§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order of the day for the Second Reading read.
§ *THE CHANCELLOR OF THE DUCHY OF LANCASTER (Viscount WOLVERHAMPTON)
My Lords, the measure which I have to ask your Lordships to read a second time to-day has undergone, both in its principle and in the machinery of its administration, greater and more exhaustive inquiry than almost any measure which for many years past has been brought up to your Lordships' House. It is a subject which has occupied the attention of Governments of various shades of politics—Governments which have represented at one time one section of the community, and at another time a totally different section; and it has a history of its own with which I shall not trouble your Lordships at any length, but I think it is worth while to recall to your memories what has been done, what inquiries have been made, and what steps have been taken before this measure passed its final stage in the House of Commons.
It is rather singular that so far back as the year 1772 a measure passed the House of Commons for a voluntary scheme of annuities for workmen, to be guaranteed and assisted out of the poor rates. That measure passed the House of Commons, but did not pass the House of Lords. There were various schemes for old-age relief from private individuals, notably from Canon Blackley, who, as your Lordships will remember, was a distinguished clergyman of the Church of England who took great interest in the whole question of Poor Law relief. In 1891 there was an informal Parliamentary Committee to consider the whole question. That Com- 1336 mittee consisted of between sixty and seventy Members of both Houses, and it was presided over by that distinguished statesman whose removal from public life, (we hope only for a temporary period), I think is regretted alike by his opponents as well as by his political friends. Mr. Chamberlain occupied the chair of that Committee, and no doubt was a very important leader in the opinions at which they arrived. I think it is true to say that of all the living statesmen who have taken a great interest in this question of old-age pensions the man who stands out most distinctly as having popularised the question is Mr. Chamberlain.
That Committee, of course, had no Parliamentary authority; it discussed the variety of schemes which were eventually submitted, but shortly after that Committee concluded its sittings Parliament was dissolved and a new Government came into power. It was my duty and my privilege, as President of the Local Government Board in that Government, to advise the Crown to issue a Royal Commission to investigate the whole question of relieving the aged poor, and also indirectly of dealing with the Poor Law. In 1893 that Commission was appointed, and in 1895 it presented its Report. It was a Commission constituted of singularly able and distinguished men. His present Majesty was a very active member of that, Commission, and several well-known and distinguished politicians took a prominent part in it, aided and assisted by Members of Parliament who had an intimate personal acquaintance with the conditions and necessities of the poor. But it was not unanimous. There was a Minority Report. In fact, the differences of opinion which appeared in the whole history of that Commission showed that practically they were not in a position to recommend any scheme which had any chance of acceptance. In 1896 a Committee was appointed by the Treasury, presided over by Lord Rothschild, to look into the question from the financial point of view, and their inquiry was rather wide. It was for—encouraging our industrial population by State or other aid to make provision for old age";1337 I believe that upwards of 100 separate schemes were submitted for the consideration of that Committee, which I think may at once prepare your Lordships to agree with me in the opinion that there cannot be anything fresh now to be said on that question. That was a complete and exhaustive inquiry into the whole position of Poor Law pensions. The Committee did not make a unanimous Report. In the year 1899 a Committee was appointed, over which Mr. Chaplin presided, and which made a thorough and exhaustive inquiry into the whole question. No doubt there has been a greater concentration of agreement upon the scheme which Mr. Chaplin's Committee proposed than perhaps upon any other scheme down to the present time. At all events, the then Government thought so highly of that scheme that they appointed a Finance Committee from the Treasury, under the presidency of Sir Edward Hamilton, to investigate its financial side. The result of that investigation was that the finance was found to be uncertain, and, I think I am justified in saying, unsound. In 1903 the last Bill was introduced and referred to a Select Committee, which also dealt with the principle of the measure and with its machinery.
Now we come to the present day. In March, 1906, which your Lordships will remember was within two months of the last general election, the House of Commons unanimously agreed to this Resolution—That a measure is urgently needed in order that out of funds provided by taxation provision can be made for the payment of a pension to all the aged subjects of His Majesty in the United Kingdom.The Government assented to that Resolution, but it must not be forgotten that the present Prime Minister, who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer, intimated that it was a very wide question so far as its detail was concerned, and that, while he accepted the principle, be reserved to himself and to his colleagues the fullest freedom of action with reference to the mode and the extent of any legislation which should follow the passing of that Resolution. It has been stated, in that mode of 1338 gossip or guessing to which my noble friend behind me just now alluded, that the Government took very little further interest in the matter, and that they only, so to speak, hurriedly and without due consideration prepared a measure which they threw upon the Table of the House of Commons, and which had not had the consideration to which such an. important change in the law as they suggested was entitled.
To that statement I venture to give the strongest contradiction of which the English language is capable. I know something of the matter upon which I am speaking, and I say that for more than twelve months prior to the date on which I am speaking now the most anxious attention of the whole Cabinet, aided, of course, as it was in its detailed inquiries by a Committee, was devoted to the consideration of this question. The Government were aided by the various Departments specially interested—the Local Government Board, the Home Office, the Treasury, and the Post Office. I think noble Lords who have been in previous Governments will not contradict me when I say that the permanent Civil servants at the disposal of the various heads of those Departments are men of the highest standing and the greatest experience and are the soundest advisers which the Government could possess. We had the advantage of that assistance, and we ventured to submit to the House of Commons the measure which I will detail to your Lordships in a minute or two.
There is another peculiarity about this Bill—not only the exhaustive dissection to which it was subjected by the various instruments which I have mentioned, but the fact that, whether it be a good Bill or a bad Bill, it comes to your Lordships' House with this strong recommendation, that the Second Reading was agreed to in the House of Commons with only twenty-five dissentients; and, after it had undergone what was a very keen testing during the Committee stage, when the Third Reading was proposed there were only ten Members of the other House who voted against. If you bear in mind the facts I have cited—the Resolution which the House of Commons unanimously passed 1339 within two months of the general election, the smallness of the number of those who differ conscientiously from the whole scheme, coupled with the fact that not even the organised official Opposition voted against either the Second or the Third Reading—then if these facts are to be disregarded there really must be an end to talking of public opinion as represented in this country being recognised in this House.
I now pass to the Bill itself. I will deal with these matters as shortly as I can, but I must go somewhat into detail in order that the Bill, which is a complicated one and not very clear, perhaps, in some of its phraseology, may be more fully considered. First let me state who are to be entitled to those old-age pensions. I will deal with the numbers when I come to a subsequent part of my remarks. The class who are to be entitled to pensions, if this Bill passes into law, are persons of seventy years of age and upwards. They are to be British subjects resident in the United Kingdom for twenty years previously, which, of course, practically makes the provision for British subjects in every sense of the word. The amount of the pension they are to receive is subject to the amount of their private income, about which there has been great controversy. There have been those who have maintained that everybody should be entitled to the pension, and those who have maintained, and maintained successfully, the theory that the proper and fair mode of adjusting the relationships which ought to exist between the pension and the private means of those who are to receive it should be on the principle of a sliding scale.
Where the private income in any shape or form amounts to £21, then the pension is to be 5s. a week; if it amounts to £23 12s. 6d., the pension is to be 4s. a week; if it amounts to £26 5s., the pension is to be 3s. a week; if it amounts to £28 17s. 6d., the pension is to be 2s. a week, and if the private income is £31 10s. the pension is to be 1s. a week. Above £31 10s. there is to be no pension paid at all. Of course that is on the principle of levelling down the pension in proportion to the levelling up of the private means. The maximum pension, as I have said, is 5s. a week and that 1340 sum has the sanction of high authorities in the various inquiries to which I have referred.
There are certain disqualifications. The first disqualification is the receiving of Poor Law relief since 1st January, 1908. Your Lordships will see that the reason for limiting this to a certain period is that if this disqualification were not introduced there would be a large transfer immediately from outdoor relief and possibly indoor relief on to the pensions, and it would throw a very heavy charge upon the Pension Fund. The next disqualification—one on which, perhaps, your Lordships will entertain some strong opinions, and with regard to which you will perhaps not be satisfied with the exact wording which the House of I Commons has, after much discussion, agreed to—is one directed against the I man who—Has habitually failed to work according to his ability, opportunity, and need for the maintenance or benefit of himself and those legally dependent upon him.The object of that is to exclude the wastrels—the gentlemen who live on writing begging letters, and the class who have not done an honest day's work in their lives and never intend to. I think there would be, generally, a very strong feeling against that class being pensioned off by the State; and whether those words are sufficient, or whether they are too wide, is a question for further consideration; it in no way affects the principle of the measure or its machinery. I think this House will be agreed that there should be no encouragement of the wastrel and the idle man in regard to this pension.
Then there is the provision, introduced after a good deal of discussion, that—A person shall not be disqualified if he has continuously for ten years up to attaining the age of sixty, by means of payments to friendly, provident, or other societies, or trade unions, or other approved steps, made such provision against old age, sickness, infirmity, or want or loss of employment as may be recognised as proper provision for the purpose by regulations under this Act.In that case a man will not be disqualified by the test that he must have been an industrious man. If he has done that—I admit it is a difficult inquiry to carry on—he has given practical proof that he 1341 is a thrifty man and has desired to do according to the best of his ability for his family. There is another disqualification—While he is detained in any asylum within the meaning of the Lunacy Act, 1890, or while he is being maintained in any place as a pauper or criminal lunatic.And, further—Where a person has been, before the passing of this Act, or is after the passing of this Act, convicted of any offence, and ordered to be imprisoned without the option of a fine or to suffer any greater punishment, he shall be disqualified for receiving or continuing to receive an old-age pension under this Act, while he is detained in prison in consequence of the order and for a further period of ten years after the date on which he is released from prison.There are other provisions in regard to administration, with which I need not trouble your Lordships.
These, pensions are to be inalienable. There is to be no power to charge them or to attempt to borrow money upon them. Any attempt to alienate the pension kills the pension. The machinery by which the Bill is to be carried into effect is as follows. The Treasury are to appoint pension officers and also to fix the areas in which they will work. An arrangement has been come to between the Treasury and the Post Office by which Inland Revenue officers will be able to do this pension work without adding very greatly to the cost of administration. I need hardly say that inasmuch as the Treasury is to find the money the Treasury must be able to have a very effective control over the expenditure. The pension officer is the representative of the Treasury. The next stage in the administration is what is called the local pension committee, and upon that committee will practically depend the working of this Act and its administration. In boroughs or urban districts, where the borough or urban district has a population of 20,000, their councils, municipal or district, as the case may be, will have the appointment of a pension committee; but there is a provision in the Bill that they must not necessarily be members of the municipal or urban authority which is appointing them. That is to enable the local body to choose competent men, whether they are or are not members of those municipal authorities. In the 1342 areas outside these authorities the county councils are to appoint the pension committees.
All claims for pensions, all questions of disqualification, and a great many other questions which must necessarily arise in the administration are to be defined by regulations; and in all these matters the Pension Committee are to be the final authority, subject to an appeal to the central pension authority, which will be the Local Government Board. Therefore the three stages of the hierarchy are the pension officer, the local pension committee, and the Local Government Board, and I feel perfectly satisfied that with these checks and that administration, there will be a general desire—and I think the desire will be carried out both with justice and with care—to make this Act a complete and satisfactory success. Then there is a provision with reference to false statements. The making of false statements will kill the pension, and the matter is dealt with accordingly. The pensions are to be paid through the Post Office and are to commence on the first Friday after the claim is allowed, and all pensions will be paid weekly. Your Lordships will gather from what I have said that Parliament, and Parliament alone, is to find the money for this expenditure.
I shall next be asked how many pensioners we expect to have. That has been a question which has been subjected to every sort of test by many qualified statisticians, and the Government have come to the conclusion that at the present time and dealing with the present state of the population they are safe in assuming that there will be somewhere between 500,000 and 550,000 persons duly qualified. The cost of the pensions to that extent for the next year is put down at about £1,250,000. The charge on the current financial year which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has already provided for, and which will be voted in Committee of Supply in the course of the present week in a Supplementary Estimate, is £1,250,000 and that will defray the expenses of the scheme up to the end of the financial year. What will be required during the next financial year it is, of course, impossible to say, 1343 and therefore it would be absurd for anyone to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer where he expects to get it from. We cannot embark upon, and we shall not embark upon the Budget of 1909 in the summer of 1908. The Chancellor of the Exchequer made a remark the other day which I thought was very correct. He said that it really was ridiculous to suppose that any body of Britishers would make proposals to Parliament to carry out a great scheme without knowing pretty clearly where the funds were to come from out of which the cost of that scheme was to be defrayed.
Two great points have been raised in this controversy as to whether it would not be wiser that these schemes should be universal and that they should partake of a contributory character. I note your Lordships cheer that. It is a very singular thing that everybody of authority who has gone into this question, from Mr. Chamberlain downwards, have all been fascinated with the idea of contribution, but when they have attempted to apply it and see how it is to work one by one the advocates of contribution have been obliged to admit that the thing is unjust and, therefore, impossible. If your Lordships will allow me, I should like to read two or three words from Mr. Chamberlain's speech in the House of Commons on this subject. The right hon. Gentleman said—My own belief is that the only way to solve this question of old-age pensions is by approaching it by sections, and that we shall never be able to deal with it as a whole. I think it is a mistake to confine assistance entirely to those who have themselves directly contributed to the pensions, because there are indirect methods and tests of thrift and providence which are just as good as direct contributions. The man who has brought up a family without having recourse to Poor Law relief, the man who has invested a little money in a house, is not necessarily leas deserving of sympathy and assistance than the man who has contributed so much a year in order to provide a pension at sixty-five. I think it is agreed that we must put aside at once any further attempt to secure compulsory contributions from the working classes. That is a Continental system, but I do not think it has been such a success in Germany that a scheme of that kind can possibly be adopted here. I think it may also be laid down that the working classes are at present either unable or unwilling to purchase deferred annuities by payments over a long period of years. The one fatal objection to such a scheme is this: that if the benefit to be received air sixty-five is to 1344 depend upon the continuance of the payments, a very large proportion of the persons who subscribe will, by some temporary misfortune, some inability to provide the payments, be thrown out of the benefits; for a failure to pay a single payment may deprive a man, not only of the pension, but also of the contributions he has already made.Mr. Booth has said that of the people who come on the Poor Law at sixty-five, five-sixths have never applied for relief up to the age of sixty. It would be unfair and unwise to attempt to extract anything more from the wages of a man who had maintained himself up to sixty. Mr. Burt said the other day in the House of Commons that there were 1,750,000 male workers in this country who were not earning more than 20s. a week. That is not Mr. Burt's own statement; it is on the authority of Sir Robert Giffen. When we remember their rents, cost of food and clothing, and, in a very large number of cases, their contributions to friendly, provident, and building societies, the bulk of the working population have not much margin left for any further saving.
There are two Amendments down for discussion this evening. The first, in the name of Lord Wemyss, maintains that pending the Report of the Royal Commission now inquiring into the principles and working of the existing Poor Law it would be unwise to enter upon the consideration of the Bill. In the first instance, that is an attractive Amendment and it deserves to be fairly and fully considered. The great Poor Law Act of 1834 was one of the wisest Acts that Parliament ever passed, and it practically saved this country from insolvency. But in 1834 the poor of the country were, to a very great extent, confined to the agricultural section of the community. The great manufactories and industries which have mainly produced to an enormous degree the wealth of the country did not then exist. The country in which we live to-day is a totally different one. The class of people liable to come upon the Poor Law has enormously increased, the mode and cost of living have also increased, and we are saddled with a scheme of workhouses in which there is no classification. There is no distinction between old and young, between the thrifty and industrious and the criminal, and, while the feeling of the 1345 country has rightly improved the condition of the inhabitants of the poor-houses, it has not taken sufficient steps to relieve them from the associations of the workhouse and the companions by which they are surrounded. You ought not to put in one union the old and young, the aged and infirm, those who have led good honest lives, and those whose lives have been the contrary.
The inquiry is a very complicated one. I have every confidence in Lord George Hamilton, who, in addition to his many public services, has rendered another in presiding over the Commission, and I am convinced that its Report will be a great and statesmanlike proposal. But it cannot be presented much before the end of the year—the Government hope in the autumn—and it will require an amount of attention that will occupy a long time by the Government of the day, whoever they may be. To wait until this Report has been presented and considered would be to delay the real working of this scheme for four or five years. The Government are not prepared to assent to such a proposal. They see their way clear to dealing to a practical extent with this gigantic evil, and are determined to do so as soon, as they possibly can.
The Amendment in the name of Lord Heneage, which states that there is no reliable information as to cost, deals with another question, and is not one that the Government could accept. What your Lordships have to consider is whether you will pass the Bill or throw it out. Of the people of the age of seventy and upwards the class deserving the greatest sympathy is that of the working woman. Her life is a very hard one. She occupies perhaps, a more influential and certainly a more exhausting sphere than her husband. She has no opportunity of saving for her old age, and the spectacle of a widow of that class with no prospect before her save the workhouse is not worthy of a wealthy country like ours. One half of the beneficiaries under the Bill will be women over 70 years of age, and the other half of the beneficiaries under the Bill will be men over seventy years of age who have done their duty. I do not think the indebtedness of this country to its 1346 working men, the enormous trust which is reposed in them, and the faithfulness with which it is discharged, are often realised. The whole machinery of progressive civilised life depends upon our working classes; to thorn is entrusted the working of our great factories, industries, and mines, from which from time to time come stories showing that among the workmen are heroes and martyrs of the truest type; and to the activity, good conduct, and skill of working men the whole 6f our railway organisation is confided. Working men are a great national asset of which the country ought to be proud, and I trust I shall not appeal in vain to your Lordships to pass a measure which will redound to the prosperity and glory of the country.
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a." —(Viscount Wolverhampton.)
*THE Earl OF WEMYSS, who had given notice of an Amendment—
That pending the Report of the Royal Commission now inquiring into the principles and working of the existing Poor La wit would be unwise to enter upon the consideration of a Bill establishing the far-reaching principle of State Old-Age Pensions"—
said: My Lords, I labour under the disadvantage of not having heard a Word of the speech of the noble Viscount who moved the Second Reading of the Bill. Indeed, I wondered what he was talking about, because I was not aware that he, instead of the noble Earl the Secretary of State for the Colonies, was to move the Second Reading of the Bill. But a friend behind me wrote on a piece of paper that the noble Viscount had said that the adoption of my Amendment would defer legislation on the subject for four or five years. I think it would be better to put off legislation for forty years rather than have bad legislation.
Last Thursday The Times, in a leading article, recommended your Lordships to pass the Second and even the Third Reading of the Bill, not on account of any merit it has, but for your own sake, and for the good of your Lordships' House. In the same article, however, there was a sentence which blew all this to smithereens, and I commend it to the notice of your Lordships' House. The sentence ran—
But the real objection to the Bill is that it is fundamentally on wrong lines, and is, in
fact, not a pension but a Bill giving indefinite extension of outdoor relief.
It is on that ground that I venture to ask your Lordships whether it is wise to go on with the Bill. I want your Lordships to consider, supposing this to be right, what indefinite extension of outdoor relief means.
I should like to take your Lordships back seventy years. In 1834 the Poor Law, which had existed from the time of Elizabeth, had, by mismanagement and lax administration, produced such a state of things that it was given in evidence before the Poor Law Commission of that date that labourers said—
Damn work! Blast work! Why should I work when I can get 10s. from the rates for doing nothing.
§ The Commission, on which the Bishop of London and the Bishop of Carlisle sat, reported that all this was due to lax administration, and that stringency in administering the law was necessary. There may be people who say that the law has been too stringent and too harsh, but those two Bishops evidently did not think so. What has happened since then? From that time better administration has prevailed, outdoor relief has been restricted, and the independence of the people has been restored. If, from sentimental motives, Parliament passes this Bill, I hold that you will establish a system of demoralisation amongst the working classes, that you will do away with thrift, that families will cease to regard it as an obligation to maintain those of their members whose working days are passed, and that self-reliance will be diminished.
