I beg to move:
That this House, having regard to the supreme importance of further safeguarding the health and well-being of the rising generation, commends for the immediate consideration of the Government the institution of a national scheme of allowances for dependent children as an important contribution to this vital object.
One could not help contrasting the speech of the hon. Member for Greenwich (Sir G. Hume) with that to which we have just listened from the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson). While we are all deeply moved by the heavy reverse which we have suffered in Libya, the advice which was given by the hon. Member for Greenwich that this House should continue with ordinary business instead of getting into a panic is the advice that we should follow. I feel fortunate in being allowed to open a Debate in respect of family allowances for dependent children. I am more than a little awed by the opportunity thus presented of introducing before this House a subject on which my hon. Friends and I are no longer a minority forcing on the Government an unwelcome proposal, but rather a majority giving expression to an enlightened social conscience which is shared equally by Members of all parties represented in the National Government Our task is not so much to convert the Government as to convince the administration, in which there are several pioneers in the advocacy of family allowances, that they will find support in this House from hon. Members for this first essential step towards a generous policy of social justice.
There may be many other matters on which agreement among hon. Members may be found cutting across the boundaries of party and sectional interests, but I believe that no Measure will commend itself as well to the head as to the heart of Parliament as this recognition that parenthood is both a privilege to the individual and a service to the community. A good deal of publicity has been given to the fact that the Motion which I now bring forward is drawn in somewhat wider terms than my original Motion which received the support of no less than 200 Members of all parties. I want to make it clear to the House and the Government that the alteration of words has been adopted with the sole object of arriving at a substantial measure of agreement, so that a Debate upon this urgent and vitally important reform can take place in an atmosphere of good will and exploration rather than of acrimonious opposition.
I find that most of the opposition to family allowances, such as it is, comes from those who have not very seriously studied the subject and are therefore ignorant of the arguments for and against. The change in the wording from the original Motion must not be taken as implying that we have in any way altered the very carefully considered views which we held and which were set out in the original Motion, nor that we have weakened in our resolve to press them upon the Government by every means in our power. There are two main points of difference between the two Motions.
The first is that words:
national State-paid scheme of allowances.
have been replaced by:
national scheme of allowances.
The second is that we have omitted the words:
payable to their mothers and acting guardians.
I would like to say a few words on those two points. If the scheme is national, which I understand means that it includes every child irrespective of the occupation of its parents, I suggest that the administrative difficulties of a contributory scheme would be such, that it would be much simpler to make it State-paid. I hope to show in my speech that the ultimate benefits of family allowances will accrue to the nation rather than to the individual, and for this reason therefore the cost should be borne by the State. Since everyone will be a beneficiary, it appears to me to be immaterial what form is taken by the tax which collects the money involved.
The other point of difference from the wording of the original Motion is the omission of the words "paid to the mother." This, however, is regarded by myself and my hon. Friends who support me as being of the greatest importance for reasons which I shall develop presently. We believe that such a grant given as an honourable right to the mother, irrespective of position and means, will do more than anything else to produce that change of psychological outlook towards the production of children which is essential if this nation is to maintain its rightful place as a first-class Power. We hope that it may be one important step towards removing that dread of having a family which does exist and which, in so many cases, ruins the happiness of so many marriages. Its effect is now of national importance and we can no longer hypocritically afford to pretend ignorance of its existence. My hon. Friends and I believe that our case is unanswerable and that it only requires a Debate of this nature to win to our side even the most diehard reactionaries who persist in regarding family allowances as a form of vote-catching class legislation and who, because of their lack of study, fail to perceive the higher purpose in the maintenance of the future glory of our nation.
The case for family allowances rests on the necessity for dealing, and dealing quickly, with three aspects of our national life. First there is the alarming fact that we are already in sight of the commencement of a decline in our population. Those hon. Members who have read the recent correspondence in "The Times" on this subject and the Command Paper containing the Memorandum by the Registrars-General of England, Wales and Scotland on the current trend of population in Great Britain must have been impressed by the urgent necessity for some stimulus for increasing our birth rate. Neither I nor any of my hon. Friends would suggest, or indeed desire, that the granting of an allowance of 5s. a week, or whatever sum might be necessary, should act as a bribe to parents to produce children against their own desires, but we do contend that it would create conditions in which a great number of parents, in all income grades, who, to-day, while ardently desiring children, deliberately refrain from producing them, would feel that that need no longer be the case. Letters I have received provide ample evidence that this is so.
I would emphasise, at this point, what is frequently overlooked but what is, in fact, at the very root of my present argument. It is that poverty and wealth are not to be measured only vertically, that is as regards the relative positions of the man earning £4 a week and the man earning £10 a week; far more important does the relativity become when measured in a horizontal plane, namely, the difference between the position of two men earning the same amount of money, one of whom has a family while the other has avoided or has been denied one. No system of family allowances could ever take away from the fathers, and more particularly the mothers, that inborn natural urge to sacrifice themselves for their own flesh and blood. At best we can but encourage those who, through no circumstances of their own choosing, find parenthood so burdened with poverty as to be difficult. We can but encourage them by offering, in as generous a measure as possible, the reward of the country, to be given not as some niggard dole based on a means test, but as an earnest of the desire of their fellow-citizens to protect the institution of the family from the stigma of poverty and want. In this country of ours family ties have always been cherished, and we take a sentimental pride in our native understanding of all that is meant by the word "home"—a word that must mean more than ever today when so many fathers are defending, over the oceans and the deserts and jungles of the world, a way of life that puts the ideal of the family before the ideal of the State and merges patriotism into the conception of a family of nations, the British Commonwealth. How we honour the family will be better proved by how we help the family. Conditions of life and living in the last 100 years have so changed that we can no longer leave the whole financial burden of the nation's future population to be carried by the individual family, no matter what its position may be.
The second aspect of our national life which must be dealt with is the fact that the greatest single factor in poverty is the size of the family and the number of children in the family. Social investigations carried out by Sir John Orr, Mr. Seebohm Rowntree and others proved that from 10 to 17 per cent. of working-class families—those including from 20 to 25 per cent. of the children—were living on incomes insufficient, however economically spent, for their maintenance, and therefore that the diet of from 20 to 25 per cent. of the children of this great country was deficient for proper health. That is a terrible indictment of our social system, and one which demands an immediate rectification by all who are offering more than lip service when they refer to the removal of social injustices. I only wish it were possible to estimate, even roughly, what the saving in the cost of our health and other social services would have been, had family allowances in the past given those children the proper start in life which this social injustice denies them.
The third aspect is the economic one, and I cannot do better than quote from the Report on Reconstruction issued recently by the Federation of British Industries. I will quote but one passage:
Our 13th submission is that the power of the home market to consume the products of industry in the post-war period is an essential element in reconstruction. The Government should consider how this power can be maintained or developed.
I submit that this particular method of redistributing wealth in family allowances, paid in cash, is of special value in maintaining and developing consuming power. It will help to bring into a proper perspective the production of the absolute necessities for a decent civilised life on the one hand, and, on the other, those luxuries and semi-luxuries which are the softer furnishings of our civilisation, and the production of which is highly desirable as an integral part of our advanced standard of living, but is only justifiable after the needs of those at the lower end of the scale have been justly satisfied.
That is the case for family allowances as I see it, and it is gratifying to those of us who have advocated their adoption for so long to note the rapidly growing interest shown in the subject in every direction. Great strides forward have been made during the past year. It is only a little over a year ago since I tabled a Motion which, as the House knows, has had the support of over 200 hon. Members of all parties. But I should like to make it clear that this by no means represents the whole of the support in this House. A great many Members and right hon. Members who, for various reasons, felt unable to put their signatures to such a Motion at that time, nevertheless assured me that I had their full sympathy, and hoped that my hon. Friends and I would persist in our efforts to awaken interest on the part of the Government. Shortly afterwards, the Liberal party pronounced itself in favour of the proposal. Only a few weeks ago the Labour party expressed its opinion by a vote which left no room for doubt. Still more recently, and perhaps more surprisingly, there was a Debate in another place which showed complete unanimity.
One wonders where the opposition is. Let us see whether we can find the "nigger in the wood pile." As a result of the appearance on the Paper of that Motion my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer received a deputation and promised Ms an impartial investigation by his Department. The result of that investigation is the recently issued White Paper. This Memorandum is in many ways a disappointing document. One had hoped that there no longer remained a need to teach Treasury officials that the approach to the question of family allowances cannot successfully be made by what I call the "soup kitchen" mind. Such an approach has, however, been made and the result is this document which, from start to finish, is reminiscent of the outlook of the Poor Law of 1835. If proposals of this kind are to be branded from the outset with some form of means test few parents will be encouraged by the prospect of family allowances doled out by niggards. I cannot impress on my right hon. Friend in sufficiently strong language the necessity for ceasing to regard family allowances merely as an antidote to destitution, valuable as their contribution in that direction will be.
There is, however, much information in the White Paper which is valuable. It gives us, at all events, the cost, but even in arriving at this, every advantage of present-day conditions has been taken in order to present the gloomiest possible picture. For instance, in computing the savings which would decrease the gross figure of £132,000,000, the Memorandum first assumes that the present low figure of unemployment will persist. I welcome this slight indication that the Government intend to take whatever steps are necessary to maintain employment at its present figure. If they do so then we need not be unduly worried at the prospect of the estimated cost of family allowances. In fact, their distribution, as I have already submitted, will be a substantial contribution to curing unemployment. Secondly, in arriving at the figure provision has also been made for paying the allowance for all the children of those in the Forces who already receive children's allowances. I am not grumbling at that if I can take it as an admission on the part of the Treasury that they agree with those of us who consider that increases for the serving men are long overdue. But if there is no intention of granting this increase, this procedure would appear to be merely an effort to strengthen opposition by making the scheme look as expensive as possible.
When one is considering the cost of family allowances it is essential to consider also what will be the cost of going without them. The more I look at the two pictures, the more convinced I become that the only satisfactory method of dealing with the matter is to institute a State-paid scheme of cash allowances granted to all mothers, regardless of means or position. The principle has long been established for the wealthier classes, because I cannot agree that a rebate on Income Tax given because a man has children is not, in fact, a children's allowance. If my neighbour, with one child, pays 9s. 7d. a week less Income Tax than I do, with no child, he is in fact 9s. 7d. a week better off than I am, and better off than he would be if he had no child. His position is exactly what it would be if he received a child's allowance of 9s. 7d. a week in cash. But I agree with those who say that rebates on Income Tax should be kept outside the scope of family allowances. To link the two does, as pointed out in the White Paper, introduce serious complications. Family allowances should be granted as a right to the mother, and it is a matter for the Chancellor of the Exchequer in framing his Budget to decide how and from whom he collects the money to pay the cost.
I do not want unduly to detain the House but I would like to say one or two words about the objections which are most frequently raised to any scheme of cash allowances. Firstly, there is the old objection of the T.U.C. that it would hinder them in wage negotiations. I think, however, that it is generally agreed now that such would not be the case. It is an argument which could be produced against almost every advance in our social services, and in fact this has not happened in the past. Rather have increased wages and improvements in social services gone hand in hand. The overwhelming vote at the recent Labour Party Conference in favour of a State-paid scheme can be taken as finally disposing of this argument which, however, has been useful to those who are opposed to family allowances for very different reasons. Secondly, objection has been raised on the ground that the results could be obtained more efficiently and cheaply by extension of school meals, etc. This objection falls to the ground because it fails to deal with the children under five—after all a most important period in the child's life. It fails to deal with holiday periods, and Sundays, and with sickness. It would cost a great deal in the provision of accommodation and services. I need only draw attention to the fact that even now, in spite of all efforts, the proportion of school children receiving meals is still small.
Thirdly, there are those kindly, but misguided, people who imagine that they can run the British working man's home so much better than his wife can, and who, therefore, feel that she cannot be trusted to handle money. There are, of course, bad parents in all grades of society. There are laws under which these can be dealt with, laws which are much more likely to be implemented if proper children's allowances are paid by the State. But I fail entirely when I try to fathom the minds of those—and some do exist—who think that the British workman is the fellow to handle the bayonet, to man the tank, to work in the factory or mine—and no absenteeism, please—but that he is not to be trusted with money in his home, for he will surely rob his children, drink the money, and return to beat up his wife. These people fail to see that the only certain result of their policy is to weaken the manliness and character of our race, by this steady process of transferring the responsibility of the family unit from the individual to the State. Lastly, there are those whose objection lies purely in the cost. They represent that fast-dwindling minority who still think of post-war peace in terms of the pre-war economic inequality and strife. My only hope of gaining their support is to persuade them that only by the maintenance and development of the consuming power of the masses can there be prosperity for anyone at all. To put it on the lowest level, it is good business to pay family allowances, and I recommend those who think otherwise to read the Memorandum on Reconstruction issued by the Federation of British Industries.
Finally, I ask my right hon. Friend to stand up to his own Department. His fight lies there, not with this House, or with the country. I urge him to give this matter immediate consideration, for there is no time to lose. The Government have appointed the Beveridge Committee to report on the reorganisation of social insurances. That subject can be tackled efficiently only against a background of family allowances. Once settle the principle of family allowances, and the task of this Committee is enormously simplified: the present chaotic anomalies disappear. I assure my right hon. Friend that he has a great opportunity to his hand. At one blow he can solve the most complicated side of the work of the Beveridge Committee and at the same time take a big step forward towards the cure of unemployment, which will be the major problem of the Government in the post-war period. My right hon. Friend, if he will take my advice, may yet grow in stature, by adding to his present reputation for interest in social improvement, the reputation of having proved himself a surprisingly astute Chancellor of the Exchequer.
I beg to second the Motion, so admirably moved by my hon. and gallant Friend.
Long ago that great woman Beatrice Webb told me that in this country it usually took 19 years for a new idea to germinate and bear fruit. That estimate has been fulfilled in the case of several of the most noted social reforms. I hope it is true of family allowances, because, if so, they are overdue. In 1918 a few of us produced a small book which dropped the seed of the idea into a few minds, and in 1925 I wrote a bigger book called "The Disinherited Family," which focused the attention of economists and of a good many other people. But while Britain ruminated, other countries acted. In the '20's New South Wales and New Zealand adopted schemes of State-paid allowances. The Federal Government of Australia and the Government of practically every country in Europe introduced family allowances for their Civil Services. Industrial schemes grew up all over Europe, and in 1921 they became compulsory in Belgium and France. We think more slowly. I used to tell my younger colleagues that if one wanted to bring about any social reform one needed the patience and perseverance of Bruce's spider, the importunate widow, the Ancient Mariner, and the giant Sysiphus rolled into one. But patience can be overdone. We have a right now to be impatient—not for ourselves, but for the children.
How many more generations are to grow up with stunted bodies and minds, while political parties are letting "I dare not" wait upon "I would," while trade union leaders are considering whether if they grant security to the children it will diminish by one per cent. their chance of using the children's needs as an argument for higher wages, and while employers and capitalists are considering just how cheaply they can buy off the workers? We know that that kind of consideration is what will induce my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to tell us that we must wait until the autumn, until the Trades Union Congress has ratified the favourable decision of the Trades Union Congress General Council, and until the Beveridge Committee's report appears. We can wait until the autumn. But, what then? Are we to be told then that we must wait until after the war, when the electorate may have chosen, as they did in 1918, a Parliament of "hard-faced men, looking as if they had done well out of the war," who can be trusted to deal with inconvenient demands. Or shall we be offered a war-time scheme, but one devised in what the Mover has called the soup kitchen tradition, giving just enough to soothe sensitive consciences by blunting the sharpest edge of poverty? That will not be enough. We want a scheme which will fulfil all three purposes set out by my hon. and gallant Friend the mover of this Motion: to get rid of child poverty, to do away with the danger of a steep decline in population, and to give a stimulus to the consumption of home-made necessaries as against imported luxuries. I will add a fourth purpose. We want children and their mothers to be recognised not as de-pendants hung around the necks of their fathers and husbands but as human beings, with their own feet on the floor of God's earth and their heads in the sunshine—and more sunshine than is allowed now to trickle through the windows of their dingy and overcrowded homes.
May I expand just a little my hon. and gallant Friend's exposition of their purposes? He wants to get rid of child poverty, and he has reminded the House of the well-known figures, based on numerous pre-war sociological surveys, which show that one-quarter of the children of this country are living in homes where the income of the father, however economically expended, is not enough for bare necessaries. Actually the latest of these surveys—that of Mr. Seebohm Rowntree—puts the figure higher than that. He found that nearly half the children in working-class families were born into households of that kind. Add to that Sir John Orr's well-known computation that a quarter of all the children not only those of the working-class belong to families where the total income works out at about 10s. per head per week, and where the food can only cost 4s. per week per head. Four shillings to cover the cost of meals for an entire week! And yet when a maximum price of 5s. is put on a restaurant meal, we call it austerity. We want to get rid of poverty of that sort.
But if we are to fulfil the second purpose—to avoid the danger of a steeply declining birth-rate—we have to go further than that. I have not time to give the controversial and complicated figures bearing upon trends of population. Hon. Members ought to read two admirable letters in to-day's "Times" which give some of them. I will only mention three undisputed facts. First, that during the last decade we have had the lowest birthrate of any country in Europe, except Sweden; secondly, that, according to the new White Paper on population trends, our present reproduction rate falls short by 25 per cent. of the amount necessary to maintain a stationary population; thirdly, the enemy Powers and most other nations are making frantic efforts at present to stimulate their birth-rates and increase their populations. We alone seem to have no thought-out population policy. Is not this rather a repetition of what happened during the last decade about our munitions policy—too little, and too late? But there is one difference between munitions and children. You can speed up the production of munitions, but you cannot speed up the production of an adult man and woman. That takes from 18 to 20 years. I beg the House to ask themselves this question: Is it really safe, with our far-flung responsibilities, that the proportion of the Anglo-Saxon race, compared with almost every other race, certainly every other white race, should continue to be a steadily diminishing proportion?
