I desire to ask, Mr. Speaker, in accordance with precedent on these occasions, whether you will be good enough to indicate which of the Amendments on the Order Paper you propose to call? Although I realise that it is a matter entirely for the Chair, it seems to some of us that some of the Amendments are more definitive and more objective than the original Motion.
Further to that point of Order, Mr. Speaker, and before you give a Ruling, may I submit that there are two Amendments in particular which have tried to indicate the lines on which the Government might proceed in order to give effect to the proposals of the Beveridge Report? It might be for the convenience of the House if one or other of these Amendments were called, in order that those matters might be discussed. May I also point out that no fewer than 40 Members have associated themselves with one of these Amendments?
Further to that point of Order and before you give that Ruling, Mr. Speaker, would you bear in mind that one of these Amendments—that standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Viscount Hinchingbrooke)—at the end to add:
and calls upon the Government to set up forthwith the proposed Ministry of Social Security for the purpose of giving effect to the principles of the Report"—
corresponds exactly with the recommendation of the Beveridge Report as to what Parliamentary action should be taken? There may be a considerable body of Members who desire to comply with the Report in that respect.
Sir Patrick Harmon:
Will, you kindly take into consideration, Mr. Speaker, the fact that a large number of hon. Members would like a final decision on this question to be postponed in order that full time may be given to the consideration of the proposals in this very important Report?
If you should in your discretion, Mr. Speaker, decide to select the Amendment standing in the
name of the hon. Member for Moseley (Sir P. Hannon)—in line 3, to leave out from "provisions," to the end, and to add:
for the prevention of want and the maintenance of social security in illness, accident and old age, and the potential future expansion of those services, but requests His Majesty's Government to postpone the introduction of legislation committing the nation to the financial expenditure which the recommendations in the Report involve until the post-war reconstruction proposals of the Government for the employment of the people and the restoration of British export trade shall have been presented to Parliament"—
would you consider selecting an Amendment which asks that action should be taken during the war?
I have carefully considered all the Amendments. I came to the conclusion that all the questions which they raised can be raised equally well in the general discussion of the Report, so that I have come to the conclusion very definitely that I do not propose to select any of the Amendments.
As I understand it, we are to have a general Debate on the principles embodied in the Beveridge Report. That is well understood. If the Government should decide that, because of circumstances, they do not propose to implement any of the proposals in the Report until the end of the war, would you not, Mr. Speaker, consider allowing an Amendment which combats that opinion and the Government's decision, as otherwise the whole matter may be deferred, and the speeches will be of no value?
Has your attention, Mr. Speaker, been drawn to an article which appeared on Sunday in the "Sunday Pictorial," alleging that the Government and the Front Bench on what is termed the semi-Opposition side have engaged in a plot to prevent this Report from being debated in the House and carried into effect? Is that statement true? If so, is it not true also that that is the kind of thing which is upsetting democracy in this country?
While I, like you, do not take that newspaper in, evidently a charge is made that the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) is engaged in a plot with the Government. Surely, that is a very serious allegation to make?
May I submit to you. Sir, that there is a very widespread desire in the House, as expressed by the number of hon. Members who have put down their names to Amendments, to have an opportunity of expressing clear views on the Beveridge Report, and if those views are clearly expressed in the Debate, will you consider an opportunity for an Amendment to be called later?
May I ask the Leader of the House whether, in view of the fact that sufficient names of favourites have already appeared in the Press to cover the whole of the Debate, he will consider moving the suspension of the Standing Order on the second Sitting Day so that some other Members may get a chance of speaking?
I beg to move.
That this House welcomes the Report of Sir William Beveridge on Social Insurance and Allied Services as a comprehensive review of
the present provisions in this sphere and as a valuable aid in determining the lines on which developments and legislation should be pursued as part of the Government's policy of post-war reconstruction.
The Beveridge Report broke on the world on 2nd December last. Hon. Members have now had ample opportunity of measuring its public reception. Sir William Beveridge, as an ex-Civil Servant and the head of an Oxford College, must have been embarrassed by the fierce limelight of publicity which has been directed on to the Report. The B.B.C. trumpeted the Report across the world in many languages. The Report has proved to be a best seller not only here but abroad. The Government were so impressed by its importance that they went to the length in war-time, a time of great economy, of preparing and publishing a summary of the Report. Certain newspapers and commercial enterprises have pushed epitomes of the Report on to the market. I understand that, having regard to the limited paper supplies available, they have had a very large circulation. The Report has been the subject of innumerable leading articles and letters to the Press. A spontaneous movement has arisen among people or among groups of people anxious to study and assess its proposals. The Secretary of State for War, because of the action taken by him, sharpened the appetite of the men in the Army, and for that he deserves our thanks.
Mr. R. G. Casey, the Minister of State, in a broadcast on 22nd December last, said, according to "The Times," that the Beveridge Report had aroused the greatest interest among the troops. The troops did not believe in any fairy stories like "homes for heroes." They knew that the world could not suddenly become a bed of roses after the colossal destruction of this war, but they did hope that it was going to be a fairer world, with no permanent scarcity of work, and one in which those who worked hardest could get most and all those who worked would get a fair deal. The Report has excited deep, sympathetic interest overseas in many countries and aroused hopes that freedom from want can, if we will it, be attained. At home it has met with almost universal approval in principle and purpose. The Labour Party, the Trades Union Congress General Council, and the Co-operative Movement have
given it a warm welcome in its broad outlines, after very close consideration. For them I speak and for the millions whom they represent. I propose to read the resolution which was adopted unanimously on 17th December last by the National Council of Labour, the most representative popular working-class organisation in this country:
The National Council of Labour, representing the Trades Union Congress, the Labour Party and the Co-operative Union, believes that, as provision against want is one part of a policy of social progress, an essential part of the reconstruction of the new Britain must be the adoption of a Charter of Security, so that if members of the community meet with adverse circumstances a minimum standard of the essentials of life will be guaranteed, not as a charity but as a right, to citizens of the country. The National Council, therefore, approves the principles laid down in the Beveridge Report and, while the detailed proposals must necessarily be subject to further scrutiny, it welcomes the effort to safeguard the standards of life and health of the nation. The Council particularly accepts the emphasis of Sir William Beveridge upon the importance of giving effect to the general policy of the Report before the end of the war and, therefore, calls upon the Government to introduce the necessary legislation at an early date.
With that view I am, of course, in full accord, and indeed the whole purpose of my speech is to press more particularly for acceptance of the last paragraph, asking for early legislation. The Liberal Party has also given the Report cordial, and indeed enthusiastic, welcome and approval. The Conservative Party's first reaction to it was to be found in a recent issue of the "Onlooker," a paper hitherto unknown to me, which gives the impression of damning the Report with faint praise, or praising it with faint damns, but the letter bags of Members of Parliament will bear witness to the support given to it by the rank and file of the people. Various Motions and Amendments have appeared on the Order Paper, one in my name and that of other Members, which provides a peg on which to hang a general Debate in the expectation that the Government will make a satisfactory statement—I mean one that is satisfactory to me and all like-minded people. With the purpose of those Amendments asking for early action, I am in hearty agreement, but as regards others, which find excuses for delay by suggesting further inquiries, I am in the most emphatic disagreement.
I have said that I regard my Motion as a peg on which to hang a general Debate. If the hon. Gentleman does not know what a peg is, I am afraid I cannot help him. The fact is that the people want a pledge which will ensure that the broad principles of the social security plan are accepted and will be implemented. As regards the logical and inescapable implications of such, a pledge, I will say something later. We must, of course, admit that here and there in the Press letters have appeared from people shivering at the possible consequences of the acceptance of the scheme. The industrial assurance offices have, in somewhat timid tones so far, ventured to express their fears and appear to be preparing in great depth their ground defences, and their underground attack also. They appear to resent the criticism, expressed in the Appendix to the Report, on their administration. I do not propose on this occasion to enter into a duel with shadow opponents. No doubt we shall hear more of them later, when they come out into the open.
What is the broad conclusion to be drawn over the last 10 weeks, during which time the document has been before the public? No document within living memory has made such a powerful impression, or stirred such hopes, as the Beveridge Report. The people of the country have made up their minds to see the plan in its broad outline carried into effect, and nothing will shift them. The plan for social security has struck their imagination. They feel in their hearts, quite rightly, that it is their due on grounds of social justice and in fulfilment of Article 5 of the Atlantic Charter. Where is a Member of the House who would dare to vote against the general proposals, and thereby for the repudiation of solemn pledges of the United Nations inspired by the British Prime Minister and by the President of the American Republic? Is any Member of the House, aware of the deep convictions of the people, prepared to say that the poor in their hours of adversity should live in undeserved poverty, or to deny that security and dignity of life are the very foundations of a healthy, civilised society and that the goal of this war is full and undisputed freedom for all peoples? Is there any Member of the House who dares make such assertions? If so, let him declare himself in this Debate. I am certain that no responsible Member of the Government can, in the light of the Government's commitments, in honour impede the progress of this plan towards the Statute Book.
I therefore call—and I hope I can do so with confidence—upon the Government to begin implementing, without a day's unnecessary delay, the social security scheme boldly planned in broad outline by Sir William Beveridge. This Debate will have failed in its purpose unless, during its course, the Government make a clear and explicit statement of their intentions. It would be unreasonable to expect a statement on details. Indeed, there are many of us, I imagine, on all sides of the House who do not swallow this Report holus bolus. There are points of criticism to which we shall have to turn our attention as time goes on, and, therefore, although the Government must obviously have given considerable attention to the Report, we do not expect them, at this stage, to make commitments in detail. But we, the people for whom I speak, do expect a statement indicating that the principles of the social security scheme are accepted Government policy and that active steps are to be taken to give effect to them.
The Beveridge Report is a challenge to the Government and to the House of Commons. The people of this country, having read about it, having talked about it, having thought about it, having responded to the principles of a plan that would begin to disperse the dark, sombre, sinister clouds of insecurity which are shadowing millions of homes in this country—they also challenge the Government and this House. They ask, indeed they demand, an answer. The country awaits the Government's reply and the views of Parliament. I hope those views, in general, will be expressed in support of the social security scheme.
I should like to place on record the debt of gratitude which this country and the statesmen of other countries owe to the author of this arresting document, which has struck the imagination of millions of people and given them a hope for the future. At the same time, I express my own sense of indebtedness to one who, though deeply involved in other tasks, responded to my invitation to undertake a heavy and responsible piece of work. I sincerely hope that we all appreciate how well worth his labours have been in the judgment of his fellow citizens and of men and women of good will the world over. The Beveridge Report has been criticised because it did not range over fields which its author was not invited to enter. There was a primary job to be done. In my view, the first thing to be done was to work out a broad scheme to secure, for all those in want, provision when they fall by the wayside. Freedom from want when people suffer adversity, whether through lack of work, sickness, accident, disablement, loss of the breadwinner or old age, seemed to me to be our first human task.
They ought to thank God that they are in those happy circumstances. It was, in my view, an urgent and vital social task and the logical starting-point for a series of studies of our social and economic requirements and organisations. Sir William Beveridge fully appreciated that he could not cover, within a reasonable compass and a reasonable time, any wider area than that which was assigned to him. With his recognised intellectual integrity, he explained the assumptions on which he worked and was fully aware of the 'implications of any adequate scheme of social security. There can be no satisfactory and successful scheme of social security unless wider and economic implications are accepted and unless adequate steps are taken now to face the problems involved.
In the first place, there must be a redistribution according to the needs of the homes of the people. This involves family allowances. For a long time, indeed from the very inception of the campaign for children's allowances, I had the gravest doubts about the wisdom of that policy. I regarded such payments as a possible social danger. When they were originally proposed I took the view—it is many years ago now, and I see no reason to change it in the light of the circumstances which obtained then—that the payment of children's allowances might be used to undermine wages standards, and thereby to perpetuate bad industrial conditions. To-day, however, I believe the trade union movement is strong enough to resist such efforts, with the support of the general public, who now realise that poverty breeds poverty. What powerfully influenced my own mind in this matter was my friend Seebohm Rowntree's second social survey of the city of York, published in 1941, under the title of "Poverty and Progress."
That may be. The investigation of Mr. Rowntree and other investigations had shown beyond doubt, that, apart from interruption or loss of earning power, the chief cause of want is the failure to relate income during the time of earning to the needs and the size of the family. During this war the principle of the rate of wage for the job has been universally accepted and widely adopted. That principle, however, ensures only equality in the field of employment. It pays no regard to the worker's family responsibilities, which are a social problem. Whether under Capitalism or under Socialism wages must be paid according to the services rendered in employment. To maintain a proper standard of life for all necessitates the provision of social services of which family allowances will no doubt in the future be one. While the inspiration which created the social services in the past was born out of the defects of the capitalist system, it is now generally recognised that communal services must be an integral part of our social structure, whether under a Capitalist or a Socialist organisation of the national life. To aid in remedying social injustice and avoiding economic injustice, it is clear that children's allowances must be an integral part of any scheme aiming at freedom from want. I am not on this occasion proposing to pursue the question further. I only wish to assert that children's allowances must in future be one of the pillars of the temple of social security.
Secondly, it is foolish to continue to expend £300,000,600 a year on preventable disease, quite apart from the avoidable suffering involved. It is equally foolish to ignore the rehabilitation for useful service of those crippled by industrial disease, by other diseases or by accidents. These problems no doubt call for further consideration, but they also call for further action, because to secure the objects of the Report steps will need to be taken which stretch far beyond the scope and the purview of social insurance. Comprehensive health and rehabilitation services, like children's allowances are essential to any adequate scheme to abolish want.
Thirdly, the Report assumes the avoidance of mass unemployment. The term "unemployment insurance," as I have argued in this House for 20 years, was always a misnomer. It has covered two, different problems which were not in the accepted sense insurance. The incidence of disease and death, broadly speaking, is actuarially calculable within reasonable limits, and it provided a basis for health insurance. Unemployment falls into a different category. There is the type which results from unforeseeable causes which must be somehow succoured. There is what is called technological unemployment, arising in the first stages of almost every further economic advance. For this what is called insurance benefit is essential and inevitable. It is, indeed, important, and I would go so far as to say essential, that new economic developments should be welcomed as indications of progress holding out hopes of future prosperity, and those who temporarily suffer in that process and through such causes should not be pauperised. The major problem is that of the mass unemployment due to disorganisation, lack of forethought, and consequent trade cycles. It was Sir William Beveridge who, many years ago, some years before the beginning of the last great war, wrote a book with the title "Unemployment, a Problem of Industry." Up to that time and, indeed, in many quarters since, unemployment had been regarded as due to the vices and defects of the poor. The sub-title of the book was a true description of world unemployment, unemployment on a large scale, as a problem of economic reorganisation. It was this problem which Sir William clearly had in mind in his assumption regarding mass unemployment. It is this problem which challenges the knowledge, the skill, the imagination and the sincerity of mankind. In the final analysis it must be so if the peoples of the world are to enjoy the benefits of economic and social justice.
I should like now to examine the implications of the social security scheme. An adequate scheme would do something, I believe, to safeguard the workers, especially the lowly paid workers, against wage reductions. That would be so, I believe, especially in the less organised trades; It would, therefore, aid in attaining that freedom from want which depends, in the words of the Atlantic Charter, on
securing for all improved labour standards, economic advancement and social security.