I see in his place my noble friend Lord Rosebery. He, as Chancellor of the University of Glasgow, delivered the other day a most admirable speech, in the course of which he spoke strongly of the need of self-reliance. What he said is so much to the point that I will, with your Lordships permission, read it. The noble Earl said—
The State invites us every day to lean upon it. I seem to hear the wheedling and alluring whisper, 'Sound you may be, we bid you be a cripple. Do you see? Be blind. Do you hear? Be deaf. Do you walk? Be not so venturesome. Here is a crutch for one arm, when you get accustomed to it, you will get accustomed to it, you will soon want another—the sooner the better.' The strongest man if encouraged may soon accustom himself to the methods of an invalid; he may train
himself to totter, or to be fed with a spoon.… Every day the area for initiative is being narrowed, every day the standing ground for self-reliance is being undermined; every day the public infringes—with the best intentions, no doubt—on the individual; the nation is being taken into custody by the State.
And at the end the noble Earl said—
It was self-reliance that built the Empire; it is by self-reliance, and all that that implies, that it must be welded and continued.
Those are wise words, which I humbly recommend to the attention of your-Lordships.
§ Now I come to my Amendment. What does that Amendment say? Does it ask you not to deal with this question? Nothing of the kind. All that my Amendment says is that, pending the Report of the Royal Commission now inquiring into the principles and working of the existing poor law, it would be unwise to enter upon the consideration of a Bill establishing the far-reaching principle of State old-age pensions. Petitions have been presented against the Bill, but it is admitted that the Second Reading is to pass. I have always understood that everything in principle depends upon the Second Reading, and that when you adopt the Second Reading of a measure you have to go on with the line of that Bill; therefore, it is best to meet the thing in limine, and not to deal with it until you have the Report of the Commission. The Commission must soon report, and I have no doubt their Report will touch on the question of old-age pensions, and with that information before it Parliament will be in a much better position to deal with this subject than it is at the present time. That is the common sense view; it seems to me like political madness to act otherwise. That is all I ask. In no other relation of life would men act as Ministers are doing in regard to this Bill; they would wait for information before they acted, and by my Amendment I ask them to do so in this case.
I could, if I wished to detain your Lordships, give you unlimited quotations against this Bill. All those who have given their lives to the care of the poor and are interested in thrift and other societies are all hostile to the Bill, as it at present stands. I will not quote those authorities, but will be satisfied by reading to your Lordships an extract
from a circular issued by the Charity Organisation Society, of which many of your Lordships are members, and which has done excellent work during the last thirty years. That society has issued a circular against the Bill in which they assert that—
Neither the Bill, nor anything like the Bill, has ever been demanded by, or received the sanction of, the electors. To delay the passing of the Bill can do no serious injury to the country and will enable the nation to consider calmly the policy of a measure which, for good or bad, produces a social revolution.
That is an accurate description of the Bill, and I think it would be wise if your Lordships were to postpone consideration of it until all possible information is obtained. For what are you doing? You will be tying a millstone round the neck of the country and involving it in an expenditure in the end of nearly £30,000,000 a year.
§ On the very day last week when this Bill passed through the other House there was in France a Commission of the Senate sitting considering a Pension Bill, and that Commission, in spite of the wish of the French Government that the Bill should proceed and that they should report upon it, declined to do so until all the information that could possibly be obtained was before them. My Lords, we are told, "Fas est ab hoste doceri," but I venture to suggest that your Lordships might also learn from a friend. I should like to see the entente cordiale of Shepherd's Bush carried to your Lordships' House; and that you should act as wisely, as moderately, and as reasonably as the French Commission are doing. Let me further remind your Lordships of that splendid French maxim "Fais ce que doit advienne que pourra," and urge your Lordships to act upon it. I have nothing more to add. I intend to stick to my guns and to divide your Lordships if I can get a teller, and I have secured one. What success we shall have in the division lobbies I do not know, but, at any rate, whatever the result may be, one thing is certain—that all the common-sense and the sense of what is right and reasonable in dealing with such a question as this will be found with the minority. I beg to move the Amendment standing in my name.1350
To leave out all the words after the word 'That,' in order to insert these words 'pending the Report of the Royal Commission now inquiring into the principles and working of the existing Poor Law it would be unwise to enter upon the consideration of a Bill establishing the far-reaching principle of State Old-Age Pensions.'"—(The Earl of Wemyss.)
My Lords, I am sure the feeling which is uppermost in your Lordships' minds at this moment is one of pleasure that no advance of years in any way diminishes the force and eloquence of the noble Earl who has just addressed the House. I am aware that disclaimers of party spirit are often received with some degree of scepticism; yet the line of conduct I have persistently followed throughout the short period during which I have occasionally taken part in the debates in this House justifies me in expressing a hope that noble Lords opposite will believe me when I say that in criticising the measure now brought forward by His Majesty's Government, I am expressing opinions which, whether they are right or wrong, are based solely on sincere and honest conviction.
What was the position of this question when the present Government came into power? The matter had, it is true, been for long under consideration. There was a universal desire that some better provision than exists at present should be made for the aged poor. But the immediate treatment of the question was not one of the somewhat numerous mandates which it has from time to time been stated were conferred on the Government at the last general election. The statement of the Prime Minister on this point is quite explicit. He said—His Majesty's present Government came into power and went through the last general election entirely unpledged in regard to this matter.The Government were, however, in a position which is fraught with much political danger. They thought that something must be done, and when politicians act on this principle, without having a clear idea of what should be done, they not infrequently end by doing a number of things which, as subsequent events prove, had much better have been left undone. The Government did not 1351 act at once. They very naturally required time to consider the question. Above all—I again quote the words of the Prime Minister—What was most important was to lay a solid financial foundation for any future structure it might be possible to raise,Nothing could be more commendable than the assertion of this very sound principle; but, my Lords, I look in vain for any solidity in the financial foundations of the structure laid by the Bill now before us. It appears to me that those foundations are eminently wanting in solidity and stability.
In the first place, no one can state with any degree of precision what the scheme will cost. The original estimate was £6,000,000; the estimate then crept up to £8,000,000. By the abandonment of the poor relief disqualification in 1910, the cost will, I believe, be raised by another two or three millions. Nor is this all. I do not generally attach much importance to what is known as the thin end of the wedge argument, but certainly, if ever that argument applied, it is in the present case. The pressure to extend the operation of the Act in a liberal direction will be irresistible. Let us be under no delusion as to the true facts of the case. This Bill practically mortgages all the future resources of the country for an indefinite time and renders an increase of burdensome taxation of one sort or another, not only probable, but almost certain. We are indeed told that the administration of the Poor Law will be reformed, and that there will be a large saving of local rates in respect to poor relief. But surely it would have been wiser to have awaited the Report of Lord George Hamilton's Commission, and to have reformed the Poor Law before bringing forward a scheme of such vast importance as that contained in the Bill now under consideration.
My Lords, we have already in this session of Parliament had one object-lesson which proves the unwisdom of putting the cart before the horse in matters of this sort. Consider what has happened in connection with Army reform. The scheme brought forward by the Secretary of State for War divided itself into two parts. There was the easy part, which consisted in reducing the Regular Army, and the 1352 more difficult part, which consisted in raising a new Territorial Army. Sound policy would, I think, have dictated the adjournment of the first part of the programme whilst the latter part was in an experimental stage, even although this process would have involved some temporary increase of expenditure. But this was not done. Destruction was allowed to come first. Construction came limping on painfully afterwards, with the result that, in spite of the ability, energy and perseverance displayed by the Secretary of State for War, which are universally recognised, the success of the somewhat hazardous experiment which is being tried is still doubtful. It would seem that the same process is to be repeated in another administrative field. It is one which certainly appears to me to be tainted with a very impolitic degree of rashness.
But, my Lords, if nothing certain can be predicted about the expenditure which lies before us, a still greater uncertainty hangs over the moans for meeting that expenditure, which, under any showing, will certainly be large, for in this case we have to think, not only in millions, but more probably in tens of millions. The idea that any considerable sum can be provided by economies in other directions may be at once dismissed as impracticable, although some ominous rumours, which I was glad to hear contradicted by the noble Earl (Lord Crewe) have been afloat that still further reductions in the Army are contemplated. There then only remain therefore three possible expedients. One is to suspend the whole or a part of the Sinking Fund, a point as to which I shall have something further to say immediately. The second is to increase direct, and the third to increase indirect taxation. It is notorious that many of the followers of the present Government warmly favour the idea of resorting to a large increase of direct taxation. My Lords, I am not on the present occasion going to make a speech on the financial position in general. I wish, however, to point out that the disproportion which at one time existed between the revenue raised from direct and indirect taxes has been now wholly redressed. The question of the incidence of taxation has been very carefully examined by some of the most able economists and statisticians of the day, and I believe I am correct in saying that 1353 the existence of any great inequality in the incidence cannot be maintained in argument. In any case, if any inequality exists it is almost certainly to the advantage of the payer of indirect rather than of direct taxes. I am, moreover, sufficiently old-fashioned to deprecate these attempts to shift all the burden of taxation from one class of the community to the other. I greatly prefer the principle advocated by Mr. Gladstone, who likened direct and indirect taxation to two damsels equally attractive to the eye of a Chancellor of the Exchequer, neither of whom should be favoured at the expense of the other.
Look, however, at the matter in any way we like, it seems to me extremely doubtful whether, if this Bill passes into law, it will be found possible for long to balance the national revenue and expenditure by a resort to direct taxation only. There is a limit beyond which even the most extreme advocates of a graduated income-tax will be unable to go without killing the goose with the golden egg, and when that limit is reached, a resort to indirect taxation will be inevitable. Will the additional revenue required then be raised by increasing the taxes on beer and tobacco? I doubt it, in view of the great unpopularity which would accrue to any Government which resorted to these expedients. No, my Lords, the form which will, under the supposed circumstances, prove the path of least resistance, will, unless I am much mistaken, be that indicated by the tariff reformers. I alluded just now to the mandates which were conferred, or which have been at times supposed to have been conferred, on the present Government at the last general election. The main mandate was, I think, clear enough. It was to defend the free trade camp, but what sort of a defence is it when the general in command does not, indeed, surrender to the enemy, but deliberately makes so large a breach in the walls as to facilitate his entry? The way I interpret the mandate of the last general election is that not merely were the Government to adopt a free trade policy during the period—always uncertain and fleeting in democratic countries—that they would remain in office, but that they would do nothing to imperil the cause at any future time.
1354 It is related that on the occasion of one of Frederic the Great's battles, when he saw his troops disinclined to advance against a hot fire, he shouted out to them:Rascals, do you expect to live for ever?Omitting the somewhat uncomplimentary epithet of this plain-spoken monarch, I am tempted to ask this same question of the present Government. What do they expect will happen to the cause which they are pledged to defend when they resign their seals of office to others who are under no such pledges, and who have, indeed, given pledges of a very opposite description? My Lords, if the policy of free trade is doomed to die, future historians will, unless I am much mistaken, write something of this sort over its grave, "Here lies a noble policy, which gave prosperity to the country for 60 years; it was stabbed in the back by those who were by way of being its best friends."
But if the policy set forth in this Bill is viewed askance by free traders, neither do I see how it can commend itself to tariff reformers, whether of the moderate or extreme type. I conceive that the moderate tariff reformers, who, I trust, form the majority of the party, scout the absurd fallacy that a nation can be taxed into prosperity. They look on high taxation, whether of a direct or indirect type, as bad in itself, although possibly inevitable. They will not in this case, I conceive, say—We rejoice in an enormous increase of expenditure, because it will oblige us to impose fresh indirect taxes.Rather will they say—We must provide for this increase of expenditure, and the least objectionable method of doing so is to adopt the policy of tariff reform.They may be right or wrong in their methods, but the position is at all events perfectly logical and comprehensible. And how, my Lords, should the policy set forth in this Bill be regarded by the extreme tariff reformers, namely, those who are avowedly protectionists? Scarcely, I venture to think, with more favour than by the free traders and the moderate tariff reformers, for, in order to accomplish the objects of this Bill, additional revenue will be required, and 1355 the aim of the protectionist in imposing indirect taxes is not to increase the revenue, but to protect native industries. If the revenue is increased, it will show that, in spite of the new taxes, the foreigner has been able to jump over the tariff wall, and the protectionist will have failed to attain his object.
I know very well that in framing a Budget it is sometimes necessary to have faith in the future and to rely on rather doubtful estimates. But I can confidently assert that in the course of my experience—and I think that I have been more or loss responsible for some couple of dozen or more State Budgets—I have never known a case of such reckless finance as that with which we now have to deal. I can apply no other term but reckless to a plan which involves an enormous increase of expenditure without any adequate provision being made for meeting liabilities when they fall due. I see sitting on the bench opposite, my noble friend Lord Welby. It would be interesting to know what he really thinks of this scheme. For many years the noble Lord was one of the most efficient and trusted guardians of the public purse. I think the noble Lord's economical, as also his economic soul must be wrung with anguish at the manner in which latter day authorities have discarded the practice and principles of the many illustrious and statesmanlike financiers under whom the noble Lord has served. I think that he must invoke the shades of Sir Robert Peel and Mr. Gladstone, which still, perhaps, hover round the Treasury, and that he must congratulate himself that it will devolve on other permanent officials and not on himself to bring home to party politicians in a difficulty the homely principle that a nation, like an individual, has to cut its coat according to its cloth, and that if they do not do so they are liable to have the bailiffs upon them.
And now, my Lords, let me turn to another financial point of even greater importance than any of those to which I have so far alluded. What, I would ask, in the present condition of Europe is the main duty which devolves on the Government of this country? For my own part, I have no sort of hesitation in replying to this question. Their main duty is to make provision betimes for the European conflict which may not improbably be forced 1356 on us before many years have elapsed. I am aware that the mass of the people of this country, who do not follow foreign affairs with any very close attention, are not alive to the possibility of any such conflict taking place. I say it is the duty of a Government, gifted with both patriotism and foresight, who have means of information at their disposal which is not available to the general public, to provide betimes for that danger—a danger of which I, in common, I believe, with most people who can speak with real authority on foreign affairs, am very firmly convinced. I am now treading on delicate ground. It is neither necessary nor desirable that I should state at length my reasons for holding this opinion. I will only say that in order to justify it, it is quite unnecessary to impugn the good faith of those high authorities abroad who constantly reiterate their peaceful intentions. Neither is it necessary to hold that any deliberate intentions hostile to this country exist.
We are, however, living in times when the influence of individuals, however highly placed, is limited. When national interests are involved, and race passions are excited, there is always a risk, and more than a risk, that a collision between rival nations will take place, however pacific may be the intentions of their rulers. Let me add that if, as I believe will be the case, the enactment of this law imperils the cause of free trade, the chances of a collision will be materially increased. I have sometimes seen it stated in reference to this argument, that it would be unjust and unreasonable of foreign nations to take offence at us if we follow the example—as, I think, the bad example—that most of them have set. I fully agree, but I think that those who reason after this fashion can have had but little practical experience in the treatment of international questions. When once national interests point, or seem to point, in the direction of falling on a rival, it is quite within the resources of an adroit diplomacy to find some means for casting a veil of justice and reasonableness over the real cause. But, my Lords, is the fact that we may give offence any valid reason for discarding a policy of tariff reform? Not at all. I dislike that policy on other grounds, but I should be the first to maintain that if the Parliament and 1357 people of this country deliberately came to the conclusion that the policy should be adopted, they should most vehemently resent any foreign interference to prevent its adoption. But whilst affording no reason for discarding the policy, the fact that it may, and probably will, widen the breach between us and some foreign nations affords a very valid reason for being so strong that we can assert, if needs be by force of arms, our unquestionable right to manage our own affairs in our own way.
It is clear that if my diagnosis of the situation is correct, as I firmly believe it to be, the fact is of such vital importance as to cast all other subjects into insignificance. Our main duty, to my mind, is to husband our financial resources and to organise, not only our naval, but also our military forces in such a manner as to meet whatever the future may bring forth, and, in estimating the need of preparation, my Lords, it should be borne in mind that troubles may possibly not come alone. Can anyone assort that the condition either of India or Ireland is altogether satisfactory?
Tried by the test which I have applied, what does this Bill do? I say that it will cripple us to a dangerous extent under all the three heads, financial, military, and naval, in respect of which preparedness for national defence has to be considered. Finance is certainly the most important of the three, and, indeed, may be said to embrace the other two, for money provides the sinews for war. Look first at the case of the Sinking Fund. I, of course, fully admit that under ordinary circumstances the question of what portion of the revenue should be applied to the reduction of debt and what to a remission of taxation admits of discussion. It is quite possible to carry reduction of debt too far. But I submit that present circumstances are not ordinary. I hold that now that we are at peace we should, by reducing debt, endeavour to strengthen our financial position in order to be better able to bear the strain which may be imposed on us by war. I look, therefore, askance at the very clear hint which has been given to us that a raid on the Sinking Fund is contemplated, and I most earnestly hope that the inroads on that fund will not be carried too far.
1358 Then, my Lords, I conceive that one of the first duties of a wise financier, especially if a very uncertain and perhaps somewhat gloomy future lies before him, is to provide for an adequate fiscal reserve to be used in time of national emergency. Now if, as I hold, the consequences of this measure will be to necessitate the imposition of fresh taxes, every hundred pounds which is imposed, whether in a direct or indirect form, will by so much weaken our ability to cope with the emergency when it arises. Notably, if the rather wild schemes for a graduated and highly oppressive income tax, which are at times discussed, are adopted, a deadly blow will be struck at the most important fiscal reserve we now possess. The efficiency of the reserve is already impaired by keeping the income-tax at its present high rate in time of peace. To increase that rate, save to meet a temporary emergency, would certainly appear to me to be an act of grave imprudence. Yet I observe that, a short time ago, in another place, the Chancellor of the Exchequer spoke, apparently with approval, of the Japanese system which, he said, involved an income tax graduated up to as much as five shillings in the pound.
My Lords, the Bill admits of criticism on grounds other than those to which I have alluded. It may be argued with great force that all the evils which existed under the old Poor Law will be reintroduced, but I confine myself to the financial aspect of the case, both because I think that aspect is of predominating importance and because it is one to which I have devoted special attention. If the Bill becomes law we shall all await next spring with the greatest interest to know, in language which was, I think, used by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, on what hen-roost his burglarious hand will descend. The practical question, however, is what is to be done about this Bill now? At a later period of this debate your Lordships will, without doubt, hear the views entertained on this subject by the noble Marquess who is the Leader of the Opposition, and whom I may perhaps be permitted to say, in spite of the slight tariff reform rift within the lute, I consider my leader, and whom I shall certainly follow on the present occasion.
1359 Speaking, however, as an individual Member of this House, I have no hesitation in stating what, in my humble opinion, would be the course most conducive to the true interests of the nation if the question would be considered exclusively on its own merits. It would be to decline to consider this momentous question until such time as the Poor Law Commission has reported, and until the Government had produced its scheme of poor law reform. I am, however, aware of the very weighty objections which may be urged against the adoption of this course. Hopes have been excited amongst a number of poor people, with whom, I venture to assert, your Lordships sympathise quite as much as those who have been the chief promoters of this measure, Moreover, the fact cannot be ignored that the main principles embodied in this Bill have been approved by both the great parties represented in the other House. We are bound to believe that the divisions which have taken place in that House truly represent the opinions of those who have been elected to represent the people of this country, yet it is perhaps permissible to make what casuists call a mental reserve on this subject. It would be interesting to place everyone who, whether in or outside Parliament, has expressed an opinion on this Bill in a political confessional, and invite him to state what lies in the inmost recesses of his heart. Under such a process some interesting confessions would, I make bold to say, be elicited, not only amongst the Members of the Opposition, but amongst the supporters of the present Government. It is not a very far-fetched conjecture to surmise that the predominating sentiment in the minds of many would be one of alarm at what they have done or contributed to do. However this may be, I am reluctantly obliged to admit that there are great objections to the adoption of the course which, as I have said, would, in my opinion, be most conducive to the highest interests of the nation.
