I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This is the second of the Measures foreshadowed in the recent White Paper on Social Insurance. The first, which is now on the Statute Book, was the machinery Bill setting up the new Ministry and giving power to transfer to it certain functions by Order in Council. This is very different. This is a Bill which provides that help shall be given from the Exchequer for over 2,500,000 families who have more than one child. In the broadest and briefest introductory outline, the scheme is that there shall be provided a sum of 5s. for every child except the first in any family; that it shall apply to children so long as they are below the school-leaving age, with certain extensions to which I will refer presently; it applies to children living in this country, one of whose parents, at any rate, lives in this country, too; it is not payable to the authorities administering institutions; it is payable to parents; and there is to be no duplication with allowances under existing insurance schemes, and regulations may provide that there shall be no duplication with Service or other children's allowances. Lastly—and on this point a difference of opinion arises—the 5s. is, according to the Bill, to belong to the father but may be encashed either by the father or the mother. In my observations I want to say something on each of these topics.
Certainly. Our primary object in introducing this Bill is to ease the financial burden which, at the present time, oppresses parents with large families, and so promote the health and well-being of their children. Secondly, we hope that by this Bill we shall do something to remove those handicaps which, by reason of poverty, sometimes make a birth a cause for regret rather than a cause for rejoicing, as it ought to be. It may be said, "If you are confronted with serious population problems why do you not raise the rates to such an extent as to encourage people to have more children?" My answer is that this is not intended to be an answer to the complex problem which is now engaging the attention of the Royal Commission over which my Noble Friend the Lord Chancellor is presiding. It is obvious that we cannot pronounce on any of these topics unless and until we have had the Report of that Commission.
I feel myself that if we are aiming at that family allowances can, at their very best, be merely a small and partial aid to that end. After all, under any wage system as I conceive it, whether in a Capitalist or Socialist society, the remuneration which the worker gets must depend upon the services which he renders. It cannot depend upon the size of his family. The rate for the job must be the same, whether the man is a bachelor, or has one child, or has a large family. The needs of a father of a large family if he is to keep his children in a decent state and in health must obviously be very different from the needs of a man without children. What a blessing a Bill like this would have been to the Rev. Mr. Quiverful who was, as the House will remember, Rector of Puddingdale, in the Barchester novels, and who had a family of fourteen children and found it impossible, as he described it, on his small income to give them, with decency, the common necessities of life. And there was another reverend gentleman—the Vicar of Wakefield, who had six children and who was
ever of opinion that the honest man who married and brought up a large family, did more service than he who continued single, and only talked of population.
That is a robust and vigorous sentiment which we have come to identify with
Wakefield. I want to explain that our object in this Bill is not to take over the responsibility of parents or, indeed, to filch from parents in the smallest degree the responsibility which must remain theirs. We want to help them to discharge that obligation as they would desire. I beg the House not to consider this Bill in isolation but in its complete setting, with ante-natal services, maternity services, child welfare, school meals and National Health services. Still, after we have made every allowance for those schemes, not only as they are to-day but as we want to see them developed, there remains a gap, and that gap can be filled only by cash payments, to be made without a contribution and without a means test, by the Exchequer, in order that children of all sections of the community may have that equal opportunity which we all desire.
The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir W. Beveridge), in the Report which he made upon Social Services, went into this matter and recommended that there should be paid an average of 8s. in cash, or in kind, for every child in the family, except the first. The 8s. was arrived at by taking 9s. as the provisional post-war cost of maintaining a child and deducting 1s. as being an estimate of the value of the existing services.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that I proposed 8s. in cash or in kind. I am not aware that I ever proposed that. I thought I proposed 8s. in cash, and I assumed that there would be 1s. in kind as well.
The hon. Member is such a ready writer and writes so largely that I sometimes think he forgets what he writes. I would ask him to refer to Paragraph 421 of his Report, where the concluding words say:
But there may prove to be good reasons for a considerable extension of provision in kind, and this may affect differently the cash allowance required at different ages. It is not possible here to do more than indicate at 8s. per week, the average additional allowance proposed in cash or in kind.
I will do so, though I did not intend to do so. That paragraph states that the 8s. was arrived at by taking 9s. as the provisional post-war cost of maintaining a child and deducting 1s. as the estimated value of the existing services. The Report also states in the plainest terms—and this is often forgotten—that if provision in kind were to be extended beyond the present scale then the cash allowances should be reduced. In case of the reference being needed, it will be found in Paragraph 425. It is satisfactory to us to realise that great minds think alike or, at any rate, along the same lines. We have, therefore, decided to give a cash allowance of 5s., and also to give a great increase of meals and milk, which are to be free for all children in grant-aided schools. The cost of that is very considerable. When the scheme for meals and milk is fully developed it will cost £60,000,000 per annum, which exceeds the estimated cost of these family allowances, which is £57,000,000. So, I want to point out that cutting down the proposed 8s. to 5s. is not done on the ground of saving. If we take 5s. and these added allowances in kind the actual cost is substantially more than the 8s. which was proposed.
I was just coming to that, but I cannot say all these things at the same moment. It is quite true that some time must elapse before the services can become complete. I have not the Scottish statistics with me, but as regards England and Wales milk is available, at the present time, in 27,000 out of 28,000 schools, and there are 14,000 canteens which are now serving 19,000 out of 28,000 schools. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Education is naturally very keen to complete this scheme as soon as he can. He is in the very fortunate position of having the "All clear" from my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, while my right hon. Friend the Minster of Labour has given him a high priority so far as labour is concerned. He has those two assets. We all know how keen my right hon. Friend is on this scheme, and although I am not going to promise a date, nor conceal from the House that in present circumstances it must take some time, there is no reason to suppose that the time will be unduly long. I know it is said, about school meals, that the cost of them, to a considerable extent, goes in overheads, and that these overheads are to some extent wasted because there are fires in the schools and fires in the homes. It is also said that there are difficulties regarding the holidays, week-ends and so on; but on the whole the advantages of this scheme, in my view, far outweigh the disadvantages.
I would like to point out that these allowances will be available to all children, including the eldest. I believe that the physical and educational advantages which come to children from having their meals at school are very great indeed, and also that the lessening of a mother's work is very important, although, of course, it depends upon whether parents avail themselves of this opportunity or not. I dislike intensely the snobbish distinction between those who get their milk free and those who pay for it. Under this system there is less chance of diversion from the children to other and less worthy purposes. Finally—and this is not an unimportant consideration—allowances in kind are not subject to Income Tax. This scheme of family allowances, therefore, should not be considered as being simply 5s. as against 8s. It is 5s. with the vastly extended services in kind as opposed to the proposed 8s.
Schemes of this character are well known abroad. Even before the last war there were certain sectional and partial schemes in operation. I think I am right in saying that New Zealand was the first country to have a nation-wide scheme of this kind. In 1926 New Zealand introduced a scheme whereby they paid 2s. a week after the first two children so long as the family income was under a specified amount. It may be an omen for the future here that family allowances Acts in New Zealand have been rather like Workmen's Compensation Acts in this country—they have succeeded each other with considerable rapidity. Since 1926 there have been seven Acts in New Zealand, and at the present time there 10s. is being paid for each child so long as the family income, apart from allowances, does not exceed £5 10s. a week. If the income rises beyond that figure the family allowance is proportionately abated. Australia, in 1941, passed a scheme providing 5s. a week for each child in the family except the first; and Eire, in 1944, a scheme providing 2s. 6d. a week for each child after the first two. Canada passed an Act in 1944, to come into operation in 1945, under which each child is to receive from 5 to 8 dollars a month according to the age of the child, but there is a deduction after the fourth child.
No. In regard to Europe, going from Spain to Russia, and Finland to Italy, we find schemes varying in all sorts of ways, some paying cash allowances, some kind and some both. Some pay with the exception of the first and second children, and in one case only after the fourth. Some are plainly to encourage large families. In Russia, when they get to the third child, they get a grant of 400 roubles, but when they come to the eleventh child they get 5,000 roubles. In Spain, if they have two children they get 40 pesetas a month. When they get to 12 it rises to 1,080.
I pass now to some of the main provisions of the Bill. I am afraid it is rather complicated, but, with its wide sweep and intimate concern to so many families, that is inevitable. Families are not all very simple. The majority, no doubt, marry, have children and live happily ever afterwards, but I have to consider the case of widows and widowers, those separated, those divorced, those deserted, those who re-marry, sometimes more than once, and those who bring up other people's children. In all these complicated circumstances we must do our best to make sure that the allowance goes to the right person. The age of the children under the scheme is the school-leaving age, whatever that may be from time to time, or, if the children remain at school after the school-leaving age or are apprentices, the allowances go on till 31st July following the 16th birthday.
We have to define the family, if only because we are omitting the first child. We have taken as our test the test of blood. The parents' claim prevails over the claim of anyone else so long as the child is living with them, or, if it is not living with them, if they are contributing at least 5s. a week towards its upkeep. If the child is neither living with its parents nor are they contributing 5s. a week we have to consider who is the maintainer. There may be several people who contribute towards the cost of the child, but there can be only one maintainer and, broadly speaking, the maintainer is he who contributes the most. There will be exceptional cases. Parents permanently separated may have children—we ignore those temporarily separated—and disputes may arise as to the family in which the children are to be incorporated. If the parents cannot agree, the Minister has to decide. Illegitimate children are included. They normally go, of course, with the mother. The father has no parental rights. If the child is living with the mother or the mother is paying 5s. towards the keep of the child, the child falls into the mother's family. But if the mother is not living with the child nor contributing 5s. we again have to look for the maintainer. Amongst the various maintainers may be the father, but he has no parental rights.
The children would be her family and for every child except the first she would get the allowance. It is not to be paid to the authorities of institutions where children are cared for. It is payable to families with children. It is payable in respect of those homes where the responsibility of parenthood may be proving a burden. Of course, if the child is in a home or a hospital, no matter how long it may be there, we continue to pay the parent, because we think it is just in those cases that it is most important that the parental tie should be preserved. Where a child is taken away from the legal custody of the parents and is put into the care of a local authority or an approved school, we do not pay to the parents in respect of the child. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why not?"] I do not see any earthly reason why we should. The parents, on hypothesis, have neglected the child, which is taken away from them and brought up at someone else's cost. But if the child is in a home or a hospital we continue to pay the parent.
Frequently it is not both parents who treat their children badly but one, sometimes the father and sometimes the mother. The court takes the children away not merely because of neglect but because of constant fighting between the parents. I feel that, if we take away the 5s., we may tend to induce the court not to put the child away. I think that, if the court finds that one parent is not neglecting the child, we should not necessarily take it away.
So long as the parents still have the legal custody of the child, no matter what sort of institution it may be, we continue to pay the parents. They have not got the expense of the child, yet it may make a difference in regard to visiting it or sending presents. We want to keep the parental tie if we can.
Now I come to a matter of some controversy, the question of father or mother. I have no doubt at all that we must decide this one way or the other. It is no good leaving the matter obscure and ambiguous. Think of the task of a bench of magistrates who, without any guidance from us, have to decide as between two perfectly respectable parents whether the father or the mother is to have the money. Moreover, we cannot have claims from two parties. We may make it father or mother, but we must make it one of them. I think there is no insuperable difficulty to making it either. I admit that opinions may differ about the answer to the question and I will not pretend that those who had to consider it instantly came, all with one voice, to the conclusion that the answer we have selected is the right one. I think I can best help the House by stating quite impartially some of the reasons which seem to bear on both sides.
The conclusion that we have come to in the Bill is that the money should belong to the father but that either parent should be able to encash it. That has this merit, that it enables the normal family to decide for themselves what they want to do, and it really will not matter very much in a happy family what is done. After all, the father is generally the breadwinner. He brings the money in and hands it over, or some of it, to the mother. Whether he hands it all over or only some of it depends, I suppose, on the father, and a bit on the mother, too, but the point is that he can, if he likes, only hand over a part and, even if we pay the family allowances to the wife, the husband can, if he is so minded, deduct from the amount that he normally hands over the amount of the allowance, so in that sense the husband has the last word. I can imagine another sense in which the wife will get the last word. Then we must remember that under the Workmen's Compensation Acts the husband gets the money for the first child and the other children. He gets the money under the Unemployment Insurance Acts, and under the new scheme, when he is sick or unemployed, he will get the money for the first child. He pays the tax, because the wife's income and the husband's have to be aggregated. It may be that in some working class homes, if we decide to pay the mother, and the father afterwards gets a bill for tax on the money paid to the mother, he may not like it very much, but that, of course, is bound to be. Then the husband is the spouse who is primarily liable for the maintenance of the child. It is true that under the Poor Law the wife is liable if she has a separate estate. Whereas the husband is absolutely liable, the wife is only conditionally liable. These considerations perhaps tend rather in favour of the father.
On the other hand, let us look at some of the mother's points. She could fairly point to the present arrangement with regard to maternity benefit. Although payable by reason of the husband's contributions it is the mother's benefit and it is stated in express terms to be the mother's benefit. Look at Section 60 of the National Health Insurance Act, 1936, which follows the Act of 1913, and it will be seen that she alone can give a good discharge for the money. The husband can only give a discharge if he is authorised by her, and the Act expressly provides that, if he receives the money, he is bound to hand it over to her. There is another consideration. I have no doubt that, speaking of the ordinary run of families, the mother knows better how to spend the money or what the money should be spent on than the father.
There is one other point. In arguments on this matter, there used to be a fear expressed that if you pay family allowances they might be taken into consideration in fixing wage rates. The risk of that is obviously less if you pay the mother than if you pay the father. Then, of course, there are some people in this House who are anxious for payment to the mother because they think it will increase and improve the status of motherhood. It seems to me obvious that, of all the crafts, mothercraft is the noblest by far, the most important, and, I should think, by far the most exacting.
I should think that amongst sensible people these facts are well recognised. If people are so stupid as not to realise the status of motherhood and all that it means to this country, I very much doubt if they will recognise it because you pay an extra five shillings. But I know that this view is strongly felt. I saw a letter the other day in the paper from the hon. Lady the Member for the English Universities (Miss Rathbone), who has done so much to bring about this reform. She said that, as we had drafted our Bill, it looked as though it gave colour to the view that we were regarding the wife as being a mere append age of the husband. I have never met any sensible person—I have never met any sensible husband, at any rate, who regards his wife as a mere appendage—
If he is not a sensible husband, and commits one of the minor peccadillos of married life, and receives a well-merited rebuke from his wife, then, less than ever, does he regard his wife as a mere appendage. I have known cases where the wife was a mere appendage of the husband. Equally, I have known cases where the husband was a mere appendage of the wife. Speaking for myself, I am not a feminist. I am not a masculinist, if there is such a word. I am an equalitarian. These arguments about status and the rest impress me much less than some of the other arguments.
They are paid to the mother. Let us look at the precedents outside this country. New Zealand pays to the mother. Australia pays to the mother. I have never heard of any legal snags or difficulties arising, and, so far as I know, statesmen in those countries do not want to alter the system. Eire pays the father.
The Dominion of Canada leaves each of the Provinces to decide this matter for themselves. So far as foreign countries are concerned, there are precedents either way. Russia pays the mother. I would suggest that we are really in no way bound by precedents. We must make up our own minds on whatever lines we think best suits our own domestic arrangements.