If we want to stop that trend it is not enough to remove poverty. It is not pure selfishness that induces parents with rather above the average standard of life to hesitate to bring children into the world unless they feel sure that they can not only provide them with enough food to satisfy hunger, but can give them a standard of frugal comfort not inferior to that which they themselves enjoyed and which they see being enjoyed all round them by those with smaller families than themselves. That is why families of one or two children have become the fashion. You will not stop that being the fashion only by a State paid scheme of 5s. per child or any other figure we are likely to get. But a State-paid scheme would help and could be supplemented by schemes of mutual insurance, compulsory or voluntary, of which there are already several in the Universities and the Churches of all denominations. In respect of the third purpose—an assured market for home-produced industries—is it not obvious that these kinds of goods are just those upon which family allowances would mainly be spent, on dairy produce, vegetables and fish, on woollen and cotton textiles, boots and coal—and that others who find the money would have to spend a little less than at present upon wines, spirits and tobacco, upon betting and upon luxuries of food, travel and clothing?
That leads up to the consideration of the difficulty which seems to stick most in the minds of those who still hesitate whether to support this project. It is the fear that the country cannot afford it. They have been studying the figures in the Treasury White Paper, and they are startled at the amount which a family allowance scheme on a big scale would cost. Do not these doubters realise that whatever the cost, it is not going to be a fresh burden on the back of the State but rather a transfer of purchasing power from those who because of their larger incomes or smaller families can now afford luxuries to those who because of their large families go short of bare necessaries?
The hon Lady has made a statement which is entirely unsupported by any evidence. Will she be good enough to give some figures in support of what she has said?
I am not sure what figures the hon. and gallant Member means. I am merely stating what in a sense is a platitude, that if you have a State-paid scheme you pay for it by taxation, and you have to get that taxation out of somebody's pocket. I am suggesting that this involves a transfer, through the taxation system, of some of the purchasing power from the pockets of those who are more well to do to those who are less well to do. The mover has shown that the scheme involves to some extent a redistribution of wealth, though only on a small scale—both vertically and horizontally—a vertical redistribution as between rich and poor and a horizontal redistribution as between those on each level of income according to whether they have or have not children to support.
My fourth claim is based on justice. How can anyone really defend a social system which allots no more of the nation's income to a family of whatever size than that which accrues to a single wage-earner? When we think in terms of a State-paid scheme we are not asking that the father of a family should receive more as part of his remuneration as a wage-earner, but that his children should receive a little share, of the national income, given to them not in respect of their father's service in industry but in respect of their own value to the community as its future citizens and workers I particularly do not want my admission that our scheme may involve a certain amount of distribution of resources even within the wage-earning class to be misinterpreted into an admission that it will impede wage negotiations and react unfavourably upon wage rates. I challenge hon. Members to produce the name of a single committee or responsible body that has gone really carefully into this question which has accepted that argument.
The Joint Committee of the T.U.C. and the Labour party in 1930 gave nearly a year's discussion and examined all manner of evidence. Then, later, there were committees of the Labour and Liberal parties and the Co-operative Congress, and all arrived at the same conclusion—that there was no fear of that kind and that on the whole a family allowances system, if it was State-paid and did not put the burden on industry, would improve the position of wage-earners because it would enable workers to become stronger and more effective trade unionists if they were no longer distracted by the anxieties and sufferings of a poverty-stricken home. There are still a few trade union leaders who do not accept that conclusion and who still believe that family allowances would react unfavourably on wage rates. It is curious that they hardly ever give us their reasons. Is it because they are ashamed to confess that they still want to fight the battle for higher wages from behind the petticoats of their children, or is it that they do not want the workers to get any advantages except through trade union action? If so, those are mean reasons and reasons which, logically interpreted, apply equally to all recent improvements in social reform. Some of them indeed seek to make a distinction between payments in cash and kind. They contend that extended social services to children would not injure wage negotiations but that cash allowances would do so. Personally, I believe it is rather the other way, because the vagueness as to the extent and value of social services in kind leads well-to-do people to form an over-estimate of their value. How often have I been met at meetings of middle-class audiences with the argument, "But the poor have so much done for them already; do not their children get free meals at school?" I have found it difficult to get them to believe that in pre-war days only 2 per cent. of the child population in any one day received school meals. The percentage is rather higher now.
But as the proposal in favour of communal services rather than cash has attained considerable popularity lately, let me argue from another angle. What about its practicability? The school authorities said the other day that their target, which they did not hope to achieve for some months, was to be able to give school dinners to 1,000,000 children—one-fifth of the elementary school population. How long will it take to extend them to the other four-fifths? What about the days on which the schools do not meet, holidays and children below school age? I believe school dinners are excellent things—I hope they will be largely extended—but what about the cost? Last week I received a Parlia- mentary Reply giving the average cost of a school dinner as 8d. Therefore, a 5s. allowance in cash would be roughly equivalent to a school dinner every day of the week. I think that a capable working-class mother would be able to produce more than one meal a day for that sum—
Certainly not. I would like to see school meals extended. I was only pointing out that it would be a slow process and that it is not a cheaper method than cash allowances. The domestic fire is always burning and a mother's services are unpaid, and I believe that any intelligent working-class mother would be able to get more than seven meals a week out of 5s. Let us be frank about it. This preference for communal feeding has its roots in distrust of the working-class mother, that much-abused woman who is a modern counterpart of the ancient Israelites. Society harries and scolds her if she does her job badly, yet it does not give her the materials to do the job well. Just as Pharaoh said to the ancient Egyptians,
There shall no straw be given you for your bricks, yet shall ye deliver the tale of bricks,
now this hard-pressed woman is threatened with a slap in the face, a public demonstration that she and she alone is not thought fit to spend money for the benefit of her own children. I have not heard a proposal from any quarter that old age pensions or unemployment assistance should be paid through a system of coupons or free meals. Speaking from long experience and observation, I trust the working-class mother. I believe she is the best judge of the individual needs of her own children.
In conclusion, I foresee that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will tell us that our proposal will be considered, but that is all. Well, I beg him to take into consultation some of those who have been thinking about this subject not for a few weeks but for years, and who have pondered it from every angle and taken every kind of evidence from home and abroad. Do not leave it to two or three civil servants or armchair theorists. Above all, do not in the end produce a mean little scheme bound up with red tape, penurious towards its beneficiaries, but prodigal in expenditure on hordes of official and multitudes of forms to be filled up. Cannot the Government read the signs of the times? Do they not realise that what the public are longing for is bold and imaginative leadership, actions, not words, actual proof that the promise of the Atlantic Charter will be fulfilled, the promise of freedom from want and fear? There could be no more striking and convincing proof of that than the immediate introduction of a general State-aided scheme of family allowances, payable to the mother. That would relieve the children from want and their parents from fear. I beg the Government to give us, at least, early hope of a scheme like that and, in conclusion, I make an appeal to my friends in the Labour party and trade unions. Be a little more zealous in pressing this reform. Do not give us any reason to suspect that some of you are more zealous for the rights of old age pensioners, because they are voters than for the rights of your own wives and children. Be insistent in asking for this thing and see that you get it.
Both the mover and seconder of this Motion have made reference to the trade union movement and their impending conference and also to the fact that recently, at the annual conference of the Labour party, a resolution in favour of family allowances was carried by a large majority. It was my privilege to be chairman of the sub-committee of the National Executive of the Labour party which was charged with the task of reviewing this problem of family allowances in conjunction with, and in the setting of, the general scheme of social services in this country.
Eventually it fell to my lot, and it was my privilege, to present our conclusions in the form of a resolution to that annual conference, which was carried by a large majority. I think I ought to say, in fairness to my colleagues, particularly in view of the words which I was sorry to hear fall from the lips of the hon. Lady who seconded the Motion—I have a great regard for her qualities and the services she has rendered, and I fully appreciate that she has given a lifetime study to this matter—that those in the trade union movement do not approach this problem with prejudiced minds. It is our business to relate it to the wider problems of social services and wages.
I and my colleagues do not approach this matter as a problem which can be completely isolated. It is part of the poverty problem. It arises from the fact that there are large numbers of people in this country, men, women and children, who do not receive incomes in any form which are sufficient to safeguard the well-being and health of adults and the children depending on them. Put very simply, it means that, even in these days and at this hour, there are large numbers of people who do not get enough to eat, who are badly clothed and live in miserable houses, and who are denied most of the amenities and comforts of life. We shall never have a real nation of whom we can be proud until we have conquered the poverty problem, and what we are discussing to-day is one aspect of that problem. I wish to stress that the poverty problem is not confined to families with children. There are single persons in poverty and husbands and wives with no children in poverty.
I support these proposals and commend them to the House and the Government, and I do so with the support of the Labour party Conference behind me. At the same time, I wish to make it clear that we do so with the knowledge that there will still be a poverty problem left. What is the special kind of problem with which we think family allowances will deal? I can do no better than to refer to our resolution. We say that wages in many industries have never been sufficient to keep families with children, and that by every addition to the family the standard of living of the family, already inadequate, is lowered and forced down. That is the problem. The problem is that each additional child drives the family down into greater poverty. That, in our view, is the problem with which family allowances are best fitted to deal.
A research into this problem has been made by Mr. S. Rowntree, and the results of his survey of the life and conditions in York in 1936 have been published. The year 1936 was not one of the worst years in this country, and not one of the best; it was a moderate year in the 10 years from 1930–40. I think it will be accepted therefore that the City of York can be described as a fair average of British industrial towns. York is not one of the depressed areas. If, for example, the analysis had been made in the division represented so adequately by my hon. Friend the Member for Abertillery (Mr. Daggar) these figures would be very much on the high side. In York, unemployment was below the average of the country. It is, therefore, a fair sample. The second factor which will be accepted without question is that the measuring stick which was utilised by Mr. Rowntree and his assistants is the bare minimum. He took an income for a husband and wife and three children as 43s. 6d. per week, excluding rent. No hon. Member would object that that standard is too high; in my view it is too low. It means £2 3s. 6d. for clothing, food and incidental expenses, fuel and all the other things, for a family of five. He believed it to be the minimum standard on which a family of five could be kept in mere subsistence. Using that measuring stick in a city like York, he found on that test that 31 per cent. of the working population were below that standard. York is a fair sample of a British industrial town, and has no history of depression like part of the country which I represent.
Mr. Rowntree goes further—and this brings us to the problem with which we have to deal—and seeks to analyse why one-third of the population of York were below the minimum. He discovered that 16 per cent. of them were below the minimum because they were old age pensioners and the pensions were inadequate, that 28 per cent. of the third were below the minimum because they were unemployed and the benefits and allowances were inadequate, that 9·5 per cent. were below the minimum because they were either engaged in casual employment or were working on their own account, and, finally, that of the one-third 32 per cent., or nearly one-third of the third, were in full-time employment and were below the standard after receiving wages for a full week's work. The consequences of that are also illustrated by Mr. Rowntree. If you take that section who are below that line because their wages are inadequate, the consequences to the children are set out in these striking figures Ninety-six per cent. of the children in those families remain below that minimum in poverty for the first three years of their life, 89 per cent. remain in poverty below that figure for five years, 66 per cent. remain below it for nine years of their childhood, and 49 per cent. remain below it for 13 years of their childhood. Nothing that we can do subsequently can in any way eradicate the effects of those 13 years of poverty. Through all our public services, whether national or local, or both combined, what we do is to try and salvage the results of the effects of poverty upon childhood which we cannot eradicate afterwards. We believe, therefore, that here is an aspect of the problem of poverty which needs solution, and we believe that a real effort ought to be made to settle it now.
Having given the reasons why we are satisfied that this kind of problem can best and most quickly be settled by family allowances, let me now deal with our approach to it. We believe that, short of a fundamental change in our economic system, the problem of building up a standard which will prevent our people falling into poverty can be approached in three ways which are already in some degree a feature of our social services. First, we believe that we ought to build up a national minimum for all our people, expressed in terms of a national minimum wage, below which no one shall fall. Secondly, we believe that the constructive social services have an important and increasing part to play in the conquest of poverty. One of the things I want to avoid, because I think it is a wrong approach entirely, is to have a controversy as to whether this method or the constructive social services method is the better. We ought to regard them as supplementing each other and not as being in competition. I was interested to hear an interjection from the benches opposite during the speech of the hon. Lady who seconded the Motion, with regard to the provision of meals. I have known even that opposed in the House.
I am sure the hon. Member does not wish to misrepresent those who interrupted the hon. lady. She was arguing, as I understood it, that free meals were wholly uneconomic, and the inference that we got was that it was better to pay 5s. a week for each child. We interrupted to ask if she was in favour of doing away with free meals.
I want these services developed completely. I have here a return issued by the Board of Education of what we are doing in this respect. The percentage of the school population in the third year of the war who are receiving meals at school is 14. That indicates that there are still vast numbers who are outside the benefit of these social services. We believe that the best way is to develop this in a co-ordinated system of social services, not separating family allowances from the rest of the social services, and our resolution at our annual conference said that family allowances ought to have a place in the social services because they are the best and quickest way of solving the problem.
May I say a word or two about our scheme? We will not accept a scheme which is not available to every child in the country. Once you depart from that principle, you introduce class distinctions into the social services which will undermine them. You have it already. I have heard of little children dividing themselves into "free milkers" and others. [Interruption.] It is our duty to try and prevent them from being snobs. There is one thing that I hope has been killed by the war, and that is snobbery. In any case we need to keep that kind of mentality outside our social services. We believe, therefore, that this payment ought to be made for every child in the country from the date of birth until it leaves school and that the whole cost of the scheme must be met from the Exchequer. The fear felt by the trade unions of this proposal largely arises from the fact that so many schemes have been put forward on a contributory and industrial basis which the trade unions would resist to the end. We propose in our scheme that the payment should be 5s. each per week from the date of birth to the date when they leave school. We provide that this allowance paid to every child should be substituted for the first 5s. of children's allowances in any other public scheme. There are other schemes where the children's allowances are higher. We also propose that it should be in substitution for the children's allowances now made under the provisions of the Budget. As it happens, our estimate which was made before the publication of the White Paper, does not vary very much from the Treasury's estimate. We arrived at an all-in gross estimated expenditure of £127,000,000, and we arrived at an estimated saving of £40,000,000, leaving a net cost of from £85,000,000 to £90,000,000.
There is, then, the question of how we are to get the money. We have said quite clearly that it must come from the Exchequer and, therefore, from taxation. The Budget must be used to finance this scheme as a method of policy which will have to be adopted in this country. All hon. Members are joined together in our great effort, and therefore, speaking frankly, let us admit that, of course, there must be a redistribution of income in this country, either through the medium of this Parliament and the Chancellor, or in another way. [HON. MEMBERS: "What other way?"] The people will find the other way. I express the hope that the people of this country will not in the next 20 years put up with the inequalities of the last 20 years. For the reasons I have given, we must solve this problem of poverty from the standpoint of equity.
Let me give another reason. The war will come to an end some day, and we shall be faced with colossal human problems. I believe they can be solved, but if we are to face them, if Britain is to build for herself a place in the post-war world worthy, if you like, of her past and worthy of her people, that place will not be built with an impoverished people. It can be done only if there is a people removed above the fear of want and poverty. My party believes that we must build up in this country a comprehensive scheme of social services that will prevent our people falling below poverty. Our children are our greatest treasure and our greatest asset. In the course of the war, tens of thousands of them are being brought up in poverty, denied adequate food and clothing and decent shelter. The marks of that poverty will be left on their bodies, minds and souls. Those children will have to fight the battles of to-morrow. I have always done everything I could, inside the House and outside, and will continue to do so to the end, to give all support to winning the war, which has to be won, but I want to do something more than win the war—for I have seen another war won in my generation. This time I want to win the peace, too. If we are to do that we must now take steps to provide for our people and our children conditions of life that will give them the physique, the mind and body, the soul and spirit, to face those great problems. It is because I believe the proposal embodied in this Motion can make a contribution to that end that I support it.
I am glad to have this opportunity of intervening in the Debate. The speech we have just heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) brought to light the point I wish to stress. My hon. Friend said that no sane person will tolerate the maldistribution of wealth after this war as it has been tolerated before, and he went on to say that the way of dealing with this unjust distribution of wealth is through the machinery of the Treasury—
Or, he said, another way—to that remark there was a sharp reaction from the other side of the House. Hon. Members asked, "What other way?" Then there was a hiatus, a silence. To my mind that was very significant in this House. There is another way, and may I, without wishing to stress the high principle too much, remind hon. Members of what is called natural law, God's eternal natural law? If men conformed to that, there would be another way than conforming to the bureaucratic, hamstringing methods of the Treasury. That is the point I want to stress. We are discussing poverty. Why is it that some men cannot keep their children? To hear the champions of these family allowances, one would think that in some strange way God had upset the balance of things and seen that those with children would not have His gifts to keep the children alive until some genius arrived in this House to devise a scheme which the Treasury could substitute for God's law. This is a poverty problem, and poverty is not God-made, but man-made. It exists because the laws of man, made in this House, are not in conformity with God's eternal natural law. They have been made to defend certain narrow outlooks and, I am sorry to say, private vested interests.
When we are faced with poverty, distress, malnutrition among children, bad housing, is it a sane policy to run along the line of bureaucratic dispensations? That is what I want to ask my hon. Friends on these benches. There is not a Member on this side of the House who does not admit that the reason the workers of this country cannot maintain their children is that wages are too low for a start. Who in this House will suggest that they are such wiseacres in the Treasury that they know best how to distribute the wealth of the country? Every time there is an economic problem raised in the House, we either set up a commission of inquiry or go to the Treasury. What do the Treasury say? [An HON. MEMBER: "Nothing."] Yes, they do; they say, "You want so many millions, do you? Who is to pay?" Do not forget that, under the present canons of taxation, every time you make an appeal to the Treasury for more money it redounds on the workers. It is only those who produce the wealth of this country that pay the taxation of the country. Therefore, when we come to a proposition such as that moved by the hon. Lady—I see that she is not present now. What a pity. I wish she had stayed. For years she has wasted her life advocating family allowances. I suppose that is a good enough substitute for the absence of a family.
