Mr. TYSON WILSON:
I beg to move,
That, in the opinion of this House, pensions adequate for a healthy and useful life should be paid to all widows with children or mothers whose family breadwinner has become incapacitated, such pensions to be provided by the State and administered by a committee of the municipal or county council wholly unconnected with the Poor Law.
This Motion deals with a subject which has never been discussed in this House before, and I venture to say that the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has used the best and strongest argument possible in favour of accepting this Motion. He has explained that under bad housing conditions it is impossible to rear a nation of A1 men and women. If the boys and girls have not the opportunity of being well fed and clothed you cannot expect to raise a nation of A1 men and women, and consequently I am somewhat encouraged by the remarks of my hon. Friend to think that he and the Government are prepared to give a sympathetic consideration to this Motion. I have just said that this question has never been discussed in the House of Commons before, but it is not an impracticable proposition. We have evidence from the other side of the Atlantic that it has been put into operation there with great success, for in twenty-five States in the United States out of forty-eight there is a system of mothers' pensions in operation. That is to a large extent the result of the good work done by Judge Neil, who came over to this country at the invitation of a number of associations that have been giving some consideration to the question of mothers' pensions. Those associations have made inquiries into the present method of dealing with orphan children, and investigations have shown that the present system is not a good one, but, indeed, that it is a bad one, and consequently we of the Labour party are taking this opportunity of inviting the Government to take up the question of the payment of mothers' pensions.
Some people may say that there is no necessity for the payment of mothers' pensions. I have heard people say that it is the duty of every man responsible for bringing a child into the world to make proper provision for the maintenance of that child. It is absolutely impossible for the great bulk of the working men and some of the professional classes to make proper provision for their families. Let me illustrate the position of the skilled worker. Suppose a man who is a skilled workman getting good wages gets married at the age of twenty-seven or twenty-eight, and sometimes earlier. He has a family of three, four, or even five children. That man may die, say, at the age of forty, leaving a widow and children. The man may have spent all he had saved furnishing the home. As a prudent man probably he would be a member of some friendly society and probably a trade union as well. When he dies there is the funeral or deaths benefit of £10 from the friendly society and £10 from his trade union, and he may have insured his life for 4d. or 6d. per week, and there may be £20 insurance money, and his widow would receive; altogether about £40. Now how far is that going to help the widow to bring up a family of four or five children? She cannot do it. This is the position of nine-tenths of the skilled workmen in the country. If the skilled workman cannot leave his widow in a position to maintain her children in decency and comfort, then something better than we have now ought to be done.
Let me go a little bit further, and illustrate what to my own knowledge has happened in two or three cases within the last few years. I have in mind the case of a man whom I knew pretty well, and who died when thirty-six years of age, leaving a widow with four children, three of them being under four years of age. The widow was expecting to become a mother again. He had insured his life for £100, and when the whole of the funeral expenses were paid there was £84 or £85 left for the widow. She, being in the state that she was, was unable to obtain work of any kind, but she kept the home on—perhaps she was not wise—believing that when she was fit to keep house again she would be able to make a living by taking in lodgers or letting a room. Unfortunately, when she was well enough to do housework, her money was gone, and the letting of rooms and the taking in of lodgers did not materialise. She sold some of her furniture, and eventually she stored as much furniture as would furnish two bedrooms and one living room and went to another part of the country and got work in a munition factory. She had been weakened owing to the struggle that she had had to make both ends meet and to keep her children decently clothed and fed, with the result that the dust and the hard work and a cold brought on rapid consumption. She was in her grave sixteen months after her husband died. The baby only lived four or five weeks after she died, and there was nothing for the children but to be taken into the workhouse unless someone was generous enough to come forward and maintain them. As a matter of fact some of her relatives did adopt some of the children, and they are in a good and comfortable home. Another case which occurs to my mind is that of a widow with five children. After her husband died she took in sewing and endeavoured to the best of her ability to maintain her children, denying herself all the luxuries of life and sometimes the necessaries of life. Two of the children won scholarships to a higher-grade school, but the mother's health, owing to the privations which she had undergone, broke down, and they had to be taken away from school and sent out to work to enable the mother to get nourishment and to keep the home going until she could work again.
I submit that this ought not to be in a highly civilised country like this. There is more than that to be borne in mind. Children who are brought up under such conditions have not the opportunity of developing the best that is in them. They have not the opportunity of becoming A1 men and women, and, if we wish to have a nation of A1 men and women, then the Government will not only have to subsidise houses, but they will have to subsidise mothers who are unable to maintain their orphan children in decency and comfort. It is said that there are some excellent institutions. There are, but the girls and boys brought up in the best of those institutions I am inclined to think are simply machine-made. They are brought up to a pattern; they have not an opportunity of developing the best that is in them. Many of those institutions are managed in the best possible manner, but they are not homes. A mother understands the temperaments of her children, and she knows when to give way and when to be firm. Unfortunately, generally speaking, those who look after the children in these institutions are always firm. A mother understanding her children always does her utmost to bring out the best that is in them, and she endeavours to encourage them and to bring out the individuality of the child more than they do in institutions. In my opinion, the fact that the mother does this makes better citizens of them. They are a better asset to the nation, and the only thing wanted is that the mother shall be placed in a position which shall enable her to bring up her children decently and in comfort, to make, them so far as she possibly can forget the loss of their father. We want the State in this case to take the place of the father.
I do not suggest that there ought not to be some supervision in connection with the payment of pensions to mothers. There would have to be supervision. While we recognise that a mother's love is the best love in the world—there is nothing like it—we have also to admit that there are some mothers who forget that they are mothers. Therefore, the State would have to be satisfied that the mothers' pensions were being well spent. Some people say, "Look at the cost of it." Personally, I have not made any estimate of the cost—it is the principle that I am concerned with—but surely after the way that we have raised money in the last four and a half years, I will not say to destroy life, but to safeguard civilisation, we can find money to give pensions to mothers. It is estimated that with £20;000,000 per year reasonable pensions could be paid to mothers, but do not let hon. Members run away with the idea that if it does cost £20,000,000 or £25,000,000 a year the money is lost, because money spent in this way, if it is paid out of taxes, will save the rates. I am told that it costs two and a half times less to keep a child in its own home under its mother's care than in an institution. Therefore, from that standpoint it is economy to see that the children are well fed, well housed, and well clothed. I am also informed that at the present time it costs 20s. per week for each child maintained, housed, and clothed at some of the Metropolitan Poor Law schools. If it costs 20s. per week to keep a child in those schools, I venture to suggest that if £3 per week were paid to a widow with five children it would maintain them quite as well, and probably better, and they would be happier in every respect in their own homes than in those Poor Law institutions, and we should save money on the deal.
From that standpoint alone, in my opinion, it is practical economy. The State recognises that it is the duty of the State to maintain the orphans of soldiers and sailors who fell in the War. I may be dense, but I cannot see any reason why, if a man who has been working in a munition factory and whose life has been shortened by long hours or by contracting some disease, leaves a wife and little children, that that widow and those children should not be recognised in the same way by the State as the widow and children of a soldier or sailor who has fallen in battle. It is no use trying to make A1 men and women of the sons and daughters of soldiers who have been killed, and at the same time to say that the children of the artisans who die shall not have the same chance. Therefore, seeing that we recognise our responsibilities to the children of deceased soldiers and sailors, I claim that we have a perfect right to ask the Government to recognise, in the interests of the State, and with the object of making better citizens, that pensions should be paid to widowed mothers. In my opinion, and this is the opinion of a large number of people who have interested themselves in the methods and systems of public institutions, very often some of these institutions are a stepping-stone to the prison or the reformatory. We know that neglected children meet with temptations in the streets, which lead often to immorality. We know that the children of a woman who is compelled, owing to the fact that she is a widow and has not sufficient money to keep herself and her children and has to go out to work, are neglected. That means that the home is neglected, and if the children are running wild in the streets we all know what that means. The woman who is left in such circumstances such as I have suggested is very often herself driven on to the streets to lead an immoral life in order to maintain herself and her children, and eventually she deserts the children and leaves them to go into public institutions.