Strong views are held on this matter in all parties—I think unnecessarily strong views. The Government have decided that the right course in the circumstances is to leave this matter to a free vote of the House. Before the House votes on the question at the proper time, which, I suppose, will be on the Committee stage, it is desirable that it should have the benefit of the advice of the Attorney-General lest there are some legal pitfalls and difficulties of which I am not aware. I would only like, if the House decides in favour of the payment to the mother, to be perfectly clear on three points. First, the House must realise that, so far as Income Tax is exigible on the amount, it will be payable by the father.
May I ask my right hon. and learned Friend whether it will make any difference? Is not the law that for purposes of Income Tax, the incomes of the father and mother have to be added together?
That is a correct statement of the law, but there are a good many working-class homes where that statement of the law is not realised. That is why I pointed it out in the plainest terms. I do not think there is any difference between us on these points. The second point is this. It must not be thought that by paying the mother we relieve the father from the obvious duty, morally and by law, to maintain his children. We are not letting the father get away with the idea that, as the mother is getting the money, he is quit of his responsibilities. He, of course, remains liable for the maintenance of his children. Third, when I come on the question of duplication, which I promised to speak about, there must be no dodging the issue by saying that this is not a duplication because one payment is made to the husband and another to the wife. Obviously, for that purpose we must treat them as one. Subject to these three points—and I gather that the hon. Lady will concede them at once—we shall propose to leave this matter, when we get to the Committee stage, to a free vote. There may be a slight difficulty for me because, if the decision is carried in favour of the mother, it may require rather substantial modifications in later passages of the Bill, but we can get over that if there is a short interval after the decision in order to enable me to table the necessary Amendments.
I see none, but I am not prejudging what the Attorney-General may say. He will have time to look into this matter carefully, but, as far as I am aware, I see none. I can see great administrative difficulties if you are not going to pay the father in respect of the first child. Whichever is decided, whether it is decided to pay the father or the mother in the normal case, there will be exceptional cases. You may have a case where the mother is not a fit person to be entrusted with the money and the father is a respectable person who should be entrusted with it; and vice versa. All women are not angels and all men are not devils; and the same is true the other way. We must have some arrangements for diversion in exceptional cases. What machinery shall we have for that? In Australia, it is done by the Minister departmentally. I do not feel very strongly about this, but I should prefer not to have that duty. The making of a decision to take the money from the normal recipient is a decision of character. You take away the money because the person is not fit to be entrusted with it, and if you make a decision of that sort the person ought to have the chance to go before the justices and be seen in the flesh. If it is done by the Minister departmentally, he does not see the people himself and has simply to approve what an official has done.
Why should not the decision be taken by the Minister and a right of appeal given to the person concerned, in view of the fact that we do not want to encourage law actions between parents?
I do not very much like that. I do not think it is desirable that the Minister should first decide and then have an appeal to the justices. I would rather have the applicant go to the justices first of all. This is a part of the justices' purisdiction. We passed an Act to deal with this very matter, which is embodied in this Bill, and it excludes the general public from the court and limits the right of the Press to report these cases.
I am rather in favour of following the example of widows' pensions, where the Minister's officials decide, and, in the event of a refusal, the case goes to a body which is usually a county court judge, or, in Scotland, the sheriff. I do not want to see these cases go to the ordinary courts, because they are usually regarded as criminal courts. I suggest, that in this matter the right hon. and learned Gentleman should make his mind a little fluid about procedure.
I have said that I do not attach very great importance to it, and I shall have an open mind in Committee. I want to come to the best conclusion I can, but I do not like the Minister deciding this matter depart-mentally, without giving the party a chance of being seen and heard, in a matter which vitally affects character.
Now I come to non-duplication. The general principle is stated plainly enough in the White Paper that there will be no duplication with allowances payable under other schemes. There is no difficulty in the application of this principle to allowances paid in respect of children under the Workmen's Compensation Acts, Unemployment Insurance Acts, and to widows under the Contributory Pensions Act, or for children who receive an orphan's pension under that Act. In the first three cases, the allowances are less than or are no more than the allowances which will be payable under the Bill. It is therefore provided that they shall not be payable for all children for whom an allowance has been awarded under the Bill. As regards the last type of case, the orphans receive a pension of 7s. 6d. a week. This amount is to be increased to 12s. It is, obviously, more convenient that this payment should be made in one sum from one source at one time, and not partly as family allowance and partly otherwise. For this reason, they are excluded from the Bill, and will come wholly under the main Insurance Bill.
When we come to the Armed Forces and war pensioners, whether Service or civilian, and to the police and the fire service, the position as regards allowances becomes very complex. Some allowances are greater and others are less than those payable under the Bill. The passage into law of the Bill will make it necessary to review the position in detail. The necessary review will be made and completed before the Bill is brought into force. In the meantime, the Bill has been so drawn as not to prejudice the result of the review, which may arrive at its conclusions on the basis that family allowances under the Bill are to be payable, or may arrive at its conclusions on the basis that family allowances under the Bill are not to be payable. The Regulation-making power of the Minister will be exercised in accordance with those conclusions. Now, a word about residence and nationality.
No, Sir. That was in the first group, workmen's compensation and unemployment insurance, and payment to the widow under the Contributory Pensions Act. She gets 5s. for the first child and 3s. each for subsequent children. We do not propose to pay the 5s. in addition to the 3s. The Bill is drawn on the basis that she gets her 5s. so she will lose her 3s. Have I made that quite plain?
The widow receives 5s. for the first child. The Bill does not deal with the first child. She gets 3s. for each child thereafter. Under the Bill she will lose 3s. for the second child, and consequently she will get 5s.
Yes, she gets 2s. extra. I was going to say something about residence and nationality. The Bill does not include children living outside this country. As to the parents, if the father is a British subject born in Great Britain and he or the mother lives here, the allowance is payable to them. If there is only one parent and that parent fulfils those qualifications, then the allowance is again payable automatically. Where the parent, though British, was not born in this country, or a much stronger case, the parent is a foreigner, we propose to leave it to the Regulations to decide. There will be such an infinite variety of conditions here that we think it is better to take power to deal with the matter by Regulation rather than endeavour to cope with it in the Bill itself. Equally, by Regulation we must deal with the question as to what happens when the parents go abroad leaving the children here, and what is to happen during the temporary absence of parents or child. I have already been speaking too long but that is partly the fault of the House in asking questions.
That also would be subject matter for Regulations. People are to get money from the British taxpayer. Suppose a refugee comes to this country with a large number of children; is it right or fair that he should immediately start to draw money for every child except the first, out of the British Treasury? I am not saying "Yes" or "No" but that this is a matter which we shall have to look at closely and decide what is right. The variety of circumstances is too great to endeavour to put everything into the Bill. The House must give me latitude. I shall have to learn by experience, and I have no doubt that I shall have to amend the Regulations and so get things right. I do not like to be entrusted with a large Regulation-making power, but I hope that the House will entrust me with that power in this matter.
I am not going to say anything about the machinery for making payments and dealing with arrears. Those are small matters, and are Committee points. There are two outstanding matters, and the first is in regard to claims for allowances. The principle of the Bill is that the claim should be made to the Minister, who shall allow or disallow, and then there is an appeal to referees in the event of a decision of disallowance. The referees have the power to state a case for the opinion of the court. Therefore on a difficult point of law you can go to the courts and get the matter decided. That is broadly speaking the system of the Contributory Pensions Act, which I think has worked fairly well.
No, while under my scheme you can go to the courts. Under the scheme of the Bill, I have incorporated the relevant Section of the Arbitration Act. I think it is Section 9. It enables the case to go to the courts. A word about reciprocal arrangements. The Bill provides for reciprocal arrangements with other parts of the Commonwealth and Empire. Rather a good illustration is that of Northern Ireland, who have indicated to us that they intend to put forward a Bill very much on the lines of our Bill here. If that is done, we shall be able to make an easy reciprocal arrangement with Northern Ireland, making it a matter of indifference whether a birth is registered here or there, or where the children are. I hope that we shall be able to bring about reciprocal arrangements with other places.
Now for a word about the appointed day. Hon. Members will see that Clause 27 provides that the Bill is to come into force on the appointed day and that different days may be appointed for different purposes. I am sure to be asked, "When will the appointed day be?" All we have said at the moment is that it will be after the war. It is true that on the face of the Bill it is for the Minister to say, but obviously in a matter of this importance the question will have to engage the attention of the War Cabinet. I am not prepared to-day to say anything more than that or to attempt to define what is meant by "the war." I cannot do it. I should like to point out that in Clause 27 there is power to appoint days for different purposes. There is a very great deal of pre- paratory work to be done here, and I expect I shall receive applications from 2,500,000 families, in respect of 4,400,000 children. What I want to do, even before the Bill comes into force is to try and get machinery in order and everything all taped up so that when it is decided to start the payments we may at once be able to make them. That is a very big task. It is going to involve getting a staff together and accommodation for the staff, getting an organisation and drafting the necessary Regulations and claim forms and so on. It is obvious that it could not be done without taking some time and that we could not start payments in the near future. If the Bill becomes an Act of Parliament I shall, without waiting for the date when the payment is to become operative, try to get everything ready in that way.
I have told the House, on the basis of the school leaving age being 15, that the cost is estimated to be £57,000,000 per annum and that administration costs are estimated at an extra £2,000,000. I do not claim that the scheme is perfect or final. I admit frankly that it is experimental. When it is working we shall no doubt see what development is necessary and how we can improve it. Therefore, I suggest to the House that the importance of the Bill is not merely in what it contains but lies in the fact that it is a new departure in developing the health and wellbeing of what is by far our greatest asset, the children of this country.
I am honoured, as a mere Back Bencher, in being allowed by you, Sir, to initiate the Debate on the very interesting statement we have just heard from my right hon. and learned Friend. I know that I owe that honour to the fact that I am, generally, regarded as the grandmother of this proposal, though for the past 25 years not I alone, but many others, and as many men as women, have been working at it. I think this is, in principle, indeed a very great Measure. It is great, because it introduces, not merely as will the National Insurance Bill which we hope is to follow it, the development of an old principle, but a momentous new principle. For the first time, it proposes that the State should make a money contribution, not merely to the bringing of children into the world and their education, but really for maintaining them. By so doing it remedies what I have always considered the fundamental injustice of excluding children from all share of their own in the national income, although children and their mothers together constitute between one-third and one-half of the entire population. It recognises that they have a claim to payment of money from the State.
Yet this recognition comes in so strange a form that it seems actually to contradict rather than to affirm that very principle. I shall concentrate my remarks very largely on the question of the recipient of the allowance. I know that many hon. Members, including the right hon. and learned Gentleman himself, think that I exaggerate its importance. I concentrate upon it because it is of immense importance. The proposal, in the way it is stated in the Bill, will not raise the status of motherhood but will actually lower it. It does so, whatever people may say, because it treats the wife as a mere appendage, which means literally a hanger on, of her husband, and gives her a very strong motive for going out to work, however much the children under her care require her presence, because then her wages will be legally her own, rather than continuing at home to bear more children. Secondly, it is the one defect in the Bill which, if not changed now, will probably prove unchangeable later. Men will take it quite for granted if the payment is made to the mother now, as they do in Australia and New Zealand, and as a reasonable provision. They will resent a change later, because it will seem to be a reflection on their use of the allowance.
The second reason, as the Minister has pointed out, is that the Bill will affect, in the first place, more than 2,500,000 parents, and to change the payee in such a vast number of cases will give rise to very considerable administrative difficulties. These are the reasons why the proposal seems to me so immensely important. The Bill, it is true, has other serious defects. The amount of the allowance is too small, but I leave the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir W. Beveridge) to deal with that, as I am sure he will. The age limit is too low. The maximum is 16 if the child is still at school, whereas Income Tax rebate is allowed to continue, while the child is at university or otherwise receiving full-term education up to the age of 21 at least. Also, certain large classes which the Minister has mentioned, and which I will not discuss, are, or may be, excluded from the benefits of the Bill, although as taxpayers they have to pay for them. All that can, and I am certain, will, be changed by future legislation or regulation. The trend of the birth rate will force a change. As the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed once put it, by 1961 we shall be in a panic about the population of this country. Long before 1961, whatever Government is in power will have been forced to realise the danger of the steep decline in population, and to provide a very much more generous scheme of family allowances than anything contemplated under this Bill. But the proposal of the Bill will affect the question of the future of the birth rate, and many other things.
What are the proposals? I do not think, in spite of the very lucid explanation of my right hon. and learned Friend, that all Members are quite clear about them. In the words of the Bill, where the man and wife are living together the allowance will belong to the man, and that will be so even if the wife earns every penny of the income. If the man is a rotter or a total invalid and the wife is sole wage-earner, the allowance belongs to the man. It belongs to him if the children are hers by a first marriage. It belongs to him if they are illegitimate children. I think I am right in saying that even if the children live with some other relative, if one or the other parent contributes 5s. to their support, he will be able to count the children as his and claim the allowance, though he may not have seen them, or even not know their Christian names. Further, this extraordinary arrangement can only be changed by appeal to the court, as was pointed out. Several Members have anticipated our objections to that by their questions. But how many women will dare to appeal to the court? The worse the husband is the less will the wife dare to do so. Also, the court can only name the father or the mother or the husband or wife to the exclusion of the other as payee. The court cannot nominate someone else, say an elder sister or aunt who may be living in the family and caring for the children.
Consider how that amazing proposal will work out. Probably the great majority of husbands will hand over the allowance to their wives. Why should they bother to go to the Post Office to cash it? The great majority of fathers are, no doubt, kindly, responsible men and have responsible, decent wives. But suppose we consider the proportion of husbands in the case of whom difficulty may arise. Let us say, for the sake of argument, that it is one in ten where there is a difficulty. That, out of 2,600,000 is 260,000. Say there is only one bad husband in 100. That would still be 26,000, quite a considerable number. Of that minority in which difficulty will arise there will be some cases of men who will not let the wife draw the money because they know she is thriftless, incompetent or quite unsuitable to draw it and, therefore, they rightly want her not to draw it. But they cannot nominate anyone else but themselves to draw it. Therefore, the man has to draw it if the wife is unfit. But among the minority will be greedy or selfish men who will hold on to the money. The wife is allowed, under the Bill, to draw it, but obviously only if the man consents, because the order comes to him, and it belongs to him, so that he will hold on to it if he wants to do so.
Is that not a really amazing proposal, and what is the excuse for it? What is the reason? The explanation given in the White Paper is that the man is normally the head of the household. Yes, normally, but the Bill gives him the money even if the wife is the sole provider. Even otherwise, where the husband does provide the housekeeping money, what does the wife do? She merely risks her life to bring the children into the world, often with agonising pain, and in the vast majority of working-class homes, she spends her days and hours, as they say in my part of the world, "All the hours God makes," in washing and cleaning for the children, clothing them and feeding them—all the hours of the day and night. School holidays and the week-ends bring her no remission, no time off; they actually increase the burden on the working-class mother. All that is to go for nothing, because the law holds that the man is normally the wage earner.
Again, it is argued that the man should have the money because the law holds him responsible for the children's maintenance. My right hon. and learned Friend mentioned that argument. Suppose there is evidence that the children are neglected, starved or ill-treated. Is it not the almost invariable custom that both parents are brought before the court? Only this morning there was a question about how many cases of cruelty and neglect had been heard before the courts. It turned out that there were more cases of women than men. No doubt, the reason is that the person in charge of the children is the wife. She is most likely to be held to be the person at fault by whoever brings the case. So the law does not really hold the man responsible. Again, if the wife earns the money and the man has nothing, then the wife is held legally responsible for the upkeep of the children. Actually, public opinion holds her much more responsible than the man. It considers, quite rightly, that looking after children is the mother's job. Why, in Heaven's name, not recognise that and stimulate the mother to do her job well, by State recognition?