May I say, as the mother of many children, that some of the best work for children that has been done in this country has been done by women who have had no children?
I did not mean the remark offensively, but I have noticed that people who have no children are often apt to dictate to those who have. Let me come to the main point. We are being asked to do something for the children. I am against the Government doing for my children that which I think I ought in justice to do myself. I never believed that the State is a better parent than the parent who is responsible for his children, and I think it is a danger to the stability of family life if we bring in Chancellors of the Exchequer to decide family domestic affairs. I would ask those people who are anxious to do some- thing for the family one or two questions. We have heard to-day that where there is one child or two or perhaps three there is what is called distress in the family. Why is that? The wages of the man are more or less static, if he is in employment. He will want more house room if he has children, and an increase of family means increased housing requirements, which means increased rent and especially increased rates. I would ask the House, if it really means to do something to relieve the man who is producing children, whether it will give him better houses for less rent. Will it modify the cost of high rents and abolish the system which penalises a man when he wants more housing for his children, namely, high rates? Would any one in the House say "no" to that? Does the House really mean to do something to remove economic pressure from the man who has a family?
In this House day in and day out for years, until I got tired of it, I kept hinting at the causes that were striking a blow at family life in this country, namely, high rents and high rates. They are the curses on the people. It will not cost the Treasury anything to remove the rates from houses. Will anyone in the House support a proposal that in order to help an increase in families, rates on houses be abolished? That would not be a bad start. It would not mean an army of bureaucrats running round finding out how many children you have, how many are yours and how many are not. Will the House do more than that? Will it see that all impediments to employment are removed so that unemployed men will not beg for the jobs of those who are in employment? If that were done wages would rise; otherwise wages would not rise, except when there is a war on. My own experience is too bitter for me ever to forget it. I had a mother who tried to rear a family, but met with disaster. There is nothing more terrible than when poverty strikes a house and those who are in it know that there is a better life than the one they are living. I shall never forget when the rates were knocking at our door. We could have managed to pay the high rental, but when the rates came on top of it, it plunged our household into absolute misery.
People have condoned in the past those things which have created the maldistri- bution of wealth so that those who produce the wealth are the least considered; and Parliament is always defending vested interests against any encroachment of high wages. I will not touch on the land question because hon. Members know where that would lead, but it is basic to this question. Primitive communities like those in Egypt and Africa do not look for family allowances because they can go to God's earth and get what they want. It is in a country like this, where the people are barred from the use of God's natural gifts, that we cannot keep our children and have to run to the Chancellor as a substitute. I would ask those who are advocating family allowances whether if they are serious they will do something to mitigate the circumstances of those who have children by removing those exactions of high rates upon houses and those other political and economic tendencies which make families in this country almost an impossibility.
I cannot sit down without making reference to a letter that appeared in "The Times" from Sir William Beveridge—the sweetest of names. I never see it but I feel as if something ought to be done about this gentleman. He is one of the most dangerous bureaucrats walking, about in our time. What does he say in his letter to "The Times"? It is the quintessence of economic wisdom.
The greatest cause of poverty in this country is young children.
Does anyone in the House believe that? Yet this man is the inspirer of the economic wisdom of the Government—I never meet a university professor but I want to run round looking for a loaded revolver. This gentleman has taken the place of my dear old friend Sidney Webb. He works with the greatest industry but always on wrong premises. He reminds me of what Buckle said about the Scottish clergy of the 16th century, that there were no men more erudite, but, having started on wrong premises, the greater their erudition the greater their ignorance. So it is with these people.
What is the meaning of a child appearing in life? It means an increase in the human family. Is that a curse? Because that is what Sir William Beveridge says.
A child may be a contributory cause. The hon. Member has not defined what poverty is. Poverty consists not in what you have but in the fewness of your wants, but if you have very little and a number of children your poverty becomes very acute.
I am sure that Sir William Beveridge will thank the hon. Gentleman for that aid to his hands. Sir William says that the greatest cause of poverty is young children. [HON. MEMBERS: "Read on."]
The relatively high standard of health shown by children in the last war was in part a result of the system of separation allowances.
The deduction is clearly that if you have not family allowances children are a curse. That is the logic of it. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I shall have to read this two or three times until the logic of it can penetrate some people's heads. Each new entrant into the human family means that there is a fresh demand for the things necessary to gratify human desires. Each new child is a blessing, or at least ought to be, in the human community, but this professor says the opposite. I say with all due reverence and with no flippancy that not only does God bring on to this earth human beings with an insatiable desire for the things he has provided for human beings, but that He has given them the physical power to create and to produce the things necessary to gratify human desires. There is God's economy—the creation of human beings with the physical power to produce the things they require from the earth.
Is there anything in that arrangement which should bring about a state of affairs where some children create poverty? Is it the children that are the cause of the poverty? Is it the increase in families that creates poverty? Is it the increase in families and the lack of family allowances from the Treasury that gives us family poverty? The hon. Lady who spoke a few moment's ago spoke of "child poverty." Child poverty. Good God. Have we sunk to this depth, that children are the cause of poverty, and the only way to escape that poverty is to commit the entire community to receiving a contribution of 5s. a week from the Treasury, or commit human suicide! I was rather interested to see that the 5s. is not to be for those only who are in distress. Oh, no, it is to be 5s. for everybody, so that there will be no class distinction. What a fake and fraud this is. Primitive men would laugh if they could come into the House now and found us trying to substitute for justice some arrangement of family allowances.
We have Debate after Debate on old age pension schemes and on other expensive mitigating schemes from the Treasury. Let there be no mistake about this. I make a special appeal to my colleagues on the Labour benches to consider what will happen if we continue along the road we are going of more pensions and more payments to young children. There is not a man among them who is not against bureaucratic control of the family life of the people, but if we continue along this line of making the State pay for our children, making the State the dominant factor, as it were, in the destinies of our families, then later the State will tell us what they are going to do with our families. The choice before us is whether we will pursue the road that will lead to harmony and social equality in society, conserving freedom within the State, a system in which we destroy privilege and monopoly and leave a man to grow up and develop as a man, or whether we leave monopoly and privilege to run their course and substitute for the justice, bureaucratic administration and State domination. As sure as God is in Heaven that way lies in the direction of that which we are now denouncing, Nazi-ism, State control, State counting the mere heads of people, State domination of the destinies of the people.
I have been perhaps a little too hot on this subject, but it means so much to me. It means to me the destruction of all that we in this country have laboured to build up. If England were to pass out of account to-morrow and become a shadow on the pages of history, the one thing that would hold her name dear in the memory of man would be that she forged the British Constitution. The British Constitution was the contribution of this civilisation of ours to the advancement of human thought. What is implied in our Constitution? It is this, that the poorest shall be equal, with the wealthiest or the most powerful within the State, to impress his or her opinion or intention upon the laws and the rules that regulate the life of the country. It is the only instrument so far forged by man that will give peaceful evolution in society and raise men to a higher level without disruption and rebel- lion. If that is destroyed, if that is sapped, if our British Constitutional practice is constantly weakened and falls to pieces, then the only thing that can take its place is blood and revolution. This constant giving of greater power to the bureaucracy, this greater control of bureaucratic machinery over the lives of our people is gradually sapping the interests of the common citizen of this country in the development of the British Constitution. That is the danger. To me that is more terrible than anything I know. [Interruption.]
I ask for no support anywhere. All I ask for is what you are so far privileged to grant me, Mr. Speaker, the liberty to speak in this House. It will cease to be a debating Chamber if men will only stand a chance of speaking in proportion to the cheers they get from anywhere. Let us hope that this House will long do everything it can to preserve and strengthen this rare thing called the British Constitution, so that we inspire the individuals who make up the State to believe that they have rights upon this earth, instil into them a full consciousness of their rights as British citizens within the confines of this country, and not run along this line of teaching the people that they are, as it were, the charitable beggars of the State, dependent upon subventions from the State. That is the way to sap the State, to kill all individuality, to turn this country either into a blind automaton, something akin to what we see in Germany, or, perhaps, something worse.
Therefore, I say that under a Christian and just state of society it would not be something called semi-charity, but it would be a duty of the State, to see to it that those who by old age or youth or by some unhappy accident were incapacitated were well looked after, If parents had been destroyed in defending the country their children would be the first charge on the State—not a charge as we speak of it, but a duty of the State. But while doing everything to preserve the rights of children who have lost their parents or guardians because they have fallen while defending the country, and while demanding that the elderly who are passing out of an old system which was dominated by social injustice shall be maintained happy in the winter of their days, do not let us go on thinking that it is our duty to substitute social injustice, which is creating poverty among normal people, by resort to further State doles. We want to substitute a state of society where a just distribution of wealth will prevail, and where fathers will be found proud to proclaim that they are the fathers of children because they do not live in a country where poverty turns men into sycophants and beggars. Let us aim at the true balance of social justice and away from this tendency towards State beggary and State subvention.
With much of what the last speaker said about the independent spirit many of us will agree, but I cannot help thinking that he is very muddled. He evidently has an independent knowledge of God's law. He tells us that, in nature, it would be provided that all should share equally. He tells us that the Egyptians and the natives who live under God's sun get everything equally. That is a pretty picture, but nature, in fact, is cruel. In nature, the strong eat the weak if they can, and destroy them. Every animal lives on some other animal. If God's law means anything it surely means that we men, who are higher than the animals, must use our consciences to see that the natural law does not take its course. Surely that is the reason why we meet in Parliament. We come here to defeat the natural law of laissez faire which is "let things go and the devil take the hindmost."
A new sentiment has come into our country which has made it possible for the strong to look after the weak and for those who have to share with those who have not, but that cannot be done by just talking. It has to be done by action. The action which is inspired by this House must be carried out by civil servants. Therefore, to speak against bureaucrats, because they perform those duties for us, is a sign of muddled thinking. The hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) says that he and his friends can agree to the proposal only if the allowances are for all. I cannot understand that attitude. To give 5s. a week to somebody who does not need it seems a foolish waste of public money. I can think of no other plain term in which to express it. The hon. Member suggests that by doing so, you would get away from class feeling, but I do not think you would. As long as there are people whose incomes make it possible for them not to need the 5s., such people will refuse to take it. If that be snobbishness, I do not understand the meaning of words. I should have thought it was a virtue in people that they should try to be independent and look after themselves, and I cannot feel that it would be right to burden the country with the unnecessary payment of allowances to people who do not need them. That is, frankly, what is proposed.
There is just one other qualification. As we grow older and as we come into the third year of the second war in our time, values change, it seems to me, and private fortunes seem to count for less. As we share the horrors of war and as death brings us nearer together, many of us feel that we have to revise to some extent the priorities which we had in our minds as to what could be done for those in difficulties. Let us never forget that the wealth of the State is not illimitable. It is true that all the wealth is made by the workers and that none of the accumulated wealth of the past can be repeated, replaced and maintained without the Work of the workers; but the workers are not in any one class. They include everyone in the community. There ought to be no one not doing his share. When the wealth has been made it can be divided by various means, but let us be sure that we make it. While we may have priorities in our own minds for the care of this or that group of our citizens, let us be sure that our taxation is not such that industry cannot survive to make the wealth out of which all these good things are to come. Subject to that condition, I imagine almost everyone would agree that the children must be a first call. I, for one, would not willingly support a Government which did not seek to remove the poverty which, it has been shown, affects 25 per cent. of our children. That must be done, but before we engage in a scheme that will cost £90,000,000, £70,000,000 or £50,000,000, or whatever it may be according to the various estimates, I submit to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he should look to see where the need is.
May I bring to his notice one class where there is real need and I believe real injustice? The wife of the serving soldier is provided with an allowance of so much per child, irrespective of the time when the soldier entered the Army, and of Whether he was married or not. He may enter the Army as a single man and subsequently get married and have children, and his wife and children have the allowance. That rule does not apply to the soldier who is disabled in the country's service. If he was married at the time when he was disabled there is an allowance for his wife and children, but if he marries subsequently there is no allowance for him. The State seems to take the view that it can be responsible only for the liabilities of the man at the time when he was wounded. That is logical and understandable, but it is not humane. It does not have regard to the facts. The facts are that, up to the last war, a few thousands—do not let us exaggerate the problem—of men were disabled in the severest way. They were unmarried, and naturally so, because they were in their twenties, but many of them wanted to get married when the war was over, and they saw their way clear to do so. That was virtuous forbearance. They took a chance, and they have had a very hard life bringing up a wife and family upon a single man's pension.
The hon. Member for Llanelly pointed out that the Rowntree minimum of 43s. 6d. a week for a man, wife and three children was a fair minimum. Whether we call that figure a very fair minimum, a fair minimum or just a minimum, the fact is that a disabled soldier gets 37s. 6d. a week on which to bring up himself and his wife and any children he may have. He gets no further allowance. The time has come to alter this position and to realise that to make these men remain single or to make them bring up a wife and family on a single man's pension, was unfair to the disabled soldier, hard on the wife, bad for the children and contrary to the interests of the State. I support family allowances in the sense that they represent a good and sensible way of bringing the State's help to the 25 per cent. or whatever the percentage may be of children who are underfed or undernourished. I do not support them in the way in which they have been proposed as being payable to all, whether needing them or not. I hope that if the Chancellor of the Exchequer cannot afford this great and difficult scheme, he will at least look to the class of person to which I have called his attention and see whether he can start by helping them.
I do not propose to follow hon. Members who have been discussing the merits of family allowances per se. I am all for an investigation being instituted into the possibilities of their application and, no more than the hon. Lady the Member for the Combined English Universities (Miss Rathbone), do I want any delay in the process. I wish to invite the attention of the House and especially of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the financial aspect of the question. I hope that during the inquiry the Government will give due care to the financial implications of this scheme, which certainly deserve far more attention and reflection than its promoters appear to have devoted to it. Like other hon. Members, I have received a circular letter marshalling all the facts in favour of family allowances and carefully omitting any but the slightest reference to the financial side of the question, and almost demanding that hon. Members should stop arguing about it and vote here and now. That is not a form of propaganda which appeals very much to me, and I should have thought that it was hardly in accord with the dignity of this House to pay much attention to it. It certainly will not turn me aside from giving the most careful consideration to both sides of the question.
A few days ago when we were discussing a Vote of Credit—one of a series which will involve this State in an unbelievable expenditure—the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) took occasion to make the observation that this proved that everything was financially possible. That is only a paraphrase of a famous utterance by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) to the effect that this country can afford anything it wants. What the right hon. Gentleman had in mind, of course, was that we might just as well be hanged for a sheep as for a lamb. The fallacy of the right hon. Gentleman's proposition can be exposed with the greatest ease by asking: Why only 5s.? You may be quite certain that when family allowances are instituted this question will be asked: Why only 5s. and not 500s.?
Whatever the modem professors of political economy may insist to the contrary, I am quite sure that there is an economic limit to any form of State expenditure by a country like our own, which is not self-contained and which depends for its prosperity on a number of factors, perhaps outside our borders and beyond our control. The Labour party discovered that truth in 1931, when the electorate, in no measured terms, turned down the creed that this nation can afford anything it wants. I fought in that Election; my Labour opponent promised the electors anything they wanted and I promised them nothing but a lean period so long as the nation's finances remained in the same disordered condition as that in which the Labour party had left them. That evidently was what the electors wanted, because they returned me by a majority of 27,000. In spite of the teaching of the new school of political economy, I still prefer the standard of financial conduct, applicable just as much to the nation as to the individual, which was set us by a famous character in fiction. I still believe that the more we discard Mr. Micawber's formula, the more perilous will our economic situation become.
In the matter of whether we can afford family allowances or not, there are two main considerations which I take it for granted the Government will not lose sight of in the course of their investigations. The first is that the expenditure of £150,000,000—or whatever the figure is, I do not know—must, in part or in whole, be borne by direct taxation. If this is so, surely the Chancellor of the Exchequer should bear in mind the change already apparent in the incidence of Income Tax. More and more, as the wage-earner becomes better remunerated for his work, and as the larger estates become broken up and impoverished, will the incidence of Income Tax fall upon the wage-earning classes. Before agreeing to the hon. and gallant Member's Motion, we should ask: Is it quite certain that in these family allowances we shall not be giving with one hand what we are taking away with the other? There is an infinitely more important consideration, and one which is less open to cavil or dispute. We know that all these demands for increases, in old age pensions, widows' pensions or the basic rate in any other form of social assistance, are due in the main to one basic cause. For a long period of years there has been a steady rise, no doubt fluctuating at times but consistent on the whole, in the cost of living. If you encourage a race between social services and the cost of living, we all know where that will lead. In spite of what hon. Members opposite may say, you cannot, by legislation alone, maintain a high standard of living. The high standard of living we all want to see will depend mainly upon the economic factors of industry.
There are one or two minor considerations to which I would draw the attention of the House and which, I admit, are more questions of opinion and less capable of proof, That has not prevented hon. Members from bringing them forward today in favour of family allowances. It has been stated that family allowances will effect a rise in the birth-rate, a very desirable object. If this new form of State assistance entails an increase in direct taxation, which I take it must be the case, then I am quite certain that it will have exactly the opposite effect. Hon. Members may recollect that some years ago there was initiated by the B.B.C. a series of seances enlisting the services of the man-in-the-street. The question on one occasion was, what were the main factors in restricting the birth rate? Whatever other factors were adduced by those anonymous persons, who were just ordinary members of the public, they all agreed that the burden of rates and taxes acted as the most effective factor in birth control.