There is a further step to be taken along the road to prosperity to ensure the fulfilment of freedom from want. There must be hospital, rehabilitation and medical services, the provision of proper housing conditions and educational developments, all of which will entail considerable charges on public funds, most of which we must pay as we go. I do not regard these charges as crippling. I regard the charges for these services as an investment which will yield a rich return in human life, vigour, efficiency and happiness. We must pay a price for such desirable ends. Nor can we escape adequate money payments, whether as wages or as maintenance, if we are to establish a standard of life worthy of a great people. There are already those who are shaking with fear lest the whole national economy should be reduced to stark, irretrievable bankruptcy by following the trail blazed by the Report. There are those who think that the scheme and its inevitable consequences outside the defined limits of social insurance will prove to be an intolerable burden upon the State. I do not share that view. The financial responsibilities to be borne by the Government are not large, relatively, though admittedly they are progressive as the years go on. The charges falling on the workers and on employers are indeed considerable, but I would remind the House that the abolition of mass unemployment, to which the United Nations are pledged, implies a developing pros-
erity out of which the funds necessary for the services vital to national well-being can be provided.
Then there are those whose eyes are turned towards harsh restrictions on expenditure, what is called cutting the coat according to the cloth—a useless expedient if the coat is made too small to perform its purpose. In any event this well-worn phrase rests on the assumption that the amount of cloth is fixed and that a further length of it is not available. In the Debate on the Address before Christmas, I submitted a contrary view. I do not believe that the way to national recovery and prosperity is through the dark, foetid channel of harsh restrictions and economy. There may be those who disagree with me on this, but pounds, shillings and pence have become quite meaningless symbols. The future of this country does not depend on the Bank of England and the "Big Five." At their best the banks are but the lubricant oiling the wheels of production. The future of this country and of the world depends not upon money-changing, book-keeping and accountancy, but upon what brains and brawn can produce out of the bowels of the earth, from the surface of the earth, by processes of manufacture, and by skill in trade and commerce. Counting the shekels does not produce wealth. Real wealth is the production of organisation, executive ability and manual labour.
Even the most rigid and cruel economy will fail to solve our problems. The key to prosperity is developing production based on science and efficiency, not the defeatist policy of contracting consumption, with the inevitable result of progressively contracting markets and ever-deepening world misery, as we learnt to our bitter sorrow in the years after the last great war. Industry, it has been said, was made for man and not man for industry. The development foreshadowed in the Beveridge Report will inevitably call for economic reorganisation. I do not believe that man need be the slave of industry or of its handmaiden, I might now say master, finance. Unfortunately, industry in many directions is inefficient and profit-ridden. I believe man can make himself the master of industry, provided he can shake off the shackles of selfish ends and monopolistic interests. Whether this is palatable in some quarters or not, this problem will have to be faced, and the Government, as well as industry, both management and labour, must consider as an urgent problem the great test of switching over from war industries to the industries of peace-time in the light of our own economic needs and our international commitments. It is idle to think that British industry, after the tremendous changes which have taken place under the stress of war requirements, can be pressed back into the pre-war mould. What we ought to do is to reap the fruits of wartime experience and to organise our industries for the purposes of optimum economic production and not for maximum monetary profit.
But if we are to insure social security and adequate standards of life, while we must develop to the full our own resources, we must look outwards, overseas. As I must continue to insist, because I have made the same point in the House before, future prosperity depends upon the development of the world's resources. Without that the objectives laid down in the Atlantic Charter, freedom from want and social security for all, cannot possibly be attained. My argument briefly is this: Honour and justice alike require us to accept the principles of the Beveridge Report. Such a scheme, I believe, would assist in the maintenance of wages standards, and would therefore contribute to the attainment of freedom from want in the wide sense. Security and economic advancement, which are among the objectives of the Atlantic Charter, will necessitate economic reorganisation at home and the development of the world's economic possibilities in an orderly way. It would be foolish to attempt to stem the rising tide of opinion in favour of bold plans by attempts to "crab" them on the ground that we cannot afford them. The only line of approach to the fulfilment of our pledges and the establishment of social justice, security and prosperity is by multiplying the fruits of the earth. This, in my view, can only be done effectively through international economic co-operation and considered plans designed to avoid financial exploitation and to yield the maximum benefit to mankind. What the House and the country, and other countries also, want to know is whether the Government are now in a position, after the consideration they have had time to give to the Beveridge proposals, to declare their acceptance of the principles of the Report.
May I put a friendly question? It is entirely friendly. The right hon. Gentleman is constantly using the term: "the principles of the Report." Sir William Beveridge has made it very plain that this is an all-in plan, that it is a plan and not merely a principle. Do I understand that my right hon. Friend is urging the Government to say whether they are prepared to accept, not the Beveridge principle, but the Beveridge plan?
Certainly, I want the plan. It is very difficult, in a complicated scheme of this kind, to distinguish between principles and details. Extremely small details loom very large in the minds of some people. I would like to put my own view as to how further procedure should unfold itself. Let me say in the first place emphatically that to wait until the last "t" is crossed and the last "i" dotted before introducing legislation would not meet with the approval of my hon. Friends nor, indeed, of a very large number of our people. It is unfortunate, but it is undeniably true, that in many quarters of the country, and among members of the Forces there exists an atmosphere of cynicism tinged with bitterness which may be dangerous for our future. I beg the Government not to add to that cynicism or to deepen the spirit of bitterness, and not to breed disappointment in the hearts of the younger generation by inaction, procrastination or—almost as bad—lukewarmness. It will be a bad end to the war if those who in various ways have secured victory return to eat the bread of disillusionment and to live among shattered hopes and discarded or unfulfilled promises. I believe that, to give heart and encouragement to anxious millions, the implementation of the social security plan should proceed quickly and should proceed by instalments. [An HON. MEMBER: Why by instalment?] Ah, there is that last "t" It should proceed by instalments for the simple reason that if we do not get it by instalments, we shall never get it at all, add hon. Members know that to be true.
The first step, obviously, is to set up the organisation for handling the whole proposal. The Beveridge Report suggests that a Ministry of Social Security should be established. That seems an urgent step, which should be carried out almost immediately. I do not suggest at this stage that branches should be torn out of the Departments which are concerned with one or other aspect of social security, especially as many of them are engaged upon important war duties. A Minister of Social Security, with a staff of experts to deal with the different sides of this problem, should be in the saddle at the earliest possible moment, so that those who have knowledge and experience of various aspects of the plan can be instructed to clothe the general proposals of the Report with the necessary form and detail, in consultation with the Departments involved, and to produce the final plan for submission to the Government. As each particular aspect, of the general plan is accepted—and there ought to be no undue delay in connection with many aspects of the Report—it should be put into legislative form and brought before the House. This procedure would involve a series of Measures, but as I want to get going while the going is good, I do not object to a series of Measures. When the ground had been covered—I hope that a substantial amount of it will be covered this present Session—the Government would probably need to introduce a general amending and consolidating Bill in order to fit the plan together into a comprehensive and integrated scheme.
The House will expect to learn from the Government something of their plans for the future of the medical services and of rehabilitation. The Inter-Departmental Committee set up by the Minister of Labour and National Service and myself upon industrial rehabilitation has presented its Report. The recommendations of this Report are a necessary part of the development of the health services and should be considered, of course, in relation to the larger plan. I see no sufficient reason why action on this aspect, on the rehabilitation Report, should not be taken without waiting until we have the complete, final plan for the whole of the public health and medical services. I feel sure that the House at some appropriate time before long will wish to consider that problem in its wider aspects:
This does not exhaust our efforts to ensure the success of the social security scheme. There is the question of full or active employment, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer called it in a recent Debate. It involves plans for the change-over from war purposes to peace purposes in Indus- try and for the necessary economic reorganisation at home and in agreement with the United Nations. As to international co-operation, we cannot embark during this Debate on any detailed discussion of the vast range of problems which must be tackled, partly by ourselves and partly in co-operation with the Dominions and the Colonial Empire, and very largely through the co-operation of the United Nations. It is clear again that the House will desire at the appropriate time in the future to discuss these problems. So far, we have had from Members of the Government speeches stating the problems that we are now facing and expressing general observations upon them, but we have had no coherent statement indicating that progress is being made. It is distressing to me to learn that no discussions are now-taking place between the British, United States and Soviet Union Governments. I venture to predict that unless such discussions are begun and pressed well forward, and decisions are reached before long, the future will be gravely imperilled.
I have not entered upon any discussion of the details of the Beveridge Report. I regard it as of primary importance to secure the general acceptance of the plan and to obtain assurances that its implementation has a very high priority in the mind of the Government. Delay will be disastrous. Early action would hearten the people of this country and of other countries and would give Britain the moral leadership in the universal struggle for social security for all people in all lands. I earnestly hope that the Government will grasp this great and glorious opportunity to place themselves in the forefront of a great human movement and so fulfil some of the fundamental aims for which the war is being fought.
I beg to support the Motion. The right hon. Gentleman who moved it rightly described it as a peg on which to hang our observations. It will be found that I largely agree with much that he has said. [An HON. MEMBER: "How much?"] I cannot, and I do not propose to, cover so wide a field as he did, but will condense my observations to certain aspects of the Report. A few months ago we were considering the Beveridge coupon fuel-rationing scheme, which I then felt it my duty stoutly to oppose. Well, we managed without it. [An HON. MEMBER: "Thanks to the weather."] The necessary economies have been secured by our housewives and industrial users of coal, with retention of the good will of the country. To-day we are considering a far more important scheme from the same author.
I was interested, as the House will be, perhaps, in one or two other productions from his mind and pen. In my researches I have found that in 1912 he wrote "An Anthology of Thoughts on Women." I wonder whether those thoughts are the same to-day. Then, in the middle of the last war, he brought forth a production which was entitled, "Swish, a Submarine War Game." In 1931 he wrote on the causes and cures of unemployment. Today that strikes me as being a little curious, as, with great candour, I think it was in December, at Oxford, Sir William Beveridge said that he did not know how to cure unemployment and doubted very much whether anyone else did.
In 1932 there was another volume published', entitled "Changes in Family Life." I think we can all agree that the Report which we are considering to-day will bring about a great many changes in family life, no doubt many of them for the better. It is no exaggeration to say that we are today discussing domestic matters of greater importance than have been brought before this House for many years past. I do not go so far as those who claim to be able to say that the Beveridge plan has received almost universal approval. I sometimes wonder how those who claim to speak for the people of the country, including the Fighting Services scattered in their thousands all over the world, can claim to interpret what those people are thinking. It is claimed that what they are fighting for are a better world and a higher standard of living. My own view, and I think what most of us realise, is that what we are fighting for is our very existence, and most certainly for freedom and for peace in the world after the war, not only for ourselves but for all civilised countries. I think one would not be far from the truth if one said that the question uppermost in the minds of the men in our Fighting Services to-day is whether good jobs and work in plenty will be available for them on their return. They are probably much more concerned about that than the better world which so many refer to but about which definition would probably vary very widely. It is for the abolition of war and for a world in Which our children will not have to fight for their existence that we are primarily fighting to-day.
As to the Report itself, one cannot study it without appreciating more and more the great skill and ability of its author. Yet even he is not infallible. None of us is. He himself points out that many of his proposals have to be worked out before they can be adopted. He calls attention to the five evils of want, disease, idleness, squalor and ignorance. Squalor and ignorance can be tackled by better housing and improved education, which are outside his Report. He says much about the abolition of want, but his proposals in fact go far beyond meeting that need. I wonder sometimes how want is really denned. Can it necessarily be met by any specific monetary sum? The family of the hard working, thrifty husband and wife may be free from want on £3 a week. On the other hand, the family of a father who is a hard drinker, or gambler, or a spendthrift, may be very hard put to it if his wages are £5 or £6 a week. Nothing will make all of us alike in this world of frail human creatures. If it could, there would not be Conservatives, Socialists, Liberals, Independents and so on who make up this House.
Until recent years there was no yardstick by which real want could be measured. Since public assistance was made available it can be measured. In 1938 the aggregate of payments made on proof of need totalled £135,000,000. It may be urged, and I would agree, that this sum does not necessarily signify the total needed to abolish real want. Therefore I will put the sum up to £175,000,000, or £200,000,000, to take a considerably higher figure. But in 1938 another £207,000,000 was paid out as insurance benefit of legal right, irrespective of need. The relative figure in the Beveridge proposal would be £650,000,000 in 1945 and £826,000,000 in 1965. I do not want to be controversial here at all, but clearly there is an immense sum here over and above that which is required for meeting real want.
I understood the hon. Member to admit a few moments ago that he personally could not possibly define the meaning of the word "want." In that case will he be good enough to say what is the relationship between the figures he is now bandying about and something which he cannot understand and cannot define?
I think that what I have already said makes that perfectly clear. It is because I cannot assess what real want amounts to that I put up the figure of £135,000,000 to £175,000,000 or £200,000,000. That, I take it, is the answer. I do not think anyone can define what want is. It all depends on the character of the family. The question we must face and ask ourselves is whether it is right to draw upon the personal income of all classes, including the workers, to enable vast sums to be paid in the aggregate to those who are not in real want. The real objective, as Sir William Beveridge has admitted over and over again, is not to abolish want, with which everyone would agree without reservation, but the redistribution of income, and opinions may differ as to how far or how much further this should be compulsorily carried. I want to put in here just one short plea, that in our consideration of these problems we should not forget the middle classes of this country. They are quite unorganised and, therefore, completely inarticulate, and life for thousands of them is an ever increasing burden. I am talking about the people of from £500 to £1,000 a year. Life is very hard for them under present taxation.
The hon. Member said earlier that he was supporting the Motion, and the Mover demanded the carrying out of these plans almost immediately. Does he agree to that, or is he condemning that?
I wish to say just a brief word now about the medical services. I think all would agree that these should be expanded and brought within reach of a wider public. The Report makes it clear that the financial cost of such services is not yet calculable until a scheme has been worked out, which must take a considerable time. In my view there must be an extension of State and municipal control, but would it not be unfortunate if there was not some room left for private practice and for at least a proportion of the voluntary hospitals? These are matters which perhaps one can leave to be debated later, when the proposals for the medical services have been worked out. A decision will then have to be taken with regard to the retention or otherwise of the approved and friendly societies. One knows that there are flaws in the administration of those societies which ought to be removed, bat there are the strongest arguments for their retention under proper safeguards and improved methods, and I say without any hesitation that many millions of their members would profoundly regret and resent any disturbance of societies with which they have so long been honourably and satisfactorily associated.
I am going to face the question of cost, because I think no one would be so foolish as to deny that it is the duty of all of us to consider the cost of the Beveridge proposals, in conjunction with all other items of national expenditure which we shall have to face in the immediate post-war period. Moreover, I think it would be the duty of this House, under the guidance of the Government, to decide upon the priority of the items of expenditure which will have to be provided for, say, in the 1945 Budget. What shall we have to provide for? We cannot, if we are sensible, close our eyes to these facts: There will be the maintenance of the Fighting Services, stronger than those of pre-war, there will be war and civil pensions to meet, the servicing of the National Debt, grants to overrun countries and our own temporarily lost Colonies, the refunding of Income Tax Certificates, the interest on National Savings Certificates, the rebuilding of our bombed areas, housing, education, Colonial development, and other expenditure on roads and transport, police, civil aviation and the rest of it. On top of all this must be added such of the Beveridge proposals as this House may decide to implement.