The last defence is that it will not make any real difference; that if the man is greedy or selfish he will appropriate the money anyhow, and that if it does not come to him he will merely deduct that amount from what he allows his wife. That shows very little knowledge of human nature. For one man who is really greedy and unscrupulous there are half a dozen who are merely weak, and creatures of habit, who hold on to what is given to them. If the money is given to the mother, and if they know that the law regards it as the child's property, or the mother's property to be spent for the child, that will help them to realise that the State recognises the status of motherhood. In the majority of cases they will let her have it without decreasing the amount she receives from their income.
It is not as though there were no precedents. My right hon. and learned Friend has admitted some, and I can add to them. He said that a woman draws maternity benefit, even if the man has been the contributor. Under the Old Age Pensions Act, both contributory and non-contributory, old age pension is paid to the wife if she requests it, though the man and his employer may have paid practically all the cost of it so far as that falls on the contributor. Then the allowance for evacuated children is always paid to the moster mother, not to the male head of the household. He has also mentioned several precedents abroad, so I will say very little about them, other than that in New South Wales an Act has been in operation for over 20 years, New Zealand has had one for about the same length of time and there is an Australian Act which has only been law for three or four years. Under every one of these payment is made to the mother, except when she is judged unfit by someone appointed by the administrating authority. In France, where there has been experience of this system since 1918, there is no law about it; the allowance is paid for by the employer, but steadily, to an increasing extent, the custom has been to pay the allowance to the mother, for the purely practical reason that it is found to work best.
Perhaps most significant of all is that remarkable Russian Act the right hon. and learned Gentleman quoted, which is only a few weeks old, under which the allowance is steeply graded upwards, until the mother of 11 children gets a relatively enormous payment. It is a grimly significant precedent that here we have a country with—I forget the exact figures, but at all events with several times our population—and with a much higher birth rate, which it is doing its very best to stimulate, while we, with a birth rate lower than that of France, lower than any in Europe except Sweden and Austria before the Anschluss, are taking this very limited step to encourage it, and are accompanying the Bill which does that with something which is, definitely, not an encouragement to women to produce more children. It is sometimes argued that family allowances in foreign countries have not been successful in encouraging the birth rate. That is one of those misleading half-truths. They have not usually increased it because the amount is very small, but they have helped to check the fall quite considerably, and all those countries, even pre-war France, have higher birth rates than we have.
What do we ask? Instead of this amazing proposal we think, first, it would be better that the allowance should belong to the child, and that if there are legal difficulties about that, the wife or mother should be entitled to draw and spend it on behalf of the child, except when she is unfit—
The hon. Lady was putting a point about who should own this money. It occurred to me that it ought to belong to the child, but how are you to get over the difficulty that it is designed for the family as a whole, including the first one, and not just for the one in respect of which it is drawn?
I am not a legal expert, but no court would, I think, decide that unless a child was being kept at less than 5s. a week, the money was being misspent because it was being spent for the maintenance of the family. That seems to me common sense. But if there are such substantial legal difficulties about making the money belong to the child, which would be a good thing for psychological reasons, then make it belong to the wife, thus showing that we realise the value of her service as a mother.
Is not the real proposition that whatever is provided for any of the children should go to the augmentation of the common household fund, not to this child or the other child? We cannot expect the mother to give the second child any more than she gives to the first, who is not getting any allowance at all. They share and share alike.
Did I not say that? Inevitably, especially when the allowance is a small one, it is pooled with the family income, and nobody can say that whoever is responsible for spending it is doing wrong provided that the child gets something equivalent to the allowance. The second change we want is that it shall be possible to alienate the allowance from the original payee without requiring an appeal to the court. There would be less objection to an appeal to the court if the mother were getting the allowance, be- cause the father would not be frightened of the mother, but the mother might be frightened of the father. Therefore we want to follow the analogy of the Australian system, and several other systems, and allow the Minister to nominate somebody and to permit a right of appeal to the court. It should be possible to nominate somebody other than the husband or the wife, both of whom might be unsuitable persons.
What will happen if the House allows this proposal to go through unchanged? The Government have decided to leave it to a free vote of the House. I am glad of that, but I would rather they should decide at once, because I realise perfectly well that they have blundered into this decision: it was not a stroke of Machiavellian policy to degrade the status of motherhood. But the Cabinet is composed of men, and they cannot be expected to realise how women think on this question. I want to warn them of the intensity of women's feelings about it. They may not all have received many letters, because knowledge of this proposal is only spreading slowly, and no doubt there are quite a number of unimaginative and selfish women who, because their husbands would pay the money to them, saying: "What does it matter? It is all right for me." They should think of their less fortunate sisters. But the women's organisations are already planning to make sure that every politically-conscious woman in the country knows at the next election how her representative has voted. I took part in that long bitter struggle for the women's vote before the last war. We did not grudge all that it cost us, because it was worth it, and we got full realisation of women's citizenship through it. But I do not want to go all through that again. It was a bitter struggle, and it caused very-ugly results. During these last years, and especially during the war years, women have learned to work together with men, to play together with men, to suffer together with men. Do we want this sex grievance to raise its ugly head at the next General Election, when so many great issues will be before the country; when the whole country ought to be thinking about how the future of the peace of the world ought to be settled by those countries which are now in the bitter throes of war? Do not force us back into what we thought we had done with—an era of sex antagonism.
If the Bill goes through in its present form I cannot vote for the Third Reading, although I have worked for this thing for over 25 years. It would be one of the bitterest disappointments of my political life if the Bill did not go through. But I foresee too well the consequences if it goes through in a form which practically throws an insult in the faces of those to whom the country owes most, the actual or potential mothers, whom this country needs so badly if we are not to fall into the status of a second-rate Power. That is the possibility which is menacing us. The Government have thought again, in deciding to leave it to a free vote. I beg Members to take their responsibilities seriously, and to think again, to beware how they encourage sex antagonism—which we thought once was dead—to become once more an issue in a General Election.
I would like to begin by paying a tribute to the Minister, in which I think all who heard him will join, for the extraordinarily lucid way in which he introduced this Bill. Each time I hear him I envy him his great gifts for making things plain. Whatever our controversies, we all understand now what the Bill means: what it does and what it does not do. It is perhaps an indication of the change which has come over this country in the last 20 years that apparently the most burning question now is not whether it is desirable that there should be a system of family allowances but to whom the allowances should be paid. There was a time when over such a Measure as this there would have been very great controversy: indeed, there would have been controversy in the great movement with which I am associated. For many years the trade union movement was bitterly opposed to the demand for family allowances. I speak more freely about my colleagues who held that view because I never shared it. I was a strong supporter of the proposal for family allowances, provided by the nation out of national funds, but I understood why my colleagues were afraid of it. The earliest systems of family allowances were introduced on the Continent. They were introduced in industries or groups of industries. They were paid sometimes out of contributions by the em- ployers and the workmen, and sometimes by the employers alone, but they were an attempt to introduce a differential family wage in industry itself, and to make a distinction in the remuneration of men and women engaged on the same task, based on their sex and family responsibilities. That would not work, and it was very largely because we were definitely and resolutely opposed to it that in the very early days there was controversy in our movement.
Now opinion has changed, and the T.U.C., as well as the political movement to which I am privileged to belong, have declared themselves in favour of family endowment, or family allowances, on the principles laid down in this Bill. There are two reasons for that. We think now of this great principle which we are establishing, in a modest way, to-day not as something by itself, but as part of a great comprehensive social insurance scheme by which we shall provide security for our people. It is in that sense that we have to consider this Bill to-day, not in isolation but in relationship to the other schemes which are forthcoming. It is part of the National Insurance scheme, part of the complete structure which eventually—and in the not too distant future—we hope we shall build. I think another reason for the change in public opinion generally, and particularly in our own movement, on this subject is the fine pioneering work done in this matter, as in every other kind of social security matter, by the Labour Government in New Zealand. This is a case where the child has led the mother. In New Zealand children's allowances are provided under the general social security Acts, and are related to all the other provisions of those Acts. The success which has attended that work by our friends in New Zealand has had very great influence on opinion in this country. We regard family allowances as one contribution—an important one—to the war against insecurity, poverty, and want. We regard it as a contribution to meet particularly that kind of poverty which is related to the pressure of circumstances upon families where there are a number of dependent children still at school. We believe that we shall eventually weave all these together into a complete national policy.
We believe that we are moving slowly but surely towards a national policy which will establish a minimum standard of human needs and welfare, below which no one will be allowed to fall. We should like to increase the pace—I shall have a word to say about that before I conclude. I believe that we are working towards the establishment of a national Plimsoll line of economic security. We are all convinced now that the old 19th century argument that it needs poverty to give incentive to people is discredited and wrong. Poverty does not give incentive; it destroys it. The nation must be free from the fear of poverty and want if it is to fulfil its great tasks. In the degree to which this Measure can contribute towards that we welcome it. In all these discussions I very often have a feeling that I wish these things could be made retrospective, because I recall my own experience. I am perhaps a typical representative of my generation. I was the youngest of 10 children.
The Minister and I share that experience. I often wonder how those fathers and mothers reared a family. I was the lucky one, for I was the youngest; and the youngest was always the lucky one. When the youngest came the older brothers and sisters had already started work, and were making their contribution towards the family income. There were two ways in which parents came through that period. First, they all incurred debt. In the part of the country from which I come it was almost a custom for the family to run into debt while the first children were growing up. The second thing was that they went without. To the degree that they went without, that was a loss, not only to the children and to the families, but to this nation. We shall need every child in future, and we shall need them to be healthy in mind and body, because we shall need their contribution. I want to put forward the suggestion that this should be regarded as an investment which will bring a reward in the days that lie ahead.
Let me now pass on to review some of the provisions of this Bill, and first say something about the amounts. We accept whole-heartedly, from our party standpoint, for we have always held this view, the proposal for the mixture, if I may use the phrase, of payments in cash and services in kind. In other words, we believe that there is an overwhelming case for this mixture. We do not want, on this occasion, to enter into the merits or demerits of one or the other. Most of us think that very often the best results are obtained, by services in kind, collectively and communally provided. But we accept the Government's view, and will support the principle in the Bill, that help to families and children is to be provided in these two ways, and we shall regard them as supplementary and complementary one to the other. I do not know whether there will be any discussion upon this point, but we regard this mixture of services in kind and cash payments as one of which we shall approve very heartily.
We know, when we consider the amount of cash provided in this Bill, that it must be related to the provisions proposed by the Government for services in kind, which they estimate at 2s. 6d., so that the total allowances, in cash and kind, will be 7s. 6d. I would be very glad indeed to hear from the Minister that the Government have decided that a very high priority, in the supply of labour, materials and whatever else is required, is to be given to this great task of fulfilling and implementing the pledge to establish the services in kind indicated by the Minister of Education. I urge the Government that that priority shall be given real effect. The period of transition may be in many ways, physically, morally and spiritually, the most dangerous that we shall have to face, from the standpoint of the health of the nation. During the war itself its compelling power, and the fact that it is there, act as a kind of tonic. When it is over and the period of relaxation comes and we sit back, it may be a very dangerous period, and I urge upon the Government that the feeding of the children at school will then be as important as, and perhaps more important than, it is now. I am sure that the Minister will carry out his pledges to the House, but I ask him to urge upon his colleagues how essential it is that this provision in kind shall be made as quickly as possible.
Now I come to the amount per child, which is very important. In 1927 the party to which I belong passed a resolution in favour of 5s. per child, including the first. To-day 5s. is not what it was in 1927, or even in 1939, and, as a matter of fact, the Government do not propose to pay 5s. now but at some date in the future. What will 5s. be worth then? So far, the Government have refused to accept the principle by which these allowances are related in some way to the real value of the allowances when they come to be used by the people to whom they are paid. For the moment, we accept this Bill. We would have liked to increase the allowance; we would have liked to include the first child. We believe that that is desirable, and in every scheme which we have introduced we included a payment for the first child. I know that for the moment we have to accept this Bill, and I only mention it now because of the hope that, in 10 years' time, the amount will be increased and the first child included, for I believe that we shall realise that it is an investment that brings a good return, and that it will be an even better investment if paid also for the first child.
I come next to whether the payment should be made to the father or the mother. I hope we shall not examine or debate this on the lines of seeking to discuss the relative merits of fathers or mothers, or try to find out whether the percentage of bad fathers is higher than the percentage of bad mothers, for that is the wrong way of approach. In the majority of cases, and particularly in the majority of working class homes, the parents realise that it is a co-operative responsibility. Father and mother work together. If they did not, heaven knows how they would live. It is bad enough as it is, but life would be sheer impossibility if there were not this co-operation. Most of the disputes which may be mentioned in this discussion do not come from working class homes at all, but from other classes. In the average working class home if the money is paid to the father he will say, as my father said when asked what he would do, that it should be given to the mother. If we asked that type of father, the good, decent father, what he would like to do and whether he would like us to decide this question, I am certain that he would say: "Give it yourselves direct to the mother."
I have taken some trouble to find out what the women think about this and how they regard it. I took advantage of an opportunity that came to me to discover what the women connected with our great movement think about it. This organisation, which represents the opinion, so far
as it can be collected, of working class women in this country, has, as it happens, a committee which I believe is the most representative women's organisation in the country—the Joint Committee of Working Women's Organisations. It includes representatives of all women's organisations in the trade unions—and the House should remember that they are now a larger number than ever before in the history of this country—and includes the women who belong to our party and the women associated, through their guilds, with the Co-operative movement. I crave permission to quote from a letter sent to us by the secretary of that organisation, and my hon. Friends the hon. Members for Dartford (Mrs. Adamson) and West Fulham (Dr. Summerskill) will bear out what it says, which, to me, is conclusive. Here is what it says:
Organised working women do feel strongly on the matter, not because they take an extreme feminist view on this matter, but because they are convinced that the time has come for the recognition by the community of the importance of the work of women in the home and of the status of women.
That is their view, and I commend it as the most representative view of the working women of this country that I have been able to discover. That view has been represented very strongly to us, and, at the Conference of the Labour Party in December, when I had to be responsible for the Executive on this matter, a resolution that the allowance should be paid to the mother was carried unanimously by the Conference, including the trades union representatives. There is one further comment made in this letter to which I would like to draw the attention of the Minister. Recently they have been asked, and are now preparing, to give their evidence, which will be valuable, to a Royal Commission set up by the Government to consider trends in population, and this matter came forward at the same time:
They think it is rather odd that a Government which has found it necessary to appoint a Royal Commission on population because of its concern with population trends should go out of its way, as it were, to stereotype the inferior status of the wife and mother in the home by laying it down that the allowances shall be paid to the man and not to the wife.
I am certain that, if this were left to the free vote of the House, or if it were left to a free vote of the country, the overwhelming desire would be that it should be paid to the mother, quite apart from any discussions about fathers and mothers
such as we have sometimes had. Therefore, we shall vote in the Committee stage for the payment to be made to the mother.