Here again I touch upon a subject of high controversy. Our first preoccupation after we have won the war and if we want to survive must be the recovery of our export trade. No amount of State assistance or social services will be of the smallest avail unless that end is achieved. Demobilisation and resettlement are subjects which I, like other hon. Members, have lately been studying, and for reasons which I certainly have not the time to explain now these are going to be extraordinarily expensive items in the Bill which the nation will have to foot. Every reverse that we suffer, such as those we have regrettably suffered in the course of the last few days, will in all likelihood prolong the war, which is costing us £10,000 a minute. We have no idea what our financial commitments will be in the course of the next few years, but this I think we can forecast: that the situation of the working man will be ever so much better than it was in 1936, when Mr. Seebohm Rowntree instituted his inquiry in the town of York, already referred to by several hon. Members. I think we may safely say that most of our working-people will be earning extremely good wages for the rest of the war. Is this, therefore, the precise psychological moment to commit ourselves to expenditure of the nature of that which we are discussing to-day? Ought we not to be thinking about how to get out of this financial morass and not about immersing ourselves deeper in it?
Finally, I would like to say that amongst the factors which restrain me from giving a careless and thoughtless consent to this Motion, which might, by itself, be unexceptionable, is that I am becoming apprehensive that we are not approaching reconstruction in the right spirit. We are teaching everyone to say, "What can I get out of the State?" rather than "What can I contribute to the State?" If we are going to teach young people that the measure of a nation's greatness is the amount of assistance given to the individual we shall be preaching something which is economically false and morally unsound. And if we persist in this attitude of mind, I believe that this new Jerusalem of which we hear so much will recede more and more into the remote distance, and we shall be left behind without having achieved the ambitions about which we all hear so much to-day.
Mr. Graham White:
The hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken expressed the fear that we were approaching reconstruction in the wrong spirit, namely, from what we could get out of it rather than what we could put in. If he is advancing that argument—I am not quite sure whether he is—against the system of family allowances, I would remind him that to be consistent he would have to express his opposition to the system of family allowances on a very much larger scale which is being given through Income Tax rebates. No one can logically or humanely base any opposition to a system of family allowances which is merely an extension of a system enjoyed by the richer people without also opposing that system of rebates. I do not know whether there are any Members of this House who will be prepared to record a vote against the system of family allowances. Indeed, when I came into the Chamber to-day I wondered whether anyone could oppose family allowances except those who, for reasons which are well understood, think that the institution of a system of this kind might interfere with their powers of bargaining, or that it might be used for the improper purpose of making an attack on some other machinery for improving the standard of life. I had thought in my innocence that only people who could possibly be against a system of family allowances, would be those who do not know the facts or who know the facts and misunderstand them.
As I have already said, if there are others who are opposed to a system of family allowances, they must equally oppose that system of allowances introduced by William Pitt in the Income Tax of 1799, which unfortunately had to be abandoned as the moral level at that time was not so high as now. It was renewed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Caernarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) when in 1906 he proposed to recognise family allowances by means of an Income Tax rebate. As Income Tax was then at 9d. in the £, that rebate amounted to 7s. 6d. per year per child. That has grown until we now give a rebate at the full rate on Income Tax on £50 for every child, no matter what the income may be. I repeat that those who are opposed to family allowances for those whose needs are unquestioned must also be opposed to the other system. That system of family allowances by rebate has been going on for 36 years. So far as I know, it has not had any more effect in undermining or sapping the independence of the British race than the introduction of the old age pension, which was denounced for just such reasons when it was proposed by the late Lord Asquith and the right hon. Member for Caernarvon Boroughs. I was pained to hear that argument falling from the lips of my hon. and gallant Friend. It is an ancient but not a very venerable argument.
When I first heard of this Debate I was struck with precisely the thought which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) as to the appropriateness of holding the Debate at this time, in the existing circumstances. It did occur to me that a detached observer from Mars watching the course of business of this House over the last few days, observing Debates on education, old age pensions, family allowances in the Upper Chamber one day last week, and the same subject here to-day, might well ask himself whether the powers of Parliament to detach itself from the background of the harsh and terrible events which are taking place in Libya, in Russia and elsewhere were not such as to raise doubts as to its capacity for realising its responsibility for affairs in the present state of the world. On reflection, I came to the conclusion that so far from stultifying ourselves, as the hon. Member for Mossley suggested, by discussing these events, the fact that we were devoting our attention to this was evidence either of conscious or unconscious realisation of the dedication of ourselves to that progress for the well-being of the common man to which we are pledged in Section 5 of the Atlantic Charter, and our realisation of the fact that in this war we are in a great and glorious crusade to that end. We will not let it end with the stopping of the fight. It has to go on with no hiatus to tackle the tasks of peace.
The hon. Member for Mossley did not refer in his indictment of Parliament to the misery of the occupied territories in Europe, those great, silent cemeteries of famine, want and despair and what their thoughts would be on hearing that we are setting out to improve conditions here. That thought assailed me, but I think there can be no valid reason, if one of the 26 of the Allied Nations is mercifully free to make plans as to how it can improve the lot of its people, not to do so; that is the great and common task of all free countries. I support this Motion, and my remarks may fortunately be curtailed, by the fact that all the arguments have already been placed before the House by the Mover and Seconder of the Motion. I am more optimistic of the state of this controversy in the public mind than some of those who have preceded me. It has gone through the normal processes of political discussion in this country. We have had the pioneers, we have had influence brought upon Parliament, and public opinion, and now every party in the State except the Conservative party has expressed itself in favour of this Motion.
As for the Conservative party, we have had no more able, ardent, and persistent advocate for family allowances than my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for India, whose interest in this matter, I am glad to see, is maintained, because he Has been in his place to-day. Also, we have had the support and enthusiasm of the hon. Lady the Member for the English Universities (Miss Rathbone). We have reached the penultimate stage, or, as I am sitting in the elected Chamber, I ought, perhaps, to say the semi-final state of this discussion, in which the Government, having held an inquiry, now rely on Parliament and public to reveal to them what their convictions really are and then to advance legislation. If that is not so, I hope that the House will be informed. There has been some discussion about the terms of the Motion. It asks the Government to consider the question. If the Government have really made up their minds and will not do anything else but consider the matter, we should be glad to know. Then we should put a Motion on the Paper in very different terms from that which we are now considering. But I do not think that that is the case. I think we are proceeding according to English methods, according to the glorious standards of the Constitution, about which we have heard so much just now, and that legislation will be proposed.
I want to touch for a moment upon two more technical matters. I think it is of the utmost consequence for the background of investigation which is being carried out by the Beveridge Committee that they should know what is in the mind of the Government with regard to family allowances. The House will hardly expect me to fail to draw attention to the extraordinary mess of the social services of this country, owing to the fact that we have never had any central planning body and because there is no authority in the State charged with the continuous supervision of the social services. One of the most important things about this discussion on family allowances is that it will compel the Government to look at the problem squarely, and that it will be the means, one hopes, of getting rid of the preposterous and indefensible system of allowances to children which prevails in this country at present. May I give an example or two of that chaotic business? The first child of a member of the Armed Forces has an allowance of 8s. 6d. a week. An unaccompanied evacuee, aged between five and 10, gets 10s. 6d. a week, and an unaccompanied evacuee of 14 to 16 gets 13s. Under unemployment benefit, 4s. is allowed for the first child, and 3s. for any further child. The workmen's compensation scale, when a parent is 100 per cent. disabled, is 4s. In the case of air-raid victims, when parents are temporarily in hospital, 4s. is allowed. In the case of war victims, with parents who are both 100 per cent. disabled, the amount is 7s. 1d. In the case of contributory pensions, when the mother is living, the payment is 5s., and 3s. for the third child. One of these allowances may be the right one. I am not prepared, of my own knowledge, to declare that no single one is right. But if one happens to be right, all the others are wrong. I ask the Government, when considering this scheme of family allowances, to give their minds to a situation which reflects very little credit on the Government of this country.
Singularly little attention has been paid in the Debate to the actual body of this White Paper. It contains quite a number of remarkable statements. It is no solution of the financial aspect of this problem to say that the cost of family allowances is only seven, or eight, or 10 days' cost of the war. But, although the amounts are formidable, none is prohibitive, provided that we are satisfied that this is the right way to remove the reproach from this country that so many children are in poverty. I want to refer to that part of the White Paper which calls attention to the position which it alleges would arise if a system of family allowances was related to Income Tax relief. It points out that people would find themselves either rewarded or the reverse, in regard to the family allowances which they would receive, according to any contraction or increase of Income Tax which the Chancellor might propose, and says that, for that reason, nothing of that kind could be brought in. Why should it be so? This matter seems to me to be on all fours with the relationship between Income Tax and the allowances given in respect of life insurance. They have been most effectively detached. The same thing could be done here. Allowances in respect of life insurance
are at a special rate for policies taken out before 1916. If that matter is considered an impediment, I suggest that it should be looked at again. I would also draw attention to a statement, on page 11, that a rebate
given in respect of children represents a recognition of the fact that the possession of children reduces the capacity to pay.
But what is the actual performance which we carry out to-day? Let me give one example, bearing in mind that the Income Tax rebate suggests a reduced capacity to pay. Take a man with an income of £6 10s. a week, and another with an income of £8 10s. a week, both having four children. It is a fact that the man who has £8 10s. a week has a greater capacity to pay than the man with £6 10s. a week. But we recognise the principle that we have set out here, and upon which apparently this wonderful scheme is based, by giving the taxpayer whose capacity to pay is greater than the other man's £65 a year, while the man with £2 a week less, gets £49 a year. This system of allowances requires very close investigation. It is full of anomalies which are indefensible and should be rectified at the earliest possible moment. I do not wish to say anything more, except that I was struck by reading some words which I noticed in the Press some time ago which seemed to sum up, on humane grounds, the case for family allowances. It was a speech by Mrs. Aline McKinnon addressing the Women's Liberal Federation, in which he said:
Why should a child be condemned from the outset to have less good food, less birthday toys, because, when he arrived, he found that two or three little brothers and sisters had arrived before him and that all of them must have a little less if the new baby is to have anything at all?
That is the state of affairs to-day. It is little credit to us. It is intolerable. There may be people in this House who oppose this Motion. If that is so, it is only because they must have some better scheme to suggest, and I await with interest for them to unfold it to the House.
On the subject of the responsibilities and problems which attend the rearing of a large family I speak with a considerable volume of first-hand experience laboriously acquired over a period of nearly 22 years. I hope that the fact that several hon. Members and I had put down an Amendment to this Motion in its original form will not be interpreted, or misinterpreted, as offering uncompromising opposition to all forms of allowances or to all forms of assistance to those upon whom the burden of maintaining a family actually falls. Such an attitude—of opposition—would be flying in face of fact and experience. I am aware of many practical arguments for allowances where needed. Not only is such assistance already given in matters of national concern such as Service pay, unemployment assistance and supplementary pensions but there are also many private schemes among private businesses in existence. I might mention that the banks, who according to some of our economic moralists can never do anything right, have for a number of years had in force a comprehensive system of allowances, for marriage, children, and pensions to which I intend to refer later in dealing with details. As a bank director I share responsibility for one of these schemes and I most heartily approve of it.
But the existence of provisions for assistance in particular cases is not necessarily an argument for a scheme of general application. I shall try to show the House that the provision of family allowances is not an interest of the State except in respect of State servants, and it is not a responsibility of the State except in respect of relief of destitution. One reason for the fact that the demand for family allowances has been gaining strength is that we are at war, and practically all of us are, in some form or another, servants of the State and therefore tend to have our view of these matters somewhat biased by that condition.
May I first be allowed the luxury of a little "debunking?" I believe that among the very large number of hon. Members who put their names to the Motion, at any rate in its original form, there must be quite a few who did not go through any very profound processes of thought before they did so. Anyone might argue that his political reputation was not likely to be harmed by the association of his name with so generous an impulse; and, as to finding the money, that is the job of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is far easier to put down one's name to a Motion in favour of family allowances than to work out a reasoned Amendment to such a Motion. It is certainly more attractive to
appear before the public, and the electorate, as one guided by kindly impulses towards children and willing to act generously towards them—albeit with the taxpayers' money—than it is to appear as one holding such impulses in check while he considers whether he may not be contemplating something which would do more harm than good. It is far simpler to base one's whole attitude towards this as indeed towards all forms of social service on the words in the second verse of the 6th Chapter of St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians—
Bear ye one another's burdens
than it is to struggle on to the fifth verse of the same chapter and there find the striking contradiction—
For every man shall bear his own burden.
It was the late Sir Arnold Wilson who called my attention to that apparent contradiction and the reason he gave has some bearing on what might be our attitude to this matter. The two verses reflect the use of the same English word "burden" to represent two entirely different words in the original Greek. The true translation of the second verse should have been, "Bear ye one another's calamities" and of the fifth verse "Every man shall carry his own pack." So the instruction appears to be that a man ought to carry his pack, and the rest of us ought to help him if it turns out to be so overwhelming a burden as to be a calamity. It might be said that I am no more qualified to hold forth on matters connected with the interpretation of Holy Writ than are some of the Lords Spiritual to descant upon the processes and motives of trade and commerce. But is it seriously proposed that to have a large family of children is necessarily an overwhelming calamity?
Mr. Rowntree's statistics do not prove the whole case. They prove that destitution is accentuated by large families; they do not prove that it is always or necessarily caused by large families. I offer the far more affirmative proposition that in most cases a man's children are an inspiration to him; and that to a man of spirit, if his children are many rather than few, the mighty effort which they compel him to put forth may well prove to be the mainspring of his material well- being. In that connection the hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) in his very able speech did not make a case for a general system of family allowances. He made out an excellent case for a system of family allowances for those families falling below the average or desirable income level. He went on to say that for other reasons he wanted a general scheme but the facts he produced did not make out a case for a general scheme.
There are three arguments put forward by some of the supporters of these proposals with which I should like to deal. It is said that the allowance of 5s. will tend to counter the fall in the birthrate. Is there not obviously something wrong about this? To what proportion of our population or to what section will it appeal? When one considers the pains of travail and the immense responsibility and the ceaseless effort and self-denial and self discipline involved in rearing a family, is such a proposal as this likely to tip the scales in favour of marriage in the case of those who are already reluctant to assume these pains and responsibilities? Is this really a matter we can consider on a strictly money basis? And, if so, is 5s. per week any measure of it at all? I feel that this line of argument gives a distorted picture of and puts a low rating on the attitude of serious-minded men and women towards the married state.
Secondly, there is the argument that to-day we are spending £12,000,000 a day and surely we can afford the £50,000,000, £60,000,000 or £132,000,000 a year called for in these proposals. I strongly support the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Bolton (Sir E. Cadogan) in that regard. I would like to mention also the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams), when, with his characteristic method of hitting nails hard on the head irrespective of whose fingers may be around, he pointed out in last Wednesday's Debate on old age pensions that we were deceiving ourselves and deceiving the whole country if we tried to delude ourselves that we can go on year after year spending more than we are getting in without there ever being a day of reckoning; and that all we have to do is to vote the money and finance will look after itself.
It is true that a man who is spending thousands can spend £1 more or less without making much relative difference to his prospects of bankruptcy or solvency; but although the proximate cause of the bankruptcy of a man who fails for a million is his inability to raise half-a-crown on a given day, it is the relation of his aggregate commitments to his aggregate resources which determines his solvency or the reverse. The aggregate position of the nation, while it finds expression in terms of money, is really not so much a question of finance as of available men and materials. We cannot by financial means alone hope to live better than the finite supply of men and materials permits. If we try by purely financial means to do so, it is finance and not men and materials which will give way. We cannot by financial means make five loaves and two small fishes feed the multitude. All that will happen is that currency will give way and prices will rise, as they have been doing progressively over the last 50 years. No monetary system that can ever be devised can prevent this happening. The gold standard being made of unyielding material, just broke in two under the massed demand of voters in two continents to get something for nothing. Managed currency will yield at first to such a demand: but finally will just lie on its back and wave all four legs in the air.
In passing, may I comment on one of the financial arguments put forward by supporters of the proposal in a document entitled "The Case for a National Scheme of Family Allowances." With special reference to the argument that we cannot afford it, there appear the following words:
The names of some of the signatories to the Notice of Motion should be reassuring to those using this argument. For example, the names include the Chairman of the Select Committee on National Expenditure.
I sympathise with my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne), whom I do not see here, in this use, or perhaps I ought to say misuse, of his name. I suppose that the argument is that my hon. Friend, having been charged by this House with economy, knows all about it, and that if he says we can afford it, it must be all right in spite of anything the Chancellor might say. May I point out the slight difference between my hon. Friend and the Chancellor when we are discussing
what we can and cannot afford?. It is that the Chancellor has to find the money. I have no doubt that if my hon. Friend were here he would tell us in his thoughtful tones that in this important field of productive activity we are not producing up to 75 per cent. of capacity. I do not know what capacity may be, but I would like to ask what is "bogey"? Or perhaps I might more properly ask what is "par" for this course.
Thirdly there is the loosely sentimental and somewhat slanderous argument that our children must be cared for by the State because they are children of the State. This is often accompanied by a loose phrase suggesting that a man with a large family is doing his duty by the nation. Was there ever so sloppy a mixture of Communistic philosophy with the Kanonenfurter principle of the Fascist?
If the hon. Lady has patience she will hear my views on that subject. I am one of those who believe that accountability for the exercise of power is towards the source of that power and that we should render unto Ceasar only those things that are Caesars. The source of the power of procreation—of self-reproduction—is Divine, and it is towards God and not towards his neighbour that the primary responsibility of a parent lies. The unit of living is not the individual and not the nation, but the family. I think those whose minds dwell too much on the science and machinery of government, and on the many and wonderful things that can be accomplished by co-operative action, are apt to be a little carried away by their subject and be so intrigued by the mechanics of it that they come to regard government as an end in itself. There were families before nations; and please God there will be families long after nations have been swept away. The family is before the State in point of time: and while it is obviously weaker in its temporal power, it is superior to the State in its spiritual authority.
