything in the Orders of the House to prevent it, but I think it would be a great convenience if such Resolutions were printed in the Order Paper. I hope the practice may be adopted in the future. We are told that the Resolution covers all the expenses connected with the scheme of the Prime Minister, and that the cost of the scheme is to be £6,000,000. Am I right in supposing that this Resolution covers the whole of that sum, and does it include the expenses of administration? As far as I know, it is a novel precedent to introduce a large measure of this kind into the House of Commons, involving immense expenditure without some information as to the sources from which the money is to come. But we have been told nothing, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman, if he can, before the Resolution is passed, will give us information at any rate as to the sources from which 1128 the expenses necessary under the terms of the Resolution are to be provided. Of course everybody knows that the great difficulty in connection with the provision of any scheme for old-age pensions has always hitherto been this: Where is the money to come from, and how is it to be provided? At first sight, I admit that when the right hon. Gentleman introduced the Budget, it did appear a remarkable feat that the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer should have been able not only largely to reduce taxation, but to provide for a scheme of old-age pensions at one and the same time; although it is true that he had enjoyed unusual facilities, and occupied a most exceptional position for carrying a measure of this kind and of providing the means for it. But that is exactly what the right hon. Gentleman has not done. If I understood, his speech aright he proposed, it is true, to provide a very small sum, perhaps something like a fourth of the cost of the scheme, during the current financial year, but as to the rest of his scheme, he has made no provisions at all; he has left it as a legacy to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I do not at all envy the right hon. Gentleman, having regard to the enormous liabilities which the Government are heaping up for themselves, and by which of course the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be confronted when he has to frame his Budget. It is upon these various points, without desiring in the slightest to offer any obstructive opposition to this measure, that I think we are entitled to have some information from the right hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
The right hon. Gentleman has asked me to enter upon a very wide field of inquiry and discussion. He wants me to give a financial statement to the House not merely as to the expense of this scheme but as to the sources from which the Exchequer is likely to be able to raise the necessary funds to meet that expenditure. It is not merely an explanation of the whole scheme of old-age pensions he asks for, but it is also an explanation of next year's Budget.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
I have asked for no information except upon points which 1129 arise directly and distinctly out of the Resolution which has just been moved.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
I think that the right hon. Gentleman has gone a little beyond that. He asked me to explain to the House how we propose to raise the necessary funds to provide for the expenses of this scheme. I should have thought that that was going far beyond the limits which are usual or allowed even if we have a discussion of this formal Resolution I think I should not be justified in doing so, and right hon. Gentlemen on that bench would find it very embarrassing to themselves later on, when they have to formulate Resolutions of this kind. We had several of these formal Resolutions yesterday, and discussed the limit within which the debate on them really should proceed. It was generally admitted that they were purely formal stages, rather in the nature of an authority to the Government to introduce Bills with financial provisions in them, and that is really the case here. I cannot produce my old-age pension scheme unless I get this Resolution. All the questions that have been put would be very relevant to the scheme itself on the Second Reading of the Bill, but not to a formal Resolution of this kind. I admit that I have tried it, but quite unsuccessfully, and I think I am following a good example, and am not justified in entering upon a discussion upon the character and essence of the scheme.
§ SIR F. BANBURY (City of London)
thought the right hon. Gentleman was in error in saying it was necessary to get the Resolution before the Bill could be introduced. Last session not only was the Scottish Land Bill introduced before the Resolution was passed, but the Second Reading was taken and the Bill sent to a Committee.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
May I point out the difference? The financial provisions of that Bill were purely incidental. It was only one clause in the whole scheme. It was not in its nature a Bill founded on finance. The whole essence of this scheme is finance. This is a provision for the expenditure of millions of money, therefore the foundation of the scheme is finance, and you must have a Resolution.