There are a large number of points in this Measure which we shall raise on the Committee stage, but I want to say a word now about duplication. I speak about it now because this is the first of the Measures we are to have on social insurance. The next one, we expect, will be the Measure to deal with industrial injuries' insurance, in other words, workmen's compensation, and I want now to put a point to the Minister and to the Solicitor-General. We shall raise the whole problem of duplication of payments. The Minister said there is going to be a rule on this, and in Committee we can go into it in far greater detail, but I want to put this point to him, because my right hon. Friend is, at this moment, preparing the new Workmen's Compensation Bill. In this Bill it is proposed that, where an allowance is paid to the children of an injured or disabled working man, there will be no duplication of allowances. If there is payment of workmen's compensation there will be no duplicate payment. The Minister knows very well that we are making a fundamental departure in this matter of compensation. In the past, workmen's compensation has been an obligation on the employer, and the contribution has been made by the employer, who has had to insure his workmen and has had to pay them the appropriate payments. In the new scheme, for the first time in British history, the man or woman is asked to pay part of the cost of the compensation they will get when injured. Thus my right hon. Friend can see that the situation is changed very substantially. We know perfectly well that the employers of this country, under the new scheme—and I am all for it, though I want to make amendments, even of substantial importance—will save millions of pounds a year. If the present rates persist, they will save nearly £10,000,000 a year. Are we now to say that the worker has to contribute to the compensation five-twelfths of the cost and be deprived of what is called "duplication of benefit"? I ask the Minister to give very serious thought to that problem, before we come to the Committee stage, because the new Bill is being framed and that position ought to be borne in mind.
As a last word, I ask, When is this to come into operation? The Bill is silent about this, and says the Minister may fix an appointed day. Last year, in the House of Commons, we passed the Education Act, and that Act provided that, on 5th April this year, the school-leaving age will be raised to 15, and then, later on, and I can quite understand the reason, it was announced that that was to be postponed to some time in the future. It is very important to remember that that created a good deal of cynicism in this country and there is a good deal of cynical comment about it. People said, "They pass Bills in the House and give pledges and promises, and then, as the time gets nearer, they postpone them." I believe we shall be doing a great disservice to our nation if we do anything in this House to create that feeling among the people of the country. I beg of the Government to think of that and to do something which I am going to suggest to them. The passing of this Bill may very well coincide with the coming of victory to our United Forces on the Continent of Europe. It may be that peace will come to Europe round about the time that this Bill goes on to the Statute Book, and I make this appeal: fix the date of the operation of this scheme as near as possible after that time. I would like to see it fixed for 1st January next year. There are difficulties but we have surmounted far greater difficulties during the last five and a half years or more. I believe that it is possible to fix next January for the bringing of the scheme into operation. I hope, therefore, that the Government will consider that suggestion.
We shall vote for the Second Reading of the Bill, but we shall seek in several ways to amend and improve it on the Committee stage. We hope that the Bill will be passed without any unnecessary delay, and that the Government will fix as early a date as possible for the Act to come into operation. We shall welcome it when it becomes a part of the scheme in this country to provide our people against poverty and its circumstances. I believe that in the future all of us who take part in the passing of this Bill, who vote for it and help to improve it, will have reason to be proud of the fact that we have done something for the child life of this nation which will redound to the credit of the nation.
The hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) reminded the House that the Labour Party, in 1927, passed a Resolution which was substantially to the effect of the contents of this Bill, that is to say, family allowances of 5s. a week for children. He used that argument rather to animadvert on the amount suggested, having regard to the difference in the value of money now, but I would remind him that there is a considerable difference between a party passing at a conference what they would like to do if in power, and a Government coming to this House and putting forward concrete proposals. The Government are to be congratulated upon the steps which they have taken in implementing the proposals which were originated in the report of the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir W. Beveridge).
I want to make one or two comments as to the amount. One sometimes hears people putting forward suggestions that because the report of the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed referred to the sum of 8s. a week the amount now suggested by the Government is considerably smaller. The Minister adequately disposed of that idea when he explained the amount which is to be given in kind. It is not too much to say that the Government's proposals, when you take into account the cash benefits and the services in kind, are a considerable improvement on he suggestions of the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed. I hope that no Member of this House, when talking outside those House, will lend colour to the idea that there is in fact anything less. I think the House would agree that we should pay a tribute to the extraordinarily lucid way in which the Minister explained this Bill to us and certainly I for one am extremely grateful to him for making clear to me some points which I did not understand before, though I do not think he explained why the first child is omitted. I have never yet heard an argument for the omission of the first child and I would be grateful, when the Minister replies, if that point could be dealt with.
The other matter in the speech of the Minister which deserves comment is the extraordinarily impartial way in which he presented-the arguments both for and against the question of whether payment is to be to the mother or to the father. The points which he made, if I were in a state of uncertainty before about this, left me in no doubt that they ought to be paid to the mother. On the position, as I understand it, he really presented five comments on this matter. The first two are immaterial, because, as he rightly said, in the normally happy family the parents will decide for themselves and no difficulty will arise. Among less happy families, if the amount is paid to the mother, there is a risk of the father deducting it from the housekeeping money and, therefore, the benefit would not, in fact, accrue to the mother. Nothing that we can do in this House can legislate against that eventuality.
Three other arguments which I understood the Minister to put in favour of the payment to the husband were these: first, he said that under other schemes payment is made to the father. He then referred to certain schemes under which payment is so made but I would remind him that they were by no means an exhaustive list. The system which has been very widespread during the war of the payment of allowances to the dependants of people in the Services is in point. Payment in respect of children in the case of people in the Services is direct to the mother and, if that principle is applicable in that instance, I see no reason why it should not be equally put into effect under this scheme. It has to be remembered, and it is always held certainly by the Service Ministries, that the dependant's allowance is part of the soldier's income, although payment is direct to the mother, so there is no justification for attempting to separate them and say that one is the soldier's pay and the other is the mother's allowance. It is not; it is a part of the soldier's income. It is something which the Service Ministries, who always underpay those whom they employ, as a result of their guilty conscience, feel they should make up to the family. I would remind the Minister that the Service Ministries have got over any difficulties which may arise in principle on that matter and I hope that he will bear that in mind.
Another point put forward by the Minister was on the question of taxation, as to which I want to say two things. No difficulty arises on the question of taxation at all, because the aggregate income of husband and wife is liable to tax, and it is the husband who has to pay the tax in any event. That question is not in the least affected by whether the money goes direct to the husband or to the wife. It has certainly come as rather a shock to me to learn that the allowance is to be subject to tax. The Service allowances are not subject to tax and I see no reason why this allowance should be subject to taxation. I can see that certain difficulties might arise within the ordinary principles of tax law if they were exempted, but I can also see a very easy way of dealing with the difficulty. It is a well-recognised principle of Income Tax law that the receiver of the income may deduct an amount for expenses in respect of the income received. It is clearly intended that this money should be expended on the child, and also that all of it should be expended on the child. It therefore seems to me that when a parent receives 5s. in respect of a child it should be assumed, unless the contrary is shown, that that 5s. is a deductable expenditure with regard to tax. I put that forward as a solution which would enable the principles of Income Tax law to be maintained and yet at the same time permit the payment of the full amount of 5s. which, I believe, the majority of the Members of this House wish the parents to receive with regard to each child.
The final point which the Minister made was that the father, as head of the household, is the person who is liable to maintain the child. That is a very technical point. I technically maintain four, but it is my wife who does the work. It is she who has to buy the food, and it is she with whom the children are living considerably more than they ever see me. Although it is technically right to say that the father remains responsible for the children, they are during the great bulk of their time with the mother. It is she who has to queue up for food and to see that they are fed at the right time and that they are properly clothed and fed. In practice the maintenance of the children falls upon the mother. That seems to dispose of the arguments put forward by the Minister for payment to the husband, and I hope that when the time comes and we have to take a decision about this we shall do it influenced by those constructive and practical arguments and not, if I may say so without disrespect, the arguments put forward by the hon. Lady the Member for the Combined English Universities (Miss Rath- bone). I am not really concerned with those rather absurd questions of, for instance, "an insult to the status of women." They are not sound arguments at all, but here there are good, sound and practical family reasons why this allowance should be paid to the mother and that the mother should receive it in full.
I should like, first, to congratulate the right hon. and learned Gentleman on his presentation of the Bill and his lucid exposition of its contents. The Bill is welcomed by Members of all parties in this House and by the majority of the people outside. It is an admission of the principle of family allowances or, in other words, of the fact that the children of the nation are its greatest asset, and that it is high time that this country began to give greater care and attention to its future citizens. But I can hardly call it a real family allowances Bill when it excludes the first child in the family. My hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) has dealt with that point, but no distinction should be made between the first child and other children in a family. I agree with the Government's proposals in regard to the payment of a certain amount of cash and of payment in kind by the extension of the social services.
I speak as a practical housewife who has reared a family of four on a working man's wage and who knows from experience about the value of the social services. If I were asked whether I would accept the allowance exclusively in money, or partly in cash and partly in kind, I would say the latter. I would favour the payment of a certain allowance and a great extension of the social services by the provision of a midday meal and milk. In the secondary schools there is a higher percentage of the children receiving the benefits of a midday meal and also milk. Figures were given some months ago which were very interesting, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman has also given some this morning. In the secondary schools the provision of, and participation in, a midday meal is looked upon as part of the communal life of the school, and the youngsters have benefited to a far greater extent by that social service than they otherwise would have done if they had gone home to a meal. That is not casting any reflection on the mother. In my constituency, and indeed in many others, the mother spends a great deal of time in the preparation of a midday meal for the children coming home from school, and then she has a repetition of the same work in preparing a meal for her husband coming home at night. So I want to emphasise the point, already made, that this would help to lighten the work of the wife and the mother.
I am not satisfied with the position that arises at the present moment in regard to the provision of meals, because there are thousands of children who will not be able to benefit immediately. I hope, therefore, that the Government will expedite the arrangements for the inclusion of all children in regard to the provision of the midday meal, and also the milk, though it is more acute in regard to the former. I also want to see that carried out during the school holidays. In a certain part of my constituency voluntary workers have seen to it that the children receive their milk during the school holidays, and I believe that arrangements can be made for that policy to be carried out also in regard to the provision of dinners.
A great deal of controversy has arisen on the question: "To whom should the allowance be paid?" I am not an extreme feminist. I am speaking here to-day on behalf of 1,250,000 women, referred to by the hon. Member for Llanelly, the women of the Standing Joint Committee of the Working Women's Organisation, more representative perhaps of ''the woman in the home" than any other women's organisation in this country. We do not take a purely feminist attitude, we look at it from the commonsense point of view. The Bill says that this allowance shall belong to the man. As a family allowance it should belong to the child, but the child is not in a position to spend that money and therefore we have to face realities and to see who it is who normally spends the money.
We do not want to take away the husband's position as the economic head of the family but it is the mother who is responsible for spending the family income to the best advantage in the maintenance of the home, looking after her husband and the children. So we say that, quite naturally, payment should be made to the mother and, knowing the working classes of this country, I say that the average British husband would prefer that it should be paid to the wife and mother. He does not want to be humbugged by queueing at a post office to get this allowance; he does not want to be humbugged by having to queue at the shops in order to get the necessary food and clothing for himself and the family. He does not do that now. It is the custom in working-class homes to pull together in the best interests of the family, and they generally pool the income too, and spend it to the very best advantage for the rearing of the children.
I had a look at the New Zealand Act and, according to the wording of that Act, the allowance is made payable to the mother or father. It is usually the mother who draws it, but we have to face the fact, as the right hon. Gentleman himself stated this morning, that there are certain cases where the payment could not be made to the mother. There is the example of widowers, and the case where the mother may be in an institution, or there may be the exceptional case where the mother has deserted the children. In those cases you would have to make it payable to the father. In New Zealand, and those other countries mentioned previously in this Debate, where it has been paid to the mother it has been a remarkable success. There has been no trouble about it at all, and there have been no complaints, and I feel that the mother country would do well to follow the example of the daughter States. If we make it payable to the mother, it would be more in keeping with modern ideas about the position of women.
Some Members have ridiculed the point about the status of the mother. Of course we have had tributes paid, particularly during this war, to the women of this country and greater tributes have been paid all down the ages to mothers. However the fact remains that the wife and mother has not the status to which she ought to be entitled. Her work is of the highest national importance, yet we have never valued her work, or given her that recognition which, in my judgment, was her due. We have always thought that her work was less important than that of her husband and less important that that of a woman in factory or workshop. We are now being asked to state the reasons for the great decline in the birth rate, and, in my opinion, we shall have to give a greater recognition of the work of the mother in our legislation and in the community than has hitherto been done. So I am not ashamed to argue that we should give a higher status and a higher recognition to the importance of the work of the mother, and this new legislation provides an opportunity for recognition of that great status.
Reference has also been made to the fact that the maternity benefit has been paid to the mother. I was speaking to an hon. Member who for many years was secretary of an approved society and had paid out in thousands of cases the maternity benefit. He said there have been no complaints, and the fact that it was paid to the mother gave greater satisfaction all round. It was recognised that it belonged to her. The hon. and gallant Member for Brighton (Lieut.-Colonel Marlowe) mentioned the allowances made to wives of Servicemen. I feel we ought to pay a tribute to the Servicemen's wives for the magnificent way they have coped with the rise in prices, and every other thing, in order to spend money to the best advantage and in the best interests of the children. But if we can do it in those cases, there is no reason why we should not be able to do it in others.
I am glad that the Government are to have a free vote of the House on this question. I suggested that in a previous discussion, but I was not too sure that they would give way on that point. I shall not intimidate hon. Members in this House by saying that on this issue the women of this country are waiting for them. I believe that if the majority of Members face realities they will say, "What is the use of quibbling about who is to get the money? Give it to the mother who normally spends the money for the children and the home. She will do the right thing and, in the majority of cases, the husband will be only too pleased and there will be no domestic friction about that small amount of money." In any case, a really bad husband will find ways and means of seeing that the wife does not benefit, but that is no reason why we should not cater for the majority of the cases.
Reference has been made to the possible date when this Bill will come into force. I would say that if we get peace soon, if the war with Germany is over soon, if the victory bells ring, that would be a unique opportunity for putting this Measure into operation. We could show, in a practical way, that we wanted to inaugurate a new era for the care and protection of the future citizens of Great Britain. I am glad that the Government have brought out this Bill, and I hope that we shall go forward to the realisation of its principles, determined to do the best in the interests of the children of this country.
I should like to endorse the view of the hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) that those of us who are in the House now will be able to look back with some satisfaction on having taken some small share in assisting this Bill through Parliament. I believe this Measure will be one of the main steps in building for our children that scheme of social security which all of us, irrespective of party or of the section of the House with which we may sit, so greatly desire. In the opening sentences of his speech, the hon. Gentleman referred to the experience of New Zealand. Those of us who, like the hon. Lady opposite and myself, have had the privilege of going there recently, have come back with one feeling, and that is, that having introduced a widespread social security service, there will be no looking back, and it will be universally accepted.
However, this Bill has one or two other effects to which I would venture to draw the attention of the House in a moment. There is a redistribution of income—I think it is a good thing in one way—not between class and class, but between individual and individual within the year in which tax is paid and family allowances are received. The effect of this will be to levy upon people, at times when they can afford an expenditure, a certain amount of provision which will come back to them when the need for educating and maintaining their family are greatest.