In this connection may I mention the surprising fact that in all the discussions on this subject, even in the Debate that took place in another place, there has hardly been any mention at all of the primary responsibility of a man to maintain and support the children he brings into the world? In the Debate on Education last Tuesday not a single mention was made of man's responsibility to provide for, and his right to decide about, his children's education. Has this concept passed entirely from our philosophy? If so, there are good and weighty reasons for the anxiety expressed for the future of the race in a recent letter in "The Times" by the President of the Association of Headmasters and the Chairman of the Headmasters' Conference.
Four or five years ago I gave a dinner in this House for an old Japanese lawyer who, 60 years ago, was called to the Bar of the Middle Temple and who has spent a lifetime in practice at the Japanese Bar in attempting to propagate throughout the East the underlying principles of English common law. Another of my guests was a member of the Government who turned to him and asked, "How do you deal in Japan with problems of social services such as, for instance, old age pensions?" "Ah," said my old friend, "that is not a State problem with us. It is the responsibility of the family." I wonder whether this attitude of mind has anything to do with the Japanese being such doughty fighters?
May I touch very briefly on existing schemes, because there are some features common to them which I ask the House to note. For a number of years the leading banks have had a comprehensive scheme of allowances for their staff covering the entire period of their service and operating over the whole range of staff up to those receiving about £1,000 a year. There are marriage allowances of about £30 a year and children's allowances of about £15 to £30 a year for the first child, £15 to £20 a year for the second child, and £10 to £15 a year for subsequent children. There are also pensions varying with salary and length of service. It will be noted that these systems recognise the undoubted fact that the first great change in a man's life comes when he is married, and the second great change on the arrival of the first child. Subsequent children do not make so great a proportional difference. We all know that reductions can usually be obtained when taking a quantity. But comparing banks with other privately-run concerns, it is worth noting that a bank's business is pre-eminently one not subject to great fluctuations in the numbers of staff which it employs. The existence of marriage and children's allowances is not, therefore, a factor determining selective employment and discharge to the extent that obtains with a concern employing a large proportion of unskilled labour and subject to great fluctuations in the volume of employment.
The point, however, which I would particularly ask the House to note is that continuity of employment, always an interest of the employee, is in the case of the bank a special interest also of the employer. It as to the bank's interest that its staff should remain with it for a long time, that the men and women engaged in the bank's service should enter that service with the idea of spending their lives and making a career with the bank, so that they should come to know the bank's business and the idiosyncrasies of its customers well; for contrary to the impression that may prevail in some quarters, both the customers of the bank and the bank appreciate the value of long and continued association. Indeed, in that connection, in the case of a bank which recently celebrated its 250th anniversary, there is a record of an old lady who died at the age of 112, having had an account with the bank for 91 years, and the only literature found by her executor in her bedroom was the bank's passbook on her bedside table. So, too, the State's interest comes in in the case of marriage and children's allowances to those engaged in the service of the State, while the State's responsibility comes in in connection with allowances to children of men on unemployment assistance and also in connection with supplementary pensions; for it is the State's obligation to relieve destitution.
Finally, to sum up, I suggest that a general scheme of family allowances is not the State's business. If there is to be a family allowance scheme, it should only be given either where there is an interest to serve or where there is proved to be need.
I had left that matter out of my speech because I thought it was dealt with adequately in another place, but I will refer briefly to it. If a scheme is to be applied only where there is proved to be need, it involves a means test. I have never been able to understand why—and this was referred to the other day by the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams)—it should be considered right that there should be a means test, as there is, to determine how much money a taxpayer shall pay to the Government and wrong that there should be a means test to determine how much of that money his neighbour shall receive. As to the specific point which the hon. Member for Llanelly raised, the principle of allowing deductions from Income Tax differs in this respect from children's allowances, that (although it is in the same general category, I agree) the taxpayer contributes to the support of the non-taxpayer, and the allowance in the case of the taxpayer is in the nature of an arrangement between taxpayers. The way in which to bring equity between taxpayers and non-taxpayers in respect of this particular allowance is to bring the non-taxpayer into tax and then let him off some of the tax.
Many people, and many hon. Members opposite, hold the view, with regard to a means test, that a man should receive certain things from the State as a right. I suppose that this view is based upon some doctrine that a man is born with certain absolute rights. I contest that doctrine, and I offer a sterner and, I believe, a truer and more Christian doctrine, that no man has any rights except those which accrue from the acceptance and the due fulfilment of responsibility. I further contend that, in fulfilling the law to be fruitful and multiply, a man's responsibility is not towards his neighbour but towards God. I venture to give a very brief comparison, without questioning the whole principle of social services. Of course, this is a problem which it is impossible to consider except in conjunction with the social services generally, and therefore, we are awaiting with interest the report of Sir William Beveridge on the relation of family allowances to social services. When we receive that report, I hope we shall not find that he has attempted to apply to the management of families the same theory of statistical averages which he applied to the heating of homes. I will put the comparison in the form of a question, and ask the House to apply the deductions from such comparison to the present proposals. It is this. If in the 20 years preceding the war we had budgeted for £100,000,000 a year less on social services and £100,000,000 a year more on defence, would the recipients of those social services have been substantially worse off, and would they be any worse off to-day?
I have been rather amused by some of the propositions that have been placed before the House. I listened with amusement to the hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren), and I was delighted by some of the absurdities of the hon. and gallant Member for Bolton (Sir E. Cadogan). I was pleased to find that the hon. Member for Hastings (Mr. Hely-Hutchinson) put forward a practical point of view, that is, from the standpoint of a banker. From the economic point of view, I can thoroughly understand the banks' position, and I can understand the position of a mother who has four or five children and who feels, with the loss of the breadwinner, that the State has something to do with those children. From the Christian point of view, I believe in rendering to Caesar the things, that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's, without any trouble about the true definition. As Marcus Aurelius said, let us be true in definition, and when we know what it is we have defined and have common agreement on that, we shall be able to argue the position. In the neighbourhood in which I live, they do not come from Cambridge or Oxford, and they are not bank directors, but many of them go down to the sea in ships. They have been three, four or five times torpedoed and still go back again, and others in dock life and factory life have five or six in family, in many cases all to-day in His Majesty's service. I believe, as the ancients did, in a healthy body and a sound mind as being necessary to the nation. I do not know whether the question of £ s. d. comes in. I remember working with another employee who, when we were counting sovereigns into packets of 20, knocked one packet down and said, "Oh, my God!" He did not seem to understand what it meant. But it was his god. He lived absolutely for the question of gold. Are we living that way to-day, and are we to appeal to the nation from the point of view of the gold? When I hear about the daily cost of the war I remember a venerable Member on these benches—I could call him by some other name—who told us, when he crossed the Floor of the House, that if we spent £90,000,000 on old age pensioners the nation and all in it would be ruined, yet to-day we pass a Vote for £1,000,000,000, and are told that there will probably be another in three months, but there is no question of insolvency. Many bank managers will be able to advance money to their clients and have a properly balanced account at the end of the year.
If I understand things rightly, the most valuable thing we can have is a well-balanced nation, children, men and women, and without that your nation is no good. The hon. Member who spoke last told us about the pregnant question that he put to a Japanese in regard to the responsibility of the State in providing for children. The Japanese replied, "That is no responsibility of ours." It is no good giving us, Japanese morality as a criterion. We are not looking for that kind of morality. What we are looking for is a new life and a new era, a new period when men and women will begin to recognise that they are before the State but responsible to the State to do their duty one to the other. I remember a lady giving an address on social economics who explained how cheap it was to boil a cod's head. A member of the audience said, "My good woman, can you tell me who gets the rest of the fish?" Cod's bead may be all right, but the rest of the fish goes somewhere else, I suppose into the black market. I do not want any of that.
I want to know what it is we are arguing about. I understand it is that we shall make provision for those who are not able to make provision for their children. There seems to be a difference whether they should be of independent parents or non-independent parents. I am not particular whether it is independent or non-independent as long as the children are there. That is a question for the House to decide. Amendments can be brought in to deal with the difficulty. I was once looking at some Guards going over a bridge. I thought how well they had fought for England, and I thought how proud many mothers must be of their boys wearing the King's colours, men in the truest sense. One of the guardsmen, who had four lovely children, died. The widow had nothing but a pension of 24s. a week and had to pay 10s. 6d. for a house. Now the children are growing up and are starting to think that they ought to take service under the Crown and give their services to the nation, and they feel that, if the war should last long enough, they will have to do the same as their daddy did. If it were not for the supplementation which the grandmother receives, the Poor Law system would have to work. There would be a visitation of the home, a barbarism such as people have never know before. The breadwinner has been taken away, and it is our duty to look after such cases.
I had the idea that the people of Russia were mad, but I believe the people of this country were mad long before the Russians. Is there anyone in this House who does not think we shall have to change our opinions and that in future money will not have to give service to the community? There is no man in any walk of life, whether it is high or low, who is secure. No one knows where he will be to-morrow. The ups and downs have been so great that they have made us common bedfellows. In this House of Commons we shall have to study and bring into operation laws which many of us would never have thought in our wildest dreams we should have met together to discuss. The question of rendering to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's, will be a question which will puzzle the Coalition Government, because "whom God hath joined together, let no man put asunder." I wonder, when the separation and divorce take place, whether it will be binding, and whether the two parties will go into their own camps once more or whether a new kind of vision will come from the hybrids that to-day gather on the Front Bench. Today people are crying out to Members of Parliament not to judge everything in pounds, shillings and pence. Who can say from the fruits of the garden what value there is in the production of the earth, and what beauty? I know of nothing sweeter than little kiddies playing, and hearing the prattle of their tongues, knowing that in this England of ours we have rosy-cheeked children growing up in the fear of God and hoping to serve their country. We have been told by a banker of someone dying and leaving a bankbook by the bedside. I suppose in future asbestos bankbooks will be handed out for the bedside. Let us while we live dispose of the things, we possess, and let those with plenty do their duty towards the children and those who require the essential things of life. You cannot do anything better with money than to feed, clothe and educate the children of this country, and give them an equal opportunity with the children of the rich.
The hon. Member for the Scotland division of Liverpool (Mr. Logan) will forgive me if I do not follow him in his higher flights of political eloquence which have delighted the House. I have heard him on many occasions addressing the House and bringing forward some very hard cases. I sometimes feel that he is so impressed by the hard case he is quoting that he allows it to obscure his judgment. I understand there are a number of schemes put forward on this question, and the Motion of those who support the case for family allowances seeks to pay 5s. a week for every child. It is to this Motion that I shall address my remarks. I should like to put forward my case in two parts, firstly, in regard to the time of the introduction of this Motion and on its feasability, and, secondly, in regard to the merits or demerits, of the scheme which hon. Members are putting forward. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson), who, in an earlier Debate, deplored bringing forward this Motion at the present time. I think it is wrong to do so, but, as there is a Debate on the question, it is only right that those who feel strongly on one side or another should ventilate their views.
This scheme, if accepted, will make a very severe and radical change in our social, policy, and in my view we should not embark on such a change in the heat of the greatest war history has known, and when Britain is fighting for her life together with the Empire and her Allies. Surely this is a matter to be discussed in peace-time, when we have plenty of time to devote to considering its merits or disadvantages. It has been suggested it is a tribute to democracy that we should be able to discuss such a Motion; but in my view we are stultifying democracy, because the whole weight of the Government and this House of Commons should be devoted, day in and day out, not to considering social reforms for now or after the war, but to methods of winning the war as soon as possible. A certain amount has been said by those who oppose the scheme on the question of costs. I notice that hon. Members who are advocating this scheme have been very careful in their brief remarks on the costs involved. In the pamphlet, which, I suppose has been sent to all hon. Members, the suggestion is made that it will cost £60,000,000. The suggestion has also been made by an hon. Member from the other side that the figure is £90,000,000. It seems to me it will be very wrong for us to commit ourselves, even in principle, to such an expenditure of money until after the war, when we know where we are.
A number of excellent citizens are going about the country promising social justice and a brave new heaven and a brave new earth for everybody in the world, and particularly in this country after the war. In my opinion—and I may be wrong—we shall be extremely lucky if, when the war is over, we are able to maintain the social services at the standard, not an ideal standard, that we have so laboriously built up over such a long period. We shall be even more fortunate if we are able to maintain the standard of living of all classes of the population. There is no doubt that the standard of living of the richer classes will be, as the result of the war, as it has already been, quite properly, brought down heavily, and it will be difficult to maintain even the pre-war standard for the poorer classes. The reason I say that is perfectly simple.
Let us examine the position in which we shall very likely find ourselves after the war. None of us can actually foresee it, but certain facts are inescapable. For generations we were able to build up by means of our export trade I.O.U.s in foreign countries. Instead of taking exports in return, we left money there in the form of loans, and when our trade balance shifted the other way and we were importing more than we were exporting, the interest on the loans that had been previously built up helped roughly to pay the balance. We could thus still pay our way and were able to import the food and raw materials which we so badly needed. We made up the odd balance in services of various kinds, like shipping, insurance, and so on. Then came the last war. The foreign investments were to a large extent sold in order to enable us to carry on. The balances which we had at the end of the last war in foreign investments were by no means inconsiderable. We have had to mobilise an immense sum in order to help to pay our way at the beginning of this war. It seems to me that when the war is over we shall be in this position. Our foreign balances and investments will largely have gone, and a number of countries, it may be all of them, will try to render themselves self-supporting as nearly as they can and may rightly refuse to accept our services.
So far from having a rosy view of our post-war position, I think that we shall be very hard to put to it to maintain our standard of life at all. It is a great act, not only of self-deception, but of cruel, wanton deception of the people, to lead them to believe that immediately after the war everything will be all right and that they will be able to afford all kinds of magnificent schemes of social legislation when we may be right up against it and have the greatest difficulty in preventing the people of this country from suffering actual starvation. What I am saying in opposing the scheme of family allowances, as I do, will not be popular with many of my constituents, but it seems to me that every hon. Member who is so fortunate as to be returned to this House must know when to say "No." He must not always be attracted by schemes which have achieved a popularity which they may not deserve on their merits when they are thoroughly examined. We should be very chary of accepting any such scheme as this, however valuable it may be on the face of it, when our future financial and trade position, which enables us to keep our finances in order, is so highly obscure. More than one hon. Member has asked why, if we can afford these sums in wartime, we cannot do so in peace-time. They seem to forget that at the present time we are not paying our way, by no means nearly paying our way. We are obliged to borrow immense sums of money to carry on the business of the war, and we have only been able to get as far as we have by pushing down the standard of life of the population to a very considerable degree.
Does the hon. and gallant Member mean that because we are not paying our way any Measure that is absolutely required for the nation will not be brought into operation?
Naturally it will depend upon the Measure. It would be brought in if it were a Measure necessary to enable us to win the war. We must get the guns, the ships and the aeroplanes, whether we are able to pay for them now by taxation or whether we have to borrow. We have had to borrow heavily. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in dealing with that kind of suggestion, gave a very good analogy the other day, and I will give another one. It is to try and prove that because you need something urgently and desperately now that does not necessarily hold good for all time. If I go into a shop to buy a pair of shoes, paying £2 for them, and it takes me a quarter of an hour to make that purchase, I am spending money at the rate of £8 an hour; and if we reckon ourselves as working a 12-hour day—and I am sure most Members are working that—it comes to nearly £100 a day. I do not think that even the most gigantic pre-war income would be able to stand expenditure at that rate for long.
All I am suggesting is that in the long run a nation, like an individual, has to live within its income. There are a number of people who seem to have an extraordinary fallacy in their minds. They perfectly well understand how it is that a man with £8 a week is unable to buy a Rolls-Royce motor car, but they think that 45,000,000 people can do collectively that which each of them cannot do individually. Therefore, on the financial side I think we should be wrong to lend ourselves to deception of the people by accepting proposals of this kind.
I now come to the proposals themselves. So far I have dealt only with whether we can afford them and whether or not this is the right time for them. On the question of the proposals themselves, I can very well understand that there are certain advantages which hon. Members have put forward. The scheme would enable a man who was not well off to bring up his children healthily and well. That is undoubtedly true, but I believe that the proposal itself, quite apart from its financial aspect, contains a number of flaws. Suppose a fairy godmother were to fly over the country and wave a wand over a number of families, and was able to give to each of them £1,000 a year for ever. I wonder how many of the heads of those families would continue to work. The point I am getting at is that there is the question of incentive. I believe that even before the war we were very near to the borderline when the incentive to work was gradually being removed.
If the hon. and gallant Member believes that poverty is essential to create incentive, will he carry that argument to its logical conclusion and say that in order that there shall be an incentive to work there shall be no inheritances?
Not at all. I think one of the best motives, indeed, one of the noblest motives, for working that a man has is in order that he may store up money to leave to his children. The whole history of the world has been built up on the foundation of the family life, on a man working not only to bring up and educate his children, but in order to leave them, when he dies, if possible more comfortable than he was himself. Where a country has removed, even temporarily, this incentive, unfortunate results have immediately come about, and generally that policy has had to be reversed. I would refer to the experience of one of our Allies. Everybody was to be level—a levelling down, then possibly a slow levelling up—but very soon they found that the lack of incentive meant that the people were not working. They had to reintroduce incentive in various forms. The Stakhanoff plan was one of them; social differences were also admitted; and piece-work was reintroduced into industry. It was done for the perfectly good reason that, as everybody knows, sooner or later there must be the incentive to work I strongly maintain that if a man finds that everything is being done for him, he will not put his best endeavours into his work.
There is one rather strange fallacy which has come out as a result of this Debate. It is mentioned in the Paper No. 20 which was circulated to us, and it was repeated by the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. G. White), who spoke from the Liberal benches:
It has never been suggested that parents who enjoy Income Tax rebates or existing forms of children's allowances fail in their duty to their children.