What does all this mean? I tried to get from the Chancellor of the Exchequer last week an estimate of the probable total of the first post-war Budget expenditure, but he said that until certain major questions of policy were settled it was impossible to provide such an estimate. I am going to do my best to provide it, and I find that if you take the 1937–38 Budget, which includes £147,000,000 for what I may describe as the Beveridge services, we had then to provide £863,000,000. In 1945^6, estimating that to be the first post-war year, I estimate the probable Budget expenditure at over £2,100,000,000, without including anything in respect of grants to overrun countries and Colonies, or the rebuilding of our bombed areas, or the interest on National Savings Certificates, all of which I am quite unable to estimate.
No, Sir, that is an uncertain factor; I think it is one of the major problems that the Government will have to tackle. Supposing I am £200,000,000 out and it is £1,900,000,000. Shades of the Grand Old Man, Gladstone! One could almost hear his bones rattling in the grave at this country having to face a Budget of such taxation.
I agree. The circumstances to-day are quite different from what they were then. But if I were the present Chancellor, I think my teeth would chatter at the prospect of having to find all that money from taxation. We have to remember that, on the other side of the balance-sheet, there are certain things we have lost—our former income from overseas investment, shipping, and banking, which in 1938 brought us in £332,000,000, and helped us to balance exports and imports, with an adverse margin of only £55,000,000. Who can foresee how long it will take us to recover that loss? A Budget of £2,000,000,000 would involve, on the present method of taxation, an Income Tax rate, if half of the amount were raised by Income Tax, of 15s. in the £. This would mean raising another £1,000,000,000 by indirect taxation. That is nearly twice the sum which was raised by Excise in 1937–38. We have to ask ourselves whether the country can afford such a tremendous burden of taxation. If we decide that it cannot, we must prune the expenditure and decide what items must be deferred for the time being.
Does the hon. Member take into account the increased productivity that is expected to arise from the providing of these different services, especially rehabilitation and the health services of the country?
The next sentence which I intended to speak would have covered that point. What I have just said does not by any means lead to the conclusion that gradually, over a period of years, the country would not be able to afford the full implementation of all the Beveridge proposals. Before the last war our social expenditure was something of the order of £25,000,000 a year. It rose in the 20-odd years to nearly £500,000,000, showing what, with improved prosperity, we could afford. I am not without hope that if we can achieve a correspondingly improved prosperity in the next 20 years, the task set us in the Beveridge Report will not be by any means impossible. What is abundantly clear—and one must have the courage to say so—is that the whole of the proposals cannot be implemented at one bound. The Mover of the Motion himself made a strong point of the necessity of going forward with this scheme by instalments. With that, I think, we all agree. None of us need lack the courage to tell our constituents what the nation can and cannot afford. When national bankruptcy threatened us in 1931, our then leaders asked for a doctor's mandate and for the power to cut salaries and wages, unemployment assistance, and the like. What was the response of the people of this country? They voted solidly for those cuts. Let us remember that.
May I remind the House what the Minister without Portfolio said on 1st December last?
We must survey his"—
Sir William Beveridge's—
work, not in isolation, but as a part of our reconstruction work as a whole. He covers a vast field, he proposes sweeping changes, and it would be foolish to suppose that the Government can here and now make any pronouncement of their views on these matters. We propose to read and consider the proposals before we make a statement about them, and Members in all quarters of the House would be well advised to follow that example, to spend time in studying what lie says and to consider these proposals in relation alike to finance, to industry, and to the maintenance of international security as well as to our social services generally."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st December, 1942; col. 1077, Vol. 385.]
I come to what I hope is the practical portion of my speech. How far is it possible for common agreement to be reached on the Beveridge proposals at this early stage in their consideration? I suggest that a large measure of agreement can be reached on the following: First, that it is right that a new Ministry of Social Insurance should be set up, to centralise the administration of the social services, though one would hope that this would not mean new buildings in every city, town, and urban district; secondly, that there should be separate funds for each benefit we may decide to make statutory; thirdly, that national health insurance should be extended; fourthly, that maternity and marriage grants should be approved without delay; fifthly, that there should be a removal of restrictions limiting the output of production; sixthly, that there must be effective safeguards against malingering; seventhly, that all should contribute to and be eligible for old age pensions. If in so far as I have gone we can reach common agreement, we shall have taken a great step forward. There will remain a great many problems which will require solution.
I wish I would not be interrupted, because I think the hon. Member will find the ground covered in the very few minutes for which I propose to ask the attention of the House. First, it is Parliament's duty to consider what are the total post-war obligations that the State must face, and decide on their order of priority, within the capacity of the State to meet them. In this connection—and this answers the point of my hon. Friend—we should consider whether children's allowances should not be the first of the major Beveridge proposals to be implemented, the whole cost of which must fall on the State. I am merely expressing my personal views, committing no body of friends and no party. The great value of this Debate should be that we are free to express our own views, irrespective of ties of any kind. I certainly am in favour of children's allowances being one of the first of the proposals to be implemented. Secondly, how are we effectively to control the cost of living? Thirdly, should the taxpayer's contributions be a percentage of the employer's and employee's contributions—in other words, is the liability of the State to be fixed, or is it to be unlimited? There is a great deal to be said for fixing it. Also, what should be the actual cash benefits? That is a matter to be hammered out.
Fourthly, who should be included for unemployment benefit? I sometimes wonder whether hon. Members realise how many hundreds of thousands of people there are in the country to whom unemployment is practically unknown. They include Civil Services, municipal services, public utility undertakings, the railways, the standing Fighting Forces, the police, many undertakings such as fanning, tobacco manufacture, the co-operative societies, and the clerical staffs of many industrial undertakings. These must total up to many millions, and they get pensions on retiring. Should such people as these be compelled to contribute to Unemployment Insurance, which they may never require? Fifthly, should there be a national scheme of pooled benefits for workmen's compensation? That has to be hammered out.
Sixthly, should old age pensions be conditional on retirement, and should schemes of insurance by employers for their workpeople be encouraged, and the national Exchequer thus relieved? I have always been quietly proud of the fact that 98 per cent. of the staff and the employees in the undertakings with which I am connected are already insured. They are insured for benefits on retirement, and a capital sum is payable for the benefit of their relatives in the event of their death. I should view with the greatest apprehension having to give up schemes of that kind, and I do not think it would be to the benefit of the State that they should be discouraged. Seventhly, should not funeral and death benefit be left as they are? There are 100,000,000 policies of this kind to-day. Why should that state of things be disturbed? Eighthly, is there any justification for setting up an Industrial Insurance Board? I doubt it very much, but we may be convinced later that it cannot be avoided. Ninthly, should all be eligible for health insurance benefits, or only those below a certain income limit? That is a big question about which views may differ. My own view is that a limit should be fixed at about £600 or £700 a year, and that below that figure people should be entitled to these benefits, but that above it they must go to their own doctors and pay for treatment. Finally, to what extent is it likely that international co-operation can be secured? All these are major problems for careful consideration. I ventured to tabulate them because I thought they might be of some use to Ministers who have to reply, and perhaps to some of my hon. Friends who have to make up their minds on these problems.
Finally, may I say this? I find myself in agreement with the main principles underlying the Beveridge proposals, subject to adequate—and they must be adequate—safeguards against abuse and over-organisation. The whole plan hangs upon our industrial prosperity and constant good employment. If prosperity is not achieved, the whole plan is bound to crash. There is no gainsaying the fact that we shall be an impoverished nation at the end of this war, and it will be vital to create employment, and to work hard and efficiently if we are to maintain even the present standards of living. The State undoubtedly has its part to play in clearing away the obstacles which hamper industrial planning for the maximum production. I entirely agree with what the Mover of the Motion said about maximum production in industry, and about not contracting merely to meet the demand. Let the State move the obstacles out of the way of our planning for maximum production, and then it will be our respon- sibility, those of us who are industrialists, to plan so that we can secure for our people the maximum employment. The well-being of all of us is involved in all these problems, and surely, if ever there was a time when we should approach them in no party spirit, it is now. We all want to make this world a better one, free from the fears of aggression, and with the doors wide open for everyone to pursue his or her life's work in peace and free from the fear of want.
I conclude by making this appeal to my hon. and right hon. Friends in all parts of the House, and I do it with great respect: Let us give and take. Let us conduct our discussions on these proposals on a high plane as a Council of State, and if we can go forward in that spirit of co-operation, I am convinced, myself, that we can face, however formidable they are, the post-war problems and meet them with success.
I am bound to say that I was one of those Members who thought very poorly of the Motion which is before the House for consideration to-day. As the discussion has proceeded I have found it to be a very convenient Motion indeed. It has enabled two speeches of such a diverse character to be made, the one in proposing and the other in seconding. The speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), on broad lines, was a whole-hearted advocacy of the acceptance of the Report.' We have had from my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Sir A. Gridley), a speech which, beginning with benevolent criticism, seemed to pass imperceptibly to damnation with faint praise, and then towards the end made a suggestion which, I think, was acceptable to most of us. There is evidently a good deal to be said for a Motion of this kind. We are not only at the beginning of a three days' Debate on the plan which has been prepared by Sir William Beveridge and his Committee, but we are engaged on the first of a long-series of discussions upon the social services, and of proposals for reconstruction during and after the war. In the course of these discussions on the social services, and especially as we approach the introduction of legislation, it will be the-duty of Parliament to give close and meticulous consideration to all aspects of the social services and, in particular, to many of the questions mentioned a few moments ago by my hon. Friend.
For my part, I do not propose to deal, with one or two exceptions, very briefly, with these details, but to deal with the wider aspects of approach to the question. I would like, as we would all do, to agree and to associate myself with what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield with regard to the service rendered by Sir William Beveridge and his colleagues in the production of this Report. It shows a wide and imaginative grasp of all the aspects of our social services. It displays a wonderful gift for administrative simplification, together with understanding of human needs, and in the result has rendered a much greater service than has hitherto been recognised, in that it has given a greater content to our war aims than anything we have had before. Ever since President Roosevelt set forth the Four Freedoms there has been plenty of vague talk on the subject of social reconstruction, the redistribution of wealth and the abolition of want. This is the first national effort which has been made by any country to bring these proposals down from the clouds and to put before the people a set of proposals which everybody can understand and which, if they wish, everybody can work to bring about. If these proposals are to succeed, it is necessary that everybody should take them as part of their own duty to see that they do come about. We are all aware, like my hon. Friend, that there are many difficulties in the way. This is not something which can be done by a well-meaning Administration or by a benevolent Parliament for the good of the people; if these proposals are to be accomplished and brought into being, the people must, take hold of them for themselves, and they must learn not to regard them as is the tendency already in this Debate, as something which can be brought about by themselves. For the plan is part of a three-pronged attack upon poverty, the other parts being, international co-operation and the policy of full employment.
Possibly the greatest service which has been rendered by the Beveridge Committee is that they have brought us something from the clouds and given us something which we can understand and for which we can work. Reverting for a moment to the last sentence of my hon. Friend opposite, I will say on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends on these benches that we accept this Report. We shall work for it with all the means at our disposal. If we at times suggest an alternative in some respects or raise some point of criticism, it will not be because we wish to delay the proceedings but because we wish to expedite them and wish to make a contribution which lies within our experience and knowledge. Having said that, we would infinitely prefer that Parliament should regard these proposals and their implications as a common cause in which all should work together seeking to secure the maximum amount of agreement rather than as a controversy. That, I hope, is the answer to what my hon. Friend has just said.
A good deal has happened since the publication of this Report which should do much to alleviate the financial forebodings of some of those who, rightly and properly, have looked at the cost of these vast propositions and have considered what its implication is going to be upon our export trade, which, as we know, will be vital when the war comes to an end. These proposals have not only made a vast impression upon the minds of the people of this country, but they have had a great effect abroad. They have had a greater effect on the imagination and have raised greater hopes among the people of this country than any political document since the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), the father of this House, laid the foundations of the social services on behalf of the Liberal Government of 1906 to 1910. I have some experience of this matter. From contacts with the Forces and from conferences I have attended in the country, I have no doubt that this has appealed to the imagination of the people, and I say to the Government quite plainly that, if there were no indication given that these matters are to be taken seriously and that they should be implemented, the people of this country would feel that they had been cheated and the consequences would have to be reckoned with. But we do not anticipate that that will be the attitude of the Government. This is regarded now as the test of the sincerity of the Government with regard to post-war reconstruc- tion in the country. By their attitude towards it, they will be judged, and I will not to-day criticise or go into details but ask for an assurance that that will be done.
The financial aspect and its implication has been helped very considerably by the fact that it is obvious to all concerned that this new conception we now have before us has also seized the imagination of other peoples in other countries. It would obviously be a matter to be taken into account very seriously by those who are continuing to develop the export trade. Even if we were in this country to proceed to saddle industry with proposals which were not adopted and carried out by any other countries at all, I am not convinced, even if we took that course, that it would necessarily be fatal to our export trade. There are indeed many compensations and assets to be brought into the account. In considering this matter, we should note that there are parallel movements in other countries now, and whether we are in a position to implement them or whether these other countries do too, unless there is the international co-operation we talk about, in this we know we sink or swim together.
The one thing people in this country have not quite realised—I hope that they may soon—is that in future we shall really have no domestic concern; all our affairs are foreign affairs or conditioned by foreign affairs, and the sooner we realise that the better. President Roosevelt, in his address to Congress on 7th January this year, said that the youth of America require a system of security from the cradle to the grave. It was for the Government to produce such a plan, and Miss Frances Perkins, Secretary of Labour, has produced a Beveridge plan for America which bears a striking resemblance to our own. Those who have noticed the observations from the Pan-American Conference held in Chile will have observed that the same methods and the same ideals are moving in the other countries of the American Continent, and my hon. Friend here reminds me of our Lominions. If they will consult with the Allied Governments who are now in this country and who will, we hope, be going back to their own countries in the not too distant future, they will find that the same ideals are in their minds as are now moving us. It is natural that that should be so, and we
should approach these problems and difficulties with the widest possible conception. Social security is- not only a case of urgency for handicapped people; it is a matter, too, for handicapped nations, and if this Charter is to mean anything to us at all, then these great proposals are a matter of the greatest consequence, and we should take them up and support them. I would like, in passing, to say that if I had been in any doubt as to the wisdom and desirability of this plan, it would have been removed by the observations about it which have come from the Axis Powers. It is interesting to observe that Dr. Ley, speaking for the German Propaganda Department and after explaining that the social services of the Reich were superior to anything the world has seen and describing Sir William Beveridge as "a copy-cat" said:
What Beveridge has produced is a bastard which has the shortcomings of all existing social insurance systems, and which is without a single constructive idea. The realisation of this plan would reduce the British people to the level of persons living on charity.
When I read that I began to think that at last we must be on the right path.
What we are concerned about to-day is to have an assurance from the Government that this matter may be regarded as a first piece of post-war reconstruction. This is the first time we have something concrete which can be put to the test. We are practical men, or ought to be, and we know that there are many questions upon which the Government cannot, at this stage, be asked to give an opinion. Indeed, an opinion would have doubtful value if it were given, because more examination of certain questions is necessary. But what we do want is a clear conception of the priorities and the order in which work is to be carried out. First of all, I would like to know from the Government whether they do or do not accept, as the House of Commons accept, and the people of this country, I believe, accept, the main principles of the plan, including a Ministry of Social Security, and, in particular, whether we should unify and enlarge our present social insurance into a comprehensive national scheme covering all classes and providing benefits on a compulsory contributory basis. If that is accepted, we shall be glad to know. I am bound to say that there is a less positive but valuable consequence which follows from the Beveridge Report, and that is that it will make it quite impossible for any Government in this country to tolerate the utterly preposterous and indefensible system of different allowances for the same needs, which has been a blemish on the social system of this country up to the present time. If I may be forgiven for introducing a personal note, I almost feel as if my work in Parliament had been taken away from me by this Report, because year after year for the last 10 or 15 years I have felt it my duty to rise in protest against the inequalities and injustices of the existing scheme. It is quite impossible for these inequalities and anomalies to continue any longer. If nothing else comes out of the plan, then it will have been worth while.