I do not think this Bill will do anything at all to increase the population, and I do not think it has been introduced with that in mind. If it were so, I should be against it, but I think this is a part of the nation's care and provision for those young people of whom its real wealth consists. I do not like the exclusion of the first child very much, and that is not only for the reason that I happen to be a first child myself. I view this matter from the ordinary mechanics of the working-class household. Take a young fellow and a young girl who earn the minimum rates of wages paid in agriculture, £3 10s. for the man and £2, 8s. for the woman. When they are married, but there are no children in the home, the family income is £5 18s. When the first child comes along the mother has to come to a decision. Is she going to stop at home and look after that child and allow the family income to be reduced, or is she to try to carry on with her weekly work, and make such arrangements as she can in the country, for the care of her child? Certainly, nurseries will help, but I believe the proper person to have the care of a young family is the mother, and that to take care of that family is a full-time job. Therefore, I do not believe that the first child will be excluded for very many years. But perhaps we are wise to move forward by these steps at the present time.
There is one difficulty, and I would ask the Minister, when he replies, to deal with it. Suppose there are two children in the family when this scheme is introduced, and, unfortunately, one of those children dies. Then, I assume, the allowance will stop in respect of the one child. Nobody who has spoken in this Debate has failed to deal with the question of whether the benefit should be payable to the male or female parent. I have discussed this matter with my Friends who sit with me on these Benches and I am satisfied that nearly all of them think that the payment should be made to the mother, not, perhaps, for exactly the same reasons as everybody would think. I listened to the hon. Lady the Member for Dartford (Mrs. Adamson), and I thought she drew a very neat division between the commonsense point of view and the feminist point of view. I think this allowance should be regarded, not as a payment to the father or the mother, but as a payment to be expended on behalf of the child by the person who has the greatest knowledge of the child's real needs. In that case, we must accept the proposition that it should be the mother. If I had to choose in these matters between the example of Eire and that of New Zealand, then my sympathies are wholly with, and my precedent will come from, New Zealand.
It would not be out of place to congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend, not only on his lucid statement, for which we are most grateful, but for one of the most skilful Parliamentary performances that this House has ever had an opportunity of witnessing. I had a strong feeling that when this Bill was originally presented to the House the Government's mind was not quite so open on the question of which parent should receive the money, as it now appears to be. Evidently, we misunderstood the Government's thought. My right hon. and learned Friend was able to make it quite clear that no loose ends had been left.
Then there is the question of tax-free payment. Should the payment be free of tax or not? I certainly think it should be free of tax. The first reason is that we want to benefit every child, as I understand it, who will come under this Measure to the extent of 5s. a week. But if the payment is subject to tax, some will benefit by 5s., some who are paying tax at the full rate will benefit by 2s. 6d., and people in between will benefit by such odd amounts as 3s. 7½d. and 4s. 2½d., according to the scale of income. The second reason is that there will be mechanical complications in the payment of tax. It will be payable by the father although the money may, in fact, have been received by the mother. The third reason came from my right hon. and learned Friend, and I think we should be grateful to him. He indicated that this family allowance must be taken in conjunction with the payment in kind. The two things are inseparably linked together—the payment in kind and the cash payment—but the payment in kind is, he reminded us, not subject to tax. I would, therefore, ask him that the cash payment also should not be subject to tax.
Those are the few observations I would venture to bring to the consideration of the House. I would say in conclusion that my right hon. and learned Friend is a pioneer in this job, and I am quite sure that anyone who listened to his speech realised the resolve in his mind to try to make this a really workable scheme, of advantage to the community. I am sure the House will join with me in welcoming this beneficial provision and in hoping that later on we shall go further and provide also for the first child.
I join with other hon. Members in congratulating the Minister on the way in which he brought in the Bill. I should also like to congratulate him on the apparent change of heart of the Government on the question: To which parent should these payments be made? The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that he, himself, was completely unbiased. He said that he was not a feminist, but an equalitarian. Personally, of course, I have always regarded feminists as equalitarians. Equality is what I ask for when I fight the cause of women. All I want to see is equal opportunity for individuals, irrespective of sex. I rather regret that the Government have left this matter to a free vote of the House. That is a very rare precedent for them to follow. They are usually able to make up their minds, and I think sufficient pressure has been brought to bear upon them to enable them to know what the will of the House is. They should, on this occasion, have made up their mind.
There is no doubt that the payment should be made to the mother. Much as I wish to see the status of the housewife and the status of motherhood raised in this country, it is not for those reasons that I plead that the payment should be made to the mother. The housewife is the person who does the shopping, who manages the affairs of the household, who knows what is best for the child and has, in normal cases, the care of the child and she is the best able to decide how the money should be spent. I say that, even though the right hon. and learned Gentleman said that, in happy families, there would be no argument in this matter. That is perfectly true, but, unhappily, we do not legislate for happy families. They are very well able to arrange affairs for themselves. It is in the less happy families, that we have to try to safeguard the children and, after all, this is an allowance for the children. Solely on the ground that I believe it will be for the benefit of the children, I ask hon. Members, who have now got it in their power, to make certain that this payment is given to the mother and to no one else, unless the mother has proved herself unfit to handle the money. I am very glad there is that provision in the Bill because we all recognise that there are parents—both fathers and mothers—who are quite unsuitable to receive the money.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman made one point which I do not quite understand. He said that where a child went to a home, unless it was an approved school, the parent was still to receive the money. On the other hand, I understand that if a child is moved to an approved school, the approved school should have the money. I should like to know what happens in the case of the children—and there will be an increasing number of them—who still actually belong to their parents, but in whose case the parents have made a private arrangement, and the children have been given to foster parents. I am not talking about legal adoptions; I am not talking of arrangements of that kind. I am talking of cases where, for instance, a mother has a child which she does not know what to do with for a certain time, and she finds a foster parent to take care of it. That is, of course, more usually the case with the first child, but it is not always so. The case of the foster parent is one of very real moment. Who, in that case, is to get the benefit—the parent who still is the legal guardian of the child, or the foster parent who is, in fact, looking after and bringing up the child? I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will make that clear.
In the case of the child who goes to a home like Dr. Barnardo's Home for an unlimited period of time, it appears to me that, in some cases, it is going to be rather unfair if the parent who is not looking after the child still receives the money. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that the money would enable the parent to visit the child, or give the child little presents, but that applies also to children in approved schools. Unless the education authority becomes the fit person under the ruling of the court, the parents have the right to visit the child. When we discussed the matter with the Home Secretary the other day, I made a very strong plea that where the education authority was considered a fit person, the parent should still have the opportunity of visiting the child at an approved school. Personally, I regard that as exceedingly important. In fact, I think parents can visit their children at approved schools, but cannot visit them if they are privately boarded out. I want the name and address of the place where children are boarded out given to the parents, in order to avoid some of the incidents which we have been made aware of in the past, and, in that case, I ask who is to receive the money. Is it quite fair that those parents should be debarred from having the 5s., debarred from having the money to visit their children, and debarred from having the money to give them presents if the money in respect of the child in, say, Dr. Barnardo's Home is still to be paid to its parent who does not look after it. I think we are raising a very real inequality between certain types of parents. It is a very involved and difficult question, but I should be glad if the right hon. and learned Gentleman would look into it, because I think he may be making an inequality between parents.
I would ask the hon. Lady whether she is talking about children in approved schools. I understood she wished parents of such children to have the right to visit them.
I think the mother has the right to visit the child at an approved school, but has not the right to visit the child if it is put into the care of private people, by the educational authorities appointed by the court. I think that is the difference.
I endorse what other hon. Members have said that this is a very great day for the House of Commons. The recognition of the importance of the child life of the country is a real step forward. But I feel that some of the good of this Bill, which has been brought in by a Coalition Government, may be done away with if there is delay in operating the Act. Although I realise the difficulties are great, it is of tremendous importance that the Measure should become law before this Parliament dissolves, and I urge that every possible step should be taken to see that it is placed on the Statute Book and brought into operation at the earliest possible date.
When speakers on all sides of the House claim that the credit for a Bill belongs to their party or their organisation, we can be pretty certain that it is a good Bill. I welcome this Measure, but I must say to the hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), who claimed that it was as a result of a Resolution passed by the Labour Party at their Conference in 1927, and to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Brighton (Lieut.-Colonel Marlowe), who congratulated the Government on having brought in proposals which were originated by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir W. Beveridge), that some credit should be paid to my hon. Friend the Member for the Combined English Universities (Miss Rathbone) who, more than any other Member in this House, is responsible for the Bill we are considering to-day. I know a good deal of the terrific enthusiasm and work she has put into this matter, because I have had the pleasure of working with her on this subject ever since I became a Member of this House.
Quite obviously the House generally approves the Bill, and I do not propose to-day to make any serious criticisms of it. The hon. Member for Llanelly prophesied that this Measure would be a very much better Act in 10 years' time. I am convinced of that, because I note the change of heart which is very discernible in the House to-day, as compared with that which existed less than three years ago, when I had the honour to initiate a Debate on this very subject and proposed almost exactly the same terms as those now being given in this Bill. To-day, not one speech has, so far, been made in opposition to the Bill.
I want particularly to refer to the question of whether the payment should be made to the father or mother. I wholeheartedly support payment to the mother. I agree that, theoretically, payment should be made to the father, but that is not possible. I think it a great pity to discuss the question of whether fathers or mothers are more suitable. I do not think that comes into the picture at all. I also think it is a great pity that we have to discuss this miserable little figure of 5s. If it were a question of the whole allowance being given in kind, if the 5s. were represented by a certain allocation of clothes or something like that, there would never be any suggestion of this kind. Obviously, the mother, as the person who has to do the work in connection with her child, should receive this allowance. I think it is a great pity to draw this comparison between men and women, and to say that a man is the one who earns the monetary income. That is true, but this war has, at all events, proved that women are equally able to earn monetary income, and if both husband and wife decided to earn the monetary income, it would be a bad thing for the home and a poor lookout for the children.
It is also a great pity to suggest that because a man is the person who actually earns the money he should be given the complete powers of dictatorship which the ownership of the money bags must bring him. I am certain that the House will give its decision quite clearly on the free vote which the Government have said they will allow. I look upon this matter as fundamental. I do not mind about the other Amendments, or whether the allowance should be increased to 6s., 7s. 6d. or 8s. All these things can be, and certainly will be, altered in the future, but the question of the person to whom the money should be paid is fundamental. My hon. Friend the Member for the Combined English Universities stated the case most clearly. First, administratively, it would be almost impossible to make an alteration later, but, quite apart from that, fathers, who would be glad to see this allowance given originally to the mother, will, quite rightly, feel very resentful if, in a few years' time, it is suggested that a change should be made. It would be a reflection on them and a suggestion that they had failed to handle the money as they should have done.
This matter is also important, because we all hope that as a result of the Royal Commission on Population, which is now sitting, the Government may be induced in the near future to formulate and adopt a population policy. Surely in the forefront of such a policy there must be definite recognition of the service and value of motherhood. Although this is only a slight way of doing it, psychologically it does, in fact, upgrade the status of motherhood. For those reasons, I shall certainly record my vote in favour of payment to the mother. I thank the Minister, in conclusion, for having given the House an opportunity of expressing clearly, as I know it will, the strength of that feeling in the country to-day.
Naturally, like everyone else who has spoken in the House to-day, I welcome this Bill, and I associate myself with what has just been said by the hon. and gallant Member for Erdington (Group Captain Wright)—that the real author of this reform is my hon. Friend the Member for the Combined English Universities (Miss Rathbone). I would like also to congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister on proceeding so admirably on the second stage of his Pilgrim's Progress towards the delectable land where there shall be no want. I propose to deal shortly with two points, namely, the question of whether the payment shall be made to the mother or father, and the question of the exclusion of persons not born in this country, and then to deal at rather greater length, with the question of the rate of allowance.
I welcome the decision of the Government to leave the question of whether the payment shall be made to the mother or father to a free vote of the House. I shall vote for payment to be made to the mother, for a few quite simple reasons. This allowance is not wages, and it is well to distinguish it from wages. It is not a prize for fatherhood. It is money given for a purpose, for the purpose of seeing that the children of this country, so far as possible, are properly fed, clothed and housed. Money for that purpose should naturally be given to the mother as the person who in 99 homes out of 100 has to spend for that purpose. The children's cash allowance should be paid to the mother, as money for providing school meals is to be given to those who are to provide and organise the meals. In coming to their regrettable decision to make payment to the father, I think the Government made a mistake in chronology. They did not realise that this was 1945; they thought we were back in the year 1879—the year in which I was born—and in which, before the Married Women's Property Act, all money belonged to the husband. Thus they thought that this money should belong to the father. I am delighted that the Government are going to allow the House to bring them forward from 1879 to 1945.
Now I come to the main topic I would like to discuss, that is, the rate of allowance. The essential thing in the Bill is that the rate of 5s. a week, as a cash allowance, is fixed, so that the House has no control over it, and as I imagine we shall be unable to move Amendments to alter it I want to give on this occasion my reasons for desiring to alter it when we can. The rate of cash allowance, as approached in my Report, from which the Minister has quoted, is based on two things.
First, upon an estimate of the total needs of the child, which I put, roughly, at 9s. a week on the assumption of a 25 per cent. rise in prices over 1930 prices. Second, it is based on an estimate of what provisions would be made in kind. On that, I suggested that, in addition to the existing provision in kind, amounting to 1s. a week, there should be another 8s. I do not want to quarrel with my right hon. and learned Friend for his quotation of my words from my Report, but I think he must realise that if I do not remember every word I wrote in that Report, it is because I wrote it some time ago, about 2½ years ago. There was one passage in that Report in which I spoke of cash or kind, but I suggest that there is nothing in my Report to indicate that I regard it as' indifferent whether it is mainly cash or mainly kind. Paragraph 425 says:
The average amount of such allowances should be 8s. a week in addition to the existing provision in kind … In so far as provision in kind is extended beyond its present scale, the cash allowances should be reduced.
I said that assuming the existing provisions in kind to be 1s. a week, the cash should be 8s.; if the provision in kind was increased naturally the cash should be decreased. I had in mind 8s. in cash, reducible if the provision in kind was extended. That I was thinking originally of cash is, I think, clear because I made no allowance for the high administrative expenses involved in providing benefit in kind. Let me illustrate that by giving two sets of figures. One is the estimated cost of the cash allowances which the Government propose. They say that to give £57,000,000 in cash to the mother or father, as the case may be, will cost £2,000,000 to administer, that is, £59,000,000, divided as £57,000,000 and £2,000,000. On the other side, when you come to school meals, we were told recently by the Minister for Education that in order to provide meals costing for food, £40,000,000, you have to spend £20,000,000 on overheads. So your £60,000,000 in that case goes, as to £40,000,000, into the stomachs of the children and, as to £20,000,000, into overheads, which means equipment, officials and administrative costs. If I had contemplated that any large part of the allowance should be given in kind, I should, naturally, have had to show a considerable addition to administrative expenditure, which I did not show in my budget. It is not really important enough to go into at any length. I imagine it will be agreed that there should be both cash and kind.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the figure of £20,000,000. Is it correct or is it not correct that a large part of that would be capital expenditure which would never again recur and that it is quite wrong to class it as overheads?