On the ground of humanity, with the object of making the best of our human assets in this country, with the object of reducing crime and immorality, I appeal to the hon. Gentleman to give a promise that if he cannot accept this Motion he will accept the principles contained in it. The children of women placed in the circum- stances I have mentioned would, if pensions were given on the lines suggested, be able to lead a healthier and happier life than at the present time. What we really want is to see the children of a widowed mother placed in exactly the same position as the children of a man and woman living next door. We do not want a position to arise in which the children next door can point to the children of the widow and say, "Your mother is receiving parish relief." We want the State to recognise its responsibility and to provide the money required for the maintenance of the mother and children in the way suggested. These children, if they are given opportunities for making their way in the world, will relieve the State of the maintenance of the mother when they become old enough to work. Therefore, I claim that from every standpoint, moral, physical, and intellectual, and also from the standpoint of economy, it would be wise on the part of the Government to adopt the principle contained in this Motion.
I do not want to depend upon illustrations which I know myself to be true, but I would like to refer to letters written in response to a leaflet issued by an association which has taken considerable interest in this matter. There are any numbers of letters, but I will only read one. It is dated, London, 13th January, 1919:
My own case is one of many. I was left with four little children under four years six years ago. Since then my health was bad. I have been forced to part with some of my little ones, and even now it is a grief to visit them in Poor Law schools. Certainly they are looked after, but they have not a mother's love or home comforts which are essential to a child's, happiness and health. I have proved myself the difference in the two children away and the two I work hard to keep; one has only to look to see which are the happier. My husband done his bit for his country years ago, but if ever I wanted assistance in illness I am told, if my husband were serving, it would be different. Surely his children have as much right to live as any others, but apparently because they have not a father they must not expect to get a place in the world. But I have to be father and mother, and while I live I shall fight to give my little ones what they have a perfect right to—a happy home.
There are other letters in a similar strain. That letter proves what is really thought by the women who have lost their breadwinners. Whilst we are dealing with many social subjects that ought to have been dealt with years ago, whilst we recognise that all these social reforms and problems of reconstruction cost
money, I also recognise that this scheme will cost money. If the spending of millions upon better houses—and I agree to the fullest possible extent with the argument in favour of the Housing Bill—is justified, let the hon. Gentleman realise that unless he does something for these widows they will not be able to live in these better houses, but will have to continue to live in the slums in the cheapest houses they can get. Let it be remembered also that these women are the prey of the sweater. The sweater makes bargains with these women, knowing that they cannot refuse to accept any price that is offered to them for doing certain work. I am fully aware of the trades boards, but the trades boards do not reach to every nook and cranny in the slums of this country. If we are to build houses fit for men and women to live in, let us, at the same time, have pensions for mothers, and make the boys and girls who come from the homes of these widows fit men and women of this country.
For the second time I crave the indulgence of the House. I had to go to the mines at a very early age and I had to finish what schooling I got in that severe university of practical experience, the mine. Therefore, I hope hon. Members will give me a little sympathy when I am dealing with so important a matter as this. I desire to associate myself with the eloquent plea made by my hon. Friend. This is the most human case that could be put before the House. It is for the children of this nation that we are pleading now. I believe it was the Prime Minister who said on one occasion that we could not expect to build up an A1 nation with a C3 people, and I entirely agree. The children of the nation are its greatest asset, and I know of none greater The ravages of the War have to be made good, and we can only do that by bringing up a sturdy race of British people, and we have got to commence with the children. There is an old saying that God helps those who help themselves, but the widow and her children are placed in such a position that it is impossible for them to get beyond a state of poverty and want. There can be no good reason shown for this. Why should the wife and children of an honest man who has done his best for his nation be called upon to suffer penury and want? The duty of the State is to see that those children have a decent chance in life, and a chance equal at least to that of the children of the ordinary worker. From my experience as a guardian of the poor, I desire to bring two instances which came under my notice before the House. First of all, let me take the case of the children who have lost both father and mother. There the guardians adopt the children and become father and mother to them. Boards of guardians who know their duty are not contented with placing those children in barracks of whatever description. I agree with my hon. Friend that there are some schools where good work is being done, but, after all, home life is something that would tend to make better citizens than even barrack life. My experience as a guardian is that once you invoke the aid of the Poor Law, as we know it now, in after life the people come back again to it, and we want if possible to avoid that position. Where the children are adopted there is usually a committee of the guardians charged with the duty of looking after them and of seeing that the best is being done for them, and I desire to say here that some good results have accrued from the action of guardians in meeting the difficulty in that way.
But what of the children of the widow, or of the wife of a man who has been incapacitated from work by disease or accident? The mother goes to the guardians and she is told that because she is under sixty years of age and able bodied no relief whatever can be given to her, and that she must work. But that does not seem to be sufficiently cruel for the Poor Law, because instead of giving to the mother as in the other case some 7s. 6d. or 10s. per week per child, she is only given 2s. or 3s. per week with which to bring up three, four, or five children as the case may be, and that is a totally impossible task for any woman to undertake. Very often prior to the death of the father the parents lived in a decent house with the rent probably a little high, and oftentimes in my own hearing guardians have told mothers that they must get cheaper houses, so that the few shillings given to them may enable them to lead a miserable existence. Thus the woman is driven from a good home into the slums with all her children, and the result inevitably is that instead of being brought up as good citizens they become subjects for sanatoria or industrial schools or reformatories and prisons and in the case of the girls far worse than death. That is the position to-day in highly civilised England as to the treatment of the children of the fatherless. I desire to do what I can to remove that stain, and I plead with the House and with the Government to at once set about this work. Sometimes the bitter thought has crossed my mind when dealing with these matters, that it would have been better for the children if the mother had died also, because then something would have been done for the children, whereas under present circumstances the mother and children are left to drift into penury and want on every conceivable occasion. There have been instances where the authorities have taken the children from the mother and have placed them in cottage homes at a cost of something like 19s. per week per head, when those institutions were first opened. I believe that the figure to-day is anywhere from 15s. to 16s. per week, and that is made up of 5s. for food and clothing, 5s. for redemption and interest and 5s. for management. It would have been far better to have given the mother and the children that money than to send them to any home. Under those circumstances the children would have had the advantage of parental control. As a magistrate I have had the experience of seeing children brought before the court for some little delinquency. The presiding magistrate, who may be kindly enough in his way, may speak of them as badly trained children, but he forgets that the mother has to work from early morning till late at night to get the wherewithal to keep the children. The mother may be told that she ought to see to it that her children are better boys and girls, but what control can she exercise over them when she is away from morning till night working? But the most tragic thing of all is the after life of these children. They have no chance whatever, but immediately on attaining the age of fourteen at the very outside they must find some work to do, because any relief from the guardians then ceases, and they are bound to take the most menial occupation that is offered, drifting into blind alleys, and finally landing into that class that this country knows to its detriment is far too crowded, and becomes a menace in the time of depression—I mean the class of the general labourer—and this is the position of these children all the while. I could detail other matters, but I do not wish to weary the House. The help that is necessary should be immediately given, and I beg of the Government to start this good work at the very earliest opportunity. I ask the endorsement of my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board of what we are seeking, for, after all, the tragedy is of so great a character that it requires every assistance that is possible to be found, for the sake of saving these children to the nation. In conclusion, I believe, and I am sure that both hon. and right hon. Gentlemen will agree with me, that once this nation has learned to give this help at the time when it is necessary, when it has enacted that godlike law of the brotherhood, aye, and the sisterhood, of its citizens, then I believe, will evolve that nobler, that brighter, and that new England that we are all desirous of securing.
I am glad that the first word I am speaking in this House since my election is to be spoken on behalf of the widow and children. I thank the Mover of this Motion for having brought it forward, because it has given me an opportunity of discharging a pledge that I gave to the people in my district on a similar Motion. I had it in my address as a measure for immediate consideration. As a magistrate and as chairman of my bench, I have had several cases brought to my notice which showed me clearly that something in this way was required. I have had experience also as a charity trustee of the division and as chairman of the school board. Therefore, these cases have come to my notice numerously and frequently, and I sincerely hope that this House to-night will pass this Resolution and that the Government will take it in charge and see that it is carried out without any further delay. I would only point out that the Poor Law institutions to which these children would have to go are not popular in any part of the country, and I hope they never will be popular. I hope that the Government will take over these institutions and see that the children are properly cared for. There is one other claim whereby these children should get the support of the State. Assuming that this mother struggles to bring up her children—her boys, for instance—until they are eighteen years of age, what does the State do on that occasion? In the case of an emergency such as we have recently gone through it comes in and conscripts those boys and makes them do their duty, and rightly too. But, at the same time, I hold that it is the duty of the State to see that the children in the State are properly looked after, and I thank the Mover of this Motion for having brought it forward.