I and my friends will be glad to see the passing of the Assistance Board, that relic of the cowardly period of Parliament, when it would not trust the people. If people are prepared to take on this scheme, democracy will be itself again in this country, and Ministers will have their power restored. The Minister of Labour, the Ministry of Health and the Secretary of State for Scotland had been put into the position of being nominally responsible for concerns over whose day-to-day business they had no authority whatsoever. If we can have a decision on that, that is the least we shall expect. There must also be a decision with regard to children's allowances. You cannot have a full blown and effective Ministry of Social Security at this time. It would mean the dissection—one might almost say "vivisection"—of some half-dozen Ministries, and it would be a gigantic piece of reorganisation which we can hardly ask Departments to undertake now, when they are working on the tasks of war. But what is essential is that a Minister of Social Security, with the necessary advisers, experts and the like, should be set up in office at once in order that the vast tasks may be planned and the necessary legislation prepared.
May I ask the House how far and how rapidly we are likely to make progress if the planning of post-war reconstruction and such things as are foreshadowed in the Beveridge Report are left to some half-dozen different Departments, many of whom have conflicting aims and policies and are overlapping in the same territory? Along that road no progress will be made. We must have a Minister of Social Security as soon as the right man can be found, and with the right assistants. It has been suggested that in the process of reconstruction the new social security Minister should take over employment exchanges. It may be asked whether it would be possible to take from the Minister of Labour, who may have to face great difficulties in the labour market after the war, administration of the employment exchanges. That is the kind of thing we want a staff of people thinking out now, so that we know how to deal with the difficulties before they come upon us. The House will expect to know the view of the Government with regard to what is the most important in the long run of all the Beveridge proposals—the policy of rehabilitation and the comprehensive planning of a national health service. I think that is most important and must constructive, and we shall expect to be told to-day whether the Government are approaching the medical profession to see how this project may be realised and set on foot. Those are some of the things which it is essential that the country should know to-day. The people will feel cheated if they do not get assurances on these points.
I said that I had no wish to deal with anything approaching Committee points in this Debate. We shall have many more opportunities. But I want to enter one caveat with regard to the treatment of rent in the Beveridge plan. It is an important matter and one from which we cannot escape, because the Report sets out to abolish involuntary want. Sir William Beveridge, after considering alternatives, recommends an allowance related to subsistence which shall contain a flat-rate allowance for rent of 10s. in the case of two people and 6s. 6d. for an individual. As he points out in his Report, an allowance of that kind would be from 2s. 6d. to 7s. 6d. too much in the case of two-thirds of Scottish households, from 2s. 6d. to 10s. and upward too little for more than half London households, too much for more than half the agricultural houses. It follows from these figures that in a scheme for the abolition of want related to a flat-rate rent allowance all want will not be abolished. That some way out of it will be found. I have little doubt. One suggestion for consideration at the moment is that there should be a flat rate on a somewhat lower level than that existing, with an additional allowance based upon the region. The suggestion has been made, on no less an authority than that of Mr. Rowntree, that the matter should be rectified, as it could be rectified, by making an allowance equivalent to the rent, but I am advised that this is a matter which is administratively impossible. I think it would carry with it certain other objections. If it were known that a rent allowance would be raised in a case of this kind, I think there would be a tendency for rents to rise. However, I merely mention that in passing—and we will have to give closer consideration to it.
I would insist that we should not consider these concrete plans for reconstruction in vacuo but that we should, in our advocacy of them wherever we go, make it clear that they are part of a comprehensive plan for post-war reconstruction, full employment and international co-operation. They have already done something in that direction. There is the greatest possible incentive, for economy reasons, to concentrate upon full employment. Surely we are not in these days so defeatist that we should regard the appalling level of 1,500,000 unemployed as something which we cannot reduce. Surely, we shall not be deterred by that. Let us remember that every one per cent. of the figure of unemployment below 8½ per cent. that we can get rid of is equivalent to a saving of £10,000,000 a year on the cost of this scheme. Above all, I hope that this country, in considering this problem, which is arousing such feeling and such hope, will regard it as an individual incentive to every one of us to do his utmost to bring it to fruition. What we want now is a complementary document to the Beveridge Report dealing with full employment. That would be a best seller. The country wants it. The appetite grows by what it feeds on. That is the spirit in which we should approach these problems. It is on those lines that we must work, so that when we have won, as we will win, the war, we will be determined that we will not this time lose the peace.
I appreciate the opportunity of saying something about the Beveridge plan. I am sure that all of us are keen that everything possible should be done to assist social security. I suppose that we in Scotland have led the way in trying to make ourselves independent, and I think that is a praiseworthy ideal which we can all accept. But I am a little worried when I look at the cost. It does not satisfy me to be told that we cannot afford to be without it—which, I think, were the words used by Sir William Beveridge himself. That answer, to my mind, seemed to infer that if he had thought we could afford it, he would have said "Yes," and I think that he could not admit that we could afford it. The right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), in moving the Motion, said that pounds, shillings and pence are meaningless symbols. I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman has left the Chamber, because as the first Scotsman to speak, I would be glad to accept any meaningless symbols he happens to have on him.
When we are dealing with a subject of this kind, we have, of course, to face the cost. By spending money may we not, perhaps, increase unemployment and in that way give less security than we would have if we spent less? We must keep in mind our present obligations before we take on new ones. To my mind, such expressions as "cut your cloak according to your cloth" do mean something. The Services which I am sure must be a first charge after the war are the Defence Services. Only last Thursday the Prime Minister told us that the life of Britain and the Empire had hung by a thread. Good fortune—and we have had a lot of good fortune over the last three years—has saved us. I hope that the risks we have taken in the past in that respect will not be taken again. I hope we shall have learned our lesson. We were very nearly beaten 25 years ago, and we got away with it, and then we did not take to heart the lesson we ought to have learned. When we consider the enormous sums of money we are dealing with nowadays and remember that for the 12 years up to 1935 the annual expenditure on our Defence Services was £110,000,000 a year, which was not a large sum, I think the policy we followed might be described as being penny wise and pound foolish—
Be Britain still to Britain true,
Amang oursels united,
For never but by British hands,
Maun British wrangs be righted.
A good many hon. Members know who wrote that and know that it is pretty wise. Apart altogether from the Defence Services, there are other services the cost of which are quite unknown and will be
until the war comes to an end—the debt services. I hope that the Chancellor, when he speaks, will give us some indication of what the budgetary position is likely to be after the war. [Interruption.] If the war goes on long enough, of course, my right hon. Friend would not be Chancellor of the Exchequer. As well as the debt services and the Fighting Services, we have to remember that there will be big claims for pensions for the men and the dependants of the men who are fighting for us. Housing will urgently require money to be spent on it, and we do not know how much more urgent it may become before the war ends. There are suggestions about spending money on education, and other things. All these things are upon our shoulders now, and there are suggestions that more should be added. The Beveridge services such as we now have the benefit of amount to £432,000,000 a year at the present time; that is to say, four times as much a year as we spent in the years before 1935 on defending ourselves, so that they are not services that are being neglected.
We must also take into account the uncertainty of the future. What we are going to spend ought to be based on our trade, and the course of our trade is naturally uncertain at the present time. Is it wise to commit ourselves now? There are people who say that we shall be very much richer after the war than before the war. That is an opinion to which I cannot subscribe. If it were a fact that the country's standard of living could be raised by war, it would be wise to advocate wars all the time; but that is too crazy to be contemplated. If we cripple trade by imposing high taxation—because these things have to be paid for out of trade—it will make the export trade much more difficult. We have to regain our markets. We have to get back our customers again. We can only get the markets if we can produce things at a price which people are willing and able to pay for them. To many countries, if they are self-supporting, the export trade does not matter, but we are not self-supporting and we must export if we are to live. I think we have to take very carefully into account the future of the export trade. [Interruption.] I am informed by one of my hon. Friends that we do not require our exports. I hope he will develop that argument some- time, because as a silly remark I have never heard it beaten. He is a very young man, but I think that remark very silly.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman has made a statement about my interruption which is really unwarranted. I did not interrupt in that sense at all, but in developing his speech, surely he should give attention to the ratio which our export trade bears to our entire trade.
That is not the point I was trying to make. The point I was trying to make was that unless we can export we cannot live, and the ratio does not matter twopence, because we have to get stuff in to live. I think that is a fair and reasonable point. I am sorry to have said anything provocative, because it was far from my thoughts, but I do not speak very often and probably an interruption makes me a little more rude than I would naturally be.
In looking at the various Amendments on the Order Paper, I was rather amused by the collection of names down to them. There seems to be some confusion in coming to an agreement in regard to what is considered to be one of the greatest problems of the day. I suppose that in this House one is not tied by what two or three individuals may think, but that out of the reservoir of one's practical experience one must bring practical knowledge to bear on the things with which we are dealing. I believe that this is a Chamber in which, if right information is given, we may get right legislation, but that without right information, there will be a confused melody and one may hear about everything from Sir Thomas More's "Utopia" to Greenwood's millennium, but get no legislation at all.
I thought the House would be overcrowded for this Debate; I thought there would be an overflow meeting to deal with this wonderful subject that is to revolutionise this England of ours. But when I entered, I found a Chamber that seemed to be the ordinary Chamber. We are supposed to have a common agreement. It strikes me that if there is a coalition of opinion, it is pertinent for me to ask this question in regard to the wonderful scheme now before us. In the first place, do you mean anything by it? Secondly, if you do, do you intend to bring in legislation; and thirdly, if you intend to bring in legislation, do you intend to carry on with it in spite of everything? In other words, do you intend to go on with the war and to win it? If we intend to fight the battle to get rid of Fascism and Hitlerism throughout the world, then the subject which is now before us calls upon all of us to rouse ourselves to the things of the future; but if this is simply to be an academic discussion in a Parliamentary debating society, if it is to be the sort of thing I left with my childhood days, then all that we shall have will be a pleasant review of the past, and Members will slumber on the Benches and dream of what wonderful things there will be in the future. It is all rather like a crossword puzzle.
I saw one or two very interesting gentlemen in the train this morning trying to fill in words in spaces. Some of the words are very tricky, and there are various words that you can put in. It is a question of finding the right one. I do not know anything more beneficial to one than to know the true meaning of a word. Marcus Aurelius said "Let us be true in definition." If we are true in definition—that is, when your opponent knows what you mean—you will be able to arrive at a conclusion. If one man is told he is a something Papist and another that he is a so-and-so North of Ireland man, they never arrive at any definite comradeship or co-operation.
What is the position in the House? What is this discussion about? What have we met for? Looking at the list of names, it does not appear to me likely that anything of a dynamic or revolutionary character will be brought about, and I get more despondent until at last I realise the saving proposition that we have a Coalition, and what God hath joined together let no man put asunder. I am told, without any guarantee of what the future is going to be from the financial point of view, that it may be that the war is to be carried on. The expenditure of £13,500,000 in war-time may be a peace proposition. I do not know. I do not know to what extent we shall be prepared to spend in peace-time compared with what we are spending now—the regeneration and rehabilitation of our people will call for all the energy and finance of the nation to rebuild it after the war is over—or whether the economists will tell us that we cannot afford it. These are practical propositions that one has to deal with in regard to the programme that is put before us. There will be a lot of prospectuses after the war and allurements telling investors what companies to join. There will be golden bricks, I daresay, as in the past, but surely the House of Commons ought to be the last place from which to delude the people outside in regard to a programme which they are not sure is going to be put into operation. I do not want to go about deluding people with specious promises and telling those who have sons at the front, those who are flying and those who are going to sea that there is truly going to be an England for them in the future not like it was in the past. After the last war England was going to be a place fit for heroes to live in, but surely we cannot tell the tale again. That tale is a thing of the past. We have to be honest. It ought not to be hard to be honest if you are true to yourself, but if you are going to work in combinations [Interruption]. There is one thing about this House. No matter whether it is a slip of the tongue or not, they all understand it.
I do not profess, to be an economist. I do not profess to come from any of the gilded chambers. I do not profess that I have been sent in as a derelict. I want Members to understand what. I am saying—simply and solely to be got rid of. I came here to have a voice and to give my opinion and, if possible, my experience on the Measure which it is suggested we shall have later on. I should like to ask the Minister, or anyone who is responsible, whether this matter was ever thought of seriously, and when it was suggested that an omnibus Motion might be brought in which everyone ought to agree with and the whole House disagree with and no one be any the worse for. I wondered whether there had been any kind of family arrangement about it, because it appeared to me that there is nothing in any discussion that could arise here which would cause any difference of opinion in any part of the House or in the world outside in a three days' Debate on this world-wide international problem which could not be solved in the House of Commons because of the restriction of its space. Therefore we have to wait for world opinion. Therefore I thought, What is it brought about for? Is it just for a little waiting time and breathing space to let the House of Commons get over something and wait for better things to come, or is it to keep the Coalition in power, or rather in operation? What is its purpose? I cannot find out in my own mind. There is no one else responsible. I would not ask anyone else to be responsible for my thinking. I am only responsible for my own thinking. It may be absurd, but I have arrived at the conclusion that you can go on talking as much as you like, and it will not make much difference.
I do not want to deal with all the subjects enumerated in the Beveridge Report. If in its general outline it is made a reality, and if the House means to get down to work to make it an absolutely working proposition, I am in full agreement, but that if we are going to have a debate on the lines of the Oxford Movement or something like that, which is not going to cause any enmity, it is a fine recreation and pastime for Members of the House of Commons. I only want to speak about one particular section, not that I have not lived in the world with my eyes open and been able to say a word or two, but because at least I know something about the subject that I want to speak about. I have had 30 years' experience. I was surprised at my friend on Merseyside who said I had better say something about it. I must say it myself because, if I do not, I do not suppose anyone else will say anything about your humble servant, so it is as well to let the House know, otherwise I shall get no approbation. I am only doing this as an advert. The Beveridge Report deals with National Health Insurance. From the first day that it came into operation down to this moment I have been operating National Health Insurance in a humble capacity as general secretary. If I showed Members some of the circulars I have received telling me how to manage a society, they would have to consult their lawyers to get to know the meaning of the Regulations which have been sent to many societies.
I should like the Attorney-General to deal with one point. Approved societies did not meet with much approval in the beginning, and I did not find people falling over themselves to take this refreshing fruit of 9d. for 4d. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) had to threaten certain bodies with what he would do. The medical profession were very difficult to get into working operation. The trade unions and other bodies began to think that their ordinary funds were going to be handicapped and dealt with. But at last it came into operation, in July, 1912, and we have had it operating for 31 years. One would think there was a kind of lease and lend operation with it, or that it was to come out, like some contracts that are given out in Liverpool when you send your bill in after the job is done and no one can tell what the cost is and there is no examination. We had an Audit Department, as fine a body of men from the point of view of examination as I ever came in contact with. It is suggested in the Beveridge Report that a great change would come, to the benefit of the people, if approved societies disappeared. That may be a matter for debate, but surely, if one comes to analyse the position, it will be necessary to point out what they know who say these things, and what they know who operate the system that has been going on for so long. What do I find? The service is a national service which has selectivity in regard to its members. Selectivity in any well founded society must, from the point of view of revenue, give security.