The suggestion is that children's allowances and rebates of Income Tax are practically indistinguishable. Hon. Members who make that claim have failed to distinguish between receiving and giving. In the case of children's allowances the 5s. a week for each child is a gift from the State. In the case of Income Tax the State is receiving, it is not giving. The State is receiving from the Income Tax payer something which he has earned by the sweat of his brow or has obtained as interest, and is allowing him to pay a little less than he would pay ordinarily because he has children. We must distinguish between giving and receiving.
In conclusion, I would say that I cannot see any philosophical or practical argument in the contention that some people in the nation should necessarily contribute to the support of the children of other people, to put it perfectly crudely. If they are destitute or in need, it has been for a long time an accepted principle that we should do so, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings (Mr. Hely-Hutchinson) said in his eloquent speech, and that is right; but I do not believe it is right that one set of people should necessarily contribute to the support of another set of people's children. I do not think it is right that a husband and wife who are anxious to have a child or a number of children should do so with the assurance that those children will be supported by their neighbours, because that is what the scheme comes to. The policy which is now being advocated is a complete departure from the previous principle that a man should be rewarded so far as possible for the work that he does. It means the acceptance of an entirely new principle, that a man should be rewarded not only for what he does but also in accordance with the number of his children. There will be no vote on this Motion to-day, as I understand. I gather that it will go to a Committee and will be thoroughly examined. I hope that the Committee will in no sense be packed by supporters of the Motion but that it will be a fact-finding committee, and that every kind of evidence pro and con will be taken. On that understanding I should not, even if there was a Division, oppose the Motion.
The hon. Member has said that this was not the appropriate time to raise this question; but in war-time, as in peace, we should make every effort to maintain our social services, and if necessary to improve them. We know that committees are being set up to deal with post-war planning. If, as we have heard, it is essential that family allowances should be the basis of our social services, surely this is the time to discuss the matter. It has been felt by some people that it may be a little selfish to discuss family allowances when we are at war and while men are losing their lives, but—I want to point this out to hon. Members opposite as there is a danger that they may forget it—on the home front in war-time, as in peace-time, there are more casualties as a result of malnutrition and preventable disease in one year than the whole war produces in maimed and wounded men and men suffering from other disabilities. Do not let us confine ourselves to wartime casualties but include peace-time casualties also.
Hon. Members have emphasised that the drawback to this scheme is its expense, but there are benefits which may accrue which will be well worth the expense. It is not denied that the greatest poverty exists in families where there are a large number of dependent children and that there is also widespread malnutrition. In such families there is also a high degree of sickness. Sickness and disease always stalk hand in hand with poverty. Family allowances, rather than increasing the burden on the taxpayer, may reduce the rates and taxes which are used in large part to deal with the results of our disregard for the well-being of the population. Our social services deal, in great measure, with the end-products of a social system which has kept a large part of our population at the subsistence level. Therefore, any means whereby we can reduce the demand for hospital and ancillary services will reduce taxation. I appeal to the opponents of family allowances to regard it as a long-term policy. As a practical individual I do not think that the expensive patching-up process of the human machine will pay us as a nation, in the long run. It is poor economy. I am surprised that our business men opposite do not think so too. Large employers of labour now set up clinics for their workpeople, in their factories and businesses, not because the employers of labour are necessarily large-hearted or very anxious to keep their workpeople in good health, but in many cases because they find it is a good economic proposition in the long run to keep the nation healthy.
Why do our big business-men not look at the finances of the nation in the same way as they look at their own finances? Why do they not realise that this expenditure on social services is a good investment which may return dividends of incalculable value in terms of health and happiness? This proposal is to be a long-term policy, and I am certain that our calculations are sound. I suppose all reforms which have been discussed in this House have been opposed on the ground that it was not the appropriate time to introduce them. It is never time for reforms. I think of the struggle that enlightened individuals had during the last century when they were urging this House to introduce public health reform and of the opposition there was; yet we have now stamped out certain diseases because we invested that money in our public health services. The dependants of the people who opposed those reforms now have an expectation of life, as a result of that investment by the State, 10 years longer than had their grandfathers. I ask hon. Members to look at this proposal not simply as a burden upon the taxpayer next year or the year after, but as an excellent investment which will give very good returns.
I want to deal with the effects upon the child. My experience always has been that the well-fed child is the alert and receptive child. I predict confidently that if the standard of living of our child population is improved there will be a rapid decline in juvenile delinquency. The child which is badly fed and badly housed always tends to be anti-social. The so-called dead-end kid is often the badly fed and badly housed kid. I would ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to consider the fact that the State has to pay very large sums to support our approved schools, remand homes and so on. If the proposed investment is made in our child population we may find there will be economy along those lines also. Last week, I was impressed by the interim report of the Medical Planning Commission, which is now outlining a scheme which will be introduced after the war and will give a comprehensive medical service to every individual in the country.
When the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Medical Planning Commission issue their final report the scheme will cost this country a large sum of money. The time will come, probably, when I shall stand here and urge the House to accept the scheme, but let us not put the cart before the horse. Let us ensure to-day that the child receives a bottle of milk before he receives a bottle of medicine. If you give it the bottle of milk to-day, it may not need the bottle of medicine next year. All these social evils, including crime and malnutrition, must be approached from the preventive rather than the curative angle. When we debated education last week we heard about the extra opportunity which the child will receive after the war. At the beginning of this century, I think in 1907, we decided it was important that the child should have a medical examination at school because sick children were unreachable. In 1942, when we discuss education in the post-war world, we know that the underfed child will not profit by education. It is short-sighted policy to introduce any of these new schemes until we can ensure that we have a healthy and well-fed child population. Finally, I believe that family allowances will enable a child to achieve its maximum mental and physical potentialities.
I should like to support the Motion before the House to-day. I do not look upon family allowances as a permanent alternative to higher wages but, in these very difficult days, I look upon them as the most efficient method I have seen suggested for dealing with poverty in its most acute form and in the form which is perhaps most damaging to the future well-being of the country. If I heard him aright, I think the hon. Member for Hastings (Mr. Hely-Hutchinson) took the view that it was the business of the parent and not of the State to maintain the child; but on account of the war and the limitation on wage increases, the position now is rather artificial, and I suggest that a very strong case can be made out in these days for this kind of help; although I hope that some of us may live long enough to see wages so high that family allowances can be dispensed with. The hon. and gallant Member for Bolton (Sir E. Cadogan) referred in a very gloomy way to the difficulties we are heaping up for ourselves after the war. I quite agree that that may be so, but completely deny that it is inevitable; I believe that it is within our own control, with the exercise of good will on all sides, with wise direction and hard work, to produce a prosperous State after the war, always assuming that we can obtain a satisfactory peace within a reasonable period.
I should like to quote what Professor Keynes said in Manchester in that connection:
I believe that this time it will take us three years to recover from the effects of the war. During that period we must willingly submit to discipline—progressively less severe than in time of war, but nevertheless more difficult perhaps to bear in time of peace. After that period we can reasonably expect to obtain a measure of prosperity and health not only not less but higher than ever before. We can only lay sound foundations for that by accepting the discipline of the first three years.
He goes on to say:
It is a matter not of the niggardliness of Nature but of the organisation of relations"—
he is speaking of international relations—
honest purpose, and, above all, hard and un-trammelled thinking.
I feel that there should be a very clear distinction drawn between what is possible after the war and what is possible just now. It is estimated that the suggested family allowance of 5s. for every child would cost in the neighbourhood of £100,000,000 every year. The increases proposed last week for old age pensioners, an almost equally deserving object, in my opinion, would cost about the same. The total of £200,000,000 is just about equal to the entire dividends received
from our overseas investments before the war. I believe that too little attention is paid to the difference between what can be done in the open economy of peacetime—when it is only a question of whether the Budget can be balanced, that is whether it is practicable to increase taxation or not—and in the closed economy of war. Quite clearly, to create a fresh demand for hundreds of millions of pounds' worth of goods in war-time means either a reduction in the war effort or an increased demand for a given amount of goods with a consequent rise of prices all round, which of course will affect most particularly the working man.
I have heard it suggested that if we are spending such huge sums, it will not much matter if we spend a little more. But a great deal of what we are spending now is not income at all. It is derived from the sale of our foreign investments, which is a thing which is finished, and from the consumption of pre-war stocks which cannot be replaced. Also, I would like to point out that if our war object was to spend a certain sum, say £15,000,000 a day, it might also be argued that it would not matter to divert a little. But surely we need to spend everything we can, with no limit, on the war, provided that we get good value. Whether we have had good value during the past two years either in the supply or even in the choice of weapons is not a matter which is before the House to-day; but provided we get good value, surely we have not only to increase production all we can, but to divert to that purpose every conceivable thing we can. That being so, I cannot advocate the spending of a sum of about £100,000,000 a year at this particular juncture. I hope, however, that the Chancellor will see his way to pay allowances to children exceeding the first two. That is estimated to cost about £20,000,000. That, it seems to me, would be giving the money where it is most desperately needed. Money spent in that direction would in most cases be money spent on the hard necessities of life. It would not be received by people who do not need it or spent on unnecessary things.
I was talking yesterday to a constituent of mine who has 10 children, the majority of them under school-leaving age. How can any ordinary working man with an ordinary wage, not an ex- ceptional munition wage, bring up children in such numbers on his existing remuneration and give them all that is necessary for health? If allowances are given to families exceeding two, then, as the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. Graham White) was saying, the child would not be penalised by the chance of having been born into a large family. Moreover, as I said before, we have been spending our capital very freely, and surely we now all recognise that one of our most important forms of capital is our man-power. Therefore, is it not an economical way of replenishing our capital to make sure that the children who will form our future man-power are brought up as healthy as possible? I hope that the Chancellor will see his way to make a pledge to give family allowances to all children after the war if conditions then make it possible and if, as I hope, he is still there, and as as an earnest of that pledge I hope he will be able to give at once an allowance to every child exceeding two.
In conclusion, I would only like to say that I hope that the Chancellor's fertility of imagination in thinking out the sacrifices we must make has not been exhausted by the Budget; if he grants these allowances, costing about £20,000,000, I hope that he will find ways of restricting the purchasing power of us all so that the war effort will be in no way affected.
I have heard, while listening to the Debate, on one side echoes of Dr. Malthus and on the other of Dr. Samuel Smiles, and I rather feel that while we hear a good deal about the 1922 Committee there must be some remnants left of the 1822 Committee. I feel acutely a sense of embarrassment in rising to take a line that is opposite to, or at any rate different from, the point of view of the majority of my own party. I take that point of view as a Socialist and because I believe that the proposal for family allowances is one that is characteristic of Liberal social reform and will defeat its purpose from the standpoint of solving the problem even of juvenile poverty. I do not believe that within a money economy, upon the principle of dividing up the proceeds of a system of profit-making and inequality, you can ever approach a solution of the problem of poverty. That is my point of view, and it is that point of view about which I wish to say a word or two.
I notice that in the leaflet which has been sent to every hon. Member on family allowances and the Labour movement it is stated that 200 Members of Parliament have signified their adherence to this Motion or to something like it, that over a hundred of them are members of the Conservative party, and that in a Debate in another place not a word was said against the principle, every speaker being in favour of giving family allowances. I have frequently seen the finger of accusation pointed to the other side, accompanied by remarks about the serried ranks of privilege and the conspiratorial capitalists of the Conservative party who are always finding ways and means of crushing the worker and the poorer people of society. I hope that I shall not hear quite so much of that kind of thing in future, because if this kind of proposal is one calculated to solve the problem of poverty in this country, to talk about the Tory party and the defenders of the capitalist system as being those who are crushing the poor is obviously out of place.
They are in favour, as is the Liberal party as a whole, of the principle of family endowment, which is put forward as a means of relieving the stress of poverty upon the children of the people as a whole. I notice that in the leaflet to which I have referred it is stated that in no country has it ever proved possible to establish a living wage sufficient to support even three children. Why is it impossible, under the system which operates in these countries, to provide a living wage sufficient to support an average family of mother and father and three children? Because it cannot be done under the money economy. Yet it is suggested that by spreading out the existing income of capitalist society you are going to solve this problem of poverty.
Does the hon. Member not see that the argument he is using would justify him in opposing every social reform which is put forward? They are all ameliorations of conditions under the existing system.
I quite appreciate that point of view, and I was going to deal with it. But there is a vast difference between dealing with one kind of social reform and with another. I am not an impossibilist: I believe in social reform; but I do not want a social reform which is nothing else but largesse from the State to a section of society. I believe in social reform which is calculated to lead to a new order of production for use. So far as pensions are concerned, you have to deal with the derelicts of society, the old people, and the rest. Who pays for it? The Tory party, who sign manifestos like this? No; it is all paid for by the workers of this country. It is part of the tribute which they pay for the system which we have at the present time. But in no country has it been possible to establish a living wage sufficient to support even three children. I claim that it is impossible, by family allowances or any measure of that kind, to solve the problem of poverty in this country. In any event, it is only playing a cat-and-mouse game with the cost of living. That is an endless process.
It was suggested by another Member of the Liberal party that some alternative should be proposed. It may be very unfashionable, but I propose a Socialist alternative: to guarantee the basis of nutrition for every person in this country. That is a vastly different thing. You have the possibility of producing the elementary necessaries of life. You know what a nutritional standard is. I have support for my ideas from Sir John Orr, who has said quite definitely that there is no solution except by making the necessities of life a public service. That is very different from largesse. I object to this idea of distributing money. It is a question either of relief from one section of society to another, with the means test and all the rest of it, or else it is simply a case of handing money also to people who do not need it, with no guarantee that it will be used except for purposes of general enjoyment. As a Socialist, I do not think that it is a sonud principle to hand out public money to people to subsidise their incomes, apart from necessity. It is a very old principle. We know an historic case where it was done, and what it led to. I do not believe in making paupers of the class to which I belong. Either you will do that or else you will restrict payments to the needs of the people—and then you have the means test again. It will be one or the other.
I have here the Government's memorandum upon milk policy. I was very interested in two diagrams in it. One shows graphically the muddled anarchic distribution of milk in the city of Bristol at the present time, and the other shows the plan to be put into operation for a scientific milk supply to that city and its area. I was reminded of some of the earliest Socialist propaganda. I remember a leaflet by a great Socialist leader, called "Milk and Postage Stamps," showing how you could rationalise the milk industry of this country as a public service, without making it an appalling financial charge on the future. I could show, quite easily, how it could be done, and without making it a question of paying money from one section of society to another—indeed, that will not be done, because the ordinary folk of this country will be the people who will pay, in higher prices or in some other way, sooner or later—and without that kind of thing which is leading millions of our people to demand largesse from the State. I find that sort of thing in my own constituency. I was told last night that if I spoke in opposition to this proposal, I should lose several hundreds of votes at the next election. I do not care. I do not want votes on those terms. We are going on the wrong road by leading people to think that if they vote for our parry they will get money ad lib. I protest against that, as a Socialist. That is not Socialism, or anything like Socialism.
I want to put one proposition to the hon. Lady who seconded this Motion. It is said in the leaflet which she, I believe, distributed, that social services cannot go far in helping to provide the basic needs, such as food and house room. The argument is against merely extending the idea of social services. Will family endowment increase the availability of house room for the poor people of this country?
None of us has ever put forward family allowances as a Holloway pill that would cure all the ills of society. We have put it forward as one among a number of reforms.
I am answering this leaflet, which mentions this question of the housing of the people and of poor children as one of the subjects that would be dealt with by a system of family endowment. We know what will be the effect of the demand to increase house room for the children of the poor. It means increased rents, nothing else—simply putting money into the pockets of the landlords if that happens at the expense of the State, which again is something not to be supported rationally or from the standpoint of sound finance. But I take the line myself that you cannot solve the problem of poverty just by adjusting things within the money economy of capitalism. You can improve certain conditions, but you are not proposing to do that. You are proposing to solve the problem here. It is not the same thing as ordinary social services.
Let me ask this question. I ask it of the Members of my own party. We are in favour of free education from the elementary school to the university. In 1870 elementary education was established, and afterwards became free. No one ever proposed then that the State should provide endowments for parents so that the parents could put 1d., 2d. or 6d. into the hands of Jim, Tom or Annie, to pay their school fees. The Labour party does not propose that there shall be State grants in order that the fees for university education shall be paid by the parents indirectly out of the proceeds of a subsidy of that character. We stand for free education, and free education has been supported all the time upon the ground that that is the only way in which you can guarantee the proper and efficient education of the people of this country.
Let me take another point. We stand for a State medical service that shall be a free service. That is the kind of social reform I believe in. That is leading up to the ultimate ideal for which I have stood all my life, and is a far different thing from the Liberal playing ups and downs within the competitive system, which I do not believe in at all. It is not proposed to give money grants by the State in order that the families of the poor shall be able to pay their doctors' bills. Why is that not proposed? There would be no guarantee about the doctors' bills being paid, anyhow. There is no guarantee that this money will be used for the benefit of the children. Unless you are to have a means test, you will have hundreds of thousands of families in this country who will simply increase their standard and pleasures of life as a result of this increase. I do not mind increasing the standard or the pleasures of life, but I do say that the idea of a State subsidy for that purpose is thoroughly unsound and uneconomic. On the other hand, if you are to have what will be a compromise—and this will be a compromise if it comes to anything—that compromise will be the means test. My colleague on my left who is not in the House now wound up a very eloquent speech by appealing to the people on the other side—why the other side exclusively I do not know—not to be so niggardly with their money, to let their money go out in order to build up a finer Britain, and all the rest of it. The term I would have to use to answer that is rather a vulgar one. If I were to answer it, I would say, "Damn your money; that is not Socialism; that is not what I am after. I do not care about your money or anyone else's money."