§ SIR F. BANBURY
said that that was the first time he had ever heard that the procedure of that House was regulated by the amount of money involved, and that for a Bill dealing with £1,000,000 they had a procedure different from that for a Bill dealing with £500,000. That was not the rule of the House, and it had never been in force. His idea was that the amount to be provided under the Scottish Holdings Bill was something like £100,000, but he differed from the right hon. Gentleman when he said the money had anything to do with it, because the whole essence of the Bill depended on what the new Department would be able to do in creating new holdings. The reason given by the right hon. Gentleman for taking this stage at the present moment was not founded on fact, and had never been advanced before. Then he had said this was a purely formal Resolution, and that it was understood that these Resolutions were to be taken without discussion. But, unless he was very much mistaken, on two occasions on the introduction of a Resolution regarding the Aliens Bill, a large amount of the time of the House was given to it. It did not concern a large sum of money, but on the principle of the right hon. Gentleman, that they were to take a different course of procedure when large sums of money were concerned, and that the whole essence of the Bill was the expenditure of large sums of money, then this was an important occasion, and there-should be a much longer discussion upon this Resolution than upon any other. His right hon. friend the Member for. Wimbledon had observed upon the fact that it was very inconvenient that there was nothing on the Paper to show Members what was going to be discussed. Those who sat behind the right hon. Gentleman had been very much concerned during this session with that fact, and had over and over again brought to the notice of the Government that when they were in opposition they Were equally concerned, and they had some justification in supposing that when the power was in their hands they would put an end to the system. They were borne out by the Prime Minister, who on the previous day had regretted the manner in which these Resolutions were presented, because they were in the custody of the clerks and Members were 1131 unable to obtain any information on the subject. A very simple act would remedy that evil. All the Leader of the House had to do was to instruct the officials of the House to have a copy put in the Vote Office, so that every Member would be able to find out what was going to take place. It would be perfectly easy for the Government to give facilities which they demanded when in opposition. They had had an opportunity of seeing the inconsistency of right hon. Gentlemen on the previous day. He hoped they would not be obliged to point it out every day. The question before them was extremely important. He was glad to see the hon. Member for Preston in his place, and hoped they would have the pleasure of listening to one of those excellent and sensible speeches with which he so often enlightened the House. By this Resolution the House was binding itself to authorise the payment of any sum of money—there was no limit to it. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had told them that this concerned millions of money. Millions of money to him were a very important matter. A million without the "s" at the end was a very important matter, and when the Chancellor of the Exchequer talked in an airy way about the expenditure of millions it frightened an old-fashioned Tory who he believed was perhaps sometimes, according to the President of the Board of Trade, a little archaic, and made him feel as if he would prefer to have lived in the old days when one did not spend millions without having given some little consideration to where they were to come from. He did not know where they were going to get these millions. The right hon. Gentleman knew what he was going to spend and he ought to have told them that, and where it was coming from, in the Resolution. The object of Committee of Ways and Means was to prevent Cabinet Ministers grasping the money of the taxpayer, and he hoped they would be able to do something to save the money of the taxpayer from the grasp of the right hon. Gentleman. He proposed to move to insert at the end of the Resolution the words "such amount not to exceed £1,200,000." The right hon. Gentleman looked astonished at that, but surely after the remarks he had made he did not expect him to provide him with millions. £1,200,000 was more than a million, 1132 and, therefore, one might say it was millions. He had gone a very long way in the direction the right hon. Gentleman desired, and he was not at all sure that the hon. Member for Preston would approve of his course. But it was always open to the hon. Member to move an Amendment to the Amendment, and if he considered £1,200,000 too much, and could show him good reasons for reducing the amount, he would be very pleased to follow the hon. Member into the lobby. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman, if he refused to accede to his Amendment, would advance some really adequate reasons why it should not be accepted. He had endeavoured to deal extremely leniently with the Government, and had in no way endeavoured to prevent the passage of the Bill. He did not approve of it, but he had endeavoured to make the best of a bad job, and had put down the amount which the Prime Minister had specified as that which would be required during this year for the administration of the Act; therefore he was not open to reproach that for a Party or any other purpose he had put down an impossible sum. It was only just that the House of Commons should have some little control over the expenditure of the nation. He was willing to take the word of the Prime Minister as to the amount to be spent, but he wished to pin him to it, and he could not conceive that anyone, however anxious to advance the cause of old-age pensions, could object to the sum which the Prime Minister had himself specified.