My Lords, I will only conclude by saying that whatever may be the ultimate fate of this Bill, it will be some poor consolation to me, if it passes into law, that I have been able to raise a voice, however feeble, against a measure which I cannot but regard as rash in the highest degree, and opposed 1360 to those principles of sound finance on which the material prosperity of every civilised country should rest. When the burden of the fresh taxation which is inevitable begins to be felt, and when in times of national emergency all patriotic men cry out for these lost millions, lot it be known, at all events, on whom rests the true responsibility for the creation of so sombre a situation, and for the introduction of the financial revolution—for such it really is—which will be inaugurated by this Bill. That responsibility will not rest with your Lordships' House, but with the House of Commons, and I think that any impartial man must add that it must be shared, though perhaps not in equal degree, by the two great political parties represented in that House.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
My Lords, I do not propose to detain your Lordships very long, but the matter is one which touches so very materially the common interests of the people of this country that I feel it would be wrong if the occasion passed without a few words from those who sit on this bench. It is true that the question before us is in a largo measure an economic one, and on that side of the subject I have no qualification for addressing your Lordships, and I should be the less inclined to do so after listening to one so expert in this subject as the noble Earl who has just sat down But the question is one which may almost be called a moral one, cutting right down, as it does, into the ordinary life and responsibilities of the homes of this country, and those who specially represent the Church and moral interests in this House have a duty laid upon them to say something.
This question seems to bear directly upon the whole fabric of our social and domestic life. It is interesting to notice how many of the investigators of our social problems in recent years have found themselves thrown back upon this question as lying behind and dominating a very large number of other kindred problems. The question of our prosperity and social progress has been found to be closely concerned with the question of how we were dealing with our aged poor.
There is one whose name has, I think, had but scant justice done to 1361 it in the course of the debates on this Bill—I refer to Mr. Charles Booth. Beyond all question Mr. Charles Booth stands at the head of those who have investigated problems of this kind, and foremost of all at the head of those who have investigated this particular question. Some fifteen years have passed since Mr. Charles Booth published his great work— I can call it nothing less—upon the "Condition of the Aged Poor." The 500 pages or so of that book contain so many facts and figures marshalled in a manner so intelligible and, of course, so readable that no book of the same dimensions written upon any subject is comparable to it. Now everybody is tired of having the matter discussed, and considers the time has arrived for doing something. Each party in the State is practically pledged to do something in this matter, and I for one am glad we have come to the point of practical action.
I should like, however, to say just one word of caution about the simple, easy figures which are constantly being quoted in connection with this question in its general aspect. It is a commonplace in almost every speech introducing this subject that of the whole population over seventy years of age there are now more than 30 per cent. in receipt of poor relief. It is sometimes more sensationally expressed by saying that there are more than 30 per cent. of the aged who have nothing but the workhouse as a refuge in their declining years. That statement requires to be received with a little care and thought. There are a large number of our aged poor who after threescore years of honest work find themselves faced by no other prospect save one which is alike depressing to them and, I venture to think, discreditable to our social system. The noble Viscount who introduced the measure to-night dwelt upon that subject, and I agree with every word he said upon that branch of the question. All candid observers admit that where outdoor relief is now being given to the aged poor it is far too often miserably and utterly inadequate to meet the needs of the case, and boards of guardians have been increasingly tempted to fall back upon, and to trust to, what is known as "undiscovered sources of income." This is very often not forthcoming, and there 1362 is consequent distress. When we use the expression that there is no refuge for aged persons except the workhouse, it is, I think, in many cases a misleading phrase, and it would be a very great mistake if we were to accept it in its darkest significance.
Reference has been made by the noble Viscount to the action taken in 1899, to the circular then issued by Mr. Chaplin, and the recommendations it contained for special provision for the aged poor. When we hoar the phrase that 30 per cent. of the aged poor have no refuge but the workhouse, it is but fair to remember that many boards of guardians have dealt with this subject in a manner which makes their action no small step. In the Poor Law Union of Bradford there are homes for the aged poor on lines which I believe bring the cost out at 14s. 6d. per head per week. Again, within a few miles of your Lordships' House, there is at Lewisham a board of guardians which is making provision for their aged and deserving poor at a cost of 19s. 6d. per head per week. Those facts have to be taken into account, because we have been asked what will be the action of these boards of guardians when this Bill becomes law. One wonders what will these aged poor do, who are now the recipients of that kind of aid, if we ask them to accept as an alternative a pension on the scale under this Bill.
But the points I wish specially to make are three. The first is that the community has now accepted responsibility for these old people, and we must discharge it. The second is that the cost of this Bill must inevitably be very great, both in its direct incidence and also as regards that which it will ultimately involve. My third point is that, as we have been reminded that what we are doing now is only an experimental stage, we are entitled to watch very carefully to see how far it escapes certain perils. First of all the community as a whole has, it seems to me, by the decision of the House of Commons on this Bill, frankly accepted responsibility for dealing as a nation with the aged poor who are in destitution. I am glad that we have the Bill, and that we have reached the particular stage before us. Whatever be said for or against, it does distinctly accept 1363 on behalf of the nation a responsibility which we are now to endeavour in some mode or other to discharge.
My Lords, of course we have always accepted to some extent the responsibility for all our feeblest and most, helpless people—the very young, or the very sick, or the very old, we have all along said we must do something for them. As regards the very young I do not think I need remind your Lordships in this House, after some of the debates of the last two or three years, that we have not been backward in seeing that we have a considerable responsibility as regards their welfare. As regards the sick I think the country hardly realises how great are the changes, the reforms, which have taken place in the last few years, both as regards our workhouse infirmaries, and as regards infectious hospitals, und in a hundred other ways in which, out of public funds, money is now being expended for the benefit of those who are not always in the extremest possible need, but are practically in very real need, because of the sickness which has fallen upon them.
But as regards the old, although in abstract theory we have been constantly saying that we accept some responsibility, we have not hitherto got beyond the stage of talking about it. We have had all sorts of schemes devised whereby those who ought to be in some measure specially tended and looked after are to be secure of such attention and care as they are unable to provide for themselves, but for the most part we have not got beyond the stage of discussing and talking about it. We have devised schemes, but have not given effect to them, and that is especially hard on that branch, that division of the people for whom, in their helplessness, we want to care; especially hard for this reason. It is, we ought always to remember, the very things which have of recent years conduced to our commercial prosperity and to our industrial success which have rendered more difficult and more hard the position of the aged poor.
I do not know how many of your Lordships are familiar with a remarkable book written by Sir Frederick Eden more than a hundred years ago, upon "The State of the Poor." He says in 1364 that book that manufactures and commerce are the true parents of our national poverty. This is meant to be a paradox, and he proceeds to explain it, and the explanation which he finds so far as it was true then is a great deal more so in the facts of today. If we remember that our national prosperity, and the things which have contributed to it, press specially hardly upon the aged poor, it is. I venture to say, far more true that the modern conditions of industry do not favour the aged. Work is driven, driven faster and driven harder. It needs more nerve, and these changing methods, the constant changes on a big scale which very rapidly take place as to the manners for doing our work, do press specially hardly upon those who are too old to make new starts and new movements for themselves. Those very things, therefore, which have been the sources of our strength, of our progress and prosperity, have been pressing with exceeding hardness upon the aged poor.
It is even true, my Lords, of a great deal of our modern progressive legislation, which I have welcomed and for which I am exceedingly thankful. Take the Employers' Liability Act. I think there can be no question at all that within a few years it will be found that the ordinary working and incidences of that Act press with special hardness upon the aged poor and aged working men. For all those reasons it is indisputably the case that we are forced now in an exceptional degree to accept the responsibility which lies upon us for, as a nation, taking care of the aged poor throughout the land, both in town and in country. Anyhow, I do not think the fact of our responsibility and our acceptance of it, after what has passed in the House of Parliament which is specially responsible for dealing with our finance, can be any longer set aside. The time for acting has arrived. The Motion of the noble Earl who moved the Amendment tonight is plausible. I venture to think that perhaps in the force of his mature youth he is unable to recognise that a time ever does come when most people find that they cannot work as hard or do as much as in former years. That may be the explanation of the manner in which he has pressed upon us the Motion which he has brought forward. 1365 That is a plausible Motion at all events, but I regard as satisfactory the answer that was given to it by the noble Earl, Lord Cromer.
But there is one other point. Is it quite certain that the Royal Commission is going to deal completely with this? I am not in the secrets of the Royal Commission, but it consists of men about whom there is naturally a great deal of human nature. They are perfectly aware that Parliament has been dealing with this particular subject. Are we quite sure—I speak in absolute ignorance—that they, knowing that, are prepared to propound to us a cut-and-dried scheme which will relieve us of that responsibility? It may be so, but I at all events should like not to be too sure of it until I have seen their Report. Anyhow, I personally believe that the time for action in Parliament has come.
The second point that I want to make is that we must face the fact, whether we like it or not, that the cost of doing this thing is going to be very great indeed. So far as this is a Chancellor of the Exchequer question, I naturally leave it entirely alone. What it means in taxation belongs to another place. So far as this House is concerned, I believe that every Member of it is ready perfectly frankly to bear a considerable addition to his financial burdens for the public good, provided it is clear that the public good is going to be effected by a Bill like this, and all the more so because this House is often spoken of as thinking especially of our rural areas, and the questions of our countrysides. It is indisputably the case that the need is the greatest, and the demand in proportion will be largest for those who are the occupants of our rural areas. The population of England is increasingly urban, and in actual figures the larger number of those who will be beneficiaries under a scheme like this, probably belong to the urban areas. But if we take not positively, but relatively, the proportion, we find at once that the number of those who will be beneficiaries under this plan, is very much greater in our rural than in our urban areas. I have no figures as to the number over seventy, but I look to the figures we possess as to the relative position of those over sixty in our towns and rural areas. I find the figures 1366 to be these. In our urban areas there are sixty-five per 1,000 over sixty. In our semi-rural areas seventy-nine per 1,000. In our rural areas there are 111 per 1,000—that is, 111 as against 65. Putting that aside, we must face bravely the fact that the costliness, which I regard as altogether wholesome, will be great.
We hear it sometimes said that we need not be so very much frightened, because the £7,500,000, which we are told at present is the cost, will go in large measure to the relief of what is now expended under the Poor Law. But I imagine that it would be a very frail reed to rest upon to hope that a very large portion of that money will be found to be merely transferred by the authorities from one of those directions to another. This Bill, in my belief—and I want to face it fairly—is only the first step in a long and costly and toilsome road towards doing that to which we are setting our hands. But if the House of Commons, which specially represents in these kinds of matters the interests of the country, is, as now seems to be the case, bent on a non-contributory scheme, I go further and say it will not be long before we shall find that the limit of age will be a lower one than seventy. If you will examine the statistics which are put out by trade unions and by benefit and friendly societies, you will find they have found it necessary to begin pensioning men as incapable at a considerably earlier age than that. I think it is sixty-two or sixty-three at which they begin to feel such help is practically required. That is an object-lesson which it is impossible to ignore and put aside, and it is far better to face the matter now than to imagine that we are voting for something which is going to stop as it is, instead of, as I believe, something which will cost a great deal more than is supposed.
Then comes the whole question of our responsibility for the sick, the helpless, and the feeble. It will be absolutely out of our power if we once begin to regard as our duty the pensioning of the aged over seventy to avoid looking also for the aid which is to be given on what is technically called the invalidity claim. We have not very accurate figures about that in this country, but we have a very remarkable object lesson in that matter in 1367 the figures recently published in Germany. There we know that they began with the old-age pension and subsequently extended it to those who are incapable of work on the ground of sickness. Those figures show the rapidity with which the recipients of what they call infirmity pensions have advanced, as contrasted with the recipients of the old-age pensions. In 1897, in Germany there were 161,000 people receiving infirmity pensions and 203,000 receiving old-age pensions. In 1907 the old-age pensions had fallen to 125,000, but the infirmity recipients had increased to more than 600,000. If anyone will work out those statistics in detail it will be seen how closely the old-age and infirmity pensions are involved with one another. The figures are very full of lessons, in one sense of warning, if you regard it as a warning, to ourselves as to what we are doing now.
If I have dwelt unduly upon the figures it is because it leads up to the last point I want to emphasise. This is in one sense an experimental measure. That is one of the grounds, I suppose, upon which we justify going forward while the report of the Royal Commission is still pending. Let us realise then that it is an experimental stage, and that what we are doing is to have for the present an experimental character. Watch it then most closely and observe what the effect is. If the cost, as I believe will be the case, turns out to be very large indeed, there are obviously two perils by which we are confronted, and it is our bounden duty to take careful hood now lest those perils slip into a disaster. The first will be this, that, if some people have their way, a great deal of the money for old-age pensions will be deducted from one of the other objects for which we are at present expending such large sums. Already we have seen signs, which I for one deprecate, of what I believe to be a most mistaken policy of economy in elementary education in some of our urban and rural areas. We are spending something like £28,000,000 a year upon education—£17,000,000 from the taxes, £10,000,000 from the rates, and £1,000,000 from sundry sources. Will there be an equal readiness to spend all that money if at the other extremity of the scale—the end of life instead of the beginning—we are being called upon to 1368 spend these huge sums? I hope we shall be able to do both, but it will need careful watching to see that the funds for other purposes are not drawn upon and diminished—both those which come from voluntary sources, and those which come in a compulsory way—by reason of the greater drain which is made upon us for meeting these old-age pensions.
Then we have lying immediately ahead of us the Report of the Poor Law Commission and the problem of the able bodied pauper. In whatever way we deal with that after the Royal Commission has reported, it must in some mode or other cost a great deal of money. Do not let us forget that these things are coming upon us at the same time as this other call, and, if we are to make old-age pensions not harmful, but helpful, we must see that the funds are not really being deducted from other funds for matters where our need is greater. We have in England a gigantic network of friendly societies organised either as trade unions or as sick clubs, or as great friendly societies, such as the Manchester Unity, the Foresters, and the rest, and the great co-operative societies. All those great agencies for good, which have a double side, blessing the men who are contributing as well as the men who are getting the advantage, will be placed in a position of increased difficulty when this Bill becomes law.
We have to beware during the experimental stage lest the kind of elements in the national character, which should find expression in those great societies, should be in any way harmed by the acceptance by the State of a responsibility which has not hitherto been laid upon its shoulders. It would be a disastrous thing if men who made provision against sickness, difficulty, and old-age—and made it on the basis of robust self-help, sometimes of self-sacrifice—should be daunted by this Bill in the endeavour which they have hitherto made. It would be a disastrous thing if we undermined that kind of work, either as regards its thrift and insurance side or as being a school of citizenship for our local government. If we did produce that result, it would be disastrous to the morale and fibre of the manhood upon which we rely. Therefore it is our duty during the experimental stage to watch with the 1369 utmost care the manner in which this Bill affects these various interests to which I have referred. I do not for a moment believe that it will affect them so disastrously as to make it undesirable that we should now go forward, but I think the matter needs observation and caution in a high degree. I want this Bill to pass, and if the nation will closely watch the course of its experimental stage, and will profit by whatever lessons emerge in the light of experience in our own and other countries which are making this experiment, I believe the result of this lesson will be such as to conduce in a high degree to the common good of the English people.
§ *VISCOUNT ST. ALDWYN
That such a Bill as this should be called an Old-Age Pensions Bill is in itself a proof of the remarkable change which has taken place in the opinion of the country during a time within the recollection of most of us, on the subject to which it relates. Formerly, when we spoke of pensions we merely thought of an annual allowance given by an employer, whether the State, a corporation, or an individual, to someone who had worked for that employer, and had arrived at old age or been smitten with infirmity, an allowance given purely on account of services rendered to that employer. Pensions of that sort were given us a matter of right. They were given practically as deferred pay. They were invariably given in return for services rendered definitely to the individual or body that gave them. I can remember myself when advanced politicians of that day, being also stern individualists and keen economists, objected even to that class of pension, mainly, I think, on the ground of some kind of prejudice from past days in which pensions had led to gross abuses. Now, advanced politicians take quite another view of what the word pension means. The interpretation placed upon that word by one of those Gentlemen in another place is that the veterans of industry have a right to a reward from the State. Who are the veterans of industry? Are they soldiers or sailors or Civil servants who have directly served the State? Not at all. Is it proposed by such persons as those to whom I referred that they should even be proved to be veterans of any kind of industry? No. The idea is that it is invidious 1370 to make any inquiry as to how a man has worked; whether he has worked at all or what work he has done. He is to have a right to a pension whatever his character, whatever his means, simply because he has performed what hitherto has been considered to be the ordinary duty of any citizen, namely, that not being possessed of sufficient private means for his own maintenance he has condescended to work for the benefit of his family and himself. That is the interpretation of the word pensions by the school of politicians to which I have referred. I am, at any rate, thankful that His Majesty's Government have not embodied that interpretation in the Bill now before your Lordships, and I hope it will never be accepted by this country. The Bill now before your Lordships was accurately described by the noble Lord, Lord Wemyss, as a Bill for extending out relief, which now can only be legally given to the destitute, to the comparatively poor, and the sole difference is that this now form of out-relief is to be administered not by the guardians but by the pension committee, and is to be paid not from the rates but from the Exchequer. These proposals are accompanied by what His Majesty's Government, I have no doubt, honestly intend to be safeguards, so as to secure that the undeserving shall not obtain the benefit of this new form of relief but shall be dealt with as now by the ordinary Poor Law. I propose to inquire how far those safeguards wilt effect their object.
But before doing so I wish to admit, so far as I am myself concerned, that in my belief it was necessary for any Government to endeavour to deal with the subject which is dealt with in this Bill. There has been a growing feeling in this country for a good many years past that the system of our Poor Law was harsh to deserving persons who had led industrious and creditable lives in the sight of all their neighbours, and who, arriving at an age which precluded them from working, are treated, so far as the law is concerned on the same footing as the idle and the dissolute. In the administration of the law, as the most reverend Primate has already said, I believe a real difference has been made, and the cases in which such persons as those to whom I have alluded have been left to the tender mercies of the workhouse would be found on inquiry to be 1371 very, few indeed. They have received, as a rule, out-relief, but that out-relief has been as the most reverend Primate has said of a comparatively small amount, and so far, I am glad that this Bill should increase the amount which is given to persons of that class. Some stern economists may say that the whole thing is wrong; that such persons when they are young and healthy should make provision as may enable them to have something to live upon when they are old, and that even agricultural labourers who, as we all know, are poorly paid, are able to make such provision. My Lords, I quite admit that it is possible for persons in that position to make such provision, because many of them have done so, but to do this, especially in the case of a labourer who, say, between the ages of twenty five and thirty-five has to face the charge of a large and young family, certainly involves an amount of self-denial, determination, and thrift which, I am afraid, very few of us would possess if we were placed in similar circumstances. Therefore I feel that there is real ground for the proposition that the State should intervene, at any rate to some extent, in helping such provision to be made.