I do not know. In any case provision in kind means spending more on administration, because you employ not the mother but someone else. Also it is very difficult on that basis to make sure that you really cover the whole ground. You do not cover holidays or Sundays or the children not at school, or all meals. That is why, though I realise that we must divide the total between cash and kind, I should prefer to see more of it in cash and less in kind than is proposed by the Government.
The really important thing however is not the division between cash and kind, but to make sure that there is enough in total to keep every child above want always, in holidays and at all other seasons. What the Government propose is not really filling the gap. They seem much more anxious to make certain that the cost of every family is shared between the community and the family, than to make certain that no child is in want. That is the important purpose to me. They want the cost to be shared, though it is not certain that the family is able to bear its share of the cost. They want the cost to be shared, even when it is practically certain that the family cannot bear its share of the cost. Because the allowance is 5s. when the father is earning, you cannot give more than 5s. when he is on benefit, and you do not propose to do it. Where a person has only benefit to live on, if he has a large family it is practically certain that the children will be in want.
I agree with the principle that the cost of the family should be shared between the community and the family, but in my proposal that is brought about automatically, in the case of every family, by the omission of the first child. If there is a one-child family, 100 per cent. of the family is paid for, when the father is earning, by the family. If there are two children, 50 per cent. of the cost of the two is paid by the family and 50 per cent. by the community. If there are three or more the share of the community rises but there is always a sharing. But the sharing in the Bill and under my proposals is different. Under my proposals the benefit for every child after the first when the father is earning, and for every child including the first when the father is not earning, should be adequate for subsistence. If that is done, no child need ever be in want, and that is the fundamental thing. The Government are more concerned to share the cost than to ensure freedom from, want for the children.
You can ensure that, if you give adequate benefit to every child after the first, when the father is earning, and to every child when the father is not earning. The earnings in practically every family are enough for man, wife and young child and, if they are not, you can, by minimum wage legislation, make sure that they are, but unless, as the family increases, you make certain that the whole cost of the child is covered by your allowance, you cannot make sure that the children will in every case be free from want. That seems to me the fundamental difference between what the Government propose and the report that I made. We cannot move any Amendment, but I am sure that those who are associated with me in the Liberal Party will continually fight for an adequate allowance for the children, whether in cash or in kind, more probably in cash than in kind, until we get it.
Do I understand the hon. Gentleman to say that he did not recommend that the allowance should be paid partly in cash and partly in kind, and that as the payment in kind increased, the cash diminished? It is not only the one passage that I quoted. There are many places.
The most relevant passage is what I have already read, that the average amount of the cash allowance should be 8s. a week in addition to the existing provision in kind. It should be graduated according to the age of the child and, in so far as the provision in kind is extended beyond its present scale, the cash allowance should be reduced. I do not read that as a recommendation that provision in kind should be increased.
May I give another reference—paragraph 415:
Though, on the view taken here children's allowances should be given mainly in cash, the amount of cash at any time must be adjusted to the provision in kind.
There are passages throughout the whole Report.
I do not think there is any doubt that one must consider the cash and the kind together. My point is that you are not in fact making provision that the cash and kind in every case are adequate and that is the really important point. I have a bias in favour of cash rather than kind, for the reasons that I have given, but I would rather have adequate cash and kind together with a large proportion of it in kind than have an inadequate provision. The real question is the adequacy of the total provision. I did not expect what I wrote on that point in that Report to be the subject of so much textual criticism. I do not regard what I wrote as so enormously important. The thing that matters is to see that there is income in every family to keep the children above want. That is the only thing really that is worth discussing.
Further to that point of Order. In view of the hon. Gentleman who is now addressing the House, is it not permissible to draw the attention of the House to the terms of that Report and to discrepancies in the hon. Gentleman's speech to-day?
I hope I have said nothing to suggest that I resent in any way this criticism of what is written in my Report. I do not. I have tried to explain that, if prices are 25 per cent. above 1938, I want 9s. a week in toto. When I am asked how that should be divided, I say that is a secondary matter. I prefer more to go in cash, and less in kind, for the reasons that I have given.
As I understand it, the extra shilling to which the hon. Gentleman refers is in respect of the increased cost of living. He originally asked for 8s. in his Report. Is it not a fact that the Government have given the equivalent of 8s. in cash and in kind?
May I explain? I had a calculation made by experts that, at the prices of 1938, something like 7s., on the average, would be required for each child, or a little more. Assuming an increase of 25 per cent. on those prices, you need after the war an average of 9s. in total. I then said there is some provision in kind already. I estimate that that is worth a shilling a week, and by deducting that from 9s. I arrive at 8s. as the additional allowance to be made. The difference between 8s. and 9s. has nothing to do with the cost of living. Actually the cost of living is now more than 25 per cent. above pre-war, and will probably be in future, but it would be better not to go into that argument at this stage.
I have said all I want to say on that point, but I would reiterate that the important thing to my friends and myself here is that for every child after the first when the father is earning, and for every child when the father is on benefit, there should be in total enough to feed, clothe and board that child. That is the one fundamental principle which is not conceded in this Bill, and that is why we hope to amend it in due course.
May I come to a small point on Clause 24 which limits benefit to a British subject born in Great Britain unless he is able to jump through the hoops of the Regulations which my right hon. and learned Friend is to make? I suggest that if a child is allowed to live in this country it ought to get the benefit of this allowance so as not to be in want. The test should be not nationality, not even domicile, but residence. I hope that an Amendment on that point will be in Order, and I shall propose it if no one else does. May I conclude by saying again that I welcome this Bill? We shall help it in every possible way, and, although it is not perfect, we hope that in due course it will be perfect.
Unlike the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir W. Beveridge), I welcome the Government's decision that a large part of the allowances to children shall be in kind and not in cash. The real argument for family allowances is not that it is an inducement to have more children, but that it will prevent the malnutrition of children through the poverty of their parents brought about by their assumption of family responsibilities. An allowance in kind will deal better with malnutrition than will a cash payment, and our demand should not be for an increased cash allowance, but for the speediest possible implementation of the Government's decision to pay a large part of these allowances in kind. I would support what was said by an hon. Lady opposite, that these allowances in kind should not be available only during term time, but that provision should be made for school meals to be available during the school holidays. In some of the agricultural districts the children do a certain amount of work on the farms during their holidays and it is at this time that they need the good nutritional meal that will be available in the school canteens.
The critics of the amount of these allowances are rather inclined to overlook the Government's contention that they are not the whole cost of maintaining a child, but are simply a contribution towards the cost of family responsibilities. I think that that view is in the main right, because, in the majority of families, the income is sufficient to maintain at least one child without reducing what should be the proper nutritional standard of the family and the legitimate social aspirations of the parents. That is not wholly so. Social surveys which have been conducted in various cities of the country show that family responsibilities are the main cause of poverty, but they also show that by giving family allowances we will not do away with all poverty due to the assumption of family responsibilities, because the wage standard for some is too low. We should, therefore, concentrate our energies, not so much on trying to give a flat-rate increase of allowances all round, because that would be giving it to some who did not need it, but on trying to devise some means by which we can have a minimum wage standard which would be enough to support a family including one child.
With regard to the question whether the allowances should be paid to the father or the mother, I think that a logical case can be made out for payment to the father, but if the women really do wish the allowances to be paid to them I am prepared to see them paid to the mother. I think that on the whole we should recognise motherhood in this way, and if the women feel that it would be such a recognition I should be prepared to give it to them. We should consider whether family allowances should not be free from Income Tax. I want to support what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Brighton (Lieut.-Colonel Marlowe) said about that. The allowances should be of benefit to everybody, and if they are to be of benefit to everybody, they must be of value to the middle-income ranges. It is the middle-income ranges which will pay a large part of the cost, and they are, therefore, entitled to get the full benefit of the allowances. This can best be obtained by excepting them from Income Tax, or, as my hon. and gallant Friend suggested, by allowing a deduction for the expenses of keeping a family equivalent to the allowance. I would like to offer my congratulations to the Minister of National Insurance for the clear exposition which he gave of the Bill and to wish him well in its further stages.
It is very encouraging to find yet another male Member who admits the housewife's right to receive the family allowances, even if he does not do it on logical grounds. I do not think that man's approach to woman is ever logical, and it would be wrong in this case for a man to be swayed by logic. Some Members have tried to be logical and have said: "But who pays the Income Tax?" That is a nice little debating point for the Oxford Union, but they should re-member that in married life we cannot always talk in terms of L.S.D. Women give services to the home, and I might ask the male Members of the House whether during this war they or their wives have tried to find, let us say, a cook, a house parlourmaid, a housemaid, a laundry maid, and so on.
I would remind hon. Members that the working housewife in the home gives all these services to the home. Those who think of married life in terms of money and argue that the husband has to pay Income Tax, should also assess the services of the wife in the home in terms of money and then they could deduct the Income Tax from that.
I welcome the final acceptance of the principle of family allowances, but I must say that, on a first reading of the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum, I thought, like others, that it was really a Bill which would in fact be an endowment of fatherhood. I am pleased to hear that the Minister has thought again and is to give the House a free vote. If he had not thought again and if he had j foisted this Bill on the country in its present form, he would have become the most unpopular Minister in the country with the women. I think he is very wise, and I feel he will agree that the women Member are very generous in welcoming a free vote when it will mean that 601 men in the House will determine whether the mother should receive the allowance.
I want to deal with the amount of the family allowance. I do not welcome it as though it were a generous, allowance, as many people have done. I think it is rather mean and niggardly. The Minister has reminded us that in 1927 New Zealand gave 2s. a week, to start with, for every child, yet here in 1945 we are offering 5s., although, as the hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) reminded us, the Labour Party has advocated for 20 years an allowance of 5s. I do not go so far as the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir W. Beveridge) and say that I would rather the whole amount was paid in money than in kind.
I am in favour of adequate meals for children in the schools every day and for every child. The Minister said he also favoured that, but he could not tell when those conditions will be realised. What are the children to do in the interim period? This question has been put to the President of the Board of Education on many occasions, and he has said that perhaps in a few years it might come about. I would like to ask the Minister whether he would not consider raising the amount during the interim period and when every child is being fed adequately every day he could then come to the House and say: "Now the time has come to reduce the cash allowance."
I have a word to say on the question to whom the allowance should be given. Under the Bill there are to be excluded children of the most deserving families, children of disabled Service men, orphans of Service men and orphans of industrial workers. These are children of parents who have given the highest service to the country. If the Bill passes in this form the position will be that a child of well-to-do parents going to an expensive boarding school, spending its holidays in a comfortable country home, well fed and well cared for, will qualify for the 5s. a week, but the child of a Service man who has lost his life at Dunkirk or Arnheim will not qualify.
That is not accurate. The provision in the Bill is that there is power to make regulations which, after an affirmative Resolution, might have certain effects, but as the Bill stands, unless that resolution is passed, these people get the allowance. It will only be after a review, which may be on one basis or another under Clause 13, that regulations will be made.
I admit that under Clause 13 the Minister has the power to make regulations, but I do not want to leave it to regulations. I want to see it in the Bill. The Minister said that a child will have an allowance from the State if the father dies or is disabled. I would remind him that the allowance is the equivalent of what the father would be able to use for the food and clothes of his children if he were working, just as we have, for instance, a reserved worker in industry to-day who gets a regular wage spending so much on each child in his family. The family allowance comes along, and he will get 5s. more. These other children will certainly get a small grant of a few shillings a week because the father died, and the State takes responsibility for their support, but they are denied this extra benefit that other children in the country will have.
Then there are the orphans who qualify for the allowance, by reason of contributions to the National Insurance Scheme. The Minister has already mentioned the orphans. I think the widow gets about 3s. for her second child. That 3s. is going to be increased by a generous Government to 5s.—for the widow whose husband has made contributions to the fund for years. What woman can feed a child adequately on 3s. a week? She should be entitled, to the extra 5s. instead of an extra 2s. Here we have some of the hardest cases in the country being denied this allowance, while those in reserved occupations, comfortably situated people, will all qualify for it. I find it very difficult to reconcile the position, and I hope that the Minister will consider it further.
Another point concerns the first child. We have had arguments for the first child. I want to remind the Minister of that pathetic category of first children, the illegitimate children. He said in his opening speech that illegitimate children would qualify, but the 5s. is to be paid only for the second, third and successive children. An illegitimate child is usually the first and only child. My experience tells me that a woman who has two, three or four illegitimate children is generally subnormal mentally. These children would be cared for elsewhere. I am very concerned about the single woman, the finest in the coun-
try, who suddenly, because of a slip, finds herself a mother, and instead of getting rid of her responsibility through an adoption society says: "I will endure the stigma because I love this child." She is the finest in the country. She is handicapped from the moment of the birth. She has to get somebody to keep her and the child. If she goes to find lodgings the landlady looks at her and says: "Where is you husband?" She has to find somebody to care for her children while she is out at work. One of them wrote to me:
Do not forget that when we get out to work we do not get a man's wage, a family wage, but a single woman's wage.
As a woman, the hon. lady has said a rather dangerous thing. She said that the finest woman in the country is the woman who has slipped. Surely the finest women in the country are those who resist, and who live up to a higher moral standard.
I believe that my moral standard is as high as the noble Lady's. I have had more experience in these matters than she has, and I have these women come to see me. I am able to judge whether or not they are fine human beings.
I believe that the Noble Lady knew I meant that. If the Minister will examine the case of the woman with only one child I think he will find evidence in support of my plea. If he will examine the infantile mortality among illegitimate children he will find that the rate is higher than for legitimate children, which is evidence that the illegitimate children do not have the same chance, because the mother is handicapped. She deserves this extra help. After all, this is not a question of sub- sidising immorality but of helping an innocent child.
I want also to ask the Minister whether he will consider increasing the grant according to the size of the family. We must face the possibility that in a measurable number of years this legislation may be repealed. The Government of the day may come to the country and say that the able-bodied taxpayers are so few in number in proportion to the whole country that they are incapable of bearing the burden of the dependent members of the community. In my opinion it is of the first importance that we should arrest the decline in the birthrate in this country. It is wise to increase the grant to the second or third child. I do not believe that motherhood can be bought at 5s. a. week. I do not for one moment believe that a grant of 5s. would encourage any woman to produce a large family. A woman with strong maternal instincts will indulge her feelings when she knows that her budget may be made a little easier with each successive child. I feel quite convinced of that.
I find it difficult to understand why the Government work in water-tight compartments. What I have said about the birth-rate has been said by the Prime Minister. I remember that only recently he said that the greatest problem that faced this country was the decline in the birth-rate. That has been repeated by Ministers time and again. Finally, we have set up the Royal Commission on Population. In spite of that, every Department of State ignores the problem as though it did not exist. Many housing authorities—there are so many of them that 'I have lost count—build houses which will only hold families with one or two children. We see the Minister of Health closing day nurseries. We find ail over the country that it is very difficult for a woman to obtain accommodation to have a baby. Here is our latest opportunity to tackle this alarming decline in the birth-rate and yet it is not being grasped. I must ask the Minister to be more far-sighted than his colleagues and to realise that by giving a bigger grant than 5s. to the second child and successive children he may help mothers who would like to have large families.
My final point concerns the payment to the husband. I had the great privilege last year of going to Australia and New Zealand. There I found family allowances being paid in every State. All the States are not controlled by Labour Governments. There was a Labour Government at Canberra, but in South Australia and in Victoria there were Conservative Governments. In each of those States I asked the Ministers whether there had been any controversy over the matter. They were surprised and said it had never occurred to them to question it. The money was given to the mother and that was welcomed by the men, and the whole thing had worked quite easily.