At the end of the Question, to add the words 'not exceeding in amount £1,200,000.'"—(Sir F. Banbury).
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
MR. STANLEY WILSON (Yorkshire, E.R., Holderness)
protested against the House being asked to pass a Resolution of the highest importance without any satisfactory explanation. He would like to ask what had become of those economists below the gangway pledged to retrenchment? They were never there when proposals of this character were brought before the House. The Government were playing ducks and 1133 drakes with the finances of the country. They were thinking only of the present and nothing of the future. When they were asked to say how they were going to provide for the old-age pension scheme, they candidly admitted that they did not know. They were a Government of gamblers. A member of the Government said the other day that the Territorial system was a huge gamble, and now they had the Government gambling with the national finances. He was talking to a supporter of the Government in that House about the scheme. He asked him what his candid opinion was as to the way in which the Government intended to find the necessary money. His reply was, "It has nothing to do with us, your Party will have to do that." Was that sound finance? The Government brought forward proposals and expected the Government who followed to carry them into effect. He trusted that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would inform the House how many millions he really wanted, and what the expenses of carrying out the scheme would be. Otherwise he would have pleasure in supporting the Amendment.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
Its effect will be to limit the operation of the Old-Age Pension Bill to the period between 1st January and 31st March next. After that date not a single person over seventy could receive a penny. If that is what the hon. baronet means the sooner we take the decision of the House upon it the better.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR (City of London)
I think probably my hon. friend will not press the Amendment to a division. As the Chancellor of the Exchequer has already pointed out, this Resolution does not deal with the finances of the year—in which case the Amendment would be perfectly appropriate—but with all the expense which is at any time going to be incurred under the Government Bill. Therefore we cannot lay down in this Resolution that the Bill is to be so framed that at no future time 1134 is the money to exceed the sum of £1,200,000. But leaving that point and coming to the more general aspects of the question, I think my hon. friends are perfectly justified in the view that this is a Resolution of a very exceptional character, and that if ever there was a case' in which it was useful to have an opportunity of considering the financial obligations which we were undertaking before proceeding to legislate, surely it was the present occasion. Ordinarily when we pass one of these Resolutions they are formal from the financial point of view. But we are to-day passing a Resolution which is to enable us to bring in a Bill which is going entirely to upset in one direction or another, in one form or another, the whole financial system of the country. We are to-day passing a Resolution, the first stage of a Bill, which, whatever merits it may possess—and I for my part am most anxious to see the broad objects aimed at by an old-age pensions scheme carried out—will alter the whole complexion and substance of every Budget which every Chancellor of the Exchequer is going to bring in during the lifetime of the Members of the present Parliament. That is a very serious thing. Last year the Prime Minister, who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer, advised us to look ahead in our finance, not merely to consider the year's finance in isolation, but to consider it in relation to the claims which were coming upon the Exchequer in the next and subsequent years. I do not know whether the maxim which the late Chancellor of the Exchequer pressed upon our attention a few months ago has lost all virtue in his eyes, but to those who do desire to look forward at the present time I cannot imagine an occasion more suited for that general survey of our future financial obligations than is given by the present Resolution. If it were only £1,200,000 that was in question I should be disposed to agree with the present Chancellor of the Exchequer that it was unreasonable to ask him on account of that sum to give a sketch of his Budget for next year or the year after, or to go in detail into the merits or demerits of the Pension Bill for which he and his Government are responsible: but the right hon. Gentleman knows well enough that, while all of us must be anxious that the Pension Bill which the Government are bringing in shall not merely relieve the 1135 unmerited burdens of old age, but also be one which does nothing to impair the spirit of thrift, yet there is not a man who does not know that behind these objects the financial questions which this Bill is going to raise, and of which this debate is only the forerunner, are of the most serious kind. Everyone knows that the six millions which this scheme is to cost is but the beginning of an annual charge. In spite of the appeal made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer the night before last to my right hon. friend the Member for East Worcestershire not to make any suggestions which would increase the immediate charges upon the Exchequer in connection with the Pension Bill, everybody knows that it is perfectly impossible, that it is contemplated neither by the