The first idea that became crystallised on this subject was the idea of contributory pensions. When Lord Salisbury's Government came into office in the year 1895 many schemes had been suggested for proposals of that kind, and it was my duty, as then holding the office of Chancellor of the Exchequer, to obtain the assent my colleagues to the appointment of a Committee, not of politicians, but of financial and other experts, ably presided over by Lord Rothschild, with the following reference. They were to consider the schemes which had been suggested for encouraging the industrial population, either by State aid or otherwise, to make provision for old ago, with special reference to the effect of any such schemes on our friendly societies and on the encouragement of thrift among the poor. The reason in favour of contributory pensions in the abstract is a very strong one, because by that means you could automatically discriminate between those who were entitled to a pension and those who were not, which is a very 1372 difficult task if attempted in any other way; and secondly, you would lay down the principle, which surely is a right one, that it is the duty of everyone, so far as he can, to make provision for sickness or old age. That Committee inquired into all those schemes. They also inquired into a scheme prepared by Sir Spencer Walpole, one of their own number, but they were almost unanimous in their Report that none of those contributory schemes could properly be adopted, They gave strong arguments for that opinion. I will not delay the House by quoting those argument, yet I will say this, that at the time when I considered the Report I was convinced that contributory pensions could never be regarded as a complete settlement of this question in this country. I hold that opinion still, and I think that the noble Viscount was right when he said that most of those who, in past years, examined carefully this subject came to the same conclusion. Other Committees followed. One in the following year suggested new proposals which would have involved so enormous a charge upon the Exchequer that certainly I always felt, that as Chancellor of the Exchequer, I never could have advised my colleagues to accept any scheme of that kind. Then the South African War broke out and the whole consideration of the matter had to be deferred, and I venture to say that there never was a time either in the remaining years of the late Lord Salisbury's Government or during the Government presided over by Mr. Balfour when this important matter could practically have been dealt with by the Government of the day.
Now, in their third year of office, His Majesty's present Government have brought this measure before Parliament. I was very much interested by what the noble Viscount so truly and so generously said with regard to Mr. Chamberlain's part in this matter. It has been a commonplace of speakers in the House of Commons and in the country belonging to the party which support His Majesty's Government to refer to Mr. Chamberlain's connection with old-age pensions as a mere bogus connection, and to accuse him of having made promises which he never intended to perform, and of having taken up the subject merely on 1373 political grounds. Nothing is more untrue. To no man is the credit more due, if any satisfactory solution of this question is arrived at by any party, than to Mr. Chamberlain. The noble Viscount referred to Mr. Chamberlain almost as the author of the Bill now before your Lordships, for he based its provisions on Mr. Chamberlain's opinion that contributory pensions in this country were impracticable. But he did not go quite far enough. Mr. Chamberlain, though believing that contributory pensions were impracticable, laid the very greatest stress upon the necessity of proof of real thrift on the part of those who would receive old-age pensions. I wish I could say that I find satisfactory provisions on that subject in this Bill. My Lords, what are its provisions? Let me take first the conditions which are to be fulfilled before pensions can be granted. The claimant must prove that he is seventy years old. I hoped that in his speech the noble Viscount would explain how that proof was to be given. Is it to be a more statement by the claimant that he is seventy years of age? Why, if that was all I think that a very large part of the poor population of the United Kingdom, certainly of Ireland, would be found to be seventy years of ago on the 1st January next. Is it to be required that the claimant shall product a certificate of birth? I am afraid that there are many persons even in Great Britain who do not quite know where they were born, or perhaps have forgotten it and could not find such a certificate on any consideration, and in Ireland, as we know, the complete institution of a system of registration of births is of much later date than seventy years ago. I think we are entitled to some information as to how the proof of seventy years of age is to be afforded. Then, again, the claimant has to say that he is a British subject, and has resided for the last twenty years within the United Kingdom. What does residence mean? Does it mean that soldiers and sailors or those in the mercantile marine and other persons who have been compelled by their duties to leave the United Kingdom for a certain time during that twenty years shall be excluded from those old-age pensions? Does it mean that a man, say, of fifty-one who perhaps, as a domestic servant goes with his master to Paris for a week is to be 1374 excluded on that ground from an old-age pension? I am quite aware that these things are to be dealt with by regulations, but we have heard from the noble Viscount that so far from this being a measure prepared in haste the whole Cabinet has had it under consideration for twelve months, and therefore we have a right, I think, to suppose that these difficulties of practical working have been thought over, and that they could acquaint us if they chose with the solution at which they have arrived. Some of these points were raised in the House of Commons, but others could not be raised at all owing to the suppression of free debate, and to none of them were satisfactory answers given.
Then there is the third provision that a man must show that he has not more than £31 10s. a year. You might conceivably arrive at the means of a poor man who was the inhabitant of a country village by inquiring of his employer what wages were given him, but the poor are very naturally reticent as to any private means that they possess, and certainly with regard to the town population, possibly even with regard to the country population anybody would have the greatest difficulty in finding out whether a claimant had more than the limit provided in the Bill. And let me just mention, in passing, one point that has a real importance in connection with the schedule of this Bill. The schedule provides that if a man has 8s. a week he is to get 5s. a week pension, and if he has more, so much less, until the pension is reduced to 1s. a week. What does that mean? Supposing a man and wife who are claimants for a pension under this Bill each have £1,200 in Consols. They would each be entitled to a pension of 1s. a week. Is not that absurd? Is not that practically almost a swindle on the taxpayer, and is it not an endowment by the taxpayers not of those old people who are claimants for pensions, but of the relations to whom this capital might be left by the pensioners? Take the case of a person who has no property but is in receipt of weekly wages. Supposing, for instance, an old man just seventy, is receiving 13s. a week, and his employer is doubtful whether the man does work enough for him to be able to continue his services at 1375 that rate of pay. What will happen? The employer and the workman will put their heads together, and the employer will say, "I will give you 8s. a week if you will get a pension of 5s." Is not that a revival of that vicious system of relief in aid of wages which was one of the worst evils of the old Poor Law? What I fear is that you will be liable to that kind of thing all over the country, and I defy you to check it under the provisions of this Bill. I turn to what is a more important matter. I have referred to the conditions which have to be fulfilled before the pension can be awarded Let me turn to the disqualifications for a pension. I should have thought that a person claiming a pension would have to show at any rate that he was qualified for it by past industry, and that the onus of proof on such a point as that would rest upon the person applying for a pension. By the provisions of this Bill the onus of proof with regard to disqualifications rests on the pension authority. The pension authority, unless they can prove that a man has been in receipt of poor relief, or has been idle or in prison or in a lunatic asylum or is a confirmed drunkard, are bound to give that man a pension. There is no real proof of past industry whatever required in these qualifications, except that for twenty years before the pension becomes due a man has subscribed to a friendly society or a trade union. Take the disqualifications of pauperism or idleness. In a country village where everybody knows one another I have no doubt that the pension authority could obtain proof of such things; but when you deal with the fluctuating town population the greatest rogue in the world, a man who has been idle, who has been in prison or a confirmed drunkard, by simply changing his name and his residence will defeat all your inquiries and make it absolutely impossible to prove that he comes under any of the disqualifications of this Bill. This will not only lead to gross waste of public money, but to what is very much worse, to the inclusion in the list of pensioners of persons whom His Majesty's Government admits ought to be excluded from it. What I want to ask is how does His Majesty's Government anticipate that these inquiries shall have any effective result, and 1376 why have they put the onus of proof upon the pension authority rather than upon the individual?
My Lords, those are the main safeguards of the Bill. But I do not say that there is no good in it. I admit, as I think the most rev. Primate said, that it will be a great boon to many poor and deserving persons that they should receive pensions under the Bill I admit that there is a very strong feeling in the country in favour of legislation of this kind, and, as I have said, I do not myself see how it is possible to settle the question by a contributory scheme. Therefore, I am not prepared with any alternative measure, but I must say one word upon a matter to which the noble Earl, Lord Cromer, has already referred with great force, the financial aspect of this Bill. I say nothing about the present year. There is money enough for the present financial year, but even with regard to this year there is one point as to administration which ought not to be forgotten. What is the great safeguard in the administration of out-relief under the Poor Law? Surely it is that boards of guardians know very well that if they grant out-relief to an applicant that out-relief comes directly out of the pockets of those whom they represent and perhaps very largely out of their own pockets. That is the safeguard for economical administration in the matter of out-relief under our Poor Law. Is there any such safeguard under this Bill? Well, there is the pension officer. The pension officer is the watchdog of the Treasury. I do not doubt he will do his best, as watchdogs of the Treasury always do, but the pension officer is subordinate to the pension committee. Who are the pension committees? The pension committees throughout the country will be persons who will almost invariably hold the opinion that if they can remove a burden from the rates and put it on the Exchequer it will be a very good thing to do. The inducement offered them is not to economise on administration of these old-age pensions, but to grant pensions freely in order that the applicant may not become chargeable to local rates. I hope they will be superior to the temptation, but human nature being what it is I am afraid that the future is rather dark even in that matter.
1377 But, my Lords, when I come to the future possibilities of legislation it is a much more serious affair. During the progress of this Bill in another place Members belonging to both political Parties vied with one another in attempting to extend it, and His Majesty's Government in meeting those proposals had not the courage to say that they were wrong but merely resisted them because at the moment they had not sufficient money to meet the demands. I fear that this Bill may be only the first letting out of the waters, and no one can tell how high the flood may rise. It is said that this is an experiment. I hope that means that it is not merely an experiment in the way of spending money, but that it is an experiment in the value of the checks devised to secure economical administration, and that His Majesty's Government are perfectly resolved that if any defects are proved they will be remedied.
What about the finance of 1909 in regard to this Bill? The noble Viscount said that this was an absurd inquiry. I quite admit that no Chancellor of the Exchequer will tell you anything about his intentions for the next year. I certainly would not have done it myself, but I never asked Parliament to pass a Bill which imposed burdens of this kind on future years and left them to be paid for in a way which was entirely unexplained. We have had some hints as to how the expenditure under this Bill is to be met. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has hinted at robbing hen roosts. He has hinted at processes of levying money from wealthy persons somewhat akin to those so-called benevolencies of the Middle Ages which, I believe, were often extorted by the extraction of teeth. But the Prime Minister has distinctly suggested what the noble Lord on the cross benches described as a raid on the Sinking Fund. For the past three years, thanks to a shilling income-tax, the Prime Minister has been able to plume himself on a very large reduction of the National Debt. Now it appears to be intended as far as we can judge from what the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said that the 1s. income-tax is to be continued ad infinitum in order to provide for old-age pensions. But, my Lords, I should like to call the attention of His Majesty's Government 1378 to certain important words which fell from the Prime Minister in his Budget speech in the House of Commons in the year 1907. He said—If we are to have social reform we must be ready to pay for it, and when I say we, I mean the whole nation,—the working and consuming classes as well as the wealthier classes of direct taxpayers.My Lords, so far that promise has been redeemed by the wanton repeal of £3,500,000 of the sugar duty, a tax specially bearing upon the consuming classes to whom the Prime Minister alluded, at the very moment when His Majesty's Government were imposing this new and great burden on the people in the name of social reform. I can only hope that next year those words which I have quoted may be remembered, and that if additional provision has to be made in the Budget for this burden it may be at least fairly divided between the different classes of the people.
The question of the moment is what course we are to take with regard to the Second Reading of this Bill. So far as my own personal feelings are concerned, I confess I very much sympathise with the Motion which has been made by the noble Lord, Lord Wemyss, though I am not sanguine that the Royal Commission on the Poor Law will report very soon, or that when they do report, their Report will be unanimous, and we all know that Reports from a divided Commission are not very easily carried out by any Government. But, my Lords, this does not seem to me to be a matter on which our personal feelings only can guide us. We have to think of the wishes of the country. I do not attach undue importance to what has been already more than once referred to, the almost unanimous acceptance by the House of Commons of the Third Reading of this measure. The House of Commons, even when nearly unanimous, may conceivably, though I think it is not likely, misrepresent the opinion of the country, and therefore even a vote of the kind in the House of Commons is no conclusive reason for any action on the part of your Lordships' House. But I firmly believe, that if it were possible under the forms of our constitution to 1379 refer the Bill now before your Lordships for the verdict of the constituencies, that verdict would be given by a decisive majority in its favour. I believe the Bill to be in accordance with the wishes of the country, whatever its faults may be. The responsibility for it rests with the body which is specially responsible for the finances of the country, the House of Commons, and, we who sit on this bench feel that in these circumstances it is impossible for us to support a Motion which would put an end to the further progress of the Bill.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
My Lords, I frankly confess that if I were to consult my own private inclination, I should certainly not break silence on this occasion. I think there is no part so odious or so invidious as seeming in any way to offer objections to a large scheme of universal, or almost universal, benevolence, or one that would probably entail a scheme of almost universal benevolence. Speaking from the bottom of my heart, I believe this is the most important Bill by a long way that has ever been submitted to the House of Lords during the forty years that I have sat in it. I view its consequences as so great, so mystic, so incalculable, so largely affecting the whole scope and fabric of our Empire itself, that I rank it as a measure far more vitally important than even the great Reform Bilk which have come before this House. I confess, to come at once to the Amendment of my noble friend, whom we heard with so much pleasure in such vigour at an age so greatly surpassing the ordinary span of man, that, if you take that Amendment in pure logic, it is extremely difficult to say anything against it. My noble friend says that you should wait for the Report of the Poor Law Commission before coming to a decision upon this Bill. His Majesty's Government have been a little unfortunate, owing to their enthusiasm for legislation, in more than once being unable to await pending inquiries before they proceeded to carry legislation into effect; and I do not know that on any occasion they have been so unfortunate as they have been with regard to this Bill. The most rev. Primate, indeed, 1380 said it was not necessary to wait for the Royal Commission, because who could know that the Report of the Commission would touch on this subject at all? I have a better opinion of the Royal Commission than is expressed by the most rev. Primate. I cannot believe that they would have so grossly ignored all their duty as to leave this subject untouched. But, even if they did fall so far short of our expectations, we have been told over and over again from both sides of the House, from both front benches of the House of Commons, that this question of pensions for the aged is only part of the great problem of the Poor Law, and, therefore, as it is so essential, so vital a part, I cannot conceive that we should be doing wrong, logically speaking, in waiting for the Report of the Commission on the whole. But when. I come to the practical bearings of my noble friend's Amendment I feel much greater doubts, and I must tell him at once that I shall not be able to accompany him and his teller into the lobby which they have projected for themselves. I cannot do so for very clear and obvious reasons. The first is that the Bi l is an almost purely financial measure, coming up from the House of Commons with the almost unanimous support of that House after a division which, I think, only mustered ten against it in its final stage, and which had no division against it at all on its Second Reading. [VISCOUNT ST. ALDWYN here I whispered to the noble Earl.] I am I wrong, but at any rate an almost equally insignificant division on the Second Reading.
A financial Bill coming up with this practical unanimity from the House of Commons it may be within your legal prerogative to reject, but I am quite sure it is equally impolitic for you to do so. More than this, it comes with the assent of both political parties. No one can forget—we have been more than once reminded of it to-night—that the question was started by Mr. Chamberlain somewhere about 1894 or 1895, and therefore if you sit on the cross benches and you are not pledged to either party in this matter, you must feel, quite impartially, that this proposal comes as a principle equal to both parties. 1381 It comes, moreover, on the responsibility of one of the strongest Governments of modern times. It comes, we are told, after very careful examination for twelve months. It comes, perhaps, after inadequate inquiry—I think it does—but it comes with the authority of the House of Commons, with the support as a principle of both parties, and it is a financial measure. Therefore, I think your Lordships, if I may say so with all submission, would be acting with great unwisdom if you were to vote for a Resolution, which though in words, would only be a postponement, would yet in affect be the rejection of the Bill, because I know perfectly well that my noble friends opposite would say that if that Resolution were passed they must decline to proceed with the measure. Therefore, I beg your Lordships—I do not think you need my entreaty, because you have come to the same conclusion already—most earnestly, whatever the logic of my noble friend's Amendment may be, not to support it by your votes in the division lobby.
Having said so much, and having expressed a somewhat reluctant support of or assent to the Bill, I hope the House will bear with me for a moment when I express, not hostility to the measure, but the deep, solemn disquietude which that measure and its inevitable consequences produce in me. I will not to-night say a word about its not being on a contributory basis. In the first place, both front benches are practically pledged, I think, by the speech of the noble Viscount behind me, as well as more strongly by the speech of Mr. Chamberlain in 1889, against the contributory basis. In the second place, even if they were not so pledged, it is too late. When you have offered a gratuitous been to the people, you cannot afterwards take it back and offer it with a new condition. Whether a contributory basis be right or wrong, I cannot for myself believe that what is practicable in Germany is impracticable in England. But, whatever the merits of a contributory basis may be, I do not think it enters into the region of practical politics at this moment. 1382 The day may come, when you find the heavy burden you have laid upon yourselves for this purpose, and the almost insupportable burdens that may follow from it, when, warned by the logic of experience and events, you may "desire to return to the contributory basis, but, in my judgment, that time is not yet, Nor will I dwell on the pauperising effects, which have been so frequently dealt with by so many speakers in the House of Commons. There was a time when, certainly in Scotland, and, in less degree, in England, the maintenance of the aged of the family was a privilege that poor families would not surrender to the public or to the State. That time is passed, and I think we may say that, under the provisions of this Bill, it is never likely to return. Some of us may turn, with a somewhat sentimental regret, to those days, and may think, with some regret, of the pauperising effect this Bill must inevitably have.
Again, I will not touch on the Socialistic effect of the Bill. It is, of course, Socialism pure and simple. Do not let us blind our eyes to that, even for a moment. Though I do not accept the rather cryptic utterance of a distinguished friend of mine, who has now passed away, that we are all Socialists now, I am disposed to think that we have advanced to that period of Socialism when some such measure as this is required, and that, though we may object to particular principles and to particular details, we cannot flinch from this Bill simply because it is Socialistic. But is it not an instance of what is going on daily and hourly in this country—the anxiety to lay every burden upon the State, to transfer every responsibility that can possibly be transferred from the individual to the State? I will refer to an instance that occurred only within the last few weeks. His Majesty's Government have set apart, a fund, I do not know of what amount, for the purpose of entertaining strangers at the expense of the State. So far as I know, it has only been drawn upon to the extent of a dinner being given by a Minister which otherwise he would probably have given at his own expense. But surely that is one small 1383 object-lesson of what is constantly going on—the principle that the individual is to do nothing that can by any possibility be shifted on to the shoulders of the State. I do not think this principle is at all likely to be remedied in the future by the operation of this Bill. The money for this Bill must come from some fund or another. There is no gold mine at the disposal of the State to find the money for the Bill. The surplus which will be taken from some people to pay for these pensions for some other people will be the surplus which would be given to charities, and that will probably eventuate in a movement which may not be so remote as some of us think—the handing over the charge of the hospitals to the State.
But of this I am quite certain, that it must deal a mortal blow to all private pension funds, such as those to which, my noble friend behind me only partially alluded. Every one of your Lordships and every estate owner in this country must have a private pension fund of his own. It very often takes the form of men who are quite unfitted to do a day's work being kept on at comparatively high wages, simply in the form of an old-age pension. What will happen to these men when the proprietor is taxed to pay universal pensions? Is it not extremely probable, I will not say certain, that the last state of those labourers, who exist, I venture to say, on every landed estate in the country, will be infinitely worse, by the operation of this Bill, than the first? What will become of the private pension funds of great firms? I see two heads of great firms, recent agreeable additions to this House, on the benches opposite. They probably have large private pension lists, pension funds used on a deliberate plan of their own. Will those funds go on under the operation of this Bill? Perhaps later on they may find an opportunity of telling us.
But, akin to this, there is another question. You have great friendly societies in this country. They have been the nurseries of thrift. They have stimulated thrift. They have stimulated self-respect. Has your plan the approval of the great friendly 1384 societies of the country? I understand that, by a very considerable majority, something like five to two, the friendly societies that have been consulted by the Government on this point are unfavourable to the Bill. Would it not have been better, would it not have been possible, by some association of the State with the work of the friendly societies, to have accomplished your object without the intolerable burden you are going to lay on the taxpayer in the future? I ask this question honestly and in no hostile spirit. I only wish that the Government should reassure us; but there are two more points upon which I must touch.