The principle of Socialism for which this party stands is the principle of production for use, and production for use as exemplified in direct social services, free education, and a multitude of things where you have that principle, a thoroughly Socialistic one. You do not spread money about like muck, in the old phrase about the Yorkshireman, in order to provide these social services. Now you propose that there shall be family endowments to cost anything from £60,000,000 to £130,000,000, and that that will solve the problem of the poverty of poor children. I do not want the problem of the poverty of the poor dealt with in that way. I agree that the hon. Lady who seconded this Motion wants this family endowment for every family in the country. That is just as objectionable as the other. If you subsidise the incomes of the middle class and other people who have no need of it, that leads to the breakdown of the character and resiliency of the people. I do not want pauperism for the poor. I do not want the means test. I have nothing to say for the economics of the casual ward.
If you want to solve the problem of nutrition, you must take the elements of nutrition out of the money economy and say, as Sir John Orr and his Committee have said, that the people require—assuming things are normal and leaving war conditions out of account for the moment—so much as a standard of nutrition; we know what it is. Let us at least guarantee that to the whole of the nation as a foundation of its physical existence on which all the rest can be built. That is a sounder principle and would be quite as easy to do. It is half done already in some cases under the stress of war. Yet we find Socialists to-day talking as if all you have to do is to share money out in order to solve the problem of poverty. I say that is rubbish. It is not Socialism and it is not the way to solve the problem of poverty.
One of the things that has surprised me most in this Debate has been the extraordinary sway of opinion from one side of the House to the other. Another thing which surprises me almost as much is the fact that the majority of the hon. Members who have spoken seem to have forgotten that it is the children we are dealing with, and not political substances. This point is something which the younger generation is thoroughly sick and tired of—party politics, political faiths, political principles—but we never get down to the real facts of life. I shall address the very brief remarks I intend to make entirely upon the point of view of the younger generation, and in particular those people who are in the Services. During the period in which we should be embarking upon the most exciting period of our lives, marrying and beginning our family, we have been dispersed to all corners of the world in the defence of our country and of our cause. Many of us married just before the war and many more during the war. All are afflicted by the parsimony of the Treasury and by the disgraceful, unjust wage policy of the Government. Their young babies, many of whom have never yet seen their fathers, are greatly helped by the allowances which have been brought into force by the War Department, but, of course, this alters if the father is killed in action. I had a case of this the other day, where the wife of a sailor, while he was alive, was able to obtain free milk and free vitamins. That man was killed on active service, and then his poor, lonely widow is told, "No more free milk or vitamins for you. You must now pay for them." That is not justice. That is the system under which we have worked. While husbands are scattered all over the world we can insure something for them in this country so that their children will come to no harm from financial stringency and when they come home these fathers will know that, despite the vicissitudes through which this country is bound to pass in the twilight period after the war, their children will be safe from the main depression and hardships.
We hear of young married couples who say it is wrong to produce children into this world of chaos. That is a despicable statement and I say to the hon. Member who, earlier to-day, made a similar and worse statement that it is unnatural and unpatriotic. Be that as it may, the fact remains that it shows a defeatist attitude and shows to what conclusions the economic policy of the past and the lines of thought of some of our elders and so-called betters have led. I sincerely hope that this war if it does nothing else will eradicate that line of thought and that mentality. The eternal wrangle, big business mentality on the one side and trade union narrow-mindedness on the other, is the result of this line of thought and those forces which we have seen in play to-day are responsible or may be responsible for the real opposition to the scheme—not the opposition in this House but the opposition behind the scenes. This is what we the younger generation say, "To the devil with both." We want no vested interests whether from the Right or the Left to withhold from us a scheme which, perhaps, above all schemes, apart from the war effort, commands the widest support.
All Chancellors of the Exchequer have hearts of gold, but whether the present Chancellor of the Exchequer has one made from the substance of which the streets of heaven are paved or whether it is made from a baser material of which the idols of the City of London are manufactured remains to be judged by his actions in this matter. I suspect that he is strongly infected with the big business virus. But let my words act upon him as an emetic and let us have some new thought more in keeping with the generation who are fighting this war and with the ideals that lead us into the battlefield. We want a big scheme State-aided if you will but embracing every child rich and poor, eliminating the Income Tax allowances in respect of children which obtain at the present time. Let it be paid weekly in cash to the mother, and go hand in hand with the extended milk in school scheme. I know we shall have mothers who may spend this money on dress or drink, but they will be in a very small minority and it is no argument to use against such a scheme. I know also that there will be bad feeding by mothers, but as the effect of our long-term educational policy which has gradually improved over the years takes hold, that should disappear. Do not let us continue a system whereby we force upon the mothers' attention the rights and wrongs of bad and good feeling and withhold from them the necessary resources to purchase the necessary food.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer has issued a warning against reckless spending and to this I agree but to those who advance the argument that to spend money on the upbringing of children is reckless spending I would say that it would be better if a millstone were hanged round their necks and they were cast into the sea. I do not want to appear bitter because that is not our mood but it must be remembered that we did not produce this war and it is my generation and not that of the Chancellor of the Exchequer who will suffer most in the long run. It is from that point of view that I am speaking now. The grey-beards of the last war have been replaced by the youth of that era, and though their beards may not be so grey, I ask them to remember not only the excitements and the joy of those early years, but also the shadows which come upon them when the fear of a new arrival burdened their souls. Encourage us with a scheme of financial security for our children far more realistic and substantial than anything that has gone before. Let it be a full-blooded scheme for all children until they reach school-leaving age. Justice demands a reward for the blood and the hardships of the battlefield. Give us the certainty that, if we return from this war, our children can be brought up on a decent standard and the generation which is now at the helm can have all the medals.
I suppose that if I were to follow the example of the hon. and gallant Member for Ripon (Captain York), I should speak on behalf of the middle-aged. It is a not unimportant class, for we are actually producing the children about whom we are talking. But I think it would be more profitable if I did not follow the lines he took but made some remarks about the scheme in the White Paper. Before I do that, however, I would like to pick up something that was said by my hon. Friend the Member for West Fulham (Dr. Summerskill), who, I thought, put child- ren's allowances in their proper perspective. I would like to add to what she said that children's allowances dovetail in with many other schemes of social reform and are an essential complement to them. For instance, a proper system of children's allowances will make it very much easier to raise the school-leaving age. Another very important reform which will be facilitated by children's allowances is the rate of unemployment benefit and assistance. We should all agree, I suppose, that it is a vicious principle to pay a man more money for being unemployed than for a full week's work, yet that was involved in our social security system without children's allowances, because if children were to be given adequate allowances under unemployment schemes, the total remuneration of the family would be more than the parent would receive at work. If we get this scheme of children's allowances, it will be possible to make that reform, because children will be taken out of the arena, and unemployment benefit and assistance can be independent of the size of the family.
As my hon. Friend the Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. Graham White) has said, this reform has gone the normal way of all English reforms. I am sanguine enough to hope to see it on the Statute Book before long. I have no doubt that the Treasury, under the bland generalship of the Chancellor, will resist tenaciously to the end, but I think we shall see them making strategic withdrawals from one prepared obstacle to another until our object is finally obtained. The principle of family allowances has been so widely accepted in this Debate and outside that I do not propose to say anything further about it. Indeed, there is little new that can be said about the principle of family allowances. Practically the only question at issue is the cost of the scheme. Can the country afford it? My hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) has put forward a scheme for the universal payment of 5s. a week for every child in the country. That is the scheme which is envisaged in the White Paper and one which I would like to support now and to examine. I believe that in 1807 Mr. Whitbread introduced an Education Bill which went down to history as the "Five bob a nob Bill," because it was calculated by its parsimonious sponsor that the cost of education under the Bill need not exceed 5s. a child annually. I would like to advocate a "Five bob a nob" scheme now, only on the more generous lines of 5s. a week.
What is the cost of such a scheme? I think the White Paper, although it sets out to be objective, is rather tendentious in this respect. It gives the impression that the cost of the scheme would be £132,000,000 a year. It is impossible, I suppose, for any piece of writing to be wholly objective except, possibly, the OFFICIAL REPORT. By giving prior place to this figure of £132,000,000 a year the White Paper has left this impression, but the true cost of the scheme envisaged in the White Paper is really £64,000,000 a year. That is the figure which ought to be emphasised. It would be increased only if some Members pressed—as I gather from the Mover they will press—for payment both of Income Tax rebates and of family allowances. That, I think, would be a very dangerous demand, and I hope it will not be pressed. I see no defence for it, either in logic or in ethics, and I can imagine the howl that would go up from the benches opposite if we on this side asked for family allowances in addition to allowances for the unemployed. I hope that whatever payment is made—5s. a week, I imagine—it will be taken into account in making these other payments. If £64,000,000 is the actual figure, can we afford it at the present time and can we afford it after the war? It is very important that we shall be able to continue the scheme after the war, because there must be no Dunkirks in the war against poverty. We must be quite sure that any scheme introduced will be such that the country can afford to pay for it indefinitely. I reckon that £64,000,000 a year is about 1 per cent. of the present national income, and I do not think anybody can pretend that the addition of this sum to our national purchasing power will seriously upset our financial stability.
I see the Chancellor smiling. It is true that this is not the only claim on his attention at the present time and that recently the Government granted a well-deserved increase to the miners, but, considered in isolation, this extra £64,000,000 will not upset our financial stability. As my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly said, it is really a question of the redistribution of income. What will be the position after the war? When I look at the Government, meditating some good deed but hesitating to do it, I think of the famous hymn, "Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take." We shall not be bankrupt after the war as so many Members opposite have assumed. I think that when Sir William Beveridge has exhausted the tasks which the Government have given him they may well invite him to take a few classes in elementary economics for some Members opposite. It is in some ways melancholy to say it, but our productive capacity will probably increase as a result of the war. Owing to the greater inventiveness called forth by war, it will probably be increased and not diminished by the war. [An HON. MEMBER: "It happened after the last war."] Yes, there is a continual increase in the wealth of the country, and it will be frustrated only if we allow men to rot in idleness instead of being absorbed in productive work.
Here is another important consideration. The objection is frequently made to adequate pensions for old people that the number of aged people is bound to increase very heavily in the next few decades and that the cost of any old age pensions scheme must automatically increase. That objection cannot be made against a system of children's allowances. Calculations presented to Parliament recently by the Minister of Health on behalf of the Registrars-General give a forecast of the future population of Great Britain. In the opinion of some authorities they are based on optimistic assumptions, but, even so, they forecast that the number of children under the age of 15, which is now about 10,000,000, will fall to approximately 9,000,000 in 1951, 8,500,000 in 1961, and 7,500,000 in 1971. The most we can possibly hope, even with a big increase in the present net reproductive rate, is to maintain the present size of the population under the age of 15. Therefore, there can be no automatic increase in the cost of a scheme of children's allowances for any period to which it would be wise to look forward. In all probability the cost of such a scheme will decline when we consider simply the number of persons involved.
I would like to refer once again to the White Paper. Paragraph 13 and the Annex are, to my mind, rather tendentious. They have left in readers' minds the impression that a scheme of children's allowances will act as an obstacle to the lowering of the Income Tax. It may not have been intended but I think this portion of the White Paper is hardly objective, for it certainly leaves that impression. The objection, I think, is very departmental. It is true that if the standard rate of Income Tax is lowered, and alterations are made in the conditions under which rebates are received, the cost of a scheme of children's allowances will be increased; but if Income Tax is reduced, it will only be because our expenditure on the war and defence has fallen. Therefore, the country will be far more able to meet expenditure in other directions. I see that the Chancellor seems a little doubtful, but surely that is incontestable. We are, at the moment, in unusual circumstances, and as we move back gradually towards conditions of peace I have no doubt that the scheme will be able to absorb the further charge upon it. In any case, if the day should come when the Chancellor can contemplate a reduction in the standard rate of tax, the effect on children's allowances will be only one of the many Budgetary considerations he must take into account.
The children are the weakest and most helpless section of the community. They cannot speak for themselves and, if they could, they would not know what to ask for: si la jeunnesse savait! But they have never lacked spokesmen in Parliament. It was in Parliament that Lord Shaftesbury put up his great fight for the emancipation of child labeur in the factories, and it is in Parliament that the hon. Member for the English Universities (Miss Rathbone) has fought for the reform with which her name will always be associated. Parliament now has an opportunity once more to take a step forward on behalf of the children of the country. If we introduce such a scheme as this we shall be strengthening the country in the present; it will be a guarantee of security in the future; it will greatly ease the burden of parenthood and possibly restore the time when we can say:
Like as the arrows in the hands of the giant; even so are the young children.
Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them.
The original Motion on the Order Paper, with its 200 signatures, has been referred to, but there is an Amendment to that Motion to which there are only two signatures. That is an indication of the trend of opinion since hon. Members have been thinking seriously about this proposition. How far are we to pursue the principle of paternal government, doing all for the people and not permitting the people to do anything for themselves? If family allowances become an accomplished fact, we shall be getting very near the example set by Speenhamland during the commencement of the last century. It proved to be an absolute failure, and the same conditions will arise this time if we embark upon it. It has been said that the Speenhamland example was responsible for the increase of population at the commencement of the century. But that is quite wrong. We were the pioneer nation in the application of mechanical power, and that was the reason why we were so prosperous then.
Will the hon. Member also add that, while we were the pioneers of mechanical power, we were the pioneers of child labour, which brought this country to the position it reached in later years?
I do not think the hon. Member is right in making that statement. Family allowances have been tried by other nations. They were tried in France at the conclusion of the last war. The cost of living went up, and, instead of increasing wages as we did, they gave family allowances. Family allowances became confused with wages, and they were an absolute failure. That confusion cannot be avoided. Cannot we learn by experience?
How can the hon. Member possibly sustain that? Does he not know that the system of family allowances in France was such a success that, in 1930, in the middle of the blitz, it was adopted universally with the full support of the employers and the trade unions?
In the first place, there was no blitz in 1930, and, in the second place, I believe they have been discontinued since. Are we pursuing this problem with a view to increasing the population, because, if so, I doubt whether this country wants a greater population. This country is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. It has a denser population than Holland, Belgium and Germany. I doubt vrey much whether this is the right course to take. Before the war our standard of living was maintained by our overseas trade, and it is very doubtful whether other nations will want our exports after the war. The only commodities we have to export are coal and the products of labour. When we have such countries as Canada and Australia manufacturing the most complicated commodity which man has ever invented—aircraft in their entirety—it is doubtful whether we shall be able to export to those countries. To maintain our standard of living we have to export, and, if we cannot do this, we have to face the fact that we have to have a decrease in population in the future. Does this House realise that today we are living on Lend-Lease aid? If it were not for that, I doubt whether we could exist during this war. Our capacity to produce will be undoubtedly great after the war, but we have to have materials to produce.
I should like to refer to the White Paper. If ever there were a document which damned a proposition so much, I should like to see it. On pages 4 and 5 one constantly finds such phrases as "unexpected consequences," "difficulties arise," and so forth. The Government point out insurmountable difficulties on the financial side to introducing family allowances. The problem is not insurmountable. We can get the money, as we are to-day, by printing paper. If we have not enough money we can always print it, but inflation is the result. We have had inflation to the extent of nearly 50 per cent. since the war started. Five shillings to-day is equal to 3s. before the war, and, when the war is over, that 5s. may be worth about 1s. It is like the cat trying to catch its own tail. The financial problem is not insurmountable, but it is very undesirable to spend this money. If the money has to be spent, there are alternative methods. I would maintain the standard of wages relative to prosperity. I pay due recognition to all the work which the trade unions have done in that direction during the last century. If I had £130,000,000 to spend—I have not, nor has the nation—I would improve the housing conditions. Give a man a house, and he has a stake in the nation. I would provide more meals for the school children, because I should know they were getting the benefit of the money that is being spent, whereas with family allowances there is no proof that the children will benefit from the money being provided. I would make the milk-in-schools scheme more permanent, and give more attention to welfare and improving medical facilities for children. Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity you have given me to address the House, and I am not going to transgress.
I have been very interested in this Debate, because it is about 20 years ago that I moved a Motion in favour of widows' pensions in this House, and it was defeated hopelessly on the very grounds that the hon. Member who has just sat down has advanced. Strange as it may seem, he represents a seat in Birmingham which was represented many years ago by the late Joseph Chamberlain, who introduced the first Workmen's Compensation Bill, and, as far as I remember, every argument employed by the hon. Member against this proposal of children's allowances was used against Chamberlain's proposal then. The proposal now under discussion was first made in this country with the idea that family allowances should be paid by each industry, as was the case on the Continent. Family allowances emerged on the Continent on the basis of each industry pooling the wages and dividing them among the workers according to family responsibilities. The International Labour Organisation published some years ago a very good summary of the trend of events on this question from the very commencement, and the House had better understand that the idea emanated from the Latin countries of Europe with the definite intention of increasing the population, and it was introduced in Germany after the last war merely because wages were not sufficient to maintain the average family. The advocates of family allowances have done well, in my view, to shift their ground and, once they called upon the State to pay these allowances direct from the Treasury, many of us who were opposed to the industrial pooling system have come to the conclusion that the proposal is right.
It is not the case that the advocates of family allowances ever asked for an industrial system. At that stage they merely presented all the various ways of financing the scheme, but they never advocated the industrial system.