authors of the Bill nor by its critics, that the ultimate charge upon the taxpayers of this country is going to be limited to the six millions of which the Prime Minister spoke in his Budget speech. It is the beginning of a far larger expenditure. We have no suggestion made by the Government, who are responsible for the Bill, that they have in their mind even the slightest idea of how these obligations are going to be met. I have endeavoured to think out how the matter is to be dealt with, and I can see no alternatives except, on the one hand, an enormous additional charge on the direct taxation of this country—the merits or demerits of which I will not discuss now, but which will have an effect upon the industry and upon the prosperity of this country which I do not think anybody is likely to question—and, on the other hand, a great widening of the basis of taxation, a policy against which hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite have, in a very rash spirit, in my opinion, committed themselves strongly and even violently. If this Resolution authorises a Bill which is going inevitably to have the consequences which I have foreshadowed, surely the Government cannot complain if we take the opportunity of expressing our own anxieties on the subject, and, at the same time, of asking them, without giving the details of Budgets not yet in being, to indicate to the Committee and to the country from what sources of revenue they propose to draw these sums which are going to alter the whole character of future Budgets, even of the next Budget, and still more of the Budget 1136 which will follow the next, so that the country and the House may approach the question of how they are going to deal with old-age pensions with the knowledge which is absolutely necessary, the financial knowledge, as well as what I may call the social knowledge, incident to the consideration of the subject. Surely we may ask that they will help us at this the first stage of a measure whose financial results are going to be quite as important to the community as its social results, by telling us how they mean to deal with the great monetary and fiscal problem which, by their policy, they have pledged the country to solve. This is a fitting opportunity for asking the question. We have no means of compelling the Government to answer it, but I think [that whatever may be said of these preliminary Resolutions in regard to ordinary measures, this Resolution does, at any rate, supply a fitting and proper occasion on which we may respectfully put our request before the Government and ask them to deal with the problem, and to ease anxieties the existence of which they can neither deny nor ignore.
§ THE PRIME MINISTER AND FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. ASQUITH,) Fifeshire, E.
I confess that I have some difficulty in understanding the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman. He does not pretend to support the Amendment of the hon. Baronet, which positively asks us to confine these legislative operations in regard to old-age pensions to one quarter of next year. The result would be that if the hon. Baronet's Resolution were carried we should have to bring in a Bill to go all over the same stages before Easter next year so as to allow the second instalment of the pension to be paid. That is the plain fact, and the effect of carrying this Amendment. The right hon. Gentleman does not deny it, and he does not support his colleague in the proposition he has made. But really I do not think that the Amendment is seriously intended. I may point out that we are now dealing with what has been regarded as a formal stage of a Resolution necessary as a preliminary to the introduction of any Bill which makes a charge on the finances of the country. Does the right hon. Gentleman ask the House to reject the Resolution which has 1137 been put from the Chair? If he does, then we cannot proceed a single step to give pensions this year; and I doubt whether a responsible Opposition will commit itself to that proposition. We could not introduce the Bill, it could not be printed or circulated, until this Resolution is passed by the Committee and reported to the House. This Bill is of such a character that not a clause of it would be in order and could not be properly discussed until the preliminary Resolution has been adopted. If hon. and right hon. Gentlemen are opposing this Resolution, then they are asking the House to debar us from submitting any proposal this year in regard to old-age pensions. What else remains? An inquiry is made the like of which I have never heard suggested in my experience by any Opposition. It is that we should produce for discussion now the Budget of next year, in order to see whether it conforms to the fiscal ideas of the right hon. Gentleman and his friends. Has such a proposition ever been put before the House? I am not going to respond to any invitation of that kind. I indicated clearly in my Budget statement that we had surveyed the ground in regard to this matter, that we were not proceeding with a light heart and without due consideration for the future; and I ex-pressed my own strong and determined conviction, after examination and reflection, that the means to provide the necessary funds for the scheme of old-age pensions we were about to produce could be and would be found without any violation of the fundamental principles of our financial system, and without thrusting any undue burden on the shoulders of the taxpayers. Beyond that I do not think I ought to be asked to go, and I decline to allow this occasion to be made the opportunity of anticipating the financial propositions of another year.