Your taxation for this purpose, if it does not inevitably lead to protection, will make a great many converts to protection. One great weekly journal has been fighting this Bill with all the courage of an intrepid editor on the ground that it must lead to protection. I myself do not go as far as that, but I am certain of this—that if you screw up direct taxation, as some of your Ministers say that they are going to do, you will make more converts to the doctrines of protection than all the speeches of my noble friends behind me, excellent as they are.
I must also express my deep regret that it has been found necessary to conduct the discussion on a Bill of such vital importance as this under the operation of what is called the guillotine. I am informed by those who have followed the progress of the Bill in the House of Commons that of the twelve clauses of which the Bill consists only four have been discussed at all. I feel that this fact does detract something from the authority with which it comes from a unanimous House of Commons to this House, simply from the feeling that it has practically received little or no adequate discussion at all. The only thing for which I do not regret the operation of the guillotine is this—that it seems to me that almost every day spent on it in Committee there was added a million to its cost.
I wish, however, to make an earnest appeal to the Government on one point, 1385 as to which I wish them to reassure me—I mean its effect on the Empire as a whole. I am beginning to think that this Empire, which has received so new an impulse of inspiration in the last twenty years may be at last destined to be wrecked by its finance. After all, the maintenance of an Empire depends to a large extent on the defence it can extend to all its different parts. But the point which I think must be seriously considered—and I hope it has been seriously considered by the Government—is how far an enterprise or experiment of this kind, whichever you like to call it, can be carried on without serious risk to what is the first task of every Government, of every country, and of every nation—namely, that of national defence.
In the old days which have, unfortunately, long ceased to exist, the days of Gladstone, inherited by tradition from Peel, the policy was to cut your coat according to your cloth when you were acting in behalf of the nation, and that you should not enter into any financial liability without reckoning how much it was to be and how you were to meet it. No one can say that His Majesty's Government have performed either of those functions on this occasion. We have not been given any but the vaguest indication as to what the cost will be, nor any indication—that, perhaps is more natural—as to how the cost is to be met. It is true that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, with a humour which would be more agreeable in another position, spoke of robbing hen-roosts and of an income-tax of 5s. in the £, which he seemed to look at with some avidity. But this can hardly be called an authoritative declaration on the part of the Government as to how the money is to be found.
Have you had any real inquiries as to what the cost is to be? It would not be difficult for the local authorities to arrive at some approximate idea of the number of people of the age of seventy who will receive this pension. Even though approximate it would have been some guidance to Parliament in the enormously important task you have invited it to undertake. Is the cost 1386 going to stop at £8,000,000 or even £10,000,000? Every one in this House and outside of it, who has given the slightest consideration to the subject, knows that there is no chance of stopping the cost at even £10,000,000 or £20,000,000 if it is pursued on the present lines. You have the Prime Minister telling us in the Budget that this was only a beginning, and you have some of his advanced followers telling you with greater frankness, because they have not the responsibility of office, that they mean to use this Bill as a lever to obtain any amount more. But the inevitable course of events, whatever they may say, either from the extreme left or right of the Government bench, is that the measure means an indefinite extension of this principle.
My Lords, we know by a prominent example that looms in our eyes what the pension list is in the custody of a democracy. We have the case of the United States, where the pension list, which I think every friend of the United States believes to be something of a gross scandal, has risen to nearly twenty-eight millions sterling a year—a pension list, too, which does not touch old-age except it is connected with the Army and the. Navy, a pension list, purely military in its operation, which, in the natural demand of the democracy that, when so much money is going, every man shall have his share, has swollen to that figure. What is the inevitable course of events in the party system of this country? Parliament, by the operation of its Septennial Act, will have a general election in due course. I do not wish to say anything which is not strictly courteous to either of the parties represented in this House; but do you mean to say that when the general election comes both parties, bidding for the favour of the democracy, will not emulously knock down every barrier that you have fixed to this pension, and raise every limit fixed by its operation? I said that there was the example of the United States; but the other day the Commonwealth of Australia, by an operation much more summary than our own, raised the old-age pension to 10s. and the age-limit was lowered to sixty-five, 1387 in a sitting which I do not think lasted twenty-four hours. Do you believe that in any general election in this country, when this principle is once introduced, both parties will not be naturally bidding for the favour of the democracy by lowering the age and raising the amount of the pension? It is calculated that this will probably amount to £28,000,000 or £30,000,000.
The most rev. Primate pointed out that there are many other objects for our care. I frankly admit myself that I do not regard the old person of seventy as the hardest case in our humanity. Take the case of the young widow with young babes left, by the sudden death of the breadwinner, without any means of support at all. Is not that a more painful case than that of the man or woman of seventy unable to lay by any of their earnings in a hard and long life? Take again the case of the blind, the people born blind, the people who have become blind. Is not that a case more painful than the old people of seventy? They are disabled by the act of God; they have never been on anything like an equality with the rest of the human race, as the old people of seventy have been. You cannot, when once the State undertakes the operation of charity, limit the sphere of your operations.
The most rev. Primate said it would cost us a great deal of money, and that it should be cheerfully borne. This reminds me of a story of James II.—it happens to be extremely pat—who asked two bishops whether their property did not belong to him. One bishop, prompt as a courtier, replied that it did. The other bishop, more cautious, said—I think you may take my brother's property, for he says that it belongs to you.I do not wish to labour the point, but I must put another aspect of the subject to the most rev. Primate in connection with the cost of the scheme which may touch him even more nearly. When this old-age pension movement first began there was a Conservative Old-Age Pension Association and a Liberal Old-Age Pension Association. The Liberal association was headed by my noble friend Lord Airedale, then Sir James 1388 Kitson, and his association said that there was no difficulty about the funds:You have only got to disestablish and disendow the Church of England.That observation may interest the most rev. Primate.
I do not wish to prolong this discussion; but I do wish that those who listen to me or who may read what we say to-night will bear in mind the enormous liability they are undertaking by this Bill. I myself see no limits to it. You have begun it, so far as I know, without waiting for inquiries, and there hah been very little inquiry of your own. Is your trade so swelling, is your revenue so swelling that you think this to be a ravourable moment to undertake this experiment? We have listened to a war Budget of £153,000,000; you have income-tax at 1s. in the £; I saw some rather gruesome figures this morning as to local debt and local taxation; to the £153,000,000 of Imperial taxation you have to add, for England and Wales alone, £114,000,000 of local taxation, and now at this moment you are going to take upon your shoulders a burden which is at present estimated at £10,000,000, but which, I venture to say, involves, with the greatest certainty in the world, a liability of £30,000,000.
The first responsibility of every country and every nation is national defence. I confess this prospect fills me with despair. I understand that the Government already acknowledge some liability in respect of an increase in the Navy for next year; and I strongly suspect that, in spite of the somewhat ambiguous proceedings of which we have read, they do not expect any material reduction in the Army. Surely the moment is ill-chosen for undertaking this vague experiment, so prodigal of expenditure, and I would ask the Government—I say it in no spirit of hostility, but in a spirit of earnest and deep anxiety—to meet some of the points raised in this debate, and to assure us that, in furthering and not opposing this been which they offer to the old of the United Kingdom, we are not dealing a blow at the Empire which may be almost mortal, and that we are not embarrassing and encumbering our 1389 finances to a degree of which no man now living, however young he may be, will see the limit or the end.
THE LORD BISHOP OF RIPON
I think those who listened to the debate this evening must have felt a sort of divided impression as to the general spirit which underlay the remarks and observations which were made on each side of the House. If I read aright what I may describe as the underlying spirit I should say that on one side there was an earnest, and shall I say almost a hearty, welcome given to the measure which is embodied in the Bill, but, at the same time, that there was an undercurrent also of grave apprehension, and if I interpret that spirit aright I should say that it expresses on the one hand the great and humane delight with, which all those who are interested in the welfare of the old and the poor looked at the measure which was designed for their benefit, but, on the other hand, that there was no person who looked forward to the various conditions which might arise in the financial, economic, and perhaps even political, conditions of the Empire who had not somewhat of a grave misgiving as to what the ultimate results would be, not of the immediate Bill, but of those consequential measures which might arise in the future.
Now I suppose if that rightly interprets the mind and the spirit of those who spoke to-night I am not wrong in claiming that the Members of this House do sincerely sympathise with the needs and the vicissitudes of the poor and the aged, and I should like it to be felt in the country that the Members of this House did give to the Bill in this respect a very joyous, hearty welcome, because they were sincerely interested in the welfare of the old and the poor. But may I say this, that when we are looking at this measure we are looking at a measure which is designed to deal with the need; of those who have reached the supreme age of three score years and ten, and I conclude that many of us feel that when we contemplate that portion of the population we are contemplating those who are entitled to the opportunity of a quiet and retired life. So far I would desire to say that I am 1390 perfectly in sympathy with that spirit which, I believe, prevails in the House.
For a long time we have looked forward to this measure, and speaking for myself I had always hoped that I might live to see the day when some scheme of old-age pensions should be initiated in this country, and to that degree I rejoice that the opportunity has been found, and I think it ought to be understood, after the debate which we have heard to-night, that this is a measure which carries with it the consent, the, ready consent of both sides of the House; in other words, that this is a national measure supported by a national spirit. But it would be a very unwise thing for us if we are to be simply content with saying to ourselves: "Here is a measure that we had hoped for, which will mitigate the lot of the poor and the old," and that we should stop at that point and not contemplate, as I feel sure every Member of this House has contemplated, the possibilities of the difficulties of the future. I do not wish for one moment to say any word which will take away from the earnest gladness with which, I feel, this measure has been brought forward, but still I do not think that any one of us should shrink from seeing that the future does require very careful consideration, lest in moving forward, we should take a step which may follow, but I do not think ought logically or necessarily to follow from the measure which has been introduced to-night.
This is the thought which, I am sure, has passed through many minds. Whenever a measure of this sort is brought in which deals with the interests of a large class of people, you may be perfectly sure that the tendency to increase and to develop that measure in other directions is almost irresistible. There is nothing which involves the expenditure of money which does not tend, from my experience, to enlarge before long. Commence, if you will, in allowing one single item of expenditure to grow in a certain direction and there will be every reason given you for that expenditure increasing in another. There is a natural but not a logical tendency, I say, to increase expenditure. Further, I desire 1391 to point out what, from my experience, is almost a necessary difficulty arising in the future. The difficulty and danger of dealing with those who are the working-classes of this country does not lie, I imagine, in the mere question of fixing an age-limit, but in the difficulty of ascertaining at what ages in various occupations the power of self-support ceases.
May I give you something of my experience in conversing with many of those who are interested in the manufactures of the north? Interested at the time in the proposal made for old-age pensions I had resort to those who were employers of labour, and the information I got was this. The age spoken of at that time was sixty-five, but as a matter of fact, no single man that I met could endorse the opinion that a pension beginning at the age of sixty-five would adequately deal with the needs of the great artisan population of the north. For instance, one man said to me that as a matter of fact in one occupation, in the making of what I may describe as the foundation of buttons, no man could earn his place in the shop after he was, say, fifty-five. He may earn good wages up to the time he was forty-five, but from that time his skill begins to decline, and by the time he reaches fifty-five, he is, from the employer's point of view, not worth his place. Now the moment you look at those conditions you see how the tendency to lower the age will commence. There will be circumstances, there will be cases, concerning which naturally, and perhaps rightly, appeals will be made, and therefore I am quite certain that when we contemplate this question of the old-age pensions fixed at seventy we must be prepared for movements which are likely to lower that age to sixty-five and to sixty, and even below that if possible.
Now, that being the case, I am quite certain I interpret rightly the feelings which underlay the expressions of many of those who took part in the debate to-night. It was the apprehension of the future. This experiment has been tried in New Zealand. What has been the result? It was started there, I believe, ten years ago. In the year 1392 1900 the expenditure in old-age pensions amounted to £157,000; in the year 1907 the expenditure had just doubled. It was £314,000. That was due not merely to the increase in the numbers, but it was due to the fact that in the course of those years the amount of the pension increased from £18 a year to £26. I only mention that as an illustration of the tendency of which I have spoken, the tendency to do better. What was said by Lord Rosebery is surely true. The danger of the strife of political parties to bid against each other for the votes of the people is, of course, one of those dangers which I trust all who take a genuine and high-minded interest in the welfare of this country will have in mind in order that they may avoid that temptation.
May I go a step further? It is not merely a question of either the amount of the pensions being increased or the age being lowered. There is another element, and it is to this that I would most earnestly direct the attention of this House. We are living in the presence of a great and grave national danger which I do not think has even yet been fully realised by the people of this country. We are living in the midst of a population which is not increasing as it was wont to do. The birth-rate, which was 36 per 1,000 about twenty-five or thirty years ago, has dropped to from 27 to 26 per 1,000. That means a considerable reduction, remember, in the increase of the rate of population. The effect of that is that if you were to take the population and throw them into groups you would find that the numbers of young had proportionately decreased to the total population. At the other end of the scale you have that very interesting and inspiring feature, the lengthening of life. Through all the circumstances and conditions of modern life the age of man has increased. Four or five years, I believe, has been added to the age of men through the changed conditions and agencies of modern life. But what then? The proportion of the old to the population is far greater than it used to be, and the important feature in the population of this country is that the young are 1393 fewer in proportion and the old are more numerous.
The number of those under fifteen has decreased within the last twenty or thirty years to such an extent that there are 1,200,000 children less than there were, in proportion to the population, but during the same period the numbers of the old have increased, and we have 500,000 people above sixty years of age more than we had in time past. I trust that the Members of this House are earnestly considering the significance of that. Is it true that we are slowly moving on to a period in which the old will be multiplied, and the young will be diminished? Is that a condition of things which we can contemplate with equanimity? My own feeling is that the dangerous decrease in the birth-rate and the increase in the length of life mean that you are face to face with this, that claims for your pensions will be continually increasing, and the number of the productive, workers, the power and energy of the country, will be sensibly diminished. That is my fear. I am not afraid of seven or eight or ten millions of money spent in benevolence in this way; the country in its wealth can well bear it; but when I ask myself whether the nation will always be able to bear it, when I ask myself whether this diminution in the birth-rate means the diminution of the worker, and of the earning power of the country, then I am bound to ask myself whether it is wise for us not to watch carefully lest the scheme which is begun with the best intentions in the world should afterwards be developed in such a shape as might indeed threaten and menace the financial integrity and power of the country.
I have only one other word to add. My Lords, there is something in nations which is of more importance to them than mere financial prosperity. The accumulation of the power of wealth which enables nations to raise a considerable revenue through taxation, gives the stamp, as it were, of prosperity, but the best asset of a nation is a manly, vigorous, and numerous race, and the best asset of the race is that the character of its men and women shall never be impaired. A Frenchman once wrote a book con- 1394 cerning what he called the superiority the Anglo-Saxon race, and in the course of that book he pointed out what he believed to be the one essential factor which contributed to that superiority He said that in all the history of English life one spirit had prevailed, and that was the spirit of self-reliance. He turned to his countrymen and said "The danger which we are in to-day is that we are not rearing our population to self-reliant habits." He drew the picture of the little farmer in Normandy who would stint himself and live in an unclean and even unwholesome dwelling in order that he might leave a sufficient sum to his children. He pointed then to the English farmer who, he said, so far from crippling himself in order that his sons may be well started in the world, takes the strong and independent line and says, "I made my way in the world and I expect my sons to do the same." "In other words," said the French writer, "the race across the Channel has educated its children in the habits of self-reliance, and to this habit is largely due the superiority and the strength of that race."
Now I cannot help asking myself, and I feel sure that is the thought which has been passing through many minds tonight, whether we are not in danger, not now, not to-day, but in the future, of dealing with this question of financial support in such a way that we undermine that spirit of self-reliance out of which the strength and the power of the British race has largely grown. That seems to me to be by far the most important question involved. It is character which makes, as it were, for the generous strength of a race, and it is character alone which can give them the security for true and abiding riches. Therefore it is that I cannot help asking myself whether there may not be a danger of its being weakened in the future.
I speak not of those of seventy years of age who are to receive the benefit of this measure. Their characters are formed, their conditions are settled. We are going forward to-night and saying: "Let us help them, let us give to them something which will ease their later years, and if a few have not deserved, well, we will at any rate with large 1395 heartedness, forget those who were weak and deal largely and generously with this matter before us, for all these men or women of seventy naturally appeal to the pity and sympathy of our hearts." But when I look beyond and ask whether it is conceivable that we may begin so to hold out the thought that men may be able to receive from the State that which in olden days they won by their own strong labours, self-denial, and thrift, then I am apprehensive lest we should, in attempting to do a good, do a great and grievous wrong, robbing ourselves and our children of that which is the best inheritance, the inheritance of a sturdy, strong, self-reliant manhood, that will take upon itself the responsibilities of life and be equal, therefore, to the responsibilities of Empire. I think none of us can shut our eyes to the fact that there are among us people who are very ready to shirk responsibility, and I, for one, would feel that the whole system and condition of English life had lost its meaning and value if once we should act in such a fashion as to remove responsibility, and the sense of responsibility, from the people of this country. We are in this world for responsibility; through responsibility we grow and rise to the height of character which Divine providence intended us to reach. Let us not, by any action of ours, weaken that which is the best thing we can preserve, the character of the population, for out of that, and out of that alone, will spring the strength and the stability of the nation.
*THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (The Marquess of RIPON)
My Lords, I do not rise to offer any observations on the eloquent speech of the right rev. Prelate. I understand him to be in favour of the Bill, and that he thinks the general policy of the measure is a sound and wise one. He has pointed out some difficulties in the present position of the country which I know, from his previous speeches, press hardly upon him, but with them I need not deal on the present occasion.
I come at once to the speech of my noble friend, who I do not see in his place at this moment, Lord Rosebery. My noble friend, as he always does, made 1396 a very forcible and eloquent speech against the whole principles and objects of this Bill, and, carried away with the stream of his eloquence, he ended by tolling us that the passing of this measure would, be held, lead to the ruin of the Empire. I think my noble friend went somewhat beyond the possibilities of the case when he made that lugubrious statement. At all events,. I cannot but feel that the course which my noble friend intends, as I understand him, to take in respect to this Bill to-night, is not the course which ought to be taken by the man who made that speech. I quite agree with my noble friend, Lord Rosebery, and with the noble Viscount opposite, Lord St. Aldwyn, if I understood the advice I which he tendered to the House, that it would be in the highest degree inadvisable that your Lordships should, by passing the Amendment moved by my noble friend, Lord Wemyss, practically destroy this Bill. I myself feel that no course could well be more inadvisable for your Lordships to take than that.
The Bill comes up to this House with practically the unanimous support of the House of Commons. It is really part of the Budget of the year, and, if you reject this Bill, you will leave the Finance Bill when it comes before you in a very singular position. Looking to all that has passed upon the question, looking to the fact that both parties in the State agree that it is necessary and right to take a decided, clear, and distinct step in the direction of old-age pensions, I cannot but think that to reject this Bill would be contrary to what I have often heard my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition, describe as the proper course to be followed by this House in respect to measures which come up from the House of Commons. I cannot conceive a measure, looking at its purpose and its circumstances, which it would be less desirable and less justifiable that your Lordships should reject. I do not expect that that will be the case.
I must say that I look to the Amendment of my noble friend, Lord Wemyss, as undoubtedly equivalent to the rejection of this Bill. My noble friend does not conceal the fact that he dislikes the measure and the principle on which it is founded, but he has availed himself 1397 of the opportunity of asking your Lordships to postpone the Bill upon the plausible ground that a Commission is sitting to consider questions connected with the Poor Law, which in its Report will probably deal with matters cognate to the object of this Bill. The most rev. Primate told us in the earlier part of the evening that he was not sure whether that Commission would touch; upon the question of old-age pensions at all. Upon that point I agree with my noble friend Lord Rosebery. I think it highly unlikely that, after all that has passed and is passing on this question, the Commission will pass over this great subject of old-age pensions and say nothing about it. But I do agree with the most rev. Primate that we do not know when that Commission may report. We hope that it may report before the end of the year, but we do not know.