There are a very few words I wish to add, because the two speeches of the Mover and Seconder have so fully and eloquently dealt with the subject that there is very little left to say. But I would like to thank them from the bottom of my heart for having brought this matter forward, because I have long had it at heart, and I am pleased to think it is now brought within the range of practical politics. For several generations we have staunchly and mechanically pursued the creation of wealth and imagined that human welfare was bound to ensue. But now, thank goodness, we have reversed the process and placed the emphasis on the human welfare, and if I were asked to describe in a sentence what we are doing in this House now, I should say we are trying our best to humanise and Christianise our industrial system. I am thankful to say that we have met with a great measure of success, and nobody rejoices more than I do that large categories of workers are now receiving an adequate standard of life. But there are large categories of people in this country whom we have done very little good to at the present moment. There is what used to be called the residuum, there is the sweated worker, the sweated woman and the stunted child, the casual worker, and the man who is poor simply and solely because the poverty of his parents has condemned him to poverty, and few will, I imagine, feel disposed to dissent from what William Morris once wrote:
If civilisation does not aim at giving some share of the happiness and dignity of life to all the people that it has created it is simply an organised injustice, all the harder to overthrow because supported by such a dense mass of commonplace comfort and well-being.
There is no more pitiful person in our society than the widowed mother, who perhaps when her husband was alive was in fairly comfortable circumstances. If she is left with three or four children she has three sorrowful alternatives. She must either institutionalise her children, or she must pauperise them, or she must work herself to the bone in order to keep them alive. As a matter of fact, she generally breaks down under the trial, and she is in effect the most sweated worker in our midst. This scheme which the hon.
Member for Westhoughton has brought forward is, I consider, based first of all on the principles of justice, reason, and sound national economy. It is based on principles of justice, because what is there more unjust than that a woman, simply because she is poor, should have her children taken away from her? It is based on principles of reason, because what is more reasonable than to suppose that the influence of the home and the influence of the mother is ten times better for the child than the influence of any institution, however well managed? And it is based on sound national economy, because there is no greater fallacy than to suppose that it is to the national advantage that children should be brought up ill-nurtured. As a matter of fact, if you analyse the inhabitants of our asylums, our prisons, and all the great unemployable casual workers, you will find that nine out of ten in their early youth and in their childhood have been underfed and neglected.
As for the details of the scheme, it is, I understand, proposed that the scale of pension should be somewhat similar to what is given under the Army Regulations for separation allowances—that is, 16s. for the mother, 7s. for the first child, 5s. for the second, 3s. 6d. for the third, and 3s. for each additional child. The hon. Gentleman who moved this said it was impossible to give any exact estimate of the cost, but I have been told that if widows only are given a pension the cost would come to some £10,000,000. Of course it would be greater if you added the deserted wives and their children, and also the wives of men who are incapable of working. It is not a large sum, and against that there will be something to write off in respect to the widows under the Poor Law and the children in reformatory schools. I believe we know very little indeed about the number of widows either in receipt of out-relief or in workhouses, which, I cannot help thinking, is somewhat a reflection on the Local Government Board. All we do know is that an outdoor pauper, whether adult or juvenile, costs some £7 17s. 6d. a year, whereas a child in a Poor Law school in the Metropolitan area used to cost £37 a year and now costs £52 a year. I do not see why one should not assume, also, there might be a reduction in the number of children in our reformatory schools.
One of the strongest reasons for the wonderful popularity of this scheme in America is that they found a large percentage of delinquent children were children of fathers who had died. I noticed the other day that the Corporation of Glasgow instituted an inquiry into juvenile delinquency in Glasgow, and they found it was to a very large extent caused by the dreadful neglect. It seems commonsense that if you give back to the parent the children, there will be less juvenile delinquents in the country, and, what is more, give the mother time to look after the child. Of course, a good deal of the success of such a scheme as this would result from the supervision you gave to it. What measure of ill-success has attended this scheme in America is due to the fact that they have not got such good machinery for supervision as that which is available in England. In America the supervision is to a very large extent left in the hands of the Juvenile Courts. I think we can do better than that. In this country we have, for instance, health visitors, school attendance officers, children's care committees, maternity and infant welfare committees, and, if the Poor Law is reformed, we shall have home assistance committees, so that there is no need in this country, at all events, to set up special machinery for the carrying out of this scheme.
There is only one more point to which I would allude. I saw a criticism in the "Morning Post"—I think it was this morning—in which it was said that it would lead to great extravagance because the cost would be borne by the State and the administration would be by the local authority. As a matter of fact, the scheme proposes that 25 per cent. of the cost should be borne by the local authority, so that the local authority would have a considerable stimulus to carry out this scheme economically. All I can say in conclusion once more is to thank the hon. Member for having brought this forward, and I do most sincerely hope the Government will give it a favourable consideration and bring in legislation at no very distant date to carry out the idea of the scheme.
If this Motion were to go to a Division this evening, I should certainly vote for it. I do not wish to bind myself to the exact terms of the Motion, because, as the hon. Gentleman who introduced it stated, this is a matter which has never before been brought in a practical way before the House of Commons, but it seems to me that the principle of this Motion is incontrovertibly beneficial to the country. What is it really that is aimed at by this? It seems to me that what we are asking for is a system of pensions to cover the case of a widow and her children who do not at present come within the Workmen's Compensation Act, and for whom, at present, the State, or even local authorities, make no provision. Hon. Members who have spoken have referred in eloquent terms to the immense value of the home to the children of this country. I think it was His Majesty the present King who on one occasion stated that the strength of England lies in the homes of her people. Never was truer words stated, and I do think it is a most melancholy and depressing thought when we consider the case of these widows whose husbands do not come within the Workmen's Compensation Act. The woman has just lost her husband. She is distraught by the grief and anguish of his death. Then, in addition to that, she suddenly finds herself in a position to be unable even to support her children, whom she may love as truly as she loved her husband that is gone. What can she do but put them out in some institution or other. Institutions are excellent in their way, and I do not wish to say a word against them, but institutions are impersonal things, and no institution, however well managed, or with whatever amount of care and thought it is carried on, can, under any circumstances or under any conceivable conditions, replace the home as a suitable place to bring up young children. In my opinion, sooner or later, this reform is certain to come. The mere fact that the women of the country now have the vote makes it certain that its advent will be brought much nearer, since this Parliament was elected on this franchise, than it ever was before in the days of former Parliaments. The hon. Gentleman who moved the Motion referred to the visit of Judge Neil to this country. I think his visit did a great deal of good in helping to bring this question before the country. Judge Neil is an American judge, and he came to this country, as far as I understand, to put before it and to explain the system of mothers' pensions in the United States of America. I believe that thirty out of the States of the American Union have already adopted the system of mothers' pensions and with very beneficial results, as the Noble Lord who has just spoken has stated. Judge Neil, as well as visiting this country, went to Ireland, and visited Dublin, Belfast, and Coleraine. As representing an Irish constituency, I should like to give the House a few figures in regard to this matter in Ireland. In 1916 the administration of the Poor Law in Ireland cost £1,400,000. I am taking these facts from a pamphlet issued by the Irish branch of the Mothers' Pensions Society. Widows and children accounted for a large proportion of this expenditure. There were 4,000 children in Irish workhouses, 2,500 boarded out, and 1,000 in Poor Law schools. Industrial schools cost £176,000 per annum; reformatories, £90,000. In addition, the Irish asylums contain large numbers of women, many of whom may possibly have found their way there owing to the hardships and the deprivations which they suffered by being placed in this impecunious position by the death of their husband. In 1916, £123,000 was spent by charitable institutions in dealing with the children who were left destitute in this way. I feel that it is most important, at any rate as far as it affects the welfare of many poor persons in Ireland, that this reform should come about at as early a date as possible.