§ SIR F. BANBURY
pointed out that after 31st March, the £1,200,000 would still be available, though the amount of money provided would not be of a sufficient amount to cover the objects that the Government intended to carry out. His contention was that the House ought not to grant more than the £1,200,000, and if the sum was not sufficient for the purposes of the Government then they should provide for the further expendi- 1138 ture in the next Budget and bring in an amended Bill to increase the sum.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN (Worcestershire, E.)
said that the Prime Minister obviously had in his mind such money Resolutions as were necessary for a Bill with money clauses in it—Bills like the Aliens Bill, the Scottish Landholders Bill, and the Factories (Amendment) Bill. In these Bills, however, the money provisions were wholly subordinate to, and almost a negligible feature of, the legislative proposals. That was not the case here. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said, and the Prime Minister repeated, that every clause of the measure really made it a money Bill; and if any discussion on a money Resolution relating to it could be justified here was the occasion when it was legitimate. Though technically this Resolution was brought in so as to found the Old-Age Pensions Bill upon it, it was in point of fact one of the Budget resolutions. The Government had probably considered whether the old-age pension scheme could be included in the finance Bill. If they had been able so to include it, there would have been one Bill instead of two.
§ MR. ASQUITH
That is the very reason why this is not a Budget Resolution. This is a Resolution to authorise the spending of money on old-age pensions, and we have to legislate for that in another Bill.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
said he was accustomed to the equanimity with which the Government provided for the spending of money without considering how the money was to be raised. He thought it was not a bad thing that he, as an ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer, should remind the Committee that when they resolved to spend money they had to raise that money. The outstanding feature of the Budget was the establishment of old-age pensions, and the Resolution before the Committee said, "It is expedient to provide for old-age pensions." That was exactly what the Government ought to do; and what the Opposition complained of was that, the main difficulty being to find the money, the Government made no provision in their scheme for more than a fifth part of the expenditure. Was that a reasonable 1139 proposition? Last year the Prime Minister in calling attention to the question of old-age pensions told the House that they must look ahead, that they must not regard the finance of the year as separable from the rest of their financial policy, and that if they meant to lay the foundation of a great and costly scheme of old-age pensions they must be content to cast their eyes ahead and survey the future over a series of years. Last year accordingly, when the right hon. Gentleman seemed likely to remain Chancellor of the Exchequer, and would have to pay for his own Bill, he set aside the sum of £2,500,000 as a nest egg for this purpose of old-age pensions before he had incurred any liability. It was quite true that the nest egg was not enough. In the first year the pensions were to cost less than half that sum, but for next year he had accepted a burden of anything from £7,000,000 upwards, and the right hon. Gentleman had not put by a penny to meet it. He thought the Committee were entitled on this Resolution to press the right hon. Gentleman to say what his intentions were. After all, what had he done? He had suggested that he might raid the Sinking Fund, a proposal which was received with condemnation and regret by every speaker on his own side of the House who had alluded to the matter. Beyond that the right hon. Gentleman had informed a meeting outside that he had convictions that the money would be forthcoming. They wanted to know on what the right hon. Gentleman's convictions were based. They pressed not for the Budget of next year, but for some indication of the lines on which he was intending to proceed, particularly in view of the solemn statement of the Prime Minister last year that if old-age pensions were to be granted out of taxation it was only equitable that a contribution towards them should be paid by the working classes. What conceivable meaning had that phrase in the mouth of a Minister when at the moment that he established old-age pensions he removed one of the very few taxes which the working man who was not a consumer of alcohol or of tobacco, which was not infrequently the case—
said that the right hon. Gentleman was now getting a little wide of the Resolution before the Committee. This was a money Committee; 1140 they were not in Committee of Ways and Means, and the right hon. Gentleman could not go over the whole ground of the Budget.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
said that it was not his intention to transgress order. He only wanted to recite the main fact of the Budget—the establishment of an old-age pension scheme—and to point out that at the same moment the right hon. Gentleman proposed to reduce by one-half one of the few taxes by which working men who were not consumers of alcohol could contribute to that scheme. He wanted to know what this Resolution really meant and what was the meaning of the language the right hon. Gentleman used at Lancaster so recently as this year.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