The Commission are engaged in a very difficult, and very extensive, and very complicated inquiry. I should be the last man to complain that they have devoted too much time to that inquiry, or press them to give us their conclusions before they have fully considered the case and come to deliberate decisions. But after all that has taken place in regard to this question, after both parties in this country have agreed that the time has come when we must take a great step in the direction of making some adequate provision for the old age of the poor of this land, I cannot think that the fact that we have not got the Report of this last of the many Commissions that have been looking into the subject is a reason for postponing to an uncertain date dealing with this question. The adoption of the Amendment of my noble friend Lord Wemyss means the rejection of the Bill. That may not be intended, though I do not think my noble friend would shed many tears if that were to be the result of his efforts to-night. But I do say that I think it would be a very grievous misfortune, both for the country and for the true interests of your Lordships' House, if you were to avail yourselves of a sort of side wind set blowing by my noble friend for the purpose practically of rejecting this Bill.
But there is one man in this House who ought to vote, if I may be pardoned for saying so, against the Second Reading of the Bill. That is my noble friend on 1398 the cross benches. He told us that the system that would be established by the Bill would probably lead to the ruin of the Empire. If he really thinks that, if that is his deliberate opinion, grievous as would be in all respects, in my opinion, the rejection of this measure by your Lordships, he should vote for the Amendment. I am bound to say—my noble friend, I hope, will pardon me—that if I entertained the views to which he gave expression to-night I should feel myself compelled to vote for anything which would put an end to a danger so tremendous as that which filled the imagination and stirred the eloquence of my noble friend.
The noble Earl in one part of his speech touched upon a very important question—namely, the views entertained by the friendly societies of the country and the effect which the Bill would have upon their interests. He told us that the majority of those societies were opposed to the Bill. I believe that is a perfectly correct statement, but that is the majority of the individual societies. I believe, on the other hand, that the large majority of the total members of those societies are favourable to the Bill. I cannot doubt it. If you look at what passed in the House of Commons you will see that those who are specially the representatives of the friendly societies are amongst the keenest supporters of the Bill. Many of them do not think that it goes for enough. Many of them would like to see it extended and altered in various ways, but they were all included in the overwhelming majority that passed the Third Reading of the Bill. I observe that the noble Viscount opposite, Lord St. Aldwyn, most justly included among the number of friendly societies the trade unions. There cannot be any doubt, if you look at the votes in the House of Commons, that the special representatives of trade unions are altogether in favour of the Bill. Therefore, I do not think it is accurate to say that the Bill is in any way regarded with dissatisfaction by the large majority of members of trade unions. I believe, on the contrary, that it has received, and that it will continue to receive, their cordial support.
The noble Viscount opposite raised certain questions as to the provisions of this Bill in various respects. I quite admit that the clauses of the Bill relating 1399 to the points upon which he touched are very general in their language, but I think the noble Viscount did not give sufficient attention to the fact that it is intended under the Bill—it is the declared intention—that the Local Government Board should issue regulations for extending and explaining more fully the intention of those clauses. These regulations, when they are issued, will be open to the criticism of your Lordships' House and of the other House of Parliament, and if they are inadequate, if they are still obscure, if they do not express sufficiently definitely and clearly the meaning of the provisions, then, I venture to say, will be the time for calling in question the nature of the regulations and requiring their future amendment. I can assure your Lordships, so far as I know, that it is the intention to make those regulations full and satisfactory, and that it is the desire of the Government that they should explain clearly and unmistakedly the full meaning of the clauses to which the noble Viscount alluded.
The noble Viscount—and as I am referring to him so often, perhaps I may be allowed to thank him for the tone and the manner of his speech, and for the character of the criticisms in which he indulged; he treated the Bill and its authors with perfect fairness, and I have nothing but thanks to offer him for his speech—the noble Viscount made some observations with respect to the position of the pension officer, and spoke of the extreme difficulty which the pension committee would experience in deciding on the various questions relating to disqualification. It will be the duty of the pension officer to act, if I may be pardoned for using the expression, as a sort of advocatus diaboli in these cases. It will be his business to discover all the imperfections which he can find in the claim of any person to a pension, and I think that in most districts of the country it will not be beyond the powers of a competent officer, with all the means he will have at his disposal, to discharge that duty, and to place the pension committee in the full possession of all the circumstances of the case.
The committee will then have to consider whether those claimants are, or are not, qualified under the Act and the 1400 regulations which are to be made, and although I daresay mistakes will be made, and that the pensions committees, like many other public bodies, will be subject to error in this matter, yet I believe that generally, with their local knowledge, they will have the means of arriving at a tolerably fair decision in respect of these cases. I should not be surprised if sometimes they were thought to be unduly particular in regard to the questions brought before them. But, if they fail, there is an appeal to the Local Government Board, and I think that in that way we have sufficiently provided for the protection of the public purse, and against pensions being given to persons who are unworthy to receive them. I am far from saying there will be no errors—individual errors, errors of committees, errors of various bodies, particularly at first; but I think when you get the scheme in operation there will not be any great reason to suppose that the persons concerned will not deal adequately with the questions submitted to them.
It has been said over and over again, in the course of this discussion to-night, that this question is largely experimental. The noble Viscount opposite said he hoped—he is a supporter of the principle, as I understand, of old-age pensions—that when reference was made to the experimental character of the measure, it did not mean that the principle, of old-age pensions was to be experimental. This is the true interpretation of our intention. We do not mean the principle to be experimental. We could not make it experimental if we tried. Pass this Bill, and you have established, in one form or another, old-age pensions. But what is experimental, and what must be experimental for a time, and what it would be very unwise and injudicious for any Government not to treat as an experiment, is the mode in which this novel system is to be administered. That I admit to be experimental. Upon that we hope to be able to form better opinions, more sound opinions if you like, as the result of experiment, but the principle that there is to be henceforth established in this country for the benefit of the aged poor a system of pensions founded upon the broad principles of this measure is not with us a matter of experiment.
1401 At this late hour I will not follow the noble Viscount into the financial questions upon which he touched. I am much too unequal in matters of that kind to enter rashly into combat with the noble Viscount. I will only say this. We intend to watch carefully the result of this experiment. We have made it deliberately. We have made it with the overwhelming consent of the other House of Parliament—that House which is the special guardian of the finances of the country. We have made it not hastily, but with great deliberation, as my noble friend the Chancellor of the Duchy told your Lordships earlier in the evening. We have made it in the conviction that the time has come to confer this been upon the most unhappy and the most suffering people of the country. We have done it in the belief that it is a proposal which has received the sanction of both parties through a long period of years, and that we shall be able to carry it out, not by party effort, but by the combined determination of men of all political parties in this country.
There is one question which has been singularly little touched upon in the course of this discussion. Before the discussion began I confess that from what I heard out of doors, and from the rumours concerning the views of various distinguished and eminent noble Lords in this blouse, I anticipated a considerable discussion on the question of whether these pensions should be on a contributory basis or not. We have heard nothing, or almost nothing, on that. I think my noble friend on the cross benches rather indicated that he would have liked a contributory scheme. That that is impossible is my firm conviction. After what fell from my noble friend Lord Wolverhampton, I need scarcely remind your Lordships that the most complete exposition of this policy of old-age pensions is to be found in the lucid and able speech made by Mr. Chamberlain in 1899. You have the whole thing in that speech. Mr. Chamberlain showed beyond all doubt that you could not in this country establish a system of contributory pension. My noble friend on the cross benches said it was done in Germany, and why could it not be done here. This country is not Germany. There are many things which are done in 1402 Germany which you cannot do here, and there are many more things done in that country which I hope we shall not do here. I do not believe that because there is a contributory scheme in Germany, therefore it is possible that there should be one in this country. I hold Mr. Chamberlain's speech to be absolutely conclusive against any contributory idea. There is one argument against it which in itself is conclusive, and that is that if you established a contributory system you could not bring it into force for a very large number of years—my right hon. friend the Prime Minister the other day put it at twenty years, but Mr. Chamberlain in 1899 put it at forty years. Nine years have elapsed since 1899, and if, therefore, you were to adopt a system of that kind it would be practically thirty or fifty years from the time when this question was first brought forward and hopes were given to the poor that something would be done, before you could give them the advantage of this system. To my mind that is a conclusive argument.
I believe that it is the intention of my noble friend to take your Lordships' opinion by a division. I am sorry to hear it. I can only regard the Motion that he has made as one for the rejection of the Bill, and as made in a spirit of hostility to its proposals; and I hope that when my noble friend the noble Marquess opposite addresses the House he will not abandon the principles which he has sometimes laid down as to the conduct of this House in respect of questions which excite the deepest interest in the House of Commons, and I hope he will advise your Lordships, whether you like this Bill or not, whether you think its provisions the best that could be invented or whether you do not, not to stand between the poor people of this country and the advantages which would be conferred upon them by this Bill.
§ LORD AVEBURY
My Lords, the importance of the present Bill is by no means to be measured by the addition which it will involve to the burden of our taxation, enormous as that will be. To propose a policy which will involve an expenditure of many millions, without any sufficient provision of funds, seems to many of us to be reckless finance, and yet the effect it will have on I the habits, the well-being, and the 1403 character of our people is even more important.
There have been five Committees or Commissions on this subject; three were of experts, two of politicians; those of experts were all against, those of politicians were in favour, though, to do them justice, not in favour of this particular Bill. It may well be doubted whether this Bill really represents the opinion of the country. Ten days ago The Spectator suggested a form of petition against the Bill, and I had the honour of presenting it this afternoon. Considering that only a week has elapsed since it was drawn up, the response has been extraordinary. It has some 2,000 signatures, and I am informed that of those who have seen it there were scarcely any who did not sign. It is not only a City petition. No doubt it does represent the views of the bankers and merchants, of the insurance offices, of Lloyds, and of other commercial bodies; but it is also largely signed by lawyers and medical men, by many of those engaged in education and charitable work, and last, not least, by working men.
This is a very difficult and complex question. What steps have the Government taken to arrive at a wise decision? There is a Commission sitting on the Poor Law. Have they consulted the Commission? There are the great friendly societies which have done so much for thrift and to promote the well-being of the working classes. Have they consulted the friendly societies? Yes, they were consulted; but the Government have legislated without waiting for their answer. There is the Charity Organisation Society, and their invaluable secretary, Mr. Loch. They give their time and thought to these difficult problems. They are men of great wisdom and experience. They were not consulted, and they are profoundly convinced that the course proposed is a terrible mistake.
I need not enlarge on the inestimable work which friendly societies have done for the elevation of our people. Their opinion is entitled to most serious consideration. And what is their view? Mr. Dempsey, the grand master of the greatest of all—the Manchester Unity of 1404 Oddfellows—in his annual address said that—He thought the present old-age pensions of the Government were as unsatisfactory as any proposal could be. In his opinion any non-contributory system of old-age pay was Poor Law relief, by whatever name it might be called, and from that point of view the scheme was objectionable. … It would be more accurately described as an encouragement of improvidence than as an old-age pension. The scheme must be highly detrimental to their own and similar societies.This is evidently the general opinion of the friendly societies. On the 17th of January, the Chief Registrar of Friendly Societies issued a Circular to the societies, asking their opinion on the effect the old-age pensions would produce. This was not ordered to be printed till June 15th, and was not issued till too late to influence the debate on the Bill. That it should have been hurried through just before such an important document was Issued seems to me, I confess, very unfair to the House of Commons and the country. Mr. Sim, the Chief Registrar, in his circular letter, said—The Chancellor of the Exchequer has undertaken to introduce this session a Bill to deal with the question of old-age pensions. It appears to me that a non-contributory scheme may in many ways vitally affect the friendly societies, and I desire to obtain the valuable opinion of those who, like yourself, have had a long and intimate experience of the Friendly Society movement as to the effect of such legislation upon friendly societies in general, and in particular as to the membership. I should be obliged, therefore, if you will kindly answer the following questions:—To the main question asked by the Registrar, over eighty friendly societies unhesitatingly say that the Bill will be injurious, while only about half that number approve it. The Tendring Hundred Provident Society of Essex say that the proposal will—
- "(1) Will, in your opinion, the passing of a non-contributory Bill conferring old-age pensions have an injurious effect on friendly societies?
- "(2) What will be the effect on the thrift of the classes from which the members of friendly societies are drawn?
- "(3) Has the intention of the pissing of such a Bill already affected, in any way, the membership of societies?"have a disastrous effect.The Midland District Miners' Relief Society say that the expectation of the Government Bill—has effectually destroyed any chance of its (the proposed superannuation scheme) being adopted.1405 The Essex Provident Society state that—a non-contributory and universal scheme of old-age pensions would bring about the utter collapse of registered societies which provide for the sickness and incapacity of their members daring their life-time.The Dunmow Friendly Society say that they are now continually met by—the objection that it is not now necessary for men to provide pensions for themselves when the State will shortly do it for every one.The Royal Standard Benefit Society say that they find the feeling of young men is that—they do not see why they should trouble to make provision for themselves as the State is going to look after them.The London Stationers Provident Society have had—no applications for membership since the announcement that the Bill was to be introduced.The United Kingdom Railway Officers' Association say that—it will have a disastrous effect, as there will not then be the same inducements for men to join as now.The Suffolk Provident Society say that—conferring old-age pensions without contribution being made will soon lead to discouragement of thrift.The Bolton United Oddfellows say that—A State pension of a non-contributory character will certainly not help the friendly society movement.The Boston Society say that the Bill will be—the death-blow to thrift among the working classes.The East Suffolk Hand-in-Hand Society says—The success attained by societies in the eastern counties which made old-age pensions compulsory for members many years ago among the poorly paid agricultural labourers is evidence that, notwithstanding many declarations to the contrary, the well-paid artisan in the towns could easily afford to contribute to an old-age pension.A contributory old-age pension would encourage thrift, but this one it is evident will, in the opinion of those best qualified to judge, have exactly the opposite effect. It has other disadvantages. It makes no provision for infirmity. I understand that the experience of the Colonies has already shown that children are beginning to cease to feel any obligation to support their parents. I have shown that in the 1406 opinion of those best qualified to judge, the Bill will be a great discouragement, if not fatal to thrift.
And now I come to the question—cannot our people provide old-age pensions for themselves? They do in Germany, and yet their wages are lower. The Board of Trade in their most interesting "Memoranda" of 1903, taking the wages in Great Britain at 100, estimate those in Paris as eighty-six, in Berlin as fifty-seven, and those in other German cities and towns as sixty-three. We might, they say—Without great error, take the average for Germany as two-thirds, and for France three-quarters, of that which prevails in the United Kingdom.The Memorandum also shows that as regards the cost of necessaries the English workman is much better off than the German workman. Writing on the condition of the working classes in 1886, Sir Robert Giffen, the respected head of the Statistical Department of the Board of Trade, expressed the conviction, for which he gave conclusive evidence, that the wages of artisans had risen at least 100 per cent. Since then they have gone up some 15 per cent. more. But even this is not all. The hours of labour have fallen to an extent which, I think, may safely be estimated at 20 per cent. Sir Robert continues—The great rise of money wages among the labourers of every class, coupled with stationary or even falling prices of commodities on the average, the all but universal shortening of the hours of labour, the decline of pauperism, the enormously increased consumption of the luxuries of the masses, the improvement in the rate of mortality, these and other facts combine to prove that there has been a great general advance in well-being among the masses of the community.Coming down some years later, the Labour Commission, in their Report of 1894, said that—Work people of this class earn better wages, work fewer hours, have secured improved conditions of industrial and domestic life in other respects, and have furnished themselves through trade unions and friendly societies with means of providing against the various contingencies of sickness, accidents, and temporary want of employment. The Classes who compose the lower grades of industry, regarded as a whole, have probably benefited no less than the skilled workers.The poor have also had the boon of free education, and this alone would be enough to enable them to provide a 1407 pension for themselves. The price of an ounce of tobacco a week put by at and before twenty-five is more than sufficient to provide an old-age pension of 5s. a week at seventy.
The Board of Trade Memorandum of 1903 shows that our working men have the advantage of higher wages, lower prices of necessaries, and shorter hours than those of Germany. Surely, then, what German working men are doing, Englishmen might do. Nay, more they have done in thousands of eases, and but for this Bill would do more and more And yet, as we understand, His Majesty's Government have not thought it worth while even to inquire into the German system.
The estimated cost of the Bill is £7,000,000. That, however, is only the first cost. The ultimate charge will almost to a certainty be much heavier. On whom will this fall? Perhaps I shall be told that this will depend on future Budgets. That, no doubt, is true as regards the first incidence, but the ultimate burden will in any case mainly fall on the working classes. The tendency of the Bill will be to reduce wages. This has been so keenly felt in the Colonies that there have been proposals to make it illegal for pensioners to work for wages. Any such provision would be out of the question here, nor would it be effective. The effect of these pensions on the labour market will be the same as that of the almost indiscriminate outdoor relief before 1834. Practically, then, the poor lived partly on wages and partly on outdoor relief. That will be the case under this Bill. As regards the aged poor, you may call it a pension, but whether you admit it to be outdoor relief or disguise it under the alias of a pension, the effect on wages will be the same. As Lord Morley has truly said—I have never disguised my view that the great and central interest of the workman is that he should have good and steady work, Beware of any action which artificially disturbs the basis of work and wages. Be sure of another thing, that the burden of taxation, however spread, however disguised, at last falls heaviest upon the shoulders of the industrial community.Even in the first instance, consider how the Bill will work. So far as you throw any part of the additional cost on the necessaries of life it is clear that the working man will pay. So far as you throw 1408 it on the income-tax, or on luxuries, the argument is not quite so self-evident, but it is equally true. Whatever amount you take out of pockets of the middle classes or of the richer classes they must provide by diminishing either their savings or their expenditure. But in either case it would have been spent on labour, and if the expenditure is less, the amount spent on labour is less. In every ton of coal which costs 25s., over 24s. is spent on labour; if a house is built, over 90 per cent. of the cost—I might say over 95 per cent. is labour. Even if it is spent on foreign commodities, they are paid for by English commodities and the result is the same. If this Bill costs £7,000,000, to that extent it will diminish the amount which would have been spent on wages. It must, therefore, inevitably lower wages or increase the number of unemployed, or both.
I do not think that working men have realised the inevitable effect which the Bill will have to lower wages. That was the result of the indiscriminate grant of outdoor relief in the first thirty years of the last century, and was one reason for the establishment of the present Poor Law. These pensions will have the same tendency. They are merely general outdoor relief. You may call them pensions, but this does not prevent them from being outdoor relief. It is really a misnomer to call them pensions. A pension is either deferred pay, as in the Civil Service, or it is a benefaction from a generous employer to a good servant. But these so-called pensions are not given by the employer. They are sums taken by the force of an Act of Parliament from one person and given to another. Even if this Bill would add to the comfort of the working classes, which I doubt, we must ask ourselves what effect it will have on character and habits, and remember that, after all, character is more important than comfort.
The question, then, for the thoughtful working man, as it is for us, is—supposing we are going to devote £7,000,000 to ameliorate the condition of the poor, is this the best use to which it can be put? The German system, for instance, provides not only for old age, but for infirmity. One man at seventy may be stronger than another at fifty. But then, my Lords, we are told that whatever your Lordship's opinion may be we 1409 are bound to pass this Bill because it was adopted by a large majority in the other House. But recent elections have clearly shown that the balance of parties in the other House no longer represents that in the country. Let us, however, look at the majority a little closer. It was no doubt large. But it must be remembered that the Bill was by no means adequately discussed, and secondly that the Government have 260 votes in the House of Commons more than they are entitled to by the votes they received in the country. Deducting 260 from 305 reduces the real majority for the Bill to forty-five; no doubt a substantial, but not an overwhelming majority, especially as we know that it was obtained on a variety of questions—free trade, Chinese labour, education, and others which have nothing to do with old age pensions. The number of abstentions was also remarkable and significant. In fact, not half the House voted. It may well, therefore, be doubted whether that majority really represents the opinion of the country.