I do not think the hon. Lady speaks for all who were advocating family allowances many years ago. Once you remove this proposal from industry and elevate it to the responsibility of the State, it gathers momentum. I have lived long enough to have witnessed practically all our social services come into being. I was a coalminer and met with an accident before workmen's compensation came into operation. I remember the National Health Insurance scheme coming into operation too, and the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor was one of its champions. He wrote voluminously on it; that is how he became famous. He became a very prominent person by advocating national health insurance and supporting the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). Speaking as one who has been disbursing provident benefits for 35 years, I say that the notion that you destroy the fibre and personality of the individual by paying him benefits will not hold good. If hon. and right hon. Gentlemen knew the boon which has accrued to some poor people by the National Health Insurance scheme they would think twice before they opposed this proposal. [Interruption.] I ask the House, however, to avoid putting this proposal on a contributory basis, because that is what the Conservatives always do. What happened in the past about the social services is, that politicians on the Left propounded schemes such as I was asked to do on behalf of the Labour party with regard to widows' pensions, when we all assumed that, if widows' pensions were adopted as a principle, they would be paid direct from the Treasury. There was propaganda all over the land in favour of that proposal and the Conservatives joined in, but once they got political power, they put the scheme into operation on a contributory basis. That is their method, and that is what I want to avoid this time. I make this appeal again, that if any allowance is paid to the children under any scheme of this kind, the Government will not put the allowance on a contributory basis, because, if they do, all that will happen will be that the State will accept very little financial responsibility; it will be thrown upon employers and employed, as was done with Old Age Pensions, Widows' Pensions, Unemployment Benefit and Health Insurance as well. The contribution of the State to National Health Insurance, for instance, is infinitesimal in comparison with the total amount spent. I urge, once more that, if this scheme is adopted, it shall be definitely on a non-contributory basis.
I have tried to study the tendencies in our social services. When we adopt a contributory scheme there is never a question of a means test. The argument is then employed that the recipients of benefits have paid for them in advance. But when the State, or a municipality, makes a payment without contributions in advance it is always accompanied by a means test. I trust that, whatever you do, you will never impose a means test in connection with this payment in respect of children. [Interruption.] I have other fears too, and I hope the hon. Gentleman does not mind my being suspicious of him and his Government. If the House of Commons wants to know the value of these social services—and this is another addition to them—let us see what we have accomplished up to now. Before the first workmen's compensation scheme was propounded all that we had was the Poor Law system. Since then we have looked after the injured workmen under the workmen's compensation scheme, we care for the sick and disabled under National Health Insurance, the unemployed under Unemployment Insurance and the aged and the widow under the pensions scheme. We have never yet subsidised the physically fit adult, male or female.
Now we come to the point of turning our attention to another helpless section of the community—the children. I am very interested in this, because I was the youngest of 11, and my mother died at 34. My hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) is the youngest of 10. We come from the same district, by the way.
The hon. Lady the Member for the English Universities (Miss Rathbone) made the point about the beneficial effects of the social services. The Ministry of Health know more about this than most of us and when those effects are reduced to statistics, they are remarkable. Let me give one instance in that respect. I understand that the London County Council at 12 midnight on 12th February every year in peace time takes a census of the down-and-outs, people without homes and without shelter. When a recent census was taken, they found, almost for the first time, that there was not a single homeless child in the greatest metropolis in the world. That is one of the results of the social services. I know full well the problem which faces the trade unions in this matter, and I would like to give one of the reasons why some sections of the trade union movement do not like family allowances, even when they are paid by the State. Some years ago there was a wages dispute in the Yorkshire woollen industry. Lord MacMillan, if I remember rightly, became the arbitrator, and he heard both the claims of the workpeople and the arguments of the employers. When he arrived at his conclusion, he took into account, in assessing the wages that ought to be paid, the cash value of the social services, which amounted to about 3s. 1d. a week. If that sort of thing is to happen under a scheme of this kind, and the employer or an arbitrator takes into account the value of this new service in assessing wages, it may be taken for granted that the trade union movement will oppose it.
I support this proposal because the advocates of it have elevated the whole matter to a new plane. We are not now discussing family endowment; we are debating children's allowances. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, with his usual decency in affairs—he is very much better than his party—will do one thing, namely, accept this Motion. This Motion is in any case quite innocuous. All it asks him to do is to consider; and if he cannot do that much, he does not deserve to be in his present post when the war ends.
I would like first to congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Erdington (Wing-Commander Wright) and my hon. Friend the Member for the English Universities (Miss Rathbone), who moved and seconded the Motion, upon the very interesting and instructive Debate which their speeches opened. To me, one of the most interesting features of the Debate has been that the speeches have been so evenly balanced. I think we can truly say that both the pros and cons of family allowances have been pretty exhaustively argued during the last few hours.
I would like to say a word or two about the White Paper which I issued in May last. It was issued, not with the idea of discussing the merits of the proposal for family allowance, but because my hon. Friends who came to see me, desired me to examine it mainly from a financial point of view. Except by the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. I. Thomas), who found some hidden meanings which I, at any rate, never intended—I think the White Paper has been generally regarded as treating impartially the financial implications of the proposal. In that White Paper, I also ventured to give, as a preface to the financial statement, a short summary setting out the considerations advanced by those who advocate that the State, as a next step in our social programme, should give children further assistance, through their parents, by payments in cash; and as well, the views of those who feel that the welfare of the children could, in fact, be best promoted by the further development of our social services, such as improved housing, education and health. I think those views have been again fairly expressed in the Debate.
Having listened to practically the whole of the Debate, I think it can be said that the case for a system of family allowances is certainly very powerful, particularly the point—and this is the point which appeals to me most—that such a plan would considerably lessen the risk of malnutrition in large families. Of course, if that could be achieved by a system such as that proposed by my hon. Friend, it would indeed mean a great deal to the well-being and efficiency of this nation, as well as a considerable benefit to the children themselves. There has also been mentioned—although it has not been particularly emphasised in this Debate—the possible influence of family allowances in encouraging parenthood. Support from all sections of opinion in the nation for such a plan as has been mentioned to-day has steadily grown. It has been urged as one of the most beneficial measures of social reform we could embark, upon at the present time. For myself, I would say that the effect of family allowances has in particular been powerfully advocated by Mr. Rowntree in his book, with a considerable amount of evidence in support as a considerable factor in reducing the grosser forms of poverty in this country. Certainly his recent survey of conditions in York is a most impressive and a most valuable contribution to our social knowledge. Due weight must be given to his main conclusions that very often wages were inadequate, when account is taken of the number of children who had to be supported. Other reasons and arguments have been given with power by various of my hon. Friends to-day.
Even if we accept the principle of family allowances, a number of important matters would still remain to be decided, which raise important questions of policy and administration. Take, for instance, questions which naturally arise in considering any scheme of this kind; such as whether such a scheme should be contributory or non-contributory—whether its benefits should extend to families of all incomes or be confined to the poorer ones—and whether it should be confined to the larger families by excluding the first eligible child, or the first two eligible children, in each family. These, apart from the question of finance, are important issues which have to be decided. There are also other important, and wider, considerations—namely, what, for instance, would be the effect of family allowances upon the present war-time economy, particularly if they were given on a large scale and paid in cash?—what would be the effect of putting a large amount of new purchasing power in the hands of parents without reducing the purchasing power in the hands of other persons, and without being able to provide any corresponding increase in the supplies of goods and services?
I would like to pause there a moment, because it is wise for the House to have these questions in mind not solely in considering this present proposal, but also in connection with others that come before us. It is not under war conditions primarily a question of the money involved. It is a question of our total resources in goods and labour; and of both of these our stock is limited. If any class of civilians is given new claims against that stock then, unless new demands can be precisely matched by a cancellation of claims by other civilians, the soundness of our war economy, that we have striven so hard to build up, may well be impaired, and our war effort would suffer accordingly.
There is also the question whether, assuming the money is available, the best way of spending it is to issue a cash allowance to the parents, or whether the children would not benefit more certainly and directly if it were disbursed in kind under the control of either the State or the municipality. We have heard in the course of this Debate that there are also those who strongly advocate that any available money should be spent on a much wider provision of free meals for school children, on medical provision, on more milk and on other measures of that kind. As has been said with considerable force during the Debate, there is doubt as to the value of allowances paid in cash, and whether the money would be spent any differently from, say, a rise in wages, and the benefit of the allowance diffused through all the items of expediture of all members of the household. All these are important matters to be determined. I am sure that they have not been raised to-day or mentioned by me, by way of obstruction. They are serious issues, which must be taken into account before conclusions can be reached by the Government, and finally by Parliament.
I would observe, particularly to my hon. Friend who spoke early in the Debate on behalf of the Labour party, that I am afraid that such difficulties cannot be resolved so easily and so quickly as he seemed to dispose of them, by saying, "It is true there is a conflict between those who believe in family allowances and those who believe in the extension of the health services, but we can get over that very easily by saying, Let us go in for all these schemes. Family allowances can easily be accompanied by extensions of the various social services which have been mentioned in all parts of the House to-day, and by those means we shall all get a happy issue out of our difficulties and conflicts." That is hardly the position that faces the House and the Government to-day. It is my duty once again to call attention to the important financial implications involved, not only in the proposal for family allowances, but in an even greater degree in any suggestion that we should meet our difficulties by accompanying family allowances by other extensions of the social services.
I was very glad indeed to hear the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys-Davies)—who has practically given his life to the social services of this country, as I know so well—speak in high terms of our social services, and to hear him give that very remarkable illustration of what the last census revealed about children in London. I do not think we should decry the efforts that have been made. I do not claim them for any particular party in the State. They have to a very large extent been the product of the endeavours of all sections, irrespective of any particular political belief. Think of our maternity and child welfare services, our free or cheap milk for nursing and expectant mothers and children under five, our provision for the medical needs of children, for school meals, and for milk in schools. While I agree that these provisions are, no doubt, capable of extension, I myself know of no other country that has made such provision as we have. Besides all this, there is the stabilisation policy, which was introduced by me on behalf of this Government, and which I am anxious to maintain, but which has involved us in some £150,000,000 a year. That is of considerable benefit to the children. These schemes which we have already are costing considerable sums of money. My hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton has, as I have said, been engaged in these services for a very long period—I was with him in the early days—and it is amazing to see not only how the services have grown, but also how the cost has grown. Take, for instance, old age and contributory pensions, national health insurance, education and the subsidies which we pay for housing. Ten years ago they were costing the State some £122,000,000. That sum has now mounted—I do not say this because I by any means object; indeed I helped to bring a good many of them about—to the very large sum of £200,000,000.
That argument has been used very often. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to relate it fairly? The fair way to relate it is not to give the over-all expenditure on these services but to relate that to the percentage of the national income which it represented then and the percentage it represents now.
I should like to say that no one can get up in this House and say that the condition of the children has not immeasurably improved during the last 10 or 15 years. The fact still remains that while all this is true, we have yet to face the cost. Moreover, the cost is rising to very large sums. One thing that pleases me very much about this Debate, and that has given me a lot of personal satisfaction, is that nobody got up and said that family allowances were going to cost only so many days of the war. That argument seems to have disappeared for the moment. I do not think it is yet realised that the war has meant not only the raising of the level of taxation to unprecedented heights, but there are other important effects. I emphasise this, because some of my hon. Friend have invited me to consider this proposal from the point of view of imposing further taxation. I invite them to look again at what I said in my Budget speech about the possibilities of further taxation, and particularly at the position of the higher incomes. The hon. Member opposite who spoke a little while ago with such acceptance would be one of the first to realise exactly where I should have to look, and to what section of the community, if further taxation had to be imposed. Moreover, I do not think it is yet realised that the present burdens of very heavy taxation affect not only the rich, for whom it has been unprecedented, but people of the lower sections of the community, who are realising for the first time what taxation is. I do not blame them that they feel the effect and the difficulty of it very much.
I would also like to remind the House of the equally unprecedented concentration of practically all our available financial resources on the war effort. I have never been a pessimist, and have never taken the line that this or that should not be done, but I do now say to the House that we must not forget that this unprecedented concentration of all our available financial resources on the war effort has meant the drawing upon capital which in peace would be required for development. Also, and very important from the point of view of the future, it has meant the postponing of the maintenance of assets worn or partially worn. Another very serious matter is that it has meant drawing on stocks. Lastly—and this is a matter that we do not talk about very much—it has meant the sale of many foreign investments. Many of these things cannot be repeated. I have never taken the view as my colleagues will know, that we cannot surmount our difficulties; and I have never taken a strict and difficult line on any of these matters, which I now mention, but I do say that every reasonable person must take them into account in considering projects like that now before the House, especially if he desires to see the country in a financial position after the war which will enable it to go forward to better conditions and happier times. Certainly, we cannot settle what we can afford by way of permanent annual expenditure in peace by reference to what has been found to be imperative in the wholly exceptional circumstances of this war. I have felt bound to offer these observations to the House to-day.
There are only two other matters to which I would refer. One is the attitude of the Labour party and trade unions on the subject of family allowances. No one will dispute that when we come to consider projects of this kind, Parliament is supreme. Parliament has the right and the power—which it has exercised over and over again—to sweep on one side all "vested," special or selfish interests. Such things have never weighed with such a House of Commons as we have to-day. But it is obvious that much consideration should be given to views and opinions from all sections of the community. As we know, for it is a matter of special importance, family allowances' have long been the subject of discussion in trade union circles, which have been particularly apprehensive about their effect on wage negotiations. It is true, and it should be said, that there has been a recent change in trade union opinion. We know—for it is public property—that at the Whitsuntide Conference of the Labour party a resolution was adopted in favour of a non-contributory cash scheme of children's allowances. But we must not assume from that that the matter is yet removed from the controversial sphere. Several of the most important trade unions were opposed to it, and although the resolution was passed by what looked like a good majority—a million votes—those who follow the voting at these conferences must not pay undue attention to that million. If, as I understand the position, the Miners Union had liked to vote the other way, the result could have been very different.
All I would add—because it is rather a domestic concern of the unions—is that Sir Walter Citrine stated publicly at the end of a meeting of the General Council of the Trades Union Congress, that a final decision would have to be taken at the annual congress in September, whatever might be the decision of the Labour party at Whitsuntide.
Reference has been made to the Beveridge Committee. Sir William Beveridge, with the assistance of an Interdepartmental Committee, is, as the House knows, now carrying out a survey of the existing schemes of social insurance and like services, including workmen's compensation. It is true that family allowances are not strictly within the terms of the inquiry, but it is obviously a matter which is very closely associated with it, and which must, I think, be considered in conjunction with any report from the Committee. Therefore, the position of the Government which I have to state to-day is this: The Government, of course, welcome the opinion from the House, expressed in the Debate to-day, and as it appears in the Motion moved by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Erdington. If the Motion is adopted by the House—as I anticipate it may well be—the Government, as it requests them to do, will give it full consideration. This subject must, however, be considered by the Government in the light of the considerations I have mentioned—the report of the Beveridge Committee, the further conclusions of organised labour, and the financial position. In conclusion, I will say that it should be possible for all these matters to be adequately considered in the autumn. I think we shall have the reports I have mentioned by then, and they will be given our immediate attention. Conclusions will be reached as rapidly as possible and, of course, communicated to the House, when no doubt they will be the occasion of further discussion and deliberation.
I welcome the opportunity of saying a few words on this subject of family allowances, because of my interest in the matter. I have been present throughout the Debate, except for one hour, during which I had to attend a meeting of the Committee on National Expenditure. I recognise that the Chancellor was unable to give a definite pledge to-day that he would accept family allowances, but I also recognise that he has been quite sympathetic in his approach to the problem. One would hardly expect the right hon. Gentleman to welcome with open arms, particularly during the war, any proposal for the spending of a considerable sum of money, but I do not agree with him when he suggests that the granting of family allowances during the war would be a danger to war economy and might help to bring about inflation. One has to recognise that the cost of living has gone up during the war and that that cost is bound to bear most heavily on those who have children to maintain. And though I do not want to put forward, in normal times, family allowances as a means of keeping wages down, I think it is a factor that can rightly be taken into account in war-time by the Chancellor when he is trying to maintain a wages stabilisation policy.
My own view is that, from the point of view of money, family allowances would save the State, as the chief employer of labour in war-time, more money than they are likely to cost. I feel that, in a good deal of this discussion, too much attention has been given to the financial aspect of this question, to the outgoings of the nation, and not enough to the incomings. The income of the State has increased considerably during the last few years and even since the war, and I think one must look to an increase in national income to bear the inevitably bigger claims that will be made for family allowances and social services of that kind. The only way in which the State can meet these inevitable demands is to become more efficient in production. The human factor is the most important one in production, and if we see to it that the children of this country have a reasonable opportunity of being properly fed, housed and maintained, I think we have the surest guarantee for future efficiency.
A week ago this House was discussing the problem of education, and I think it was the President of the Board of Education who pointed out that, at present, children living in one county are at a disadvantage as compared with children living in another so far as educational facilities are concerned, because one county is poorer than the other and a penny rate produces so small a sum that certain counties are unable, owing to the expense involved, to provide the facilities that are provided for children in other counties. That is exactly the position of many children in present conditions, without family allowances.
I do not think any advocate of family allowances would make extravagant claims on their behalf. We have never said that they will solve the whole problem of poverty; but we say that the State, through family allowances, would be providing the parents with the material resources to enable every child to have a decent start in life. We do not claim that this will bring absolute equality of opportunity. No two homes are alike. Some mothers look after their children better than others do. But we say it is the duty of the State to see that every parent is provided with the opportunity to give every child that to which the child is entitled. I do not think that in so doing you would undermine the character of either the parent or the child. What destroys character is for men and women never to have had a decent chance in the early part of their lives to be brought up as self-respecting citizens, owing to lack of nutrition, bad housing, and matters of that kind.
I view family allowances, and the expense involved, as a more intelligent use of a portion of the national income. If it is to come out of the existing national income, it will simply be a transference of expenditure from things where it is less necessary to things where it is more necessary. Individuals in the State are spending, even in war-time, a considerable sum on personal needs, and even on personal luxuries. It is better that less should be spent on drink and tobacco and personal luxuries, and more on family allowances. To the extent that children are receiving adequate nurture in their early years, family allowances will not add to the demands on the nation's resources; to the extent that some children are going short of what they need for a decent life, it will make a demand. But I submit that it is, on humanitarian grounds and also on grounds of wise and far-seeing statesmanship, right that money for this purpose should be provided.
That this House, having regard to the supreme importance of further safeguarding the health and well-being of the rising generation, commends for the immediate consideration of the Government the institution of a national scheme of allowances for dependent children as an important contribution to this vital object.