said that he really could not enter now into the matter raised by the right hon. Gentleman; he would be absolutely out of order. The right hon. Gentleman had asked whether there was any precedent for the present procedure. He thought that the precedent most in point was the Free Education Grant Bill in 1891. The basis of that Bill was purely financial. He accepted the position of the right hon. Gentleman as to there being two classes of Bills—one in which the finance proposals were purely accidental, and the other where the whole basis of the Bill was finance. When the financial Resolution was moved in 1891 the general attitude of the Opposition Leader to it was very much the general attitude of the present Leader of the Opposition to the old-age pension scheme of the Government. The Resolution in 1891 was not opposed by Sir William Harcourt except on the ground that it was taken late at night. Sir William Harcourt admitted that it was a purely formal stage, and he did not embark on a general discussion of the finances of the year. He might also point out to the hon. Baronet that the only provision made that year was for barely a quarter of the grant that was due under the Bill. The provision for the whole year was not made till the following year, On that occasion the Leader of the House got up and explained why the Resolution was taken late at night, and that was the whole discussion. As to the precedents, he would point out that when an Opposition was opposed root and branch to the 1141 main purpose of the Bill they would be justified in taking advantage of every stage to criticise and—he would not use the word obstruct, but retard the progress of the Bill. He, however, understood that the action of the Opposition was in the main friendly towards the general proposal in the Old-Age Pension Bill, and under these conditions he did not see how the right hon. Gentleman could enter largely into the questions raised by him.
§ SIR F. BANBURY
said that the position in which the Government found themselves arose, in his opinion, from the entire mismanagement of their business. If they had given any idea in the Budget discussions as to what the old-age pension scheme would develop into and how much it would cost, it would not have been necessary to introduce the Amendment he had proposed in the form it took. But there was no indication of that. The Prime Minister had said the scheme would cost six millions, the Chancellor of the Exchequer first said seven millions and then between six and seven millions. Therefore, in his opinion, it was necessary to do something to limit the extravagance of hon. Gentlemen opposite. As to precedents, he would point out that an authority in the House had stated that they could always find in the House of Commons a foolish precedent for anything. The right hon. Gentleman had found a foolish precedent, which, however, was no justification for the present procedure. The proper course would be to put in some Amendment to limit the expenditure, but he saw the difficulty the Government were in by not taking the House fully into their confidence and by not making full provision for inevitable expenditure. The expenditure ought to have commenced at once: but for some obscure reason the Prime Minister had put off the obligation of making provision for the expenses of the scheme on to his successor. He did not know whether the right hon. Gentleman would be in power next year; but, at any rate, he had pushed the expenditure off till next year, and had landed the House of Commons in an extremely awkward position. He recognised that they had got to put up with having a bad Government with a majority which was too big; and if they chose to conduct themselves in this way, all that the Opposition could do 1142 was to make their protest. He had shown good reasons for proposing his Amendment, but on reconsideration he begged leave to withdraw it.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ MR. FELL (Great Yarmouth)
said that hon. Members might be strongly in favour of a Pensions Bill, but just as strongly opposed to the financial proposals of the Government. He was in that position. The Resolution only provided for the payment of pensions during January, February, and March next year, but the Budget was not generally introduced till the middle of April. This year it did not come on till 7th May, and if next year's Budget did not come on till the corresponding date how was the money to be provided for the pensions in the intervening period of a month and seven days? There was not the slightest suggestion of obstruction in raising questions like that dealt with in the Amendment. It was quite compatible with the highest desire to further the interests of a Pensions Bill to point out the difficulties that might arise in carrying out that scheme. There was a possible chance of criticism inducing a modification of the proposed arrangements. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had told them that he wished to prepare people who were too nervous as to what would happen next year. Did that right hon. Gentleman imagine that the anxiety would be any the less when he told them that the source from which the money of the old-age pensions was to come was entirely an open question, and that next year he would have to provide eight or ten millions for that purpose? He did not think that that argument would appeal to many people in the country who suspected that they were aimed at by the proposals hinted at by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. If a private individual, company, or corporation which had contracted to pay an annuity, and could only see their way to pay the annuity for one year, were to say that in the course of next year they Would have other sources from which to pay the annuity, would that be regarded as sound finance? Would it be regarded in any quarter as prudent business? The present Government were incurring 1143 this liability for old-age pensions, but were not giving the slightest hint as to where they were going to get the money to meet it. He thought good had been done by having an opportunity of discussing the matter. This was only one of the six opportunities the House had of discussing a Money Bill. They had not got very far in the matter yet, and therefore he did not think the two opportunities that they had had could be taken as great opportunities for discussing the question. The Resolution was a formal one and there was nothing before the Committee which they could weigh, nor any proposal upon which they could express an opinion.