I omit many other difficulties which will arise in practice. How, for instance, is the age to be ascertained? Will not practically any man who looks old and wishes for 5s. a week be fairly sure to get it? One great function of this House is to lay the facts before the country, and give our countrymen time to make up their minds. That is what we suggest now. If ever there was a case in which this should be done, surely this is one. We plead, then, for delay, because the Bill has not been adequately considered in the country, and has not been fairly discussed in the House of Commons; because it would involve an immense increase of taxation, perpetuate poverty, lower wages, and discourage thrift.
§ *LORD WELBY
I am afraid I cannot reply to the appeal, which my noble friend Lord Cromer addressed to me, because I rise to give an unhesitating support; to the Bill of His Majesty's Government. I am truly glad that His Majesty's Government have introduced this Bill, because I think it of the very highest importance for the public interest that a promise to the working-classes should not be made lightly, and should not be left for an indefinite time unfulfilled. I believe that to do so in the 1410 present state of public opinion is very dangerous to the body politic, and when once that promise has been given, and when once such general assent has been given, I may say on all sides, to the principle, the time has come when there should be no further delay in dealing with the subject. This promissory note has been drawn a long time, and it is full time it was honoured. The measure that has been brought in now has been spoken of as the greatest social measure since 1834. In one respect I could agree with that saying; that is to say, I think it is part of the greatest social measure which dates from 1834, and that when the Poor Law question is dealt with as a part of and as a supplement to this measure the whole will form the greatest social measure since the year named. But like many noble Lords I have felt considerable disappointment in my own mind that it has not been found possible to find a contributory basis for the scheme. During the long time that this question has been before the public I have thought a great deal about the possibility of finding a contributory basis, and it is only with great reluctance that I find myself in agreement with so many higher and greater authorities that a contributory scheme is impossible so far as old-age pensions are concerned. There are so many difficulties attending it—difficulties connected, for instance, with bringing women under a contributory scheme, the difficulty of the long delay that must happen before a properly constituted contributory scheme could come into force, so far at all events as old-age pensions are concerned, and, lastly, the great difficulty in dealing with anything that sounds like compulsion as applied to the vast number of the labouring classes who earn very small wages. If Sir Robert Giffen is right and there are 1,750,000 workers who receive less than 20s. a week, it appears to me that to enforce in any form a contribution from such wages would be extremely difficult even if it were practicable in this country. I notice that in his very ingenious speech in the House of Commons my friend Mr. Harold Cox said, if I understand him, that thrift should be treated like education and made compulsory. I can understand the gentle compulsion of telling a father that his boy must go to school free of charge, but that is a very different kind of compulsion from the "stand and deliver" 1411 kind of compulsion which makes him take a part of his small wages out of his pocket. But in this case we are only dealing at present with old-age pensions. It is only a branch of the subject, and as Mr. Balfour has said, I think wisely, it is impossible to wait for an all-comprehensive scheme, which would mean practically waiting for ever. Therefore, there are other questions connected with provision for the working classes, as has been said before, which have to come up and come up very soon for decision, and, at all events with regard to them I do not entirely abandon, and I think that a great number of people do not abandon, the idea of some form of contribution towards the charge. I allude to such cases as provision against infirmity and sickness before the age for old-age pensions arrives, and I note, if I may say so, with satisfaction that the Prime Minister in speaking of a contribution expressly debarred himself from being supposed to shut the door against the possibility of contribution in the case of other aspects of the Poor Law question.
But one other great and very grave objection has been taken to this Bill. It is said that the Bill is thoroughly faulty in its finance, or perhaps I might say in its want of finance. The Bill has been spoken of as a post-obit Bill—as a Bill which draws upon the future and provides no asset by which the promise can be defrayed. Even Mr. Balfour, speaking in much more moderate terms, said that it was a question in his mind whether, if there were to be £6,000,000 or £7,000,000 spent for the benefit of the working classes, this was the best way of spending it, and he spoke of such a sum as that as an amount of taxation, which would inflict very considerable hardship perhaps upon the working-classes. Of course, that is a very serious question but I observe that all these objections are based upon the assumption that there must be for the purpose of this Bill—and we are only dealing at present with this Bill—a large increase of taxation. I do not think that that assumption is proved, and I will venture to ask the House to allow me two or three minutes so that I may endeavour to prove my case. I must refer, in endeavouring to prove it, to the arrangements connected with the National Debt. It is now rather more than thirty years ago that the present arrangements were made under which 1412 a fixed sum was set aside to meet the interest and Sinking Fund of the debt. Sir Stafford Northcote, when he introduced that scheme, made what is a dangerous thing for a Chancellor of the Exchequer to do, namely, a prophecy that if the arrangement he then made of £28,000,000 a year was left to work for thirty years untouched, at the end of that period—that would be somewhere about 1905 or 1906—£232,000,000 of the Debt would have been paid off. It is a curious fact that when the thirty years were up, or just about that time, no less than £217,000,000 had been paid off. But that was in spite of the fact that during eight years of that period the Sinking Fund had been suspended, and also that twice during that period the sum set apart had been diminished by two financial authorities of the greatest weight in this country—I mean Lord Goschen and the noble Lord, Viscount St. Aldwyn. Now, my Lords, I venture to think that Lord Goschen and the noble Viscount opposite, when they diminished the sum so set aside, practically laid down the canon of finance, which I should say would be good for all time, that when a large sum was set aside for the extinction of Debt, from time to time the public should have a certain share of the financial benefit arising from the diminution of Debt. How does that stand at the present moment? At the present moment the sum set aside for the charge of the Debt is £28,000,000 a year. I, reckon that next year the charge of interest out of that sum will be £18,000,000. That leaves the Sinking Fund at the present moment—or rather next year—at £10,000,000. Such a sum is beyond anything that has ever been dreamed in dealing with finance in this country. It is to my mind an enormous sum, and it falls distinctly under the noble Viscount's canon, namely, that the public is entitled to a share in such a large economy of the public expenditure as is involved in the Sinking Fund of £10,000,000. When the noble Viscount made his reduction of this sum, and when he took £2,000,000 off the provision made the whole amount applicable to the reduction of debt was under £7,500,000. Therefore, at that time the Sinking Fund had reached nothing like the present sum.
1413 Now, my Lords, I come to this, which I am endeavouring to put before your Lordships as the reason on which I base my belief that for the purpose of this Bill a very large increase of taxation in the immediate future is not involved and is not necessary. A certain sum, as your Lordships are aware, has been provided in Mr. Asquith's Budget this year to meet the charge at the commencement of next year. That sum, again, will be to the good in the following year, and then, according to my humble opinion, it will lie with those responsible for the public finance to consider whether, out of this enormous sum of £10,000,000 applicable to the reduction of Debt, provision may not be made in order to meet a great social problem, they ought not to settle and redeem the promise which has been held out for thirteen years, and has never been dealt with. It will lie with those in authority to consider whether, in order to make a reasonable settlement of this question, it will not be fair to follow the example which has been set in past years, in cases where the Sinking Fund has been trenched upon to meet ordinary expenditure and not to meet a great emergency, whether the time will not have arrived when a large contribution might be made out of this accumulated Sinking Fund, and thus render unnecessary any large addition to taxation. Of course, I do not know the intention of the Government, as I am speaking only of my own impression of the matter, but from some rather nebulous words used by the Prime Minister at the time of the Budget I think that some idea of thus dealing with the Debt may have been in his mind. I do not know, but all I can say is that if that were the case, I can only admire the skill with which during the three years he has held office, he has built up a position which will enable the Chancellor of the Exchequer, if he choose, when the necessity arises, to deal with this great question with very little, if any, addition to taxation. That is the ground upon which, my Lords, I venture to put before you the opinion which I have formed, that in reality the Bill now under your consideration is not so faulty in its finance as has often been stated.
§ *THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, if I rise to say a few words in a regard to this Bill it is mainly because I 1414 feel that unless I say something the noble Earl who leads the House may feel relieved from the necessity of addressing your Lordships. What I have to say matters little, for the arguments I intend to use have boon put before the House with great force by previous speakers. But I venture to express the hope that in the speech to which we shall presently listen from the Leader of the House we shall be vouchsafed more information with regard to this measure than we have yet received from its ministerial apologists I do not think any of the speeches which we have heard from the noble Lords opposite have shown sufficient appreciation of the momentous character of this Bill.
I venture, indeed, to express my concurrence with what was said by the noble Earl on the cross benches, that, in his belief, no more momentous measure had in our time been laid on the Table of the House. Up to the present, I do not think any attempt has been made by noble Lords opposite to take up the points that have been raised in the speeches which have been delivered on this side of the House. We have boon assured by the noble Marquess, Lord Ripon, chat it was the intention of His Majesty's Government to watch the progress of this great experiment. We have not been told how it is intended to control the progress of that experiment. We have not been told how it is hoped to prevent the abuses and to remedy the anomalies with which the Bill bristles, and we have not been vouchsafed a word of information, until the noble Lord on the back bench got up, as to the sources from which this colossal expenditure was intended to be met.
Let me say at once for myself, and I believe for those who sit near me, that it is very far indeed from our intention to show any reluctance to deal more liberally than heretofore with the needs of the meritorious poor. I think it is universally conceded that, at certain points, the present law might be made to work in a manner more considerate and humane so far as certain classes of those who receive relief from the rates are concerned. But this Bill goes a great deal further than an attempt to supplement the shortcomings of the existing Poor Law system. As I understand this Bill, it is 1415 a measure which can have no other effect than that of completely undermining the present Poor Law system. The noble Earl who moved the Amendment said, I think with great force, that the passing of a new Poor Law in 1834 marked a great epoch in the history of the working classes of this country. It was the legislation of 1834 which relieved the people of this country from the incubus of pauperism. It was under the influence of that Bill that, as wages increased, as the prices of the necessaries of life diminished, as greater powers of combination were accorded to the working classes, they began to practise increased thrift, to show a greater amount of independence and of self-respect, and it is, surely, true to say that no class of the community in the recent past has made such rapid and remarkable progress as they have made.
What is going to happen? Just at the time when it might fairly be said that the old taint of pauperism which lingered so long in many parts of the country was finally and entirely disappearing, you bring in this new measure, which, call it what you will, is a vast measure of thinly disguised outdoor relief. I believe this Bill will cut very deeply indeed into the life of the nation. The old lesson which we have been endeavouring all these years to teach our people is that they should shun dependence upon the public purse and that it should be the first fluty of a citizen to make some provision for his own old age, and, if possible, for the old age of those most nearly related to him. That lesson, I am afraid, this Bill is going to unteach, and I agree with my noble friend Lord Avebury in believing that its effects on the country will be profoundly demoralising.
But, my Lords, if this new form of assistance from public funds is demoralising to the recipients, I do not think it will be less demoralising to those who will be allowed to distribute this largesse. We in this country are with every year that passes becoming more and more bureaucratically governed. This Bill is going to create a new and huge bureaucracy, a bureaucracy with a Minister at the apex of the structure, with a great department subservient to him, and with agents and committees all over the country. This bureaucracy will have the distribution of a sum which now stands at £8,000,000 a 1416 year and probably a great deal more—a vast patronage to be distributed under conditions of the most extraordinary elasticity, or rather I should say laxity. I am afraid that Parliament itself is not likely to escape from the same demoralisation. You now render a Member of Parliament liable to severe pains and penalties if he resorts to any practice that may be described as bribing his constituency. But is it not perfectly certain that once this Bill becomes law you will have Members of Parliament going down to their constituents and asking them to vote for "Mr. Smith and old-age pensions at 60?" Is not that a form of bribery of the most dangerous and insidious kind? The pressure will be continuous and irresistible. This Bill is fenced in with so-called limits and restrictions. Many of them are of the most arbitrary, if not the most preposterous, character, and, just as you were driven in the House of Commons from one position after another while the Bill was passing through Committee, so I venture to predict that in future will those who administer this Bill be obliged to do so with ever-increasing laxity. I think that has been made plain in the case of Ireland. Those who know that country can form some idea of the manner in which the loosely-drawn clauses of this Bill are likely to be interpreted by the pension committees who will be entrusted with the task of giving effect to them.
One thing is perfectly certain. You think that you are going to stop at £8,000,000; but the barriers are sham barriers which you cannot trust. The devices to which you resort in the Bill for ascertaining the age of the recipients, their means, their antecedents, are devices which will not stand the test of experience. Is it not the case that already your good resolutions have been forgotten and ignored? Is it not the case that six weeks ago the Prime Minister announced that—No Chancellor of the Exchequer in his senses, considering the needs of the country and its taxable resources, would think of adding £3,000,000 to the £6,000,000 which this scheme is going to cost"?Two millions out of the three millions have however been added within the last six weeks, and, unless we are very much mistaken, the Government are already 1417 committed to modifications of their scheme which will add three or four millions more to the expense.
If we look beyond the limits of the Bill itself, have we not good reason for being alarmed at what I might term the by-products of this Bill? There is one which has been referred to already and which fills me with special apprehension—I mean its effect upon the payment of the Public Debt. I listened to the speech delivered just now by the noble Lord on the cross benches: the noble Lord is an expert and I am not, but the impression left upon my mind was that his proposal—not a proposal made on the authority of the Government, but merely a contribution of his own—certainly involved some departure from the established practice of successive Governments in dealing with the Sinking Fund. If that is so, I venture to doubt whether the remedy of my noble friend may not be worse than the disease.
This Bill will cost the nation as much as a great war would cost. But there will be this difference, that you can pay off your war debt by making sacrifices in order to do so. But this is a liability from which I do not believe the country will ever be able to emancipate itself. There is this further difference—that a war, terrible as are its consequences, has, at any rate, the effect of bracing the moral fibre of the country, whereas this measure, I am much afraid, is one which will weaken the moral fibre of the nation and diminish the self-respect of our people. With the exception of the noble Lord who spoke from the back benches just now, no attempt has been made to show how these colossal sums are to be provided, and I invite the noble Earl the Leader of the House, who is about to address us, to give us at least some indication as to the manner in which this is to be done.
Is the financial situation of the country so satisfactory that you can afford to incur a liability which may be anything from ten to twelve millions with a light heart f You have not yet paid off your war debt. You have paid off only about one-quarter of the 160 millions which were added to the Debt for that purpose. The income-tax still stands at a war level, and the greater part of the indirect taxation levied to defray the expenses of the war still remain. What are your 1418 prospects? Every farthing of your visible resources is, so far as we are able to judge, already mortgaged. And not only is that the case, but you have actually, with your eyes open, postponed liabilities which in the view of many of us properly belong to the year through which we are now passing. And the Chancellor of the Exchequer chooses this moment to boast almost that he has a stunning deficit, a falling revenue, and depressed trade. Those are the circumstances in which this immense addition to the obligations of the country is made.
I desire to associate myself with what was said early in the evening by my noble friend Lord Cromer as to the effect of this increased liability upon the resources and the safety of this country. The drain upon our resources which this Bill necessitates cannot help weakening the ability of the nation to meet a great emergency should such a great emergency occur. Can we dismiss from our minds the idea that such an emergency is possible? My noble friend Lord Cromer and I have both been, if I may so put it, during recent years behind the scenes in European diplomacy, and we both of us know that there have been moments when the political tension was so great that a rash act or an ill-considered word might have created a conflagration in which this country might not improbably have been involved.
When we look around, I do not say in Europe but all over the world — in India, in the Far East, in Persia—are all the indications so propitious that you can dismiss as altogether improbable the idea that this country might be called upon to put forth its strength for its own preservation? Should that moment come we shall want not only that strong Army for which some of us have so often insisted, not only that powerful Navy which I believe both parties desire to maintain, and which we have been lately told is the only effectual means of ensuring the commerce of this country against risk—we want not only those things, but just as much as we want a reserve of men and ships so we want a reserve of national wealth. And if our national resources are drained, as I believe it will be necessary to drain them in order to provide the necessary funds for this 1419 measure, as surely as we stand here we shall, should that emergency ever come, find ourselves infinitely weaker to encounter it. I should like to ask whether any European financier would not tell you that in his eyes this country, after assuming the obligations of this Bill, will stand in a very much weaker position than heretofore among the great nations of the world.
A good deal has been said during the course of this debate with regard to the possibility of a contributory scheme, and I am well aware that high authorities have dwelt upon the difficulty of giving effect to such a scheme. The difficulty which is usually the most insisted upon is that it would involve a great deal of inquisitorial investigation into the antecedents and position of the people of this country. We are told that in this country such an inquisition would not be, tolerated, although it may perhaps be tolerated in foreign countries. I should like to put it to the House whether, if this Bill becomes law, it will be possible to give effect to it without the most inquisitorial inquiries into the means, into the age, into the character of the recipients of these pensions, unless the taxpapers of this country are to be robbed wholesale.
Then the noble Marquess said that in his view a fatal objection to a contributory scheme was this, that it would not be possible to bring it into operation for a great many years. Is it quite clear that it would be beyond our ingenuity to devise some means of bridging over the intervening period and making some arrangement to provide for that period so that a contributory scheme, might come into operation after a certain period of years had passed? I am by no means convinced upon that point, nor am I convinced that arrangements which have been found perfectly workable in Germany and Austria should be so entirely impossible of adoption in this country.
But I wish to notice for one moment an argument which has been often advanced, and which is to this effect, that this is really a contributory scheme, because the working classes of this country already contribute to the taxation of the country and, therefore, to the funds from which these pensions will be provided. I cannot bring myself to believe 1420 that that is an argument which can be sincerely advanced by those who use it I dare say many of your Lordships are familiar with a calculation which has been not infrequently quoted of late, and which shows what is the amount of the annual contribution to the National Exchequer made by a person who does not pay income-tax. I believe the figure—it has not been challenged, so far as I am aware—is £1 6s. 11d., and of that sum in round figures £1 represents the amount paid by the person in question by the taxation of the alcohol and the tobacco which he consumes; so that, if he happens, not to consume alcohol or tobacco, his contribution to the public revenue stands at 6s. 3d. per annum. Is it seriously contended that that is a contribution to the revenue which would justify the grant of au old-age pension to the person who makes it; that for the 6s. 3d. per annum he is to be entitled to an old-age pension of 5s. per week? The argument seems to me to be a grotesque one, and I cannot regard it as serious. I regard it with particular suspicion when I remember that it is advanced by a party which used to have for one of its first principles the doctrine that taxation and representation should go together.
Then, my Lords, we complain of the extraordinary precipitation shown by the Government in pressing this Bill on Parliament. The country is expecting the report of the Commission on the Poor Law as a whole, and the noble Lord who has charge of the Bill announced the other evening that the keystone of the whole position was the reform of the Poor Law. We understand that it is to be reformed, and cannot conceive why you should not have had the patience to consider the question of the reform of the Poor Law, together with old-age pensions, and to present to the country a well-thought-out scheme dealing with both branches of this most important question. I also agree with Lord Avebury that it is a matter for regret that you should not have taken more pains to ascertain the views of those who are directing the affairs of our great friendly societies. It would surely have been worth while to use them as allies, and to endeavour to discover a schema which they would have regarded benevolently, and which, so far as their opportunities admitted, they would have supplemented to some extent.