In other words, 50 working weeks with 50 stamps in comparison with the docker or casual labourer with 50 working weeks and only 10 or 12 stamps makes all the difference between a paying proposition and one that cannot give extra benefits. A society which has all its members working will be able to build up big sums and give additional benefits. The other problem that confronts the State is that of the poverty of the people who are only casually employed. In whatever society they may be the poverty of the members results in no additional benefits being given.
Suppose the Government do away with approved societies. Let me tell my friends on the Labour benches that this is a matter which affects them as much as anybody else for it will certainly affect those trades that are not well placed from the employment point of view. It will affect every society, whether trade union, approved society or friendly society. The Beveridge Report opens out a serious position for the approved societies. The extension of the limit from £250 to £420 gave the middle class people an opportunity to come in as voluntary members. I ask Members of the House, trade unionists and all other "ists," what would they think if after their societies had gathered together funds for 31 years those funds were threatened? Societies have accumulated large investment accounts. A small society such as I am associated with, for instance, will have as much as £45,000 of money belonging to its members invested. In some of the big trade unions the invested funds run into millions. It says in the Act that if there is a deficiency on health insurance a society must make it good out of its members. Suppose the question of the abolition of the approved societies is considered, what part of the accumulated funds would the Government think they had a right to get hold of as a nest egg? I would like somebody with legal knowledge to inform me what right the Government have to take over the accumulated invested funds of the members of the approved societies?
This is a question that ought to cause some alarm. In 1912 we entered into special arrangements for starting special new benefits. In the new prospectus which the Government are about to place before the public, or to reason before the public, are they going to say to the community, "You have no right to reject our plans. You must accept them holus bolus"? I should like to know whether a Coalition or any other party can, without an appeal to the people, say that they have a right to take the invested funds belonging to the people because there is a desire to bring a new Eldorado into operation without anybody knowing what it really means. What would anybody holding a responsible position say about it when asked on the public hustings to give some information? In what manner of speech would they make a statement? I think that the diverse tongues we are told about came into existence when somebody in the early ages wanted to explain some new Bill. That is why there was a confusion of tongues. There would be a confusion of tongues greater still if on our hustings public men had to get up and explain what is now before the House. I would ask the Attorney-General or the Solicitor-General to tell us what power the Government have to take over the invested funds of approved societies, including trade unions.
I know about health insurance, too. My Friends here can put me right. I do not require to be put right from that side. My Friends are those who disagree with me honestly. I am pointing out the danger of this plan to trade unions, approved societies and friendly societies. The great danger to the whole scheme of approved societies has come from unemployment. If there had been enough employment there would have been prosperity in every section of approved societies. We find logically, honestly and sincerely a desire in the poorest people that additional benefits should not be taken away. The poor demand that in health services they have the right to the best that is possible. Therefore, it comes to a question of finance. We shall always have on the dock-side a difficulty with regard to employment. I do not know that your Eldorado in the scheme for a new world will change the financial position, but I do know that no body of men will dare to operate any Act or make financial arrangements unless they are able to see that that point is met.
Therefore, I say to the societies and trade unions that they must be very careful about accepting the specious Bills that may be handed out in connection with the new Eldorado without properly analysing the difficulties that beset them. It does not make much difference to me; my life may not be very long, but others will follow and I want to know what they will get. What do the approved societies want? What do the Ministry of Health require? We require for all people free dental service. We require, whether people are in approved societies or not, an optical service, best hospital treatment and after-care treatment. We want all these things as part of a national service. If I understand correctly the trade unions and friendly societies may be allowed to operate this scheme because they have funds of their own which will have to be used in the service for which they were intended. I have heard of Hitler's and Mussolini's promises. I have heard of some of my pals' promises to pay back the fiver at the end of the week. But such promises do not mature and one becomes a doubting Thomas. I am a doubting David, but it is better to be a doubting David and be right than an ignoramus who takes everything for granted and finds he has made a mistake. The trouble with all of us is this—
I want to know whether the Government honestly intend to have a Division. Do they intend to bring in a Bill? If they do will they fight it on the Floor of the House and go to Division? If it is defeated will it mean the break of the Coalition? If they break will it mean an appeal to the country?
In rising to take part in this Debate on behalf of the Government, I should like to associate myself with the welcome given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) and other speakers to the Beveridge Report. The tribute which my right hon. Friend paid to the author of the report and his work came very appropriately from him, for he is in a sense the father, or perhaps I ought to say the grandfather, of this scheme. It was at his instigation that the inquiries were set on foot which have culminated in this monumental report. I have no doubt that when these inquiries were instituted there was in the minds of the Government the possibility of combining the various insurance schemes and social service schemes which have grown up piecemeal into one united plan. I am sure We all recognise the great ingenuity, the immense industry, which Sir William Beveridge has applied in the preparation of this plan, full of detail as it is, just as we must also admire the high idealism which has inspired his work—idealism combined with that sense of practical realities which one would expect of someone of his exceptional administrative experience. It is, indeed, a bold and imaginative conception, and any Minister who could come down to the House and announce that the Government accepted the plan in its entirety and would immediately take steps to bring it into operation might justly feel both proud and happy. That is not exactly my position to-day. But I am not going to strike a pessimistic note, and my right hon. Friend will see before I sit down that I shall have been in a position to give quite a number of fairly definite assurances.
The Report, since it saw the light of day at the beginning of December, has been under close study by the Departments concerned and by Ministers. It covers a vast field, and the amount of intricate detail which is involved has perhaps hardly yet been fully appreciated. The Government's study of the matter is yet by no means complete, but we are ready to-day—not to make final pronouncements, not to announce the acceptance of definite commitments—but to announce our general attitude towards the main principles of the scheme recommended; but any provisional conclusions which I or other speakers on behalf of the Government may have to indicate will be subject to reconsideration in the light of the Debate. Nevertheless, it seemed to me that it would be helpful to hon. Members to learn the result of the consideration which the Government have given to the scheme so far as it has gone. May I say at once that the general lines of development of the social services laid down in the Report are those that the Government would wish to follow? That does not mean, as indeed my right hon. Friend indicated, that all the main features of the Report commend themselves equally, and I shall have some detailed comment to offer on a number of points before I sit down. I must first deal with some general considerations.
The right hon. Gentleman is reading a statement to the House. He is indicating the Government's reply to the speech made by my right hon. Friend. He has already told us that what he proposes to say is purely provisional and therefore cannot be relied upon as a definite statement of Government policy. In that event it is not much use listening to him.
Will the hon. Member permit me to develop what I have to say? I am sure the House would expect me to address myself first to the financial aspects of the matter. The expenditure which is inevitably entailed in any scheme of this kind is indeed formidable. The Beveridge plan involves in its first year substantial increases in the sums to be provided for "social insurance and allied services," to quote the title of the Report, by taxpayers, by employers and by workers. The charge on the employers and workers does not vary much in future years. The charge on the taxpayers, on the other hand, increases steadily year by year, and by the 20th year it will have grown by £168,000,000 as compared with the first year. Even then it will be by no means at its peak, although at a distance of time of more than 20 years estimates must, by the nature of the case, become in some degree conjectural.
Obviously, no one can pronounce now with certainty on the financial position at the end of the war. We know neither what the national balance-sheet will look like on the basis of existing commitments, nor what new claims we may have to meet, nor what orders of priority may have to be laid down, and it will certainly not be possible—it is my duty to say this—1o meet in full all deserving claims. Among the existing services which are developing and on which no new decisions of policy are called for—items which one would think would be the easiest on which to make estimates—future estimates—involve assumptions, and the assumptions we might make might or might not prove to be well founded. To give only a single illustration, the future cost of interest on the National Debt will depend upon when the war will end, when borrowing will cease, and on the future rate of interest. As to items on which developments of policy are under consideration, there are few which have reached a degree of definition that would permit the making of any- thing but the roughest forecast, and in regard to yet others, including international security and the restoration of trade, to which I shall refer in a moment, the conditions which will govern the provisions which we shall have to make will only become clear when the war is nearer its end than it is to-day.
This, of course, is only one side of the account. On the other side is the question of taxation, and there the problem will be how much can properly be levied consistently with the maintenance of employment at the highest attainable level when incomes are no longer of their present size.
A time will come when difficult decisions will have to be taken, perhaps on material not wholly adequate. The time for such decisions is not yet. What we must do now is to see that we neglect no steps by way of preparation which can reasonably be taken without interfering with the war effort. If our approach is over-timid, we may defeat our own purpose. We must face the tasks and the problems of the future with confidence, courage and determination. The Government say, therefore, "Let us not be deterred by doubt as to finance from putting our plans into shape." Apart from social insurance, which must take a high priority, there are education, agriculture, housing, roads, forestry, civil aviation. Colonial development, all matters referred to by various hon. Members in this Debate. Work is proceeding on all these matters, but it must be months yet before the Government can be ready. We have therefore time, and we shall need it all, for in this matter of social insurance, as I have said, there is a vast amount of detail which must be sifted, and protracted discussions are inevitable. In the meantime there can be no commitment. On the other hand, nothing will be lost by the inevitable delay. The scheme will be worked out as rapidly as possible to the stage of draft legislation, and by the time that stage is reached other plans will, no doubt, have been correspondingly advanced. The Government and Parliament will have to take their decision in the light of the fullest information as to the financial situation that can be made available.
Here may I digress for a moment? My right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield spoke as if he thought it might be possible to adopt this plan by instalments. I am not clear exactly what he had in mind. I can say, of course, that once the plan in its integrity was adopted it could be brought into operation by stages, by some such device as appointed days. On the other hand, according to the scheme of the Report the various parts of the scheme—apart from the fundamental assumptions on which the scheme is based, which are outside the scheme of the Report—do quite clearly hang together. It is from that point of view that the Government have been considering this scheme. If we were to look at it as something which could be built up stage by stage, it is not clear whether we should be making any material departure from the practices of the past. I want to make that perfectly clear at this stage. We have looked at it as I think the author of the Report conceived it, as a single, coherent plan of social insurance. If hon. Members took a different view, we should certainly have to think again.
I have one further observation of a general character to make before I come to the main features of the plan. After international security, which, in the view of the Government, must be the first of our peace aims, there must come the establishment of our national economy on a sound basis, with export trade in a healthy condition and employment continuously maintained at the highest possible level. It is no use questioning whether that can be done; it must be done. Our future as a nation clearly depends upon it—and the future of other nations too. I have been told that 500,000 off the unemployment figure means, on a reasonable calculation, no less than £200,000,000 added to the national income. This problem is being considered by the Government in all its aspects, and we must see to it that we profit by the experience, the very considerable experience, gained since the last war. The scheme itself, in the view of the Government, as a scheme of social insurance, should help directly and indirectly by increasing the mobility of labour, with the added sense of security which the scheme will bring, and also by the specific provisions that are included in it for grants in respect of transfer and training.
The question naturally arises whether this basic assumption, which underlies the whole scheme, as to the maintenance of employment, the bedrock in fact on which the finance of the plan has been developed, should not first be investigated and placed at least beyond the region of reasonable doubt, before that plan should be adopted. This would obviously be a prudent course, if there were reason to expect that such an investigation might reach conclusions on which practical reliance could be placed. Unfortunately, there is no reason to expect such a result. [Laughter.] No, this is a very serious point. No conclusions could be drawn except by making further assumptions equally incapable of proof, with regard to the many important factors involved. In these circumstances it has seemed to the Government that the acceptance or rejection of this basic assumption must depend, not on the prior demonstration of its validity, but on whether it is considered, not merely by the Government but by all concerned, to be something to achieve which we all intend to strain every nerve. It is on this basis that the Government adopt the assumption. So much for one, and the most important, of the three basic assumptions. The other two, the introduction of a comprehensive medical service and the institution of a system of children's allowances, the Government also in principle accept.
May I deal first with the problem of a comprehensive medical service? This assumption implies the reorganisation of the various existing services—the panel practitioner system of National Health Insurance, the existing general and specialised health services of local authorities, the major hospital and institutional services and so on—and their development into one unified and comprehensive service. By "comprehensive" I mean, first a service covering the people as a whole, and secondly the inclusion of institutional treatment. This latter is viewed in the Report as a service organised, not by the proposed Ministry of Social Security, but by the Health Depart-
ments, designed for positive health and prevention as much as for treatment and cure and, in the words of the Report itself:
to ensure that for every citizen there is available whatever medical treatment he requires, in whatever form he may require it,
Yes. The Government welcome this conception of a reorganised and comprehensive health service. The conception does not necessarily spring from the particular social security structure with which the Report is concerned. It is, in fact, the consummation of a general process which has been going on steadily, if piecemeal, under successive Governments for a great many years, a constant movement to improve and make more comprehensive the personal health services. The Health Departments have, in fact, been developing this idea for some time. Some 18 months ago the Minister of Health announced the general lines of a plan for reorganising the hospital services. The preparatory work of this plan has gone on steadily ever since. Also, the Health Departments have been devoting attention to other aspects of the personal medical services, including particularly the draft interim proposals of the British Medical Association Planning Commission, and other professional views about the future of medical practice. It would be premature to attempt to formulate now the details of the new scheme, and there is, of course, no attempt to do so in the Report. On all these matters, the Health Departments will seek the help of those main organisations, local authority, voluntary or professional, on whose active participation the success of any new reorganisation must depend. In consultation with them, the shape of a reorganised service will be worked out, and then the necessary legislation will be prepared. For the moment, it may suffice to indicate some of the main, governing features which must, as the Government see it, determine the general nature of the reorganisation.
The object is to secure, through a public, organised and regulated service, that every man, woman and child who wants it can obtain, easily and readily, the whole range of medical advice and attention, through the general practitioner, the consultant, the hospital and every related branch of professional up-to-date methods. The fullest possible use must be made of existing resources, including existing public services, such as the tuberculosis, cancer and other services of the local authorities. The idea of the new service must be one of the co-operation of public authorities, voluntary hospitals and other voluntary agencies, and the profession, towards one common end. There must be no doctrinaire scrapping of good existing resources, nor must there be overlapping. Nevertheless, the responsibility
On a point of Order. There is, Mr. Speaker, in this House, a well-established convention that Ministers are permitted to read statements, when those statements are of Government policy, involving the careful weighing of words; but the right hon. Gentleman started off his speech by saying that whatever he proposed to say was entirely provisional. I submit that in these circumstances the right hon. Gentleman is not entitled to be exempted from the rule that speeches ought not to be read. Further, in my submission, if his speech was a statement of fixed Government intention, the language of which would be weighed carefully afterwards, there would be an excuse for reading it. There is no excuse, in my submission, for reading something which is purely provisional.
We are at the beginning of a three days' Debate. Will you, Sir, from the Chair, ignore hon. Members on these Benches and those Benches if they bring into this House a manuscript and read out from that manuscript in the same way as this abominable abuse is disregarded?