§ MR. BOWLES (Lambeth, Norwood)
said he had no desire to detain the Committee, but he thought some protest ought to be made from the back benches against the introduction of the remarkable and novel doctrine which had been proposed to day and yesterday. On both occasions what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said amounted simply to the fact that this was a Resolution put forward by the Government, and that any discussion was fatuous and improper; that these Resolutions were purely formal, they were not put upon the Table or the Paper to be discussed, but to be passed, and if the Committee desired information about them they were asking the Government for that which the Government thought they ought not to ask, which they had no business to have, and which the Government refused to give. That seemed to be not only a very strong doctrine, but a thoroughly erroneous and dangerous one. This Resolution was the foundation of the Old-age Pensions Bill and the scheme to be brought in by it, and the question was whether the House ought to discuss a Resolution of that kind. He repudiated the right hon. Gentleman's doctrine that they were not. The right hon. Gentleman said that the hon. Member who initiated this discussion had provided him with a wide field of debate. On the contrary it was not the hon. Member but the Government, by moving this Resolution, that had provided a wide field of debate, namely, whether or not the House of Commons situated as they wore, owing to pledges given by hon. Members with regard to economy, were to be allowed to discuss this Resolution. He had risen to 1144 enter his protest against the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman that they were not.
§ MR. LAURENCE HARDY (Kent, Ashford)
thought it was impossible to take the line that this was a formal Resolution that could not be discussed. In the case of the Education Bill, which was to involve an expenditure of £1,500,000, they had already taken the Second Reading and there had been no Resolution brought before this House with regard to the expenditure to be made under that Bill. The Government, he knew, thought very little of these Resolutions, but the Resolution before the Committee was quite different from that which would be brought forward for the Education Bill. It involved a great principle in regard to finance which was not connected with the Bill itself. Many hon. Members, of whom he was one, had always been very strong adherents to the principle of old-age pensions of a certain character, and this was an opportunity when that principle could be discussed quite apart from the principle of the Bill. It, therefore, was a very proper opportunity to protest against the light-hearted manner in which the Government proposed these Resolutions. The Resolution before the Committee pledged them to the finance of the Government Bill, which was very different from what many hon. Members desired. Many thought it would be far better if old-age pensions had been founded on a contributory scheme, and this Resolution bound the Committee to a non-contributory scheme which might carry them a good deal further than the finance now asked for. They were pledging themselves to a universal old-age pension scheme, and therefore it was perfectly legitimate that they should ask for some better explanation of how the Government intended to meet the enormous liability they were undertaking.
§ MR. STARKEY (Nottinghamshire, Newark)
also desired to add his protest to those that had been already made against the principle of asking for a, small sum now and leaving it probably to another Government to provide for 1145 the large amounts that would be required.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Resolved, "That it is expedient to provide for old-age pensions, and to authorise the payment, out of moneys to be provided by Parliament, of any expenses incurred for that purpose and connected therewith."
§ Resolution to be reported To-morrow.