As to the status of the mother, I was interested to learn from the hon. and gallant Member for Brighton (Lieut.-Colonel Marlowe) that while he accepted the principle of paying the 5s. to the father he had no time for women or individuals who talked about the status of women. It is very difficult for any man to understand that imponderable. One has to be a woman who is humiliated week by week when she has to ask her husband for money for necessities—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh"]—to understand it. I expected that one of them would make noises of that kind. I have already said that he cannot understand. He has never been put in this humiliating position. Therefore I say that a contribution of this kind, even of 5s. a week, will enhance the status of the mother, who is, in my opinion, the most important person in the country, for she produces the potential workers. I would remind the House that the most important person in the country, producing the potential workers, is not legally entitled to one penny. This is the first opportunity that the House has had of recognising the services which the mother gives to the home and I ask the Minister to take full advantage of that opportunity.
I am one of those who are old-fashioned enough to believe that it is the duty of an individual to discharge his own responsibilities, and that he should only be relieved of them by the State when he is not in a position to discharge them for himself; and, further, that it is the primary duty of Parliament to see that the individual has a reasonable opportunity of obtaining sufficient wherewithal to enable him to discharge the responsibilities which are justly his. That apart, I welcome this payment of children's allowances, not because it is subsidising the man and the wife, but because it is a payment which is going to help the children. I am bound to confess that I do not think there is very much good to be got out of a discussion on the status of women. The status of woman is supreme and quite unshakable, and it will be neither increased nor diminished by any Act of Parliament which we can pass here.
There are many things on which we on these Benches differ, but if we are to start a sort of sex war in Parliament the Sittings of this House in the years to come will be exceedingly stormy. It is a good thing for the State to see that the children of the community are guaranteed a proper start, proper food and the best upbringing. A good deal has been said as to whether the allowance should be paid to the mother or to the father. I do not think it really matters, provided we make quite certain that the money gets to the children. Since the mother has the most to do with the child and comes much more into close contact with it, I should certainly come down on the side of saying that she had better receive the allowance, because she will have the spending of it.
What I cannot understand is why no allowance should be paid in respect of the first child. I cannot help thinking that it is unreasonable, if payments are to be made from the resources of the State to guarantee that children from whatever homes shall have a certain allowance, that they should only start with the second child. They should begin with the first child. I find myself in considerable agreement with the hon. Lady the Member for West Fulham (Dr. Summerskill) in what she said regarding the child born out of wedlock—I dislike the term "illegitimate child." It is not the child's fault that it was born. When we are paying children's allowances it does not matter whether a child is born in wedlock or not. The endeavour is to help the child. Its treatment should be just the same, since it is the child we are thinking about. If that be so why cut out the child born out of wedlock because it happens to be the first, and as a rule the only, child? Anyone who sits on a bench of magistrates knows that as a rule a woman has only one illegitimate child, unless she is in fact a mentally deficient. Certainly the child born out of wedlock should qualify for this allowance, like any other child. If that be so, and I think Christian charity and commonsense demand it, then the payment of allowances would have to be extended to all children whether they are the first child or not.
I heard an hon. and gallant Member on the other side of the House use the words "this miserable little 5s." That is misleading public opinion and Members in this House. There is £60,000,000 to £67,000,000 involved in this proposal, and no one can suggest that £60,000,000 is mere chicken-feed or a miserable little contribution. It is a matter of what it is possible to do under all existing circumstances and in the light of all the other calls on the public purse, and I think it would be a great mistake if we let it go out among those whom we represent that this 5s. was only a miserable little payment. On the contrary it is a very great step forward.
I say again that I believe a man should, if possible, discharge his own responsibilities. I believe that the basis of the life of this country is the home, and I am rather averse to any Governmental payment which might perhaps have the effect of disrupting the home, but in this case I think the Government should be praised for making this payment possible at the present time, and not sneered at as if what they are doing is really of no account, although no doubt during the Committee stage various Amendments will be brought forward. I have wondered why so much heat should be engendered on the subject of whether the mother or the father should receive the 5s. payment. Those who put forward the idea that if the father gets the payment he will go round to the pub and spend it and not give it to the mother are rather less than just to the homemakers of this country. My experience of those in humble homes is that the wife gets the wages and the man is allowed to keep something for himself. It is an insult to wage earners to suggest that they will try to "chisel" 5s. out of their own children. It is not true. It is also an insult to suggest that if the 5s. is paid to the mother the father will, in revenge, stop 5s. out of the payment he would normally make to her. We cannot legislate in this House for the harmony of the home. We may pass Acts of Parliament until we are blue in the face without their having any effect in that direction, except that if we pass too many restrictive Acts we may indeed cause disharmony in the home.
On balance it is wise that the allowances should be paid to the mother. She will have the spending of it, and that being so all the other arguments about the status of women fall to the ground. Let us only concern ourselves with what is in this Bill, namely, that 5s. should be paid in respect of the child, and let us pay it to the person who will have the spending of it on the child's behalf, its mother.
I am glad that the Minister and a number of speakers who followed him have used the opportunity of the Second Reading of this Bill to express something of the respect which, I am sure, is felt in every quarter of the House for my hon. Friend the Member for the Combined English Universities (Miss Rathbone). She stands in the great tradition of English humanitarian reformers, and the great line of English women reformers, from Florence Nightingale down. I am sure that generations yet unborn who benefit from this Bill, and from what will be built on this Bill, will remember her with honour as its patron saint.
I propose only to speak on one point to-day. I do not propose to follow the almost theological discussion between my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir W. Beveridge) and the Beveridge Report because, although I admire both the Report and its author, I do not think that the exegetical methods applied to the Holy Writ are now appropriate, and I want now only to refer for a moment to the destination of this allowance. Very few words will suffice, because the House has already shown an almost overwhelming and conclusive desire that the payment should be made to the mother. When I first saw the proposal in the Bill I was very much afraid that the Government would explain that there was some insuperable or very great difficulty either in law or administrative convenience in making the payment to the mother. I should have been rather difficult to convince on that score, because I have some experience of this kind of matter as head of the Division, under the old National Health Insurance Act, which was particularly concerned with benefits, including benefit payable to women, under that Act. My right hon. and learned Friend has greatly assisted the House in its decision by making it perfectly clear, with his authority as the Minister concerned, that there is no administrative objection to payment being made to the mother, and by stating, with his great professional authority in the law, that as far as he is concerned he sees no legal obstacle in the way of such payment. We, therefore, have a clear question before us.
I have no doubt whatever in my mind that in social advantage, in the interests of the child, and, I would also add, in the interests of matrimonial relations, it is very much better that the payment should be made to the mother. Although it is perhaps to the interests of the child that we should first look, I do not quite agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Epsom (Sir A. Southby) who spoke of laws having no effect on status. I do not think it is true that any individual of either sex has a status which is immutable and not to be affected by anything which Parliament does. In this matter, as my hon. Friend the Member for the Combined English Universities said, if this Bill had been passed in the form in which it was introduced it would have had a very unfortunate effect upon the status of women. It would have thrown us back from the conception of marriage as a partnership into patriarchy. I welcome the indication the House has given to-day that they will use the opportunity which the Government has accorded, to vote that the payment should be made to the mother.
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but I am a little worried by the way in which the Debate is going. This particular question of whether the payment should be made to the mother or the father is the only one which we shall really have a chance of discussing in Committee; it is a purely Committee point. Yet all the other points of the Bill which are important, such as whether payment is to be made for the first child, and the amount to be paid, will be ruled out in Committee by the Money Resolution. Nevertheless, we are, on Second Reading, spending so much time on what we shall have ample opportunity of discussing in Committee, and spending so little on the matters we shall have no opportunity of discussing then.
I will not stand for more than a minute more between the hon. Member and other Members who may desire to discuss other provisions of this Bill. I only desire to say this last word. I imagine I should have argued rather more at length in favour of this proposal, except that the right hon. Gentleman has put the case so fairly and, indeed, I think without stating his own view on one side or the other has put so persuasively the theme I am trying to support, that if he has any doubt I suggest that he should only read his own speech in HANSARD, and I believe that he himself will, under this arrangement for a free vote, vote in the same Lobby as myself. I should have preferred the Government to take the line of saying: "We have changed our mind," but I think I can guess the reasons why they have not taken that line. If they desire the House to help them in this matter I think the House will be quite prepared, by an unmistakable vote, to help the Government out of their little domestic difficulty.
I desire to be associated with those hon. Members on all sides of the House who have welcomed this Bill, which is a definite step forward in the social history of this country, lining us up with those more advanced countries in our own Dominions which have already placed similar Measures on the Statute Book. I deplore the controversy which has arisen regarding which of the two parents these children's allowances should be paid to. It is so fatally easy to put out propaganda on one side or another for the good or bad cases, but bad cases do not make good law. I think hon. Members are in danger of forgetting that we are discussing not children's allowances Bill but a Family Allowances Bill, and to this end, I would draw their attention to the fact that in the White Paper it is very clearly set out what are the objects of this Bill. They are:
That it is in the national interest for the State to help parents to discharge their responsibility properly.
The White Paper goes on, in paragraph 53:
In the absence of special circumstances the order for the payment of the allowance will be
made out in favour of the father as the normal economic head of the household but it is regarded as appropriate that the mother should cash the order and it will be drawn in such a way as to entitle her to do so.
That seemed to me very fair, and in full accordance with British tradition and custom. In all classes of the community I believe that in 999 cases out of 1,000 that custom will be followed fully and satisfactorily to the benefit of the family, because we must remember that the increased responsibility as the family grows is for more rent, more gas, more electricity, more bedding, more furniture and so on. It is not actually the amount of food which is going into each individual child, it is the family as a whole that has to be considered. Therefore this controversy is largely a mare's nest, if I may say so. In 999 cases out of 1,000 it will work amicably.
That which is best for the child is best for the family. I believe it is best for the family that the money, which legally is the entitlement of the father, should be actually drawn at the post office, for convenience sake, by the mother in the way the White Paper suggests. So I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman who is to reply, exactly in what form this order will be cashed at the post office. I visualise something like insurance cards or ration books, etc., issued to the family in the name of the father as head of the family, and in the bottom corner the statement that allowances will be drawn by "Mrs. Smith". If that is so, it seems to me perfectly easy to retain the typically English tradition based on the Greek concept of the father as head of his family—and rightly so, to my mind—but to enable the cash to be drawn by the mother. Some hon. Members have spoken as if it were something new and modern for the mother to be in the head place of the family, but that is not so. The matriarch is a very ancient form of social life. The hon. Member for West Fulham (Dr. Summerskill), who made such an eloquent speech just now, mentioned Australia. I wonder if she saw the ancient Australian aboriginal tribes, living in the state of our forefathers in the Stone Age. If so, she will realise that it was the mothers who did all the supplying and feeding of the family, while the father was merely the warrior ignorant of all other responsibilities for his family. Matriarchy is an extremely primitive type of civilisation alien to the English tradition and one to which I, for one, hope we shall not return. In fact, in these difficult days it is very important to do nothing to undermine the position of the father in the family. We who live in close association with the great cities of our country are seriously perturbed by the spread of juvenile delinquency, which is largely due to the absence of the father—in peace-time at sea or away at work all day, and now at the war. It would be a great mistake if we did anything to undermine the position of the father as the legal head of the family.
In conclusion, I want to say that I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend most sincerely upon this great extension of the social services of the country which will, I believe, help the lower levels of wage earners considerably, but I would strongly request that everything possible should be done to assist those tax-paying middle-class families, whose struggle to bring up high-quality children is quite as great to-day as the struggle of those on the lower levels a generation ago.
The issue which has taken up almost three-quarters of the time so far is the quarrel between husband and wife. The Government have made it clear that that is to be the subject of a free vote. That is a point which we can support or oppose when the Bill is in Committee. All the pros and cons can then be argued in detail. On the Second Reading, the things that we ought to face are not those that we can alter in Committee, but those which are not now in the Bill, or cannot be easily altered on the Committee stage, and about which we want to influence the Government. One or two of my hon. Friends may be disappointed because I am going to engage, almost for the first time in the House, in the pastime of praising a Minister. It is a hobby that I do not usually indulge in. I have spent a good deal of time watching the Minister who introduced this Bill. In the past he held a Ministerial office in which he seemed to move about here and there, contributing, I thought, very little to the general work of the House and to his own status. Today he has delivered, not a brilliant speech but, what I prefer, a businesslike statement on the Bill. It was a clear state- ment, which on almost every issue was easy to understand. To that extent he has raised his status in the House.
I pay my tribute to the hon. Member for the English Universities (Miss Rathbone) and to the hon. Member for West Fulham (Dr. Summerskill). I remember a good many years ago going up to a Committee Room where the present Secretary of State for India—I do not know whether he was a Cabinet Minister then, because he has been one during most of my Parliamentary life, except when his political opponents were in power—took part in the meeting. We discussed family allowances, and the right hon. Member occupied the Chair. I would like, further, to pay tribute to a small group in this House who are not now present. Almost all of us in my party were at one time members of the Independent Labour Party. They, possibly earlier than anybody else, played a great part in this movement for family allowances, by the spread of pamphlets and other literature. They were championing this cause at the time of my first experience of the T.U.C. and the Labour Party, and one prominent man in our party who never deviated from that was the late Arthur Henderson.
Let me turn to what I consider the critical issues. They are things which are not contained in the Bill. There is a growing habit of forgetting that we may give a Bill a Second Reading and then not be able to deal with many of the things we want to deal with when it comes up in Committee. I leave aside this quarrel, because I cannot become enthusiastic about the question of the man or the woman. We are not really going to have a free vote on this issue. After all, I am married. I remember that at my first election the sheriff said that the next time I stood they would have a weighing machine, and not a counting machine, and when I came here people in the House of Commons looked upon me as a bit of a bully. It was a good job that they did not know me at home. At home I was "bossed" by 5 feet 3½ inches, and it was a good job that she was not 5 feet 6 inches, or my life would have been hell. The women have decided that they are going to get the 5s., and all of us accept that; and to that extent we are going to have a free vote of the House. Every- body knows what will happen. I do not feel that it will matter very much, either way.
What are the three issues that cannot be altered later? First, there is the sum of 5s.; second, the question of the first child; third—and I feel that this is the sorest point of all—the question of the excluded classes. None of these things can be altered later, because to alter any of them would increase the cost of the Measure. Having passed the Financial Resolution, we cannot do anything about it. It is true that on the excluded classes we can vote against the Clause, but that would not bring those classes under the Bill.
The hon. Member knows that that is for the Chairman of the Committee to rule. I should have thought that an Amendment saying that there was to be inclusion of these excluded classes would be in Order. Members cannot, of course, increase the 5s., and cannot include the first child.
I am perfectly certain that I am right. The Government have put in a Clause excluding certain people. We can vote against that Clause, but we cannot bring in the excluded people, because by doing that we should be adding millions of pounds to the national expenditure. In my view that is quite clear. These are the three issues which we can never discuss again for a long time. With regard to the amount, frankly I am not terribly disappointed with what the Government have done, because for many years I have been led to expect little, and when I get little I am not disappointed. For many years, with my colleagues, I fought for 2s. for a child, for 3s., and for 4s.; and now getting even a little almost pleases me. This 5s. is the amount which will be fixed for a number of years to come. But does the right hon. and learned Gentleman think that 5s., plus what is proposed in the way of allowances in kind, is sufficient to maintain a child in decency? Some time ago I raised a discussion in this House on an issue in which I was rather unfortunate, I felt, because it applied too much to Scotland. We have a man in Scotland who, I think, has contributed more than anyone else to calling attention to facts in connection with child welfare—Professor Boyd Orr. His report on malnutrition made startling, ghastly revelations. I felt that if it had been related not to Scotland but to some foreign country this House would have been far more angry than it was when these conditions were only across the Border.