I think hon Members might have a little consideration for the nature of the task which I have. I suggest that I should be treating the House with scant courtesy if, when making pronouncements—
—which are of great importance I did not study very carefully the words I used. Everything I am saying represents a pronouncement on Government policy, subject only to one overriding consideration to which I referred. If hon. Members think that the statements I am making are of no importance, I shall be very surprised. [Interruption.] I expect ordinary courtesy, even from the hon. Gentleman. Nevertheless, the responsibility for seeing that in any area the service is full and efficient must be on one ultimately responsible public authority. Public health must not be many people's business and nobody's responsibility. Experience justifies putting this ultimate responsibility in any area on to the well-tried local government machinery, working very often over larger areas perhaps and certainly working in consultation and collaboration with voluntary agencies. Professional interests, the well-being and integrity of the medical profession, which is not only one of the oldest and most honourable in this country, but on which the success or failure of any scheme will inevitably depend, must be amply and properly safeguarded. The Government recognise that the-profession itself is approaching this major reorganisation in the progressive spirit which is expected of it. Perhaps most important of all, it is necessary to maintain to the greatest possible extent the principles of free choice of doctor and of the family doctor relationship as the background of general medical practice, and conversely to create the least possible disturbance of existing association between doctor and patient. This need not, in the view of the Government, be inconsistent with the principles of group public practice at well equipped clinical centres which underlie most of the current thought on the future of family practice.
The Government have no intention whatever of forcing the new services on those who continue to prefer to make private arrangements for medical attendance or hospital treatment. Equally, the position of the great voluntary hospitals must be safeguarded.
May I say further to that point of Order that it would have been well if the hon. and gallant Member had been in the House when there were real controversial questions involved.
Generally the public health services of this country can already challenge comparison elsewhere. There is ground for pride. There is ample evidence of achievement, but now with the war and the chances of post-war reconstruction there is an opportunity to pull together many of the loose strands of the last 20 or 30 years, and build up the whole service on rational lines until it justifies in every sense the word "comprehensive." This opportunity will be quickened by the mass return of young doctors from the Forces. It is an opportunity which must not be missed, and the Government do not intend to let it be missed. There is one word of caution which ought to be uttered. There is in regard to certain forms of treatment, notably dentistry and ophthalmology, a marked deficiency of personnel.
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves that point, would he say whether what he describes as the unified and comprehensive medical services are to be available for all members of the community, irrespective of their incomes?
That is what I said. I said it was comprehensive in two senses; it would cover all forms of treatment, and it would extend throughout the community. That is the intention of the Government.
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves that point, may we have this clear? When the Minister of Health last discussed the position of voluntary hospitals he said that no decisions would be taken in view of the conferences which were going on. Are we now to accept it that the Government point of view, despite that statement, is that voluntary hospitals must be safeguarded?
I have indicated the plan on which the Government are working. Consultations are still proceeding. There is nothing I have said which is inconsistent with what the Minister of Health has already said to the House.
The matter referred to by the hon. Member for North Islington (Dr. Guest) is one of those under discussion at present. I come to the question of children's allowances. Apart from the Beveridge Report, the Government have had under consideration for some considerable time this important and somewhat difficult problem. Before the publication of the report, they had come to one clear and definite conclusion: that whatever might be decided about cash allowances, by far the best and the most effective measure, within the limits of its possibilities, is the fullest development or the various child welfare services which bring the benefits directly to the children. It has been, and it will be in future, the aim of the Government to develop these services to the fullest possible extent. I may give some figures. Two years ago about 350,000 children were being provided with dinner at school, in England, Scotland, and Wales. Last October the number had increased to 1,000,000, and now it considerably exceeds that figure. Important proposals are being carried out now, which will provide canteens for another 500,000 children, and it is likely that during 1943 a further provision for between 500,000 and 750,000 children will have been approved. On the present showing, therefore, as a matter of current policy, not of future policy, some 2,000,000 out of 5,500,000 children in grant-aided schools will be provided with dinner before very long. It will inevitably be a considerable time before this provision of benefit in kind will reach its maximum. I am afraid it is true that there will always be some measure of inequality, and that there will always be the problem of school holidays. Therefore, the possibilities of the welfare services, which, of course, cover many things besides meals at schools, do not of themselves dispose of the arguments for cash allowances to parents, but it is, in the view of the Government, important that such allowances, if granted, should not be at a rate which would in practice prove an obstacle to the fullest development of the welfare services. Sir William Beveridge, in his report—
My right hon. Friend is presenting to the House as benefits in kind something for which mothers are actually paying. School meals are probably being consumed by the children to the extent of 1,000,000, but are not more than half of them being paid for?
There is substantial truth in that, but the hon. Gentleman might have a little patience, The Government are perfectly ready to consider extending the provision of these benefits free of cost as part of their scheme. Allow me to continue. If the House wishes to have the views of the Government on a large number of important questions that arise on the Beveridge Report it must really give me some opportunity of dealing with them. I was going to say that the Beveridge Report assumed is as the over-all average cost to the taxpayer of the meals being provided at the time when the Report was compiled. The Government aim to go far beyond that. We see no difficulty whatever in providing services equivalent in money value to 2s. 6d. per head, and even more, per week, as against the 1s. assumed by Sir William Beveridge. For that and for other reasons, the proposal of the Government is that the rate of children's allowances should be fixed at 5s. for the second and other children, instead of the 8s. recommended in the Beveridge Report. Five shillings is, in fact, the figure proposed by most of the advocates of the children's allowances scheme who have recently made representations to the Government. There is no question here of whittling down the amount, merely in order to save money. The Government are fully alive to all the implications of the population trend which is brought out so clearly in the Beveridge Report: the steadily-increasing proportion of aged persons, and the diminishing proportion of young. That rather disquieting feature of our position is a reason for taking very special care to see that undue burdens are not incurred in respect of the old at the expense of the young. If savings have to be made anywhere, we should not wish to see them made in respect of the young.
Miss Rathbone (Combined English Universities):
Is the 5s. allowance which the right hon. Gentleman put forward as an arithmetical calculation, rather than as a proposal, to be irrespective of whether the school meals service which he described is fully implemented?
Obviously, I cannot deal with every detail in these complicated matters. It is the intention of the Government to see that the provision of welfare services is developed to the fullest possible extent, and their intention is that there shall be in addition a cash allowance of 5s. per week, starting with the second child.
As the proposal with respect to family allowances is not dependent on the comprehensive scheme but on the Exchequer grant, when do the Government propose, now that they have decided that the grant shall be 5s., to put that into operation?
Let us get on, and I shall say at the end of my speech how we propose to present this matter to the House when our proposals have reached a more advanced stage.
Now I pass to the main scheme. I will not attempt to deal with many of the minor details. As I have already explained, what I am saying about the main scheme can only be provisional conclusions—but they are, nevertheless, conclusions. The first question is that of universality, which I believe to be one of the most debatable features of the plan. It is a point which was referred to in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Sir A. Gridley). Sir William Beveridge proposes to bring into insurance for the appropriate benefits, not the same for all classes, as a matter of obligation, not as a matter of choice, not merely all employed persons irrespective of income, including the excepted classes which were detailed by my hon. Friend behind me, but also all persons gainfully occupied otherwise than in employment and persons not gainfully occupied. That represents an enormous extension of the present field of compulsory insurance, and it can no doubt be argued, and argued cogently, that in a scheme for the abolition of want to which the taxpayer is to be called upon to make a substantial contribution there can be no justification for including a large number of persons who in fact will never stand in need of the benefits. The critics also point out that many persons so included may perhaps be ill able to afford the comparatively large weekly contributions. Against these weighty considerations there is, in the view of the Government, this to be said on the other side. In a comprehensive scheme providing benefits not merely for the contributor but also for his dependants, to draw any line must in practice be very difficult, and incidentally, the most difficult of all criteria to apply is the income basis, not rate of income, but annual income. It has never been tried before.
Please let me continue. It is quite impossible with these interruptions. I am not the only speaker, and I try to cover all the points that logically arise. Again, if the scheme were not universal, ample provision would have to be made for voluntary insurance, and this would not only complicate greatly the administrative arrangements but would inevitably introduce the very undesirable element, familiar to those who are practised in these matters, of what is called "selection against the Fund," a very important consideration. Finally, all experience suggests—and a great deal of experience has accumulated in this matter—that it is more than doubtful whether a satisfactory scheme could be devised for the compulsory insurance of persons who have no employer through whom the contributions could be collected, unless the scheme were universal. These considerations appear to the Government, on balance, to warrant the acceptance of Sir William Beveridge's proposals. I do not attempt to dogmatise, and the Government will review these and other provisional conclusions in the light of the Debate.
I come now to rates of benefit. On this matter also difficult considerations arise. Sir William Beveridge recommended the adoption, as a matter of principle, of the subsistence basis. I recognise that that proposal has certain definite attractions. Apart, however, from the fact that there must always be room for much argument as to what in practice does constitute minimum subsistence, the acceptance of the principle would apparently imply the variation of benefits up and down with changes in the cost of living and a corresponding variation, I suppose, in rates of contribution. That seems to the Government, on their present view, to be very difficult if not impracticable in a scheme where benefit is intended to bear a close relation to contributions and in any case, for reasons which I shall give presently it could not be applied, in the view of the Government, in regard to old age pensions.
Having said so much and having made it clear, as I did at the beginning, that there could be no question of a commitment on rates which will determine cost, until a decision can be made in the light of finance at the time of the enactment of the scheme I can give some indication of the Government's provisional view. We are clearly of the opinion that sickness and unemployment rates ought to be the same—they have in the past, as hon. Members know, been widely different—and the Government would hope that it would be found possible to fix rates not widely different from those in the Report. A point on which further consideration would have to be given is the question of the inclusion in the benefits of some allowance in respect of the first child, for whom, in the plan that I have announced, there would be no provision in the form of children's allowances. Having regard to what I have just said about benefits, I do not want to say very much more, except that the Government accept the principle of a contributory scheme with a definite statutory relationship—and here I am answering the point raised by one hon. Member—between contribution and benefit. Contributions may in fact be more, as has been suggested, than some people who would be brought under the scheme can easily bear. On the other hand, according to the scheme of the Report, if the contributions are not paid, the benefits cannot be made available.
Now I come to a question affecting both unemployment and disability benefits. Sir William Beveridge proposes that after a period of unconditional unemployment benefit, which he has fixed, subject to certain adjustments, at six months, an unemployed person should be able to continue to draw unemployment benefit, subject to attendance at a work or training centre. The Government agree that training is of the utmost importance. It would secure fluidity of labour, and they do in fact intend, and they have made a beginning, to take all practical steps to develop training schemes. The training schemes would not, however, in the view of the Government, constitute an effective safeguard against the abuse of unemployment benefit, and the Government consider that it would be vitally necessary to introduce some system which would provide a strong check against such abuse. A similar problem arises in respect of disability benefit, and here, too, some means will have to be found to check the abuses inseparable from any system of benefit of fixed amount and unlimited duration. It is the Government's considered opinion that both unemployment and disability benefit will have to be made of limited duration although the period need not necessarily be the same in every case. There might, for example, be room for the intervention of some suitable tribunal. And in the case of disability benefit an invalidity benefit at pension rates might perhaps be substituted after the prescribed period had elapsed.
In dealing with the taking of benefit from those entitled to it under the National Health Insurance Act, the possibility as now forecast is that in future there will be a limit. Therefore, it will follow that those who are now already receiving disability pension will, under the new Act, cease to get it. Do they become amenable to institutional treatment?
The hon. Member could not have listened carefully to what I said. I spoke of the continuance of benefit of a fixed amount and for an unlimited duration. I have suggested a possible expedient—not in the Report—that at some point disability benefit might give place to invalidity benefit and be at a pension rate. That disposes of the hon. Member's point about disablement benefit. But I am only trying to give the House some guidance as to the Government's present view.
May I take it that under the present Act a person entitled to 10s. a week disablement benefit will have to come under the invalidity scheme and, therefore, at a lower rate?
If disability benefit were on a pension rate, surely that would not be below the present rate of disablement benefit. Let me say that there is no question of the Government trying to dogmatise on these difficult matters, on which there is a very great deal of experience. Government Departments have a great deal of experience, and it is only right that the Government should endeavour—although some parts of what I have to say may be unpopular—to give whatever guidance they can. May I add that if existing schemes are to give place, as I personally hope, to a new unified scheme, there will be a great many transitional problems, which are not worked out in the Report? They are alluded to, but they are not worked out. The Government will have to work them out but there will be no disposition to resort to inequitable or confiscatory methods in dealing with existing beneficiaries.
I pass now to the question of old age pensions, which is certainly one of the most difficult features of this Report, if only because of the very heavy cost involved. Hon. Members may have noticed in the Report that the cost of the pensions for which the Report provides is no less than £300,000,000 per annum in 1965. Under the plan, contributions would be payable, but full benefit would not be available to anybody for 20 years. Now, the pension proposals in the plan differ in one material respect from the proposals governing invalidity benefit and unemployment benefit. In the case of those proposals, contributions, for the most part, pay for the benefits as they go along. There is a question of accumulation in the case of health insurance. On the other hand, in the case of a pension provided under a contributory scheme, you have a benefit which is wholly deferred, not partially deferred, like the death benefit. Once contributions and benefits are fixed, a very heavy commitment running into many hundreds, if not thousands, of millions of pounds would be immediately entered into. I have to say quite definitely that the Government have come to the conclusion that they could not at this time, in view of all the uncertainties of the future, contemplate that' particular feature of the scheme, a feature under which a contribution is to be settled now that is to be imposed by legislative enactment, so that pensions become payable at a specified rate rising over a period of 20 years.
The Government definitely prefer a different approach. They would prefer fixed contributions and benefits now. It may be that the initial pension may be somewhat higher than that recommended in the Beveridge Report, having regard to the existing assistance grants, and to the proposed benefits for invalidity and unemployment. It might be thought that the initial pension benefits proposed in the Report are on the low side. The Government would prefer a fixed contribution for a fixed benefit, even if benefits are somewhat higher than those proposed in the Report. If Parliament later liked to decide—as they might do—to give increased pensions, then, in the view of the Government, the matter should be reopened and an increased pension should be granted with suitably increased rates of contribution. That is all I have to say with regard to the pension proposals of the Report, except to explain to the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. Logan) that special transition arrangements would be necessary in view of the large number of voluntary insurance schemes which are now in existence and towards which, in many cases, people are paying sums which they would not wish to go on paying in addition to the contributions payable under this plan.
I was not saying anything about that; I was talking about the Beveridge Report, which recommends a certain rate of pension, that rate to be increased over 20 years. What I indicated was that the Government prefer a definite rate of pension and a definite contribution, even if that initial rate is somewhat higher than that recommended under the Beveridge scheme.
It is understood that the pensions rates bear no relation to the comprehensive contribution stated by Sir William Beveridge as the actual pension contribution itself. Do I gather that there will be a separate, independent old age pension contribution and old age pension rate of benefit?
No, we do not contemplate that at all. We contemplate the inclusion in a comprehensive scheme of provision for old age pensions, not as proposed in the Report at a certain initial rate, rising over a period of 20 years, but at a definite fixed rate.