I cannot, of course, refrain from referring to the cost in this matter, and no doubt the cost will largely figure in the speech from the Government Bench when it comes to be made. Nobody realises more than I do the vital necessity for economy at this moment. The hon. Gentleman who moved this Resolution rather adopted, I thought, a point of view which the other day was deprecated by a colleague of his, the right hon. Gentleman the late Food Controller. He said something to the effect that with all the millions that had been spent in this War surely the comparatively small number of millions which this reform would mean was of little consequence! I do not want to approach it in that way, for I think the feeling that, because we have spent millions in the War, it does not matter what we spend millions on now, is one of very great danger to the financial future of the country. We must consider this question to a great extent from the point of view of cost and the point of view of economy. We know, first of all, that if pensions for mothers were introduced they
must mean, by the very nature of things, a saving in the poor rate and in charitable donations which are at present given. Generally, I think, another saving could be made, and should be made at the earliest possible moment, by the more economical administration of Government Departments in general. Out of that, at any rate, you could provide something towards the institution of this pension. There is one aspect of the matter, possibly it will not appeal altogether to the hon. Gentleman who moved and seconded this Motion, of which we should not lose sight. I mention it purposely, after having referred to the question of economy, because I want all avenues of approach to this question to be considered. I am going to mention the possibility that this scheme, or at any rate some part of the scheme, may be put on a contributory basis. I have before me the copy of a resolution which was unanimously passed in September of last year by the National Conference of Friendly Societies. That resolution was in the following terms:
That this conference considers the provision of annuities for widows and children of persons who have died from sickness to be an essential factor in any scheme of national reconstruction, as well as a necessary preliminary to the constitution, on a sound basis, of a Ministry of Health, and urges on the Government the necessity of preparing and bringing into operation a scheme providing such annuities. The conference would remind the Government that there is already in existence for the successful carrying out of this great object a complete and efficient administrative machinery in the registered friendly societies and approved societies.
That, of course, is a resolution in favour of a reform of this nature based on a contributory system. With regard to that I have had furnished to me some figures. These figures are not strictly actuarial, but they have been worked out by one of the miners' benefit societies from their experience in paying pensions to widows of men who have died as the result of accidents in mines. This may, at any rate, be some rough guide as to what a contributory scheme would cost. To pay an annuity of £26 to each widow there should be a total weekly contribution of 11¾d. For an annuity of £6 10s. for each child under fourteen there is a contribution of 3¼d. Then they had a grant of £30 to the parents or next-of-kin of a single man or a widower leaving no dependants, with a contribution of 1¼d. They loaded the weekly contribution, in order to dispense with the waiting period, with 1¼d., and the total joint weekly contribution was
1s. 7d. If a contributory scheme were introduced the total contribution should be so loaded that the payment should come into operation even though the man died the very day after introducing these provisions, so that there would be no having to wait so many weeks after contributions had begun before anybody was paid a pension. Taking that weekly contribution figure of 1s. 7d., it might be divided something as follows: 10d. to be paid by the person, 6d. by the State, and 3d. by the employer. Of course, I do not stick to these figures, but I think that it would be extremely foolish to rule out the system of contributory pensions altogether as being impracticable and impossible, because many reforms have come much later than otherwise they would have done, simply because those who were anxious to get them, in their natural desire to get everything at once, threw away opportunities of getting something a great deal less more quickly.
Earlier in this Session I put a question on this matter to the Leader of the House. I asked him whether the Government were prepared to introduce a scheme of State-aided pensions to widows with necessitous children? and his reply was that it could not be done. In a supplementary question I asked whether the matter could not be made part of the general scheme of reconstructional reform, and the reply was to the effect that the matter had been carefully considered, and that, at any rate, for the moment it was thought to be impracticable. I shall await with great interest the reply of the Government upon this matter to-night. Surely we are entitled to expect great results from these pensions when they come. There are many people who opposed the old age pensions, yet I do not think that there is any man to-day, in whatever part of the House he may sit, who does not realise that the system of old age pensions has proved an inestimable benefit to the old people of this country. I consider that this scheme of pensions when it comes will prove of equal benefit in this case, and perhaps even more important, for it is not to the old people we have to look for the future of the country, but to the younger people, including these young widows, and, above all, to the children of the country who will be the men and women upon whom the country must depend for its future greatness and power. This is, in my opinion, a very important reconstructional reform, and I think it will do as much as, if not more, than any of the reconstructional proposals which have come before this House, to bring about that better state of contentment and comfort of the people that promised land, which we were told we were to look for, and which we hope to obtain as a result of all the sorrows, sacrifices, and horrors of the great War.
The Noble Lord (Lord H. Cavendish-Bentinck) said that this Resolution was tending to Christianise the legislation of this country. I hope that that is so. If all legislation is to be approached by this House in the spirit of Christ, we shall not have many controversies when it is a question of beneficial projects coming up for discussion. I would like first to bring before the House a case which came under my notice in the very early days of my association with a big works. One of the workmen was killed. He left a widow with six children. The eldest of them was eight years old. As the House will readily understand, a widow in those circumstances has a very poor chance of earning her living. She has to rely entirely upon what I may term charity. This woman received the workman's compensation, but it was utterly inadequate to maintain her even with the bare necessities of life. A subscription list was opened for her benefit. I think that the workmen in the works itself subscribed £150, and altogether, including what the firm subscribed, there was something like £300 subscribed for her. She invested that £300, foolishly as I thought at the time, in a shop. The shop was a failure in a very few years, mainly through her bad business methods, and she was practically destitute again.
What chance is there for a woman of that kind? I see very little prospect of any chance for her in life. In giving that case I think I make it clear that I am in favour of the principle of this Resolution. I think that Labour Members opposite, if they detest anything, detest charity, and I detest it also. We want to try to get to bedrock, to get rid of this charity, to do something which will get away from the feeling which they have when they have to come to rich people or people who have money or to their fellow workmen—for there are no more charitable people than fellow workmen. Time and again I have found that fellow workmen have come to their benefit and given as much as 6s. out of their weekly wage, which they could ill-spare, to the destitute funds, and if the rich people gave in proportion to what the poor workmen give, there would be a great deal more for charitable institutions given in this country. In order to get away from charity, I do not think that the Resolution does exactly what hon. Members opposite are desirous of doing. In place of the Poor Law they are submitting a committee of municipal and county councils. I ask them to consider whether such a committee would not in a very short time be just as objectionable as the Poor Law is at the present moment, and whether there might not be that spirit of inquiry into the circumstances of the person to which they object, which is so detestable from my point of view as much as from theirs. And also that there is a certain amount of taint—the taint of the Poor Law is the phrase to which they object—there is just as much objection to the taint of a pension as there is to the taint of Poor Law. I am trying to put forward an alternative scheme which, I think, would forward the views that hon. Members have in mind.
I feel as strongly as most people on this point, and have been in correspondence with the Pensions Minister upon it. But that is not the particular matter I wish now to refer to. As many hon. Members are no doubt aware, I am a keen advocate of profit-sharing, and in my own works I have a profit-sharing scheme administered by a committee. I believe something in the nature of a works committee which will provide these pensions out of the profits which are made is a more desirable thing to be achieved. If you have a works committee meeting at frequent intervals to discuss all matters which are pertinent to the works and to the welfare of the workers—their pensions and their salaries, and what is still more important the true interests of the firm, in that way we might achieve all that we desire in the matter of production. The hon. Member for St. Helens (Mr. Sexton) in an earlier debate this evening mentioned the question of production, and said what was absolutely true, that in certain cases employers had not done their duty, and therefore the workers were suspicious of them. I am sure that if we had in every works a Workers Committee to discuss not only the question we are debating to-night, but also other questions connected with the works, it would be to the advantage not only of the works, but also of the workers. When one gets to the bedrock of the matter it is clear the interests of the workers and employers are identical. I am deeply in favour of the principle which underlies this Resolution, and shall vote for it if it goes to a Division.
I wish to support the Resolution, and I cannot help thinking it is a very happy coincidence that this Resolution should have come on to-night, following as it does a two days' Debate on housing, and I can only hope that the Minister in charge will be able to accept the Motion as a sort of coping-stone of the structure which we began to raise this afternoon. Earlier in the day we were discussing the provision of decent houses. This Motion provides for the keeping together of families which would otherwise be scattered but which may inhabit some of these houses. My main reason for supporting the Resolution is that we must keep the families in their own homes as far as we possibly can. In the days of Aristotle the whole idea of the State was based upon the household. Although children may be better fed and better clothed in Poor Law institutions, if they cease to be members of families there is lacking a very important feature in their bringing up. It is to the interest of the country that children should be brought up in their own homes, and, though it may cost money, I believe it would prove a good national investment. We fail to realise what for the mother is the main work of life. It is, or should be, the bringing up of her children. Unfortunately, children are too often looked upon as a sort of byproduct, and it is considered by some people that the main work of the women is to go out, perhaps, to earn a miserable wage or, at any rate, to follow some occupation in life other than the bringing up of her children. In the case of widows and deserted mothers, and mothers whose husbands are in prison, it is very often impossible for them to carry out that main object in life simply because they have not the wherewithal to do it. If, however, this Motion is carried and put into operation, the necessary money will be provided.