1421 Well, my Lords, I have recapitulated briefly the reasons why we regard this Bill with great apprehension. There remains the question how, having these feelings, we ought to deal with it this evening. There is a well-established practice which to a great extent precludes this House from dealing with the financial proposals of the Government of the day, but we have never parted with our right to reject a Bill although it may deal with financial questions, and it would be competent to us to reject this Bill. But for the reasons already given by other speakers I for one should certainly hesitate to recommend that course. The arguments seem to me to be conclusive against it. We are confronted, in the first place, with the unanimous Resolution of the House of Commons in 1906, which the noble Lord put in the forefront of his argument. Then we have to take into consideration the fact that this Bill, though not strictly speaking a money Bill, is essentially a Bill of a financial complexion. It indeed forms part of the financial arrangements for this year proposed by his Majesty's Government. Then we have also to bear in mind the fact that it has been supported by colossal majorities in the House of Commons, and that when the sense of the House was taken on the Second and Third Readings only a small forlorn hope amongst those who usually act with us were found ready to go into the lobby against it.
In these circumstances, it seems to me that, however much we may dislike the Bill, we should gain nothing by rejecting it or delaying its progress. Were we to do so it is impossible to conceive that his Majesty's Government should not bring the Bill back to this House again next year. But a great deal would happen in the meantime. I have no doubt that noble Lords opposite and their friends would seize with avidity the opportunity of representing your Lordships as having attempted to rob the aged and deserving people of this country of the kind of assistance which most of us would be glad that, in some form or other, they should receive; and the difficulty would be increased for us by the fact that we should be represented, not without some prima facie justice, as having endeavoured to encroach upon that well-established privilege of the 1422 House of Commons which gives to that House almost undisputed control over the finances of the country. In these circumstances, were we to reject or postpone the operation of this Bill I am afraid we should not greatly advance the views which we hold, and we should, on the other hand, very considerably impair the opportunities which this House possesses of making its influence felt in controlling, the legislation presented to us.
For these reasons I express my concurrence with the noble Lords who have spoken from this side, and who, while making no secret of their disapprobation of many of the provisions of the Bill, have stated clearly that it is not their intention to go into the lobby with the noble Earl who has moved the Amendment. I trust that when we arrive at the Committee Stage this Bill will be fully discussed, and I feel sure that the Government will not in any way desire to stifle such discussion. Nor do I believe that, in dealing with a Bill of this kind, they will desire to insist unreasonably on the privilege of the House of Commons. I have always been one of those who believe that, if that privilege was pushed too far, the House of Lords would be deprived of all opportunity of interesting itself in a great deal of our most important legislation. This House is placed in a somewhat embarrassing position. If I believed that any good would come by delaying the progress of this Bill, I should certainly advise your Lordships to delay it. If I had that feeling I should not hesitate to separate myself from those with whom I usually act, and to support my noble friend's Amendment. But, holding the views which I have endeavoured to explain, I have come to the conclusion that the wiser course is to throw upon His Majesty's Government the sole and entire responsibility for a measure which we regard with great apprehension, and which, we fear, may have far-reaching and disastrous effects upon the future of this country.
§ *THE EARL OF CREWE
My Lords the criticism to which this Bill has been subjected on the Second Reading stage is of two distinct kinds. On the one hand, there are those who consider the whole Bill a mistake, who are hostile both to the principle of old-age pensions and to the manner in which it is proposed to 1423 grant them, and are either going to vote against the Second Reading or have expressed their desire to do so but for other reasons which seem to them to carry weight. On the other hand, there have been speakers from the other side of the House who, in varying degrees, have given vent to somewhat ominous prophecies as to the effect of the Bill, and particularly as to its finance, but accept the principle, in some cases even accept the general lines on which the principle is carried out.
Among the uncompromising opponents of the Bill I am sorry to include the noble Marquess who has just sat down. Not for the first time we see something of a rift on the front bench opposite. The noble Viscount, Lord St. Aldwyn, took a very different tone. He made some very pointed and searching criticism of the details of the Bill, but he took it as a chose jugée that there were to be old-age pensions and old-age pensions on a non-contributory basis, whereas the noble Marquess desires to wash his hands of the whole business. I am sorry, also, to include among the opponents of the Bill, the noble Earl, Lord Cromer, with whom we are sometimes, I am glad to think, found acting in accord. The noble Earl's principal objection is really a domestic matter between himself and this side of the House. His main objection to the Bill, as I understand it, is that he considers its introduction a serious blow to the cause of free trade.
§ *THE EARL OF CREWE
One of his main objections, I think I may say—at least the noble Earl devoted a considerable part of his speech to its discussion, and, passing, I most cheerfully recognise the immense assistance which the support of the noble Earl to that cause has been to us on this side of the House. The noble Earl, I think, argues in this way. Here is this great expenditure involved—seven or eight millions—and it would be very easy for the tariff reformers to go to the country and say—"We have a cheap and easy way of finding this money." I should be inclined to agree with the noble Earl's conclusions if I thought his premises were correct, If, of course, it 1424 be true that the country does not really want old-age pensions, then we are undoubtedly committing a folly, and, if you like, also damaging the interests of free trade, in expending this money for that purpose. But is that so? At any rate, many noble Lords on the opposite side of the House would, I think, be found to say that, in principle, both parties are committed to the provision of old-age pensions.
So, then, I ask the noble Earl, from a free trade point of view, if I am right in thinking that old-age pensions are what the country wants—and in my belief, of all the social reforms set before the country this is the one on which the working classes have most set their heart—if I am at all right in thinking this, what, from the free trade point of view, would be the effect of going to the country and saying, We free-traders are bankrupt in this respect; we cannot provide you with old-age pensions, whereas the noble Lords opposite say that they can provide ten millions of taxation on manufactured goods and I know not what else, and that they will set apart this money for old-age pensions? If that is the attitude in which we free traders are to go to the country I confess that we do not go with a very good case, because the noble Viscount (Viscount Ridley) and his friends undoubtedly could provide the money for old-age pensions. It is true that the ten millions have been allocated to a great number of objects. They have first been made to disappear altogether by saying that foreign goods would not come in at all. They have been also formally allotted, I think, to the reduction of the income-tax; still they have been and may be again allotted for old-age pensions.
Reference has been made by Lord Wolverhampton to the care with which this measure has been thought out. I, question whether any measure brought before Parliament in living memory has received so much close attention and such an amount almost of daily care from the Government as were given to this Bill. It is desirable to say this because sometimes it is implied that we have hurled down on the Table of the House an undigested scheme which has received no proper consideration. As a matter of fact I do not believe that there is a side or a possibility connected with 1425 the question which has not been thought out and discussed. We may be right or we may be wrong in accepting some alternatives and rejecting others, but I assure the House that the alternatives have been considered. But, however much you may consider, there must be always in a scheme of this kind some points of uncertainty. No amount of consideration can make uncertainties certain; and that is why we say this, the Bill must necessarily be regarded as a tentative and experimental scheme. That lays us open to criticism, perhaps, as to detail, which we will heartily welcome; and if with regard to those parts of the Bill which your Lordships may think yourselves competent to deal with suggestions are made which are of a practical character, I can only say that my noble friend will be only too pleased to give them every possible consideration.
We have heard something about contributory schemes. I do not desire to dwell upon that side of the question now. The noble Marquess said that, after all, one of the arguments—although it is by no means the only argument—against a contributory scheme is that it would not come into force for a long time, possibly, as Mr. Chamberlain said, for forty years, and it would not be possible to persuade people to subscribe their money, unless the scheme were compulsory, for so long a period ahead. Oh, but that period might be bridged over, says the noble Marquess. The only way I know of bridging it over is by having a non-contributory pension—that is, by doing what we are doing now. There is nothing whatever to prevent the noble Marquess and his friends opposite in the time to come from hitching a contributory scheme on to this scheme. I do not say whether they would be wise in doing so, but I daresay your Lordships saw that letter in The Times of 19th March last, signed by several eminent men, wherein it was proposed that that very thing should be done—namely, that you should begin with a non-contributory scheme, and later on combine a contributory scheme with it.
In regard to the noble Earl's Amendment as to whether this measure ought to be postponed until the Report of the Poor Law Commission has been received, I quite admit that at first sight it appears a somewhat plausible contention, but I 1426 have not heard to-night anyone suggest in what respect or at what point this measure should be modified because of anything that may appear in the Report of that Commission. Noble Lords opposite might have said—"This or that might be altered when you get hold of the Poor Law Commission's Report." No such suggestion has-been made, and, so far as I know, no such suggestion could be successfully made. The subjects are separate, and not inter-dependent. There is no loss of efficiency in dealing with the question of pensions separately.
It is all very well for the noble Marquess and his friends to say that this is only outdoor relief under another name. I do not believe the people of this country regard it, or will regard it, so. It may be hard sometimes to explain the difference with which people regard money they pay by way of rates from money they pay by way of taxes. But payments made from the taxes are, and will be, regarded as something entirely different from a payment out of the rates. You may philosophise about that and say it is not reasonable; but, after all, what really matters is what people believe. There is, I believe, a very great distinction drawn between receiving money which people feel conies from the State as a whole, and that which they know comes out of the pockets of their immediate neighbours whom they see every day.
Various particular criticisms have been made of different points in the Bill. It is necessary to point out that the moment you abandon the universal scheme—the original scheme of Mr. Booth—which by common consent is impossible owing to its cost, and would in many respects be undesirable even if we could afford it, you are necessarily faced with difficulties and anomalies, and your choice lies between meeting those difficulties and anomalies in the best way you can and having no pension scheme at all. I frankly admit that it is not easy to prove that a man is 70 years of age or 68, or 65, or whatever year you take. There must be some cases in which people will try to defraud you, and others in which it may be difficult to arrive at a right conclusion in the matter. But any suggestion that can be made as regards the machinery for meeting that particular difficulty and kindred difficulties, of course, will be most carefully considered. 1427 Equally, when you come to the sliding scale it is perfectly true there is no form of sliding scale which can be made to work without a certain degree of hardship to those who are just on the edge, so to speak, of the sums named.
Then there are such difficulties as those mentioned by the noble Viscount as regards the small investor in Consols. I do not know whether there are many such people. I should have thought the cases of people who had an investment in Consols just sufficient to bring them up to the limit, and no other kind of property of any sort, and who, therefore, became subjects for old-age pensions, were exceedingly few. Then the noble Viscount also spoke of what he called relief in aid of wages—no doubt an objectionable form of public expenditure. I think he will see that that criticism has very much less force when applied at the age of 70 than it would if applied at an earlier age. The number of people over 70 who are earning anything like substantial wages is not really very great. Therefore I cannot think that that is a great difficulty.
My noble friend on the cross benches, Lord Rosebery, spoke of those who have a private pension list—landowners, employers, and others; and he seemed to fear that the effect would be to wipe out those lists altogether. Well, of course, it is difficult to prophesy in a matter of this kind, but I certainly should have thought that where the pension given by a landowner or a private employer was considerably bigger, as it would be in some cases, than the State pension, that the landowner or employer, if he thought it worth his while, might deduct from his pension the amount which the man or woman was in future going to receive from the State. That would be a perfectly legitimate and proper thing to do, supposing the employer thought it worth his while. But I do not see why he should sweep away the pension altogether if it is larger than that given by the State.
Then the noble Viscount, Lord St. Aldwyn, spoke of what was really the very difficult question of desert. How far, he said, are you going to find out those people who in your Bill are classified as undeserving? This question of desert 1428 has always seemed to me to be one of the most difficult in connection with the question. I think it is Hume who says somewhere that, if one were to go round the world intending to give a good supper to the righteous and a sound drubbing to the wicked he would often be embarrassed in his choice, and would find that the merits and demerits of most men and women did not amount to the value of either. That is perhaps a somewhat cynical view to take. I confess that I am not one of those who have ever believed that it is possible to exact a very close or nice test of desert in this matter of old-age pensions, and consequently we did not lay a heavy burden of proof on the proposed recipient of the pension. What we desire to do and what, I think, will in the result be done is to exclude a certain number who are notoriously unfit, but we do not want to pry meticulously into the lives of these old people, and it is quite possible that here and there some may creep in who, under a very strict interpretation of the word, might not be considered deserving. Still I think, although that may be a misfortune, it would be a less misfortune than the inquisition and hardship which would be involved by too close a system of inspection.
The noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, in what I can only call his diatribe against this Bill, spoke of it as a demoralising Bill both for the public generally and for those who were receiving the pensions. He spoke of the intense pressure that will be put on public men of all parties to do such things as to lower the age and to raise the amount. I am afraid that public men of all parties very often have considerable pressure put upon them to expend public money, and that is a pressure which they have to learn as best they can to resist. But when the noble Marquess talks of financial laxity and extravagance in this matter, did he hear the speech which was made earlier in the evening in which something was said of the cost of classification under the Poor Law? I think it was the noble Viscount Lord St. Aldwyn, who said that some of the guardians spent as much as 19s. per head upon classification, and another instance of 14s. was given.
§ *THE EARL OF CREWE
I confess the figure is rather startling, and at the same time this humble 5s. to be distributed under strict conditions does not seem to me to offer the same temptations of laxity in public expenditure as those which may be brought about even under the existing law. I have one word to say on the financial question. The noble Marquess put a question to me which was really a rhetorical one when he said he hoped that I would explain the manner in which this money is going to be found. It must be obvious that even if I knew the financial provisions that my right hon. friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer intends to insert in his next Budget I certainly should not be in a position to announce them to your Lordships to-night. There are various methods, one of which has undoubtedly been indicated by Lord Welby, by which some part of the money may be found. Whether that particular expedient, among others, will be resorted to, I am not in a position to say. Viscount St. Aldwyn said that, although he had been the author of many Budgets, he had never made proposals of this kind involving expenditure without indicating how that expenditure was to be met. No, not of this kind, but the noble Viscount was responsible—it was not his fault, but he was responsible—for very large loans, and he did not indicate how his successor was to find the money required for the interest on them.
Both my noble friend on the cross benches and the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, spoke in a highly serious tone of the possibility that this charge might interfere with the proper cost to be set aside for the defence of the country. I ask again, is that an argument with which you can go to the country? Can you tell people to choose between the Empire on the one hand and social reform on the other? If you are going to say that the defence of the Empire is so costly, and will become so much more costly, and that there are all kinds of political contingencies of which they know nothing, so that it is impossible for us to find the 1430 money for the social reforms they demand, I ask, is that the way to spread Imperial ideas in this country? I cannot conceive a worse service to the Empire than to go to the country with empty hands and say that the shipbuilding programme, and strengthening the Army, and this, that, and the other have taken all the money and that we have nothing to expend on such objects as this. I do not believe for a moment that this scheme, or any other expenditure engaged in by the Government, will for a moment be allowed to interfere with the proper defence of the Empire. Opinion may differ on this or that point on which it is necessary to spend money for defence, but I repeat what I have often said, that we are quite as fully alive to the needs of Imperial defence as any noble Lord in this House.
I was relieved to hear, at the close of the noble Marquess's speech, that he did not intend to vote against the Bill. I am bound to say that I almost thought he ought to vote against it if he thinks it worse than a war and quite as expensive, though lacking the agreeable educative effects of a great military campaign. But apart from the noble Marquess, I am pleased to believe that both sides of the House are in favour of this principle. We have had the name of Mr. Chamberlain mentioned, and I am glad to pay my humble tribute to the part which he has taken in the promotion of this cause, which is one, I believe, he really had at heart. I should like also to mention the name of one who is not a party politician, Mr. Charles Booth. To nobody is greater credit due than to him for having brought this question before the country. My Lords, you may like or you may not like the particular provisions in this Bill; but we do make this claim that, after all the Committees and Commissions, the talk and writing, the discussions in and out of Parliament there have been on this subject, we are making a start; and I think, in consideration of that fact, we may claim, at any rate, something like a friendly reception for the Bill as a whole. There are some half a million people in this country anxiously waiting for the passing of this Bill. If they could be brought together on some great plain it would be a pathetic crowd, many of them nearly worn out with lives of long, 1431 poorly remunerated labour. They, as I say—I have heard of many individual cases—are waiting with keen interest for the passing of this Bill. My noble friend behind me has been long in public life, but I believe I am speaking his sentiments when I say that I doubt if there is any occasion on which he has made a speech or given a vote with greater pleasure than he has done one and will do the other to-night. Speaking for myself, I can say the same. I have never had the honour of being associated with any subject in public life on which
§ it could be said that the benefit is so prompt. I am very glad to know that a very huge majority of your Lordships will be able to. look back, as I believe you will, with a feeling of warm satisfaction that you also have done something to support this cause.
§ On Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question,"
§ Their Lordships divided—Contents, 123; Not-Contents, 16.1433
|Canterbury L. Abp.||Churchill, V.||Herschell, L.|
|Loreburn, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Esher, V.||Hindlip, L.|
|Falkland, V.||Joicey, L.|
|Ripon, M. (L. Privy Seal.)||Iveagh, V.||Kenyon, L.|
|Portman, V.||Kesteven, L.|
|Argyll, D.||Ridley, V.||Killanin, L.|
|Devonshire, D.||St. Aldwyn, V.||Kilmarnock, L. (E. Erroll.)|
|Ailesbury, M.||Selby, V.||Kinnaird, L.|
|Bath, M.||Tredager, V.||Knaresborough, L.|
|Lansdowne, M.||Wolverhampton, V.||Lamington, L.|
|Beauchamp, E. (L. Steward.)||Lawrence, L.|
|Albemarle, E.||Ripon, L. Bp.||Leconfield, L.|
|Aylesford, E.||Southwark, L. Bp.||Lochee, L.|
|Carrington, E.||Wakefield, L. Bp.||Lucas, L.|
|Chichester, E.||Lyveden, L.|
|Craven, E.||Addington, L.||Macdonnell, L.|
|Crewe, E.||Airedale, L.||Manners, L.|
|Cromer, E.||Allendale, L.||Marchamley, L.|
|Denbigh, E.||Ampthill, L.||Northcliffe, L.|
|Eldon, E.||Armitstead, L.||Nunburnholme, L.|
|Ferrers, E.||Ashbourne, L.||Oriel, L. (V. Massereene.)|
|Fitzwilliam, E.||Basing, L.||Pirrie, L.|
|Haddington, E.||Blyth, L.||Ponsonby, L. (E. Bessborough.)|
|Liverpool, E.||Brassey, L.|
|Londesborough, E.||Braye, L.||Ramsay, L. (E. Dalhousie.)|
|Lovelace, E.||Burghclere, L.||Reay, L.|
|Mar and Kellie, E.||Burton, L.||Redesdale, L.|
|Mayo, E.||Colebrook, L.||Rendel, L.|
|Morley, E.||Cottesloe, L.||Ribblesdale, L.|
|Nelson, E.||Crawshaw, L.||St. Davids, L.|
|Onslow, E.||Curzon of Kedleston, L.||St. Levan, L.|
|Orford, E.||Denman, L. [Teller.]||St. Oswald, L.|
|Plymouth, E.||Digby, L.||Sanderson, L.|
|Portsmouth, E.||Douglas, L. (E. Home.)||Sandhurst, L.|
|Scarbrough, E.||Ellenborough, L.||Sandys, L.|
|Shaftesbury, E.||Eversley, L.||Saye and Sele, L.|
|Stanhope, E.||Faber, L.||Tennyson, L.|
|Vane, E. (M. Londonderry.)||Farrer, L.||Tweeddale, L. (M. Tweeddale.)|
|Verulam, E.||Fitzmaurice, L.|
|Waldegrave, E.||Glantawe, L.||Waleran, L.|
|Wicklow, E.||Grandard, L. (E. Granard.) [Teller.]||Weardale, L.|
|Althorpe, V. (L. Chamberlain).||Haversham, L.||Willoughby de Broke, L.|
|Headley, L.||Wolverton, L.|
|Northumberland, D.||Amherst, E.||Mar, E|
|Carnwath, E.||Avebury, L.|
|Abercorn, M. (D. Abercorn.)||Hardwicke, E||Belhaven and Stenton, L.|
|Fingall, L. (E. Fingall.)||Muskerry, L.||Wemyss, L. (E. Wemyss.) [Teller.]|
|Forester, L.||Newton, L. [Teller.]|
|Mowbray, L.||Stanmore, L.||Zouche of Haryngworth, L.|
§ Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Thursday next.