I will not take up more of the time of the House than I can help. I come now to the question of workmen's compensation. Under the Beveridge plan the industrial accident risk is to be lumped in with the other risks covered by the scheme. The Government recognise that there are definite advantages in that plan. There is the great advantage of simplicity. There is also the consideration that the adoption of the plan might reduce the possibilities of friction between the worker and the employer. On the other hand, there are certain marked disadvantages. Including the industrial accident risk in the general risk covered by the contribution might be thought to weaken the incentive to safety which is present under the existing plan, but still more important, it might be thought to go too far in the direction of relieving employers of all responsibility for finding employment for their injured workpeople who are permanently, though not totally, disabled, a responsibility which is brought home, at any rate financially, under the existing scheme. [Interruption.] I am not being argumentative. I am only indicating the arguments for and against, and am not taking a controversial line. There is also in the scheme a very novel feature, which is that under it the workers, through their contributions, would be contributing to the accident compensation among other things.
Then, again, the plan proposes a separate levy, apart from the contributions altogether, on the specially hazardous industries. Finally, it does seem difficult to the Government to justify the higher benefit which the Beveridge plan assumes after the first 13 weeks when the ordinary rate of disability benefit gives place to a special compensation rate based on earnings without any special contribution. Apart from the specially hazardous industries, the burden of that special rate after 13 weeks would, under the scheme, fall on the general contribution. For all these reasons, the Government take the view that this particular part of the plan calls for further consideration and the Government would wish to look at the whole matter again in the light of this Debate.
I now come to the very controversial question of the approved societies. Under the existing system of health insurance, not only is the sickness risk separated from the other insurance risks with which it would be associated under the Beveridge plan, but there is a voluntary segregation of risk on a large scale within the field of sickness insurance itself. That was a fundamental feature of the 1912 scheme, under which insured persons were encouraged to group themselves in approved societies each of which was an independent financial unit. The question which now arises is whether the continuance of approved society as independent financial units is in fact compatible with a unified system of social insurance under which uniform contributions provide for uniform rates of benefit. Inasmuch as the approved society system is essentially a system of unequal benefits for equal contributions, however much the inequalities resulting from careful management or favourable sickness experience may be smoothed out by a measure of pooling of surpluses, inasmuch as that is an essential feature of the existing system, I greatly fear that there can be only one answer to this question.
This is no light matter. I say I greatly fear because I could not myself contemplate the passing of approved societies in their present form without very keen regret. I was closely concerned with the inauguration of the National Insurance Scheme 30 years ago. I know the formidable difficulties the societies had to overcome, and the difficulties which they successfully overcame, in the early stages of the administration of an entirely novel scheme; and when the work of the societies came under review 16 years later, I was a member of the Royal Commission which recommended the continuance of the approved society system. If the approved societies have to go now, it is not because they have failed but because there is no longer a place for them under changed conditions. It is indeed no light matter to discard institutions which have become a part of the essential structure of our social system, and therefore, if any method can be devised whereby the societies could continue to act as agents in the administration of the national scheme in some such manner as Sir William Beveridge has tentatively suggested, the Government would very gladly consider it. The Departments are now examining various alternative suggestions.
Let me say now just a word about what I think is called in the Report a funeral grant. The Government agree that such a grant—they would prefer to call it a death grant—should be one of the benefits under the unified system of social insurance. The amount of the benefit will require further consideration, as will also the transitional arrangements needed to overcome the many technical difficulties arising from the existing volume of voluntary insurance. Sir William Beveridge proposes further that the business of industrial insurance might be converted into a public service. He, however, regards that proposal as not constituting an integral part of his plan. It will be found in square brackets in the Report. The view of the Government is that with the other proposals of the Report they have quite enough on hand—[Interruption.]
I come to the question of widows' benefits. Under the existing arrangements, all widows receive 10s. a week, together with 5s. for the first child and 3s. each for other children. The Beveridge plan proposes that widows under 60 should receive 36s. for 13 weeks. Thereafter, they would be eligible so long as there are dependent children for guardian benefit of 24s., subject to a reduction for earnings, and subsequently only for training benefit. The present arrangements are undoubtedly open to criticism inasmuch as continued benefit is payable to many who do not need it, whilst payments to those who are really in need are not always sufficient. While the Beveridge proposals are designed to meet these criticisms, they may, in the view of the Government, be considered somewhat harsh to women becoming widows when elderly but not yet eligible for pension, and the Government will examine that question further from this point of view in the light of the Debate.
The Government agree that the administration of the insurance side of the entire social security scheme ought to be consolidated into one organisation. It is in their view a question whether that unified organisation should be a new Ministry or whether it should take the shape of some kind of statutory board. It is contemplated in any case that this new organisation would be set up as soon as legislation introducing the new scheme has been passed in Parliament. In the meantime, the preparation of such legislation will require a vast amount of detailed work, and while the greater part of this work will fall upon existing Departments, it may be found desirable to create the nucleus of the new combined organisation now by constituting a small body of experienced persons who will devote themselves, with the Departments concerned, entirely to the task of bringing the project, as a whole, into legislative form.
The right hon. Gentleman said it was not proposed to set up this new Ministry of Security, or whatever is to be set up, until after the arrangements for the new scheme had been completed. It is not clear to some of us what he means. Does he mean that the bits and pieces of the scheme to which he has been referring have first to be settled, and that only after they are all settled will the Ministry, or whatever it is, be called into being; or does he mean that, when the arrangements are complete, before all these details are carried out, the Ministry of Security or the board will be set up?
I would not seek to dogmatise. We do not propose to constitute the new Ministry or statutory board now. We will meet the necessities of the moment by putting the burden on existing Departments and setting up a small central staff of experienced people who will devote their whole time to the matter. The provision for a new Ministry or statutory board would be included as part of the general scheme.
The intention was that it should be under my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister without Portfolio.
I thought that at this early stage in the Debate it would be helpful to Members if I gave a general account of the stage the Government have reached in their consideration of these matters. I wish to make it clear, however, that they have no desire whatever to prejudge these weighty questions until they have heard the views of the House. Indeed, it is my conviction that, in proceeding to the next stage in the formulation of their plans and policy, it will be essential for the Government to be assisted and encouraged by knowledge of the views of Members, such as they may hope to gain from this Debate. It has been my duty to point out that there can be at present no binding commitment. Subject only to that, and what I have said about the views of the House, I have made it clear that the Government adopt the scheme in principle. No reservations that I have made will affect the speed and vigour of our preparations. In the nature of things, there could be no final commitment. Parliament, I believe, is never committed to a legislative proposal before it reaches the Second Reading stage. But the Government will press forward with the preparation of a Bill, or group of Bills, and, when this work has been completed, they will review their policy, and Parliament will have an opportunity of pronouncing on the scheme, as a whole, in relation to other schemes and in the light of the financial situation as it can best be estimated at that time.
After a decent interval to digest the voluminous and painstaking Report of Sir William Beveridge, the House is asked to do two things: First, to thank its author
and then to approve it as a valuable aid in determining the lines on which developments and legislation should be pursued. I wish to thank the author of the Beveridge Report and to express my view that the Report is a valuable aid in determining the line along which the development of legislation should be adopted. No one who has read the Report could fail to be impressed with the enormous amount of labour that Sir William Beveridge has put into it and the tremendous amount of ability shown in dealing with a vast and difficult subject. The Report is not a sort of creed to which all can give unqualified support. It is a series of propositions, with which some will agree and some will fail to agree, but they are all worthy of careful consideration. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) used on several occasions the word "inevitable," and more than once suggested that it was inevitable that the Report should be taken as it was. If that was his intention, I think he was doing less than justice to the House, which has a positive duty to consider the proposals one by one and decide upon them for itself. I think this is no case for, shall I say, conversion by headlines, or for accepting easy phrases. It is a case where everything must be examined with the greatest care by the House, which has a duty to do so, and particularly a duty towards the largely increased body of taxpayers as well as other members of the community. I think some organs of public opinion rather fell into the error of the early Christian Church, as exemplified by the Athanasian Creed, which laid down:
This is the Catholic faith which, except a man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved.
That may be all very well for the Christian Church, but I do not think it ought to apply to a Report of this kind. The dangers of such pretensions are plain. I cannot emphasise too much that this 'is a matter to which the House must give the sort of consideration that we give things on the Committee stage, where everyone is entitled to his views and everyone has the duty to give his view as he sees it. On that principle I am speaking entirely and absolutely for myself.
If it is a matter of the prevention of want, we are all in favour of preventing want. That is a matter which affects us all equally, where not one of us has a greater right to speak than any other Member. We all have a duty to see, as far as we can, that want is prevented. To that extent I am in agreement with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield. But the practical points are, Can the scheme be used as the basis of a national scheme in the national interest? And the other question is, Is this the right and proper time to produce the scheme? Although I disagree with much that is in the scheme, I at once admit that there are many points that are good and many that can be improved. I do not take the point of view that the Beveridge scheme should be condemned. As to the timing of action being taken, there are other priorities which have to be considered at the same time; nor can we consider this scheme only on its merits as a scheme. We are engaged on a war which has many vicissitudes. We cannot tell the length of the war or how we shall be committed financially. For a scheme of this sort, however, which must so obviously affect the finances of the country in the future, it must be essential that all the facts, including how we are placed financially and how our trade will recover after the war, must have consideration at the same time as the scheme itself.
Sir William Beveridge in his Report makes it clear that the finance of it depends on the question of mass unemployment. That seems to me to be the first and most vital question of all. I should have been pleased to-day if I had heard the Minister say that steps were being taken to see that schemes for the setting-up of our trade after the war were actively in being. May I mention some of them? There is our coastwise trade, which before the war got into the hands of aliens to a large extent. Active steps should be taken now to plan to see that that trade is resumed for our nationals so that our gallant Mercantile Marine will have the prospect of work when they come back. Then there is the question of the manufacture of machine tools. That is a trade which we could easily build up to such an extent that it would relieve the unemployment and at the same time save the scheme of much burden of unemployment. Plans now could be made for the fishing industry. There are endless opportunities of planning for industry. The Government should consider them even before considering the scheme. We were all glad to hear the Lord President of the Council say that he is putting some of the schemes before the House comparatively shortly and that the rest of the Report will be examined with care. It will give an opportunity to many of us who object to certain features of the scheme to make our objections.
This should be no party matter. So far as we are agreed on the general aim in the Report of obtaining freedom from want, there can be no question of any party issue being raised. It is wrong to regard one's approval or disapproval of the scheme as intimating our association with one party or another. It is wrong, especially in war-time, to suggest that one party should, like running a race, be allowed to wear the party colours of Beveridge so as to become the popular favourite.
I am in favour of a scheme of social insurance. I always approved of insurance. I always thought that those who come back after the war should be relieved from the anxiety which many of them have had of suffering from unemployment. I also believe in thoroughly tackling the problems of sickness and rehabilitation, and particularly many aspects of workmen's compensation which are laid down by Sir William.
Freedom from want was promised by the Atlantic Charter. It is freedom from want not only of the people of this country but of the people of other countries. We who have had a standard greatly in excess of most other countries are now at this stage of the war suggesting still further raising that standard. Does it look well that at this moment, even if we can afford it, we should be planning a standard which in any other country would be regarded as comfort? Would the British public like to look on the Beveridge Report as giving them a vested interest in a comfortable existence against the claims of Poland and, it may well be, of Russia? National prosperity alone can found a claim to an easier life.
Let us consider the Beveridge Report carefully and sympathetically, but until we have provided for the prior charges to give us national security no one at this stage can say what charges will be put upon us after the war. National security is a necessary preliminary to social security. Insurance depends upon assets and not upon aspirations. Without national prosperity the assets will fail to meet our aspirations. We must bear in mind the enormous charges which will hang over our heads in connection with national security. In Russia, when Stalin came into power and wanted to increase what he could do for the Russians, he did not promise them a great many comforts. He found out that prosperity could only be founded upon the hard work and toil of the people. Now that we have lost many of our investments abroad and—for the time being at any rate, although it is only for the time being—important possessions in the Far East, we shall be infinitely poorer. It would be wrong not to face to what extent we shall be poorer and not to realise that many of the reforms, however anxious we are to make them, cannot be made if they will have the effect of putting our finances in a position in which we will not be able to do justice to those who invested their money in War Loan or to the real welfare of the people of this country whose work depends upon the general prosperity of the country. The two are inseparable.
I listened with the greatest possible pleasure to what the Lord President of the Council had to say, because it seemed clear that the Government realised that there were great dangers in pressing on too hurriedly with a scheme which is essentially controversial, though they were most sympathetic to those proposals which could give the greatest possible effect now to the prevention of want and which were within the capacity of the finances of the country. I think no other course was possible to him during war, when it is so essential that matters of controversy should be left out. I think the House will be only too anxious, as the prosperity of the country grows, to give more effect to the type of suggestion in the Beveridge Report. I feel that the country will gradually, if we are willing to face facts honestly, come to a position where more and more can be done for the working people of the country. Prosperity rests upon the hard work and ability of our people.
On a point of Order. I should like to ask your guidance, Mr. Speaker, on a matter which I think the House will agree is now of great moment. You were good enough to say earlier that you did not intend to call some Amendment on the Order Paper. Some of us have desisted from putting Amendments on the Order Paper until we heard the Government statement. Now that we have heard that statement and in order that we may foe guided as to what course we should take; I should like to know whether you would be good enough to inform the House whether you propose to call any Amendment now on the Order Paper.
I think I should be wrong if I were to do anything of the kind. Only a mere fraction of the number of Members who wish to take part in this general Debate have been or will be able to speak at all, and if I were to accept an Amendment on the Paper, that would confine the Debate to what is in the Amendment. I have done my best to consider the matter. As regards the first four Amendments on the Paper, I could take only one Amendment in any event and one cancels out the other. As regards the rest of the Amendments, they would confine the Debate very much indeed. Members would only be able to discuss the points in the Amendment, and I think that would be to the disadvantage of the House.
Further to that point of Order. It is an established practice in the House to have a general Debate and to call an Amendment at a later stage in order that the House may come to some precise decision. I respectfully submit to you that the whole country is watching the House of Commons this week, is very anxious to know what the House thinks about a very important matter of social legislation. Must the House go on record as registering a lie because we have not got the opportunity of going into the Division Lobby? The Motion is a lie as far as many of us are concerned. Must the House of Commons go on record as registering a lie on a matter in which the House and the country are deeply concerned because you, Sir, do not call an Amendment? [HON. MEMBERS: "Order!"] Really, you will have such a row just now unless you are careful.
I must be permitted to put what is a matter of important procedure. There is an Amendment on the Order Paper which expresses the will of a very large body of Members on this side of the House, and I want to know from you whether you propose to call that Amendment, because if you do not, it will be necessary for us to put down an Amendment and ask you to consider its terms. Three days' Debate is far more than we gave to calling up a million men and women for the Army, and to have three days' Debate and never to allow the House to decide this matter—well, it is nonsense. We have sent men to lose their lives, and we should have enough time in three days to discuss this matter.
The House is debating a Motion standing in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. In your original reply, Mr. Speaker, you said, what was obviously true, that only a very small fraction of the Members of the House can speak, but does not that cancel out putting the Motion itself? If because only a few can speak it cancels out an Amendment expressing an opinion, surely that circumstance cancels out a Motion equally as well. May I submit that there are two important points and that the House should in some way get an opportunity of expressing its opinion? The two points of cleavage are, first, whether to accept the full Report or to accept it in part, and then its immediate implementation or its delayed implementation. I ask whether it is not a reasonable thing that the House should be allowed to make a decision on whether the Report should be implemented at once or later, and, secondly, whether it should be the Report in full or in part. I ask you to consider adopting one of two courses, either that you put no Motion at all or that you allow an Amendment expressing another point of view to be moved. If we pass the Motion it does defeat those of us who think like myself that delay would be wrong and I ask you to allow some Amendment to be called.