There are certain objections which have not been quite sufficiently emphasised to-night. In the first place, there is the great difficulty about illegitimate children. In America these children are allowed to receive pensions, but it is stated—I do not know on what ground—that very few applications are made in respect of them. This is, of course, a matter which requires to be very carefully dealt with. We do not want to encourage illegitimacy; we want to do all we can to avoid it. Secondly, there is undoubtedly the danger that these pensions may have the effect of depressing wages by enabling women to go out and work for lower remuneration. But I think that difficulty is absolutely met by the minimum wage laid down by the Wages Board. Lastly, there is the objection raised very frequently that in the case of deserted mothers there would be collusion, and so long as the woman could draw a pension the husband would take care not to come back. I cannot help thinking that this danger is exaggerated. At any rate, it could be met by a suggestion I will venture to make. We have learned a very great lesson from what has been going on in connection with the old Soldiers' and Sailors' Families Association and, more recently, with the war pensions committees—I mean the bringing together by means of friendly visitation and friendly interest people of leisure with those who are receiving pensions and who want advice or help. This bringing together of the leisured women of the country and their poorer sisters in a friendly but not a patronising way, with the view of helping them as friends, has done an immense amount of good in this country. It has tended to break down that great class barrier which everyone of us wishes to see destroyed at the earliest possible moment, and I believe that if these pensions are granted they should be accompanied by a system whereby payment should be conditional on a regular visitation of the recipient by friendly visitors to be approved by the authorities, the visitation to be to the home of the widow or mother with a view of helping and advising her and standing by her in her trouble. That would, I think, be a good safeguard against abuses which might otherwise grow up.
I should like to join with hon. Members in congratulating very heartily indeed my hon. Friend (Mr. T. Wilson) on using his success in the ballot to bring forward this question to-night. As has been indicated already, we began the day by talking of methods to provide the house, and we are ending it with considering how we can maintain the home. We cannot have the home without the house, and the house without the home is but an empty shell. I desire to associate myself most warmly with the proposal. It has been my privilege to meet Judge Neil. All who have met him must have fallen under the fascination of his charm. We are not dealing with a matter which has not already been carefully considered. We are also dealing with one which has been put largely into practice. We shall be doing wisely if we follow our sister country across the sea and treat mothers here as they have learned to treat mothers there. In legislation and administration the nearer we can get to nature the better and the further we go from it the worse. It is not only the husband and wife that God has joined together. The mother and the child are even more closely joined. I do consider that they should never be put asunder if it is possible to keep them together. The object which this proposal has in view is to maintain that natural union, that the mother may look after the child, and that the child shall not be sent to the care of some institution. I should be the last man to depreciate the work of our various institutions—I know how carefully and humanely they are managed—but an institution at its best can be only second best. We want for the child the very best that can be provided, and that is the home. It has been said tonight that the child is the country's greatest asset. We ought to guard that asset and enshrine it in the home, which is its proper place. If we follow those lines, we must do that which is most beneficial to the race. I should like to say a word in regard to the economic aspect of the matter. We must consider that. I do not attempt to urge the question from the standpoint that, as we are spending so much in other directions, we can spend a little more still. That cumulative process would simply ruin any nation. I look at the matter from the practical standpoint. That is the spirit in which Judge Neil himself has brought it forward. If you talk with him you will learn that he is a very practical man indeed, not a man governed merely by sentiment. He says that it is not only the better and the safer way in which to treat children, but also the more economical way, and that, in the long run, instead of this costing the nation more, it will cost the nation less. Those are points which it is the duty of the Government to look into. The Motion before the House does not give any details. We are not discussing a Bill; we are discussing a great principle. If we can make the principle such that the Government is bound to accept it, it is the duty of the Government to go into all the details and produce them in the form of a Bill. The subject-matter before us, therefore, is purely the principle involved in the Resolution. It is because I believe in the principle, and that we are bound to adopt it in the interests of the children and of the race, and because in the long run it is more economical for the nation, that I desire very heartily to support the the Motion.
In a few words I desire to associate myself with the principle of the Motion that has been proposed. The hon. Gentleman who moved it set out in detail many of the advantages which must result from its adoption, and with those various advantages I am in entire agreement. I believe that the wealth of the nation consists in its sons and daughters. I believe also that there never was a time when the work of the nation in that sense required so much care, so much attention, and so much fostering as it does at the present time. For that reason I would strongly support any measure which would tend to the elevation of race, which would tend to the improvement of the children, and which would tend to give the children of this country a better start in life than they have now. While agreeing that our great institutions which are interested in child-welfare are well-managed—perhaps as well-managed as they could be in the circumstances—everyone must admit that there is nothing on this earth that can take the place of a mother's love and a mother's care. Those children who have to be brought up and started in life without the fostering influence of a mother start with the greatest possible handicap.
I do not wish, nor do I intend, to elaborate the various points made already on this Motion. I only desire to point out a great evil that exists—not, prehaps, so much in this country as in other countries—that is, the desire to check the growth of families. It is an evil that is very much felt in some parts of the Continent. It is greatly deplored there. It is to be deplored that it has been noticed also in this country. No doubt to some extent part of the cause of that desire to check the growth of families is the feeling experienced by the most prudent of men that before a man may have his position in life established, before he can have sufficient means to provide for the welfare of his family he may be cut off and leave his family penniless. After the great War through which we have passed everyone admits that we ought to have in this country a period in which there should be large families. One of the results of this measure, if it should become law, would be that that fear and that dread which does operate in a great many cases would be removed. Therefore, for that reason, in addition to the others already mentioned, I am strongly in favour of the principle enunciated in this Motion. I would also like to say a word about the question of the cost. No doubt we shall hear before this Debate closes particulars of what any scheme of this kind would cost. But I am of opinion that you cannot measure with any reasonable degree of accuracy what the money cost of a scheme of this measure would be, because once you have it in full working order with the benefits which must accrue from it, you will have a great decrease in the cost of Poor Law administration, in the cost of our asylums, and, more important still, in the cost of criminal administration, because the mother, having the time to devote to her own children, her sole interest being their welfare, not having to drag herself away from them day after day to work for a poor wage in order to keep them alive, will devote her attention to seeing that they get a proper upbringing, and are not allowed to stray into paths where temptation is likely to meet them. But whatever the cost may be, we have learned one lesson during the past four or five years, and that is not to think too much of money, and whatever the cost of this scheme may be, whether it costs £20,000,000 or double that amount, if only half the results which have been foretold to-night ensued, we are all agreed that it would be very cheap at the price. I am glad to have had an opportunity of associating myself with this great social measure, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give us some encouragement to hope that in the near future it shall take practical form.
I desire to add a word or two on behalf of what I consider to be the neglected mothers of Great Britain. It takes, perhaps, one who is associated with the upbringing of large families to realise to the very full how seriously handicapped are the mothers, more particularly those from the poorer classes of this country. We all have recollections of our own mothers' periods of anxieties in our upbringing. Those who are responsible for the rearing of families are unduly handicapped in every possible respect throughout the whole of their career. In the first place, wages are not based upon responsibility. The single man and the married man without a family receive the same return in wages for services given as does the parent with, say, eight or nine children, none of them of an age when they are ready to seek employment. You will quite appreciate, I am sure, the difficulties surrounding the mother under such circumstances. It means, as has too often happened, the parting of one large room and the mixing together of opposite sexes, because the income of the home is not even sufficient to pay the price of a fairly decent house, let alone the purchase of really decent food and the provision of really decent home comforts. What can you expect to arise from that? Need you wonder at the condition of your slum areas because you drive the parents into seeking cheap, dilapidated, closely confined, unhealthy, insanitary dwellings, herding together in large numbers, and there you keep them. Picture, if you can, the anxieties of a mother under these circumstances. The man leaves it. He seeks some change elsewhere. The mother is with it the whole of her time. Picture, if you can, those anxious moments when a cough develops amongst the little children. There is no ability to provide medical attention, and even good medical attention would be stultified by reason of the bad housing that you have driven them to in consequence of lack of income. The cheap quack doctor and the cheap chemists' mixtures do more harm than good to a child. You wear away prematurely all the vitality that the mother is capable of. You give her restless nights and careworn periods through no fault of her own, and then when they rear their families you call the males of eighteen a State commodity. You claim them as belonging to the State. They must shoulder a rifle and fight in defence of the country that declined to give adequate protection to their mother, and assistance to them when they were unable to make provision for themselves. If the children belong to the State, let the State accept and embrace its responsibilities.
I approach the matter rather from the point of view, Is it right that you should make generous provision to the mothers. responsible for the rearing of a large family? Every hon. Member will say "it is quite right; it should be done; we will accept in principle anything that tends that way," but when the crucial period comes it is always cost. If it is right, if it is only just, you must be generous in your treatment of the mother who is responsible for the rearing of these children. The cost to my mind ought never to weigh in the balance with the life of a child. The larger families are found amongst the poorer inhabitants of the country, where they have the least of resources to make provision for the increased responsibility. Large families are not general amongst the well-to-do. It is not to the poor people that you need to preach about the restriction of families. It is amongst those people who do not want children. You will find the large families and the greatest degree of suffering amongst the poor. I think in connection with our Ministry of Health you will find ample repayment for any expenditure caused by generous pensions to mothers. I do not want you to be inquisitorial and to want to know this, that or the other, or as to whether Jack or Fred ought not to be out at work. I do no want to play upon the exploitation of a boy's earning capacity. I want you to be generous enough to make provision which will free the home from any anxiety as to where the next meal is coming from. Assuming, for a moment, that there is a man who will not accept to the full his responsibilities, that ought not to count against the mother and the children. Deal with the man in some other way. Certainly, however, make some provision for the mother, for with her is the responsibility of bringing up the family. I know that there is at present a good deal of propaganda going on—and I do not blame some of it—which asks, Why should the parents bear a responsibility that brings with it pain, misery, and suffering by having an increase in their family? A logical mind certainly would dictate to one on those lines: "Why should I accept a responsibility for which I am unable to make provision?" But the nation will suffer. Why should you expect families of ten, twelve, fourteen and more to come into the homes of working-class people and give to them full responsibility and liability of rearing all those children when you know very well that it only means prematurely shortening the life of the mother or the father? I do not mind whether any other nation has or has not undertaken to make this provision. That is not part of my argument, which is, Is it, or is it not, right that until industry recognises the great responsibility the State should make good any deficiency occasioned by the acceptance of the principle? I can suppose a man speaking to an employer of labour along these lines. He would probably say, "You have established a minimum rate of wages." Often, however, a young single man of vigour and muscle is more profitable to the employer. He certainly receives the standard wage. The married man, whatever his responsibilities may be, is of no concern in that connection to the employer. He accepts him as a piece of profit-making machinery. He employs him because it pays him, and because industry cannot accept that responsibility the State ought to do so.
I am convinced that the mothers of Great Britain should really from now onwards receive greater consideration than has hitherto been their lot. One does not want even good charitably-disposed persons to go to their houses and make inquiries as to their means or as to whether they provide this, that, or the other! We want to establish as a matter of right and justice what the State owes to the mothers of the children. I hope, and I feel almost certain, that the Government will not only say through their official mouthpiece that they endorse the principles of the Resolution, and will do their best to give fair and favourable consideration to it, but I want them boldly to say that in addition to the great scheme of reconstruction of the Ministry of Health, in addition to housing, they must also come along with mothers' pensions. For the mothers will be the greatest missioners in promoting a more healthy nation than it has hitherto been the good fortune of this country to claim.
I wish, first of all, to congratulate the last speaker on his vigorous advocacy of the Motion, and, if I am not mistaken, he himself is a fine proof of the fact that to be one of a large family is no handicap in life. Like several other speakers, I desire to put before the House the reason for the faith that is in me with regard to this Motion. I think most of the arguments for it have been put quite clearly. The Motion itself and the substance it contains are in the nature of a novelty in this country, and I think it behoves those who support it to be quite clear about their position. There has been for some time in this country advocacy of mothers' pensions, but may I first of all say that I think the Mover of the Motion has been well advised in bringing forward his proposal in a somewhat conservative and reasonable fashion, and I have heard it put forward from platforms in a much more general and wider sense.
Of course we shall be told that this is a very socialistic proposal. I agree with one speaker who on the cognate subject of housing said we were all socialists now and also all individualits. In other words, we have to take the difficulties which face us and find the best solution we can, unfrightened by the bogeys of socialism on the one hand or individualism on the other. We have to bear in mind that there is being spent on this relationship of the widow and child in this country a vast deal of money, and that people who are administering that money are exceedingly uneasy because they have come to the conclusion either that they are spending too much or not enough.
I hold in my hand a whole sheaf of resolutions discussed at guardians' meetings all over the country dealing with the amount of money that is being spent on widows' and children's allowances, and there is clearly an uneasy feeling amongst them that the problem is not being properly tackled. Therefore, when it is suggested that we are by this Motion incurring on behalf of the State, or suggesting that it should be incurred, an entirely new responsibility, bear in mind the responsibility already exists, and that the present methods of dealing with it are unsatisfactory. It is not as if we were plunging into the arena of entirely new expenditure of a kind that is at present unprecedented. All we are doing is that you have got the problem, and you have admitted the burden, and for heaven's sake deal with it in a reasonable fashion and shoulder the burden like men. The problem is already with us, and we are trying to deal with it, and we are doing it very unsatisfactorily.
The second point is that motherhood is the greatest profession in the world. It is a miserable state of things if we accept a theory of life which forces a mother who has tried to live with insufficient support into the factory while she bears the responsibility of bringing up a young family, and that is the backbone of the case. There are many others interested in schools for mothers, and in all the work which has been pursued with in- creasing activity during the last few years of trying to improve the health of the mother at the time of the birth of her child and afterwards, seeing that the sanitary conditions are good, that the mothers understand the best methods of bringing up their children, and that the old stories of the defence in many slaughter cases, "Oh, well, we gave it the best we had; we gave it what we had ourselves; we gave it a little of father's beer, and so on," and the ignorance which that kind of statement exhibited and which was quite common in the Police Courts some years ago can no longer exist. I have been long enough in public life to remember the great fight that we had to secure the health visitors. The great efforts made by the health visitors and the schools mothers have enormously reduced that great bugbear, high mortality in the first twelve months of life. We have seen the mortality of children under twelve months go down from 200 per thousand to under 100 per thousand, and I am in hopes that we shall soon in our better areas have the better state of things which you get in some of the favoured towns abroad, where during the first twelve months of childhood life practically no deaths occur at all. It is no use developing activity along those lines unless we are also prepared to do something along the lines of this Motion. It is no good giving information, or assisting mothers at the time of the birth of their children, or assisting the children themselves during the earlier stages of their lives, seeing that they are well nourished, well cared for, and well washed, if we force the mother, the natural guardian, into the factory to earn money. Therefore, unless we are prepared to go this length, all the effort that is now devoted to preventing this infant mortality is waste effort.
Somehing has been said about the sanctity of the home, and a great deal has been said about the necessity of children. History repeats itself. There is nothing new in the world. It is only a hundred years since the country was going through much the same tragedy of a prolonged war as we have witnessed during the last four years, but with this difference, that the agony of war was infinitely more prolonged then. The legislature of those days deliberately went in for a process of encouraging the youth of the community, and, as children were the object aimed at, it was immaterial for this purpose whether they were born in wedlock or not. In fact, you had to carry it a step further, because in the case of children born out of wedlock there was no natural supporter, and therefore a much larger grant had to be given in the case of illegitimate children than in the case of legitimate children. It had this curious result: that parents who would otherwise have married did not marry because they got a larger grant by not going through the marriage ceremony. That lasted until the reform of the Poor Law in 1830. It is perfectly obvious that those who advocate this Resolution, or many of us, would be strenuously opposed to any state of affairs like that. I did not hear the Mover's speech, I am sorry to say, but I take it that would be his attitude. This is a Motion of principle—it is not a Motion of detail—and I think it is desirable to utter that word of warning, because certainly, as far as I support the principle of the Motion, I wish to make it quite clear that a danger of that kind must be avoided. Subject to those two or three small points, I am wholeheartedly in favour of this Motion. This is a Motion to deal with an admitted evil. For heaven's sake let us deal with it like men, and not in the halfhearted way we are dealing with it at present.
I only desire to intervene for one purpose, seeing that the question has been dealt with so fully, and that is to emphasise the importance of the child itself. I am quite sure that a pension is a misnomer in this connection; it is to be an endowment of motherhood, and motherhood suggests home and children. I know of nothing which is undermining the British character at the present time so much as the decline of home life in Great Britain. Any evil which tends to affect the home life of Great Britain is affecting the national character, and we shall be doing a great harm to the children of this country and to the national character if we do not take into account the circumstances of the home life and the influences which surround the child, and which can bring out the best part of its possible life. You have the child with all the possibilities of manhood and womanhood. There are two ways a child can go. It can go upwards or downwards. I think we can discover more as we go along that the organism is subject to its environment almost absolutely up to ten years of age, and if you surround the organism with influences which tend to affect the moral fibre of the child, it will inevitably go down. Otherwise, it is invested with rich veins of intellectual skill and character, and if we bring to bear upon the child life the right influence we may develop the latent possibilities of the child which may become of service to the nation. It is for us to turn our attention to this great question of motherhood, associated as it is with child life, and so that we can save the children from moral degeneracy and from losing the possibilities of the home life in the way I have indicated. For these reasons, I hope the Government will give their support to the child life of the country, which is so subject to moral influences.