There is an aspect of the matter which neither of the hon. Members has mentioned. One of the Amendments follows very closely the proposals on page 168 of the Report. Earlier to-day, Mr. Speaker, you said you would see how we got on. Now we know how we have got on. The Government have, in fact, refused to take a step as to specific proposals before Parliament contained in the Report itself, and in my submission it would be as well, whatever the procedure, if the House had an opportunity of accepting those specific proposals?
I still think that my original idea of not taking an Amendment is much the fairest way, but I did say that I would consider later how we got on. We have another two days to see how we get on. If I saw that the House was inclined to take the view that the hon. Member has, I would consider it.
In view of your decision, Mr. Speaker, it does seem to me, whatever may ultimately be decided, that it would be as well if some of our colleagues did not take up so much time in raising points of Order and making interruptions, in order that the country might get a fair indication of the feeling of Members of the House. I do not propose to speak at any length, and I hope that we shall be able to shorten the speeches, so that we may obtain a much better consensus of opinion. It seemed to me that the speech of the Lord President of the Council, put in a nutshell, meant that the Government have decided to follow the line of least resistance, to put some plans into shape but not into operation. If that summary is correct, I think it will be received with the very deepest disappointment throughout the country. Since this Report was issued most of us have spent a great deal of time—I have at any rate—not only making speeches about the Report, but listening to what other people had to say about it. We have tried to make up our minds and to convey our impressions to this House. The first part of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman reminded me of a general fighting a delaying action. In the second part he changed altogether and indicated what the Government proposed, and the rather vague plans that they had in mind. I hope that what he said is not the last word of the Government on this matter. It seems to me that the plans of the Government are open to objection, if they say there are so many other considerations to be taken into account and so many other aspects of the problem to be looked at, that they cannot rush into legislation now. As soon as the war is over the House will be overburdened with legislation which will have to be got through. If we leave this matter of legislation until hostilities have ceased—
The right hon. Gentleman did not take exception when I said that one part of his speech indicated that the decision of the Government was to put the plans to shape, but not into operation.
Perhaps the right, hon. Gentleman was more optimistic and definite than I took him to be. I followed his speech very closely and I did not get the slightest inkling that the Government had decided to do anything, apart from putting the plans into shape, and that for that purpose the right hon. Gentleman had set up a small body of people, who would be responsible to himself, to prepare the plans so that legislation should be ready. I was under that impression and I thank the right hon. Gentleman for removing it. I think other people will feel that the attitude of the Government is not to put any legislation before this House until after hostilities have ceased.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman very much for that statement. I am not sure how far the Government have appreciated the strong feeling in the country over this Report. The overwhelming majority of people are in favour of these proposals. The right hon. Gentleman will realise that it is always right to spend time in this House, considering the difficulties and perplexities of such problems, but if he went from day to day about the ordinary constituency, he would find that people now take an entirely different view from what they might have taken before the war. The fact that we have surmounted so many difficulties, and got out of so many apparently impossible positions and tight corners has made a great difference. To stand up now on a public platform and try to explain the difficulties of such schemes as this, as I have done to scores of people in my constituency, reveals that people remain absolutely unmoved. They know the difficulties. When I explain the finances of the scheme people smile and ask: "How much per day is the war costing?" One old man said: "Are we not prepared to go on with this war for ten years if necessary in order to destroy the Nazis?" That is the kind of attitude in the people of this country which we politicians find when we address meetings.
People have something different in their make-up from what they had before the war. Something has happened to them. They have had bombs of all kinds dropped upon them and they have stood up to it month after month. They have borne it all with wonderful patience. But a change has taken place. They have a kind of spirit which I have never seen before, a spirit of determination. Newspapers and statesmen have told them they are heroes for the way they stood up to the blitz, but they do not believe it themselves. They say they did so because they could think of nothing else to do but to stand up to the bombardment. At the same time, while they are not expecting the reward of heroes, they are expecting that as big a sense of urgency and as much drive and energy will be applied to post-war problems as are being put into the war effort. They say that if we are asked to do all we know to defeat Hitler, the same attitude should be adopted to defeat the spectre of unemployment. Parliament is on its test in this Debate. It would be dreadful if people outside were to lose their faith in Parliament. There will be a danger of that, if they get it into their heads that we are going to shilly-shally about with this matter, and we are not going to make clear-cut decisions and get on with it.
There is only one other point I wish to make. In all the consultations I have had, in all the inquiries I have made in my constituency about this question, one thing which impressed me more than anything else was the prevailing attitude towards the fact that the present old age pensioners have been largely overlooked. That feeling is almost predominant, not only among the old people themselves, but among others. The old age pensioners have had a difficult time; they are having a difficult time now. In my part of the world they call themselves—and most people agree with them—the forgotten people. They see the younger generation earning larger money than they ever earned when they were young, and enjoying also the prospects of this scheme, which will provide greater advantages than they ever had. They do not understand why they should have been so largely overlooked in these proposals. I do not know that it was the right hon. Gentleman's business to deal with that matter to-day but I hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer, before this Debate finishes, may have something definite to say about what the State proposes to do for the present generation of old age pensioners. I think the country is expecting it, Members to-day were supplied with what is called a Gallup poll, which is an expression of public opinion. Extraordinarily enough, the statement I have made occurs in that report. It has been my experience, and I think it has been the experience of most hon. Members, that the position of the old age pensioners is one of the outstanding questions at present.
If I might sum up my impressions from the attitude of my constituency—I am not pretending to speak for anyone else—I would say that an overwhelming majority of my constituents want a social security scheme. Secondly, they would like to see Parliament, which is united to win the war, continue to be united to put the scheme through, but in months rather than in years. Thirdly, they want the operation of the plan speeded up. I think the right hon. Gentleman made a statement bearing on that point. A plan which will not come into full force for 20 years does not seem to appeal to them very much. Finally, and above all, they demand better pensions immediately for the present old age pensioners.
In common with every other hon. Member, I propose to read very closely the speech made by the Lord President of the Council. I am confident that there was more in that speech than we were able to appreciate at the time, but it is quite apparent to me, while that speech goes a long way, that, in spite of the assurances given, the battle for winning the adoption of the whole of the main principles of the Beveridge Report has not yet been won. The earlier speeches on this Motion seemed to take for granted that the case for the adoption of the Beveridge Report was understood and had been made out. I think it would be a mistake, in a three-days Debate, for that assumption to continue. It would be well if the basic case for the fundamental suggestions of the Beveridge Report were really made on the Floor of the House.
After the speech of the Lord President of the Council the responsibility upon those who take part in the Debate is, obviously, all the greater. The right hon. Gentleman time and again used such phrases as "subject to the adoption," "would be influenced by the Debate," "would take into account the points made in the Debate." I commend to hon. Members, therefore, the idea not of approaching this problem as if every hon. Member was an acknowledged expert on social insurance, but of giving the facts and the evidence in support of the Report, so that the House and the Government may reach conclusions, with the views of hon. Members well and carefully stated in support of it. A very large body of legislation in this country has been preceded by an extremely critical analysis of the previous situation—factory legislation and sanitation legislation are examples that come to mind. When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) had the happy thought of instituting this survey in June, 1941, and of asking Sir William Beveridge to make it, he gave to Sir William many of the attributes of a surveyor. Sir William was entitled to look at the structure of the edifice of social legislation in this country, and to serve a schedule of dilapidations, structural defects and things wanting repair. Whatever the benefits which Sir William Beveridge has conferred upon his day and generation, probably the part which will be best remembered is his critical analysis of the defects of the existing system.
An hon. Member behind me said that we, who had been in advance of the rest of the world, should not handicap ourselves by voluntarily imposing upon ourselves burdens in excess of our capacity. That suggestion is not in accord with fact. Many of our social reforms have been admirable, but in the realm of social security, our record is not very flattering. If hon. Members will take the trouble, as no doubt many of them have, of comparing the legislation of this country with that of a number of other countries, and will devote attention not merely to the Beveridge Report but to "Approaches to Social Security," issued by the International Labour Office in Montreal in 1942, they will find a number of interesting facts: that many countries—Germany, Holland, Sweden, Switzerland, Czechoslovakia, Austria, some of our Dominions and to some extent the U.S.S.R.—have systems of social security which contain, in some cases rather more and in some cases rather less, features of great attracttion and with which our own system does not always favourably compare. I commend to the very careful study of hon Members this most valuable booklet, and in particular chapter 3, which gives interesting instances of systems of social security in force in a number of other countries.
It is, of course, extremely pertinent to remember that this idea of social security means the opposite of insecurity, and perhaps one of the ways in which our systems have hitherto fallen short is that they have not always paid as much attention as others on the Continent of Europe to what one might call the constructive side. Whether in terms of national health, of workmen's compensation, or of rehabilitation, there is a great deal to be said for preventing the happening of calamity, as well as for remedying the financial consequences once calamity has occurred. Hon. Members who represent industrial constituencies will have been shocked, as I have been, by finding cases of an income coming into a household of 15s., as it was before the war, or 18s. now from National Health Insurance benefit. In a number of countries, which are listed in the book of the International Labour Office to which I have referred, hon. Members will find that in parallel conditions on the Continent, the National Health Insurance benefit in these circumstances would be 50, 60 or 80 per cent. of the normal weekly earnings. Fifteen shillings or 18s. a week is an impossible sum and I commend to the House the study of this side of social security which deals with lessening the impact of insecurity, as well as providing security in the sense of an income level such as Sir William Beveridge suggests.
The idea that social security should now be entirely overhauled is well timed. In all countries there are those who fall by the way. They are the objects of social assistance. The next development in our own country was in 1908—the old age pension—and in 1911, National Health Insurance, but in Germany under Bismarck in 1882–83 social insurance was the next step to social assistance, and probably when the history of our times comes to be written it will be found that the greatest contribution towards the idea of general social security was widespread social insurance—social insurance being somewhere between social assistance and commercial insurance. In commercial insurance, as the House will appreciate, there is an attempt to approximate the money payment to a risk of financial loss, but in social insurance, all the parties being members of one community, there is a recognition of something other than financial loss, something other than an approximation of a premium; there is a recognition of the community spirit and indebtedness to the less fortunate members of the community. So, the idea has developed, social assistance and social insurance, now leading forward to their natural corollary,' a measure of social security.
In dealing with all problems of this immensity, there are bound to be blemishes in any report. It does not follow that because Sir William Beveridge has been so excellent a critical surveyor in looking out cracks in the existing system, that he is necessarily the best architect of the elevation of the system which is to take its place. The contributions of surveyors and architects are essentially different. There are many of the proposals that Sir William puts forward which are very attractive, and some which, I venture to think, are more amateur, but these are matters of debate. No hon. Member in this House who has had experience of piloting a really large Measure through this Chamber will be unaware of the immense value of the document called "Notes on Clauses." It is as different as chalk is from cheese from the actual legislative Measure. It is a carefully prepared draft. It has the whole of the arguments for and against, the history and experience of other countries, the mathematics of the Clause, examples of the Clause, what should not be said about the Clause and indications of pitfalls. Hon. Members know it well, but some hon. Members are now running the risk of confusing the Beveridge Report, which is really "Notes on Clauses" with the Measure itself, and are thinking of it in terms of legislation. It is not possible, however willing the Government may be, to say "Be it enacted" and then to have the Beveridge Report and the signature of His Majesty at the foot. There are 20 or 30 major principles which have to be discussed, dealt with in Debate, and upon which a decision has to be given one way or the other.
The value of the Lord President's speech to-day has been that, in a number of these items, he has already given a clear lead and I am grateful to him for it. Let me make quite clear some matters to which I attach immense importance. I attach importance to the spreading of the idea of social insurance on a compulsory basis for everybody. I attach importance to the proposition that approved societies and one central unit are incompatible ideas. Therefore, if the Government adopt the principle of the Beveridge Report it follows axiomatically that they cannot continue approved societies in their existing form. [Interruption.] Well, hon. Members can check their recollections in the OFFICIAL REPORT but that was the impression I received from the Lord President's speech, and as that impression tallied exactly with the overwhelming body of evidence which has been collected in other countries and in our own, I had no difficulty in realising that that would be the Government's decision. I am grateful for it.
I am glad to learn that the funeral grant, or payment, whatever you call it, without pledge as to the amount is to be included in one general national health contribution. So it ought to have been. I invite hon. Members to examine the question of the accumulations of the reserves of approved societies in relation to this wretched question of funeral grants. So long as you make funeral grants an insurance problem, by paying a premium, non-actuarial, for the risk the insurance company has to assume you are inviting approved societies to amass enormous reserve against the possible risk of claims. The number of million of pounds tucked away in approved societies as reserves against the contingency called a burial grant is really shocking. [HON. MEMBERS: "Not approved societies."] I beg hon. Members' pardon; I meant, of course, friendly societies. I used the words "approved society" entirely by accident. I was so anxious to follow the request of hon. Members to speak without reading my speech, that I actually misled my own thoughts. I apologise. What I was trying to say, and I sum it all up in a sentence or two, was that I had gathered from the Lord President of the Council, a number of extremely interesting definite decisions of the Government—or provisional conclusions, whatever he likes to call them—including valuable comments on health services.
Taken as a body, that represents a great step forward and we should all be extremely unwise if we in any way underestimated the extent to which the Government have given the Report their blessing. The method by which you translate these different matters into legislative proposals and reach a point at which a decision has to be taken on whether or not industrial insurance societies shall continue in their present form, is obviously one on which there can be more than one opinion. Whether you have a Ministry of Social Security, a national board, or a statutory body—whatever the name you give to it does not matter—it has to be something with power, something that functions, something that is accessible to the influence of public opinion.
There is an immense responsibility on this House. Having been told by the first Government speaker, the first of three on the first of three days of Debate, that the Government are to be interested in and perhaps impressed by the speeches which hon. Members make in the rest of the Debate, do let us see to it that we use that opportunity to the full. Let those of us who are believers in social security—and I am sure every hon. Member when he goes to his constituency will be forced to realise that he is interested in social security—let those of us who are interested in social security not be led away by claptrap, by vested interests, by the number of insurance agents, 36,000, who are serving with the Forces and hoping to come back to their jobs. The interests of the insured are greater than the interests of the insurers. But take the corollary. If there is compulsory social insurance for the greater number of the adult population of the country, the number of millions you collect in premium income in a year is so enormous that anybody who seeks to withdraw from that premium income moneys in the way of administration expenses or head office charges or agents' remuneration or agents' commissions, anybody who seeks to do that to the detriment of the proper return to the assured, is on trial to justify the deduction. I am not yet finally determined in my own mind whether or not this or that reform should take place, but I am absolutely determined where the onus of proof lies. It is on those who seek to withdraw moneys from the national premium income to justify the value of the services they render rather than it is for the Government to justify the abolition of the office which the others hold. I take a very strong opinion on that question of the onus of proof.
The wealthiest country, the greatest leader of Western thought, surely this country will not lag behind the best international product and example in this matter of social security. Surely, as part of the new world we are creating, we are going to have a system of social security worthy of the name. Surely, we are going to realise that this is a moral question. I conclude with the words of a great English historian:
One lesson, one lesson only, history may be said to teach with distinctness. The world is built on moral foundations. Institutions perish, customs change and alter, kingdoms rise and fall. The moral law alone is enshrined on the tablets of eternity.