The discussion we have had has ranged over a wide field, and I think the speeches have shown that, even though this House consists entirely of men, we have not only sympathy with but knowledge of the problems connected with maternity and child life. I do not propose to go into the various aspects of the question that has been raised or to attempt to do justice to the importance of the subject. The House is dealing with various aspects of social reform and social reconstruction, and they are all in a way interlocked. The House is not satisfied with dealing with one measure, or even with two Bills at the same time. In my own Department we have had to-day four separate Bills in this House, and my right hon. Friend and myself have had to divide ourselves between the House and two Committees upstairs dealing with Housing and with the Scottish Ministry of Health and Registration of Nurses. I only mention those to show the multiplicity and complexity and interrelationship of the problems, as well as the rapidity with which as a House we are trying to deal with them. Unofficial Members opposite have the advantage over us, that they can select a particular Bill to which they can devote their attention on any one day, and they also have the advantage, as far as we are concerned, of being able to select a particular subject. The Motion proposed this evening contains four general propositions. The first is that pensions should be paid and that those pensions should be adequate for a healthy and useful life. The Motion proposes that all widows with children and all widows with incapacitated husbands should be entitled to get those pensions. It is also provided in the Motion that all the money to meet the necessary expenses should come out of the Exchequer. The fourth proposition is that this money should be administered by some local body unconnected with the Poor Law. The exact nature of the body is not defined, but I think I know what hon. Members have in mind, but that is not a sort of term which can go into an Act of Parliament. Hon. Members have shown real sympathy towards the proposal, and I have been struck with the amount of sympathy coming from every quarter of the House to the general proposition contained in the Motion. We realise and appreciate the lessons of the War and the value of life, and of child life, and of motherhood. Anything connected with motherhood, maternity or child life meets with a ready response. The War, too, has added abnormally to the number of widows, and in connection with that a very real problem presents itself. The widow of a man who was killed in the War gets a pension, and in a few years you will have widows of men who fought for their country, and who, perhaps were wounded while fighting and died after the War. You will find those widows possibly not getting any contribution from the State, and alongside them you will have the widows who are receiving money from the State. That at least brings us face to face with a real problem which has got to be grappled with in time.
I want to agree to the general principles of the proposal, but I really do not want to do anything which may be described as hasty or ill-considered action, or to use any terms or phraseology which might limit our freedom of action subsequently. I should like to have discoursed, as other hon. Members, on motherhood and child life and all it involves, whereas it is rather my task to be the devil's advocate and put some of the practical difficulties before the Members of the House, not in any way of side-tracking or killing this Motion, but merely so that hon. Members should be able to assist us in dealing with the difficulties. Here are some of the questions which I would put to those who have brought forward this Motion. Some of them they have touched upon and others they have avoided altogether. First of all, do they suggest the giving of pensions to all widows, to all mothers, irrespective of any income which might be derived from other sources, and do they propose to consider at all the earnings of the woman? My next question is, do hon. Members suggest giving a flat rate or do they suggest giving a varying contribution from the State, varying with the number of children, varying perhaps with the age of the children? Do they propose to make these grants unconditionally or subject to conditions—that is to say, that the grants or pensions should be withdrawn under certain circumstances? Some hon. Members, speaking earlier in the evening, have spoken of the ill-effects of too much inspection, but they will probably agree that some measure of inspection is necessary and essential. There are two other questions I want to ask. I assume they would give pensions to mothers with young children, say, under sixteen? On that assumption, do they propose that these pensions should be stopped when the children arrive at the age of sixteen? Because if they do they are contributing towards the maintenance of a woman during that period of life when she would be able to earn money for herself, and they would be stopping the contribution when she is older and therefore less able to add to her income. Then another question which I would like to put is this: Do hon. Members suggest that the pensions should be continued after these ladies reach the age of seventy, or do they suggest that the pensions should be stopped then or diminished? These are merely queries which I am putting which bear materially upon the total cost.
Then, as regards funds, I gather from the terms of the Motion that they propose that the whole of the funds should come from the State. Hon. Members are doubtless aware that there are two other ways in which the money could be collected. It could be collected either entirely from the State or partly from the State and partly from the rates, or partly by contributions. These are three alternative ways in which the money could be collected. There are advantages and disadvantages of having contributions from the rates. The advantages are not negligible. You want, certainly, local administration, and our experience is that if you have local administration, if you decentralise the administration of that sort of services, there is a considerable advantage, in order to get proper economical working, in having some contribution from the rates—not necessarily a large contribution, but, at all events, some contribution from the rates. Then is it proposed to exclude any classes of widows or of mothers? Is it suggested that women who are separated from their husbands should be included? Is it suggested that women who have been deserted, or that mothers of illegitimate children, should get these pensions? These are merely points which will have to be considered. For instance, there is the problem of illegitimacy. There are some people who would go so far as to say that if you gave these pensions to mothers of illegitimate children you would be diminishing the morality of the country. I am not sure you cannot put forward a stronger case on the other side. After all, the illegitimate child starts at a great disadvantage, and anything which we can do to make its lot easier ought to receive our very careful consideration.
Then the Motion says nothing about the central Department which should be responsible for the supervision of the administration and the spending of the money. There are three alternatives, so far as I know. You might either put the scheme under the supervision of the Ministry of Health on the ground that improved health was the main result you anticipated from these proposals; or you might put it under the Board of Education on the ground that the children assisted were mainly under sixteen; or else, as I understand, there are advocates for putting the supervision of the scheme in the hands of the Ministry of Labour. It is quite evident that if these contributions were given to women who are in employment, irrespective of their wages, it would have a direct bearing on the problem of unemployment. At the present moment industry alone bears the burden of bringing up a man's family. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] To a very great extent. When discussing the living wage we usually discuss it in terms of a sum that will enable a man to bring up his wife and two or three children in decent circumstances. Almost every year the Stats takes over an additional share in assisting the man in the upbringing of his family—the feeding of school children, maternity service, and so on. All that assists a man in bringing up his family, and gives him a greater power of spending such earnings as he gets from industry for the good of his family and their general maintenance. I have mentioned those three departments because neither the Mover nor the Seconder gave us any indication, so far as I remember, of the central authority which they contemplate should be responsible for the general administration of the scheme. The hon. Member opposite, in moving the Resolution, put the total cost, I think, at £20,000,000.
The only figure the hon. Member put before the House was £20,000,000. The Noble Lord put forward the tentative figure of £10,000,000. I have seen estimates put as high as £50,000,000, so that there is a considerable range between the £10,000,000 and the £50,000,000. It is extremely difficult to arrive at a correct estimate, because we really do not know enough about the occupation of hundreds of thousands of widows in this country. At the time of the last Census there were 1,200,000 widows under the age of seventy. I am afraid I cannot tell at all the numbers that were getting Poor relief or the amount expended in this form. Out of this 1,200,000, 900,000 belonged to what we call the industrial classes. Of this 900,000, 300,000 were returned as being in employment. We have very little information as to what the other 600,000 were doing; where they got their income from; whether they were in permanent or casual employment; and whether they had dependants and to what extent they assisted them in maintaining the home and contributing towards their income. Four hundred thousand had children under sixteen years of age. There were 800,000 children, including motherless children, under sixteen years of age.
If I were asked to put forward any sort of figure, I should say that probably 80 per cent. of the figures I have quoted might be eligible, and if the pension were given on the same scale as the war widows' pension, the total involved would be something like £25,000,000. I am not going to say that that would be an unwise or an extravagant sum. But I would say this, that at the present moment we have got to decide which of the various social measures which we consider necessary are most urgently needed. Hon. Members have said, "Oh let us do this, because we have been spending money at the rate of six millions a day during the War." It is because we have been spending money at that rate that there is now the difficulty with which we are faced—the difficulty of the extension of credit, and also that we have to meet the bill. We have been spending money, and now we have to begin paying it off. We require a great deal of money for the various proposals—housing, health services, and all those other great measures—which are now before the House. We have got to be very careful that we do not do anything, either in this proposal or in any other direction, which would delay measures which the Government, and probably the House, might agree were essential at the moment.
The House agreed, at a quarter past eight this evening, without a Division, in accepting the Housing Bill. It did so because it was a measure which had been framed after mature reflection; after almost meticulous examination; after consultation with experts outside, representatives of local authorities, and with Members of this House who were specially qualified to advise us on this side. We were able, because we had gone into our housing proposals carefully and in detail, to come to the House with complete confidence and ask hon. Members to pass the Bill on the Second Reading, and to support us in getting it through in detail. I only mention that because the scheme which is before us this evening cannot be looked upon as having been put before the House after anything like the same consideration or matured and detailed examination. Hon. Members, I am sure, will agree to that. I need not enlarge upon the advantages of preserving the home. That is one of the main reasons for advocating the proposal before us. Some people would be inclined to say that in many cases even a bad home is better than no home. As far as possible we want to do all we can to maintain the home life, not to break up the family circle, not to scatter the family, and because of that the proposal before us is particularly recommended. Hon. Members are aware that a Report has been published concerning reforms of the Poor Law. The Government have in principle accepted the proposals of what we call the Maclean Committee. We have got to be very careful in considering a proposal like this, to consider it in connection with the reform of the Poor Law. We have got to avoid overlapping. We have got to consider these questions as a whole.
What I want to put before the House, summarising our attitude, is this. The Government realise that there is a real problem which ought to be dealt with. I cannot pledge myself, and I am not authorised to pledge the Government, to the specific terms of this Motion. If I were to do so it might limit our freedom of action in dealing with this matter, and it is not desirable to do that. What I will say is this: We will examine this question, and the problems associated with it, when we examine the Poor Law reform. We are pledged to deal with that. It is probably the next big thing we have got to deal with after the housing. We are pledged to the Maclean Report, which involves what is called the break-up of the Poor Law, and when the Government consider this, the problem of widows and of assistance to fatherless children must at the same time be dealt with in a comprehensive manner. One of the best ways of dealing with these problems is as soon as possible to reform the Poor Law. It was quite obvious from listening to the Debate that many hon. Members have devoted considerable time to the consideration of this question, and I hope that if they have concrete proposals or suggestions to put forward they will let us have them. We will examine them gratefully and sympathetically. We want, in framing our proposals, to have the advice and assistance of Members of this House with special knowledge and information. I will only say, before sitting down, that in our opinion this is a problem which ought to be dealt with, and should be dealt with as soon as possible.
On behalf of the party which I represent, I desire to express our appreciation of the sympathetic way in which the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has dealt with our proposal on behalf of the Government. We fully recognise the difficulty which he is in, in not being able to pledge the Government to the specific terms of this Motion. I do not think, at the same time, that that should prevent the Government and the House from allowing the Motion which has been moved and seconded by my hon. Friends from being passed. In the course of his speech the hon. Gentleman reminded us that the House had been dealing with four separate questions to-day—
Yes, and that amongst four was a large housing measure. I desire to remind him of the fact that numerous Motions dealing with this question of housing have been passed by this House, and that those who were responsible for those Motions did not hold the Government bound, though they allowed them to pass to the specific terms of the Motion I do not think that during these two days' discussion the Government have ever been reminded of the terms of any one of these Motions. This present Motion simply deals in broad general terms with the question of mothers' pensions, and my hon. Friend will not look for the Government when they come to deal with this question putting it in the special terms of this Motion. I also desire to express our appreciation of the support which has been given to this Motion by Members in all parts of the House. The unanimous support which has been accorded to it will carry a measure of hope into many homes in the land. A few days ago I said in another connection in this House that Parliament was a great Welfare Supervisor for the nation. In no phase of our national life are our efforts in that capacity more necessary than in the homes of the people. In these homes mothers are really training citizens of this country—the future men and women who are to carry the burden of Empire. The mothers in our homes are not rearing and training children for themselves; their work is being performed for the whole nation. Therefore, in our opinion, the nation should be responsible for providing the wherewithal to enable these mothers to faithfully perform the task which we expect of them. We have had this discussed to-night in broad, general terms. The difficulties which the hon. Gentleman has brought before us are all difficulties that can be dealt with when we come to deal with this question in detail. I do not think that they are difficulties which should occupy very much of our attention to-night. I am certain that in no part of the House will a more ready response be granted to his appeal for the closest co-operation and for giving the greatest measure of help in order to deal with this question when we come to examine it in detail than will be granted by Members of the Labour party. As a matter of fact, I believe that Members in all parts of the House will readily co-operate with the Government in dealing with this question. The greatest asset that any nation can have is well-trained, healthy boys and girls. The spending of money — whether it comes from the Treasury direct or from the rates is immaterial—in securing the rearing and training of healthy men and women, well able to bear the burden of Empire in their day of generation, will pay the State. I thank the hon Gentleman for the sympathetic manner in which he has referred to the Motion, and I can assure him that we appreciate to the full the difficulties, and when we come to deal with the matter in detail we shall not be too critical whether or not the Government proposals are in exact accord with the terms of our Motion, any more than the House has been during the discussion of the Housing Bill because it did not conform to the exact terms of the many housing Motions which we have discussed formerly.
While everybody in the House must appreciate and agree with all that my right hon. Friend (Mr. Adamson) has said about the necessity of this question, and the importance to the State of bringing up the future generation, I cannot agree with him that if these words are accepted the House is not pledged to any real principle, and that it is only a question of detail. Let me point out to the House one thing. There is no doubt that the House desires, so far as possible, that any mothers' pensions should be divorced from any question of the Poor Law. Everybody wants that. But at the same time one has to take into consideration the amount of money which the State possesses. It is impossible that every widow, however rich, should be entitled to the pension. If you pass these words, in order to avoid anything like the Poor Law taint and anything like personal investigation, you are pledged to the principle that every person, however rich, is entitled to this pension. That may be right or wrong. It may be that in order to avoid the Poor Law taint this House would desire that everyone, however rich, should be entitled to this pension. The House cannot possibly say that there is no principle involved in that, and therefore, while everyone entirely appreciates and I am sure sympathises with all that my right hon. Friend has said, while everyone desires that every person who requires assistance to bring up children as healthy, strong citizens should get the assistance, still at the same time you must take into consideration what it is going to cost the nation, and therefore the result is that we have to decide which is the more important: that you should impose on the State the cost of giving to every single widow with children and every person, however rich, whose husband happens to be incapacitated, a pension or that you should set up some tribunal which is to say whether in any particular case a pension is to be or is not. That is not a mere matter of detail. It is a matter that requires very careful consideration.
I said we were dealing in this matter with a broad general principle, and that we could deal with the matters which have been raised by the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Major Astor) when we come to consider questions of detail.
But I say this is a matter of principle. Is every widow, every woman, whose husband in incapacitated, of right, without any consideration to her means, to be entitled to a pension?
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman, but, according to the wording of this, she would be, and if you allow it in the case of widows' pensions you have to apply it to the case of every pension. If you are going to remove the taint of the Poor Law by saying that everyone is to be entitled, no matter what her means, as it does not stop at widows' pensions, it does not stop at any payment given to those who require assistance to be useful citizens of this country, and it is a matter of great principle. I am not expressing the slightest lack of sympathy with the right hon. Gentleman's intentions. I appreciate and sympathise with them, but I am only pointing out— [An HON. MEMBER: "What do you propose?"]. It is not for me to-night to propose anything, but if you pass this you are pledged to one principle and not the other. If you pass these words the House is pledged to the principle that every widow, no matter how rich, every woman whose husband is incapacitated, no matter how well-to-do, is to be entitled by going to the county council or the post office, or wherever it may be, to draw a pension as of right. That would involve a burden upon the State which no one of my hon. Friends would propose. We cannot accept these words, but the Government accepts the principle behind them, and hopes something of the kind may be done.
This is just one of those cases where I am perfectly sure the majority of Members feel that their hearts take them in one direction and their heads in another. All of us, in our hearts, would approve the principle of the Motion, but surely our heads tell us from the point of view that has been expressed both by the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Major Astor) and the Home Secretary that there are such questions not of detail but of finance—
The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Adamson) said it did not matter whether the money was drawn from the National Exchequer or from the local exchequer. I differ entirely. After all, if it is drawn from the local exchequer you do, at any rate, preserve the interests of local life. I shall never forget a most admirable speech made a few years ago by Mr. Asquith when he received the freedom of his native town—