In view of that Report on malnutrition I think that, even allowing for school feeding, 5s. is not sufficient. Before anything else is paid for—before food, before clothing—shelter has to be paid for; and it will be paid for. It is the first charge. No man who has ever faced the anxieties of the homeless, or has seen others homeless, will take any risks about that. This is a fact that this Bill does not look at. It is true that the Report of the Committee dealing with rents—of which I was a member—is now in the printers' hands, but I am certain that the Government must build hundreds of thousands of houses for the people.
Does anyone expect that the rents of those houses are going to be fitted in with the rent that is now paid? Are they to rise? If they are to rise, then these family allowances will disappear the next day. It is no use giving an allowance for a month or a year or two years. We are really transferring the allowance to the owner of the property. So I urge the Minister to look again at the relationship of fixed charges and see if the amount proposed is anything like sufficient. Rent is one of the first things that has to be considered, and, whether we make it £1 or 10s., it does not affect the number of children. When I was working as a young man we all faced unemployment, never knew the day it was coming. I have seen an uncle married on Friday and thrown out of work on the Saturday. It might be that, if logic had entered into it, marriage would have been the last thing that would have entered his head, but logic never comes in.
I take the view that the State's job is to see, once a child is living, that life should be preserved and that as many lives as possible should be preserved for the future. I am very anxious that something should be done about the first child, and I want the Minister to look into the question of the illegitimate child. I am not going to say that the mother of an illegitimate child is either better or worse than any other, but I think that she is a mother and that, as a mother, she is kind and decent to her child. She may get an order against the father. I have been amazed, in my experience, at the number of women who never proceed against the father of their child, and I think they are sensible. All they do, if they do proceed against him, is, if he is a married man, to ruin his life and gain very little out of it. I think the best thing for them is to forget about the father and build the life of the child. Frequently, it is the grandfather who brings up the child, and often it never lives anywhere else. I had a case in my own division of a claim for pension by a man who was illegitimate. He had lived all his life under his grandfather's name, and, at the age of 65, his wife and family found out for the first time that it was not his proper name. There are grandparents, who receive no allowances for children, who have children at school, maybe one or two. Yet the illegitimate child which is kept by them and maintained by them is even recognised by the employment exchange, because the man can claim a dependant's allowance as the person taking care of that child. In such cases, I think the Minister ought to look again at these issues.
The preservation of life should be the first consideration. We should not forget that, in the history of this country, some of the men who have rendered it great service have been illegitimate children brought up by their grandparents or by others. I do not say that the illegitimate child should be given preference or anything like that, but I do say that it should be treated as a child and fitted into the general community. Illegitimacy used to have a stigma about it, but it has not the same stigma now as when I started, and, in Scotland, we have done very much to modify it. I take the view that illegitimacy has not a stigma nowadays, and that there are many other things which carry a greater stigma.
I want to make a plea for the inclusion of some of the excluded classes, and I appeal to the Minister, particularly in the case of the widow. Tins Bill proposes to give £57,000,000 to the parents of the children who are covered in the different groups. Take a typical case. John Smith has three children. He will benefit, to the extent of two children, by 10s. per week, or £26 per year. He will get that from the State without having to make any special contribution himself. He pays for his widow's pension while he lives, and his widow will get, not charity but a State pension from contributions paid by him. This amounts to 10s., plus 5s. for the first child and 3s. each for the others, which comes to 21s., not out of the State, but out of a contributory insurance fund. What do we propose to do with that woman? When the father is alive and earning good wages, she gets £26 a year from the State, but when he dies she is to get 4s. a week from the State. All that we are going to give her is 4s. a week. In other words, she will get about £12 a year from State funds if the father dies, but while the father is alive and earning good wages she gets £26 a year from State funds. Is there any defence for that? Misfortune comes and she is rendered a widow, and we give her instead of £26, only £12. There is no defence whatever for that.
May I make a plea that, in the days after the war, we shall cut ourselves up into as few classes as we possibly can? I am beginning to get a little resentful about this. I do not say this purposely about hon. Members on the other side, but, truth to tell, in modem warfare and in modern development of society, the dividing line between the brave and the difficult is a very narrow dividing line. Take the case of the excluded classes in workmen's compensation. I said the other day that we should not make a dividing line between a man killed in a street accident and a person killed at work. Why make a difference between them? The widow of a man killed in war gets one pension, the woman whose husband is killed in the street gets another pension, and a widow whose husband died some other way gets another kind of pension. There are the three kinds of pension, and the children of these families walk down the street graded according to how their fathers have died. I do not want these classes. Life, to me, goes far deeper than that, and I hope the right hon. and learned Gentleman will look again at these categories and will not leave out those I have mentioned. I hope we will not create more Ishmaelites, will not leave people outside but will bring them in.
I welcome the establishment of the principle of family allowances. I have learned to expect little, and, when I get little, I am never disappointed, and I welcome the Bill, in so far as it goes, but I trust that both the Minister and the Solicitor-General, both of whom have enhanced their pro- fession to-day, will not look upon these people from a mere legalistic standpoint, but will remember that they are engaged in the creditable work of making society more human. I wish them well, but I ask them not to be too hidebound about the categories I have mentioned, and to look again, and, if they can do it, embrace the people whom I think are worthy to be included in the scheme.
The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) has told us that he is henpecked at home. I almost regret that he ever married, because it is just like old times hearing him making these passionate pleas to the Government and really moving the heart of the House. Now that he is a happily married man, the House has lost something by his happiness at home. I am glad, however, that he congratulated the Government, because I think the Government ought to be congratulated, seeing how difficult it is to get on with social legislation. When family allowances were first mooted people on this side of the House said that it would break up the home, and the Labour Party and the trade unions would not have them at all. We have come a great way since then, and all because of one revolutionary woman. It is very difficult, when we look at the hon. Lady the Member for the English Universities (Miss Rathbone), to think of her as a revolutionary, but she is, and it is her work, and her vision and courage, that have really brought us where we are to-day.
I am grateful to the Government. This Bill just shows—and I am sure the hon. Member for Gorbals will agree—what a Coalition Government can do. You could not have got this as a party Measure; at least it would have taken another ten or 15 years. It really makes me deplore the fact that a Government who have done so much in war time, and are capable of doing so much, will soon probably fall apart. It is my absolute conviction, as a person who is more interested in social reforms than in any party, that unless the Left Wing of the Tory Party and the Right Wing of the Labour Party keep together, and work together after this war, we may have chaos, because the Diehards on one side, and the Left-Wingers on the other, meet as almost impossible people. The moderate people on both sides could do great things for this country and, in my opinion, they are the people that the country would like to continue to work together.
I congratulate the Minister on this Bill and I am sorry that he could not bring in the widows as the hon. Member opposite said. With regard to the first child, I agree with the Government. It is right that people should take the responsibility of their first child. Too many people go lightly into matrimony, and go heavily out of it. If they could have some sense of responsibility, it would be a good thing. But there is one child I plead for, and that is the first illegitimate child. When the hon. Member opposite spoke about it, she said that these women were among the finest in the country but I cannot say that. I, myself, always have thought that women who resist temptation are finer than women who give way to it. Anybody can give way to temptation. It is the easiest thing in the world. There are magnificent people, both men and women, who have resisted temptation, and I am not prepared to say that those unfortunate girls are the finest in the country. That is where I disagree, but some of the finest mothers in the country are mothers of an illegitimate first child, and if the Government could make a concession in respect of such children, it would be a very good thing. It is the children we are thinking of, and they have a dreadful time.
I am delighted also that the Government are giving allowances both in cash and in kind. I have been interested in the welfare of children all my life, and I know that everybody deplores the ill-nourished child. That sort of thing almost breaks the heart of every mother and every good citizen. The results of such a condition are appalling. In getting an allowance in kind one can be certain that the children will get the necessary food. At one time we gave a free issue of milk but in some cases, though not in many, the children did not receive it at all and we have to be certain that, under this scheme, the children really get the food.
That is our job. The country has become child conscious. I appreciate the difficulties of providing free school meals during vacation, but if they would only give free milk during holidays I would not make such a row about food, as the provision of meals would be difficult. There would be no difficulty in seeing that children were provided with free milk and I hope very much that the Government will see their way to provide it. On the question of whether the mothers axe to receive this allowance, that is absolutely settled. I do not think that 50 men in the House of Commons would vote against it. The Government are right, they "pass the buck" to the House of Commons; the House of Commons are listening to the women of the country, and the women are going to get it. It is right that they should. It has been said that normally good fathers give most of their money to their wives, but some of them do not.
I do not want to talk about the status of women. They make their own status. I know the difficulty and I have seen it in my own life, in my own family. Any woman who marries without a penny is in a very difficult position when it comes to the question of children. It does help people when they have something of their own. This allowance will be a great help to the family, and, far from causing dissension, it will make the home much better, if the woman has something of her own for her children, and we can absolutely depend upon her spending it upon them. We have been told what other countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, have done. New Zealand is very generous, but it must be remembered that New Zealand got into trouble and that it was the good old Mother Country who straightened things out for her.
If you are never to speak because you are afraid to cause offence, you will never say anything. I am not in the least afraid of causing offence. I say "Thank goodness they did it," but they did get into trouble, and they ought to thank God that England came to the rescue. There is a tendency always in this House to look at what other countries are doing, and, if they are doing it well, to applaud them. I am glad that New Zealand led the way, but we ought to be very grateful and proud of the Government that at this time in the history of the country, they can bring in a Measure like this. It is something we have wanted for years.
I do not want to hurt the feelings of anybody but I ask the Government to do something for those illegitimate children. It is a difficult subject. I know that people are not as hard on illegitimacy now as they used to be. Formerly there was a sham; there was a double standard of morals. The man got off, and the woman suffered. But however much social legislation we get, the real welfare of the children depends on the morals in the family. We want to do all we can but do not let us let our moral standards down. Much as I am in favour of doing something for these unfortunate women, surely we should praise more the woman who goes straight, and the married woman in the home. This is exactly what is being done in this Bill. I thank the Government and beg of them, if they can, to do something about the illegitimate children. Sometimes people ask "Has human nature changed?" Of course it has changed. Look at the legislation that is being passed. The change has not been so much in the hearts of Members of this House as in the fact that the women in the country now have the vote. I regard it as really wonderful and miraculous what has been done, and what is going to be done.
They may not vote for women, as the Noble Lord says. There is still a prejudice, but I think it is passing. I end by thanking the Government for what they have done, by telling them that the country as a whole will be deeply grateful to them for taking this great step forward.
There are not many things on which the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) and I agree, but I do agree with her that we should make our speeches in this House without bothering whether we are offending other people or not. On the point on which the Noble Lord interrupted her, my recollection is that it was not that New Zealand got into trouble and was helped out by this country, but that the trouble was very largely caused by the financial policy of this country. That, however, is not really within the discussion to-day.
I rather wish to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) by speaking of some of those things which we can raise on the Second Reading and cannot raise later on. My hon. Friend the Member for Barnstaple (Sir R. Acland) and I have Amendments on the Order Paper dealing with some points, which obviously cannot be discussed in Committee. The first deals with this question of payment to all children. Several speeches, including that of the hon. Member for Gorbals, stressed the point that if there was to be a comprehensive scheme of family allowances, all children should be included. I believe that case is made out, on consideration that these allowances should iron out the difference in the standard of living, between the man who has a family and the man who has not. Whatever your basis of a minimum standard of wages, unless you have adequate children's allowances for all children, you cannot get parity in the standard of living between the family man and the man who has not a family. On that ground I would support allowances for all children.
Indeed, I believe a case can be made out for paying an increased allowance in respect of the first child. I believe that the woman who leaves industry, who gives up her job because she is going to have a child, and then stays out of industry to look after that child, under a properly balanced scheme of family allowances should receive an allowance which would not only enable her to maintain the child, but compensate her, to some extent, for the loss of income she has been receiving in industry. However, we have not reached that stage yet. Indeed, we are in a very different case. If you look at this problem from the point of view of a limited amount of money to be distributed, there is something to be said for the Government's proposals. If the amount of money to be set aside for children's allowances is small, then extreme want will be relieved more by excluding the first child, than by giving a flat rate all round. Because the Government scheme excludes the first child, it is, in my opinion, an admission that the total amount of money being provided is inadequate for the purpose. Therefore, to spread it where it is needed most, they have excluded the first child. I realise it would cost considerably more—I believe about 75 per cent. more—to include all children, and if we were really facing this problem, I think we should do that. Inasmuch, however, as the Government have decided on a certain amount of money, and inasmuch as I, as a back bench Member of this House, cannot really influence the Government to provide any more money, I think we have to realise that, with the amount of money they have given, the first child has to be excluded.
There is another point which I think we should discuss to-day because we cannot discuss it later. Again, this is covered by an Amendment already on the Order Paper proposing to double the rate of allowance for the fourth and every subsequent child. The point is that the thing which determines poverty is not the amount of income per family, but the amount of income per head, and however the minimum wage is fixed, if one has a flat rate of allowance for each child, with large families a point is bound to be reached where the income per head falls below the amount which may be considered a minimum. If we are, in any properly thought-out scheme of children's allowances, to remove want in large families, there should be some provision for increasing—I am suggesting doubling—the rate for the fourth and each subsequent child. I realise, of course, in a very large family of nine children or so, some will be over the age at which they will be receiving the allowance, and it is conceivable that there might be, say, six children in a family all drawing allowances There is another argument in favour of doubling the amount for the fourth and each subsequent child, and that is this. I believe that in a family which has four or more children, all of school age, it is reasonable to assume that the mother of that family ought to have some home help.
In the past, those who had large families, in the main being the poorer section of the population, have not been able to afford any home help at all, and I suggest that the way to make provision for home help for large families is to give an increased allowance for the fourth and every subsequent child. I am not suggesting that doubling the present rate of allowance would meet that, but I believe it is a step in the right direction. Again, this would increase the cost, I calculate roughly by about 15 per cent. but, comparing the proposals with the Amendment which I have op the Order Paper, it would increase the income per head for a large family, say with six children, from 10s. 6d. per head—which is what they would receive under the Government scheme, assuming the father was earning £3 per week—to 13s. That is not very much but I believe it is a step in the right direction, and I stress that what I am proposing is not, as was suggested in the examples quoted from the Soviet Union and other countries, a drive to produce large families with a view to producing a lot of cannon fodder. I reject that idea completely. The proposal to increase the benefit for a large family is designed for the welfare of the child, and not at all for the purpose of increasing the population. I believe that when there is economic and political security in this country, and in the world, the whole business of the declining population will right itself, and I do not think, until we have done those things, any artificial stimulus will have anything to do with it at all.
With regard to the amount of the benefit, this subject has been touched on before, but I do not apologise for referring to it again, because this is the last opportunity on which we can effectively discuss the amount of the benefit, and I think we have to take this opportunity before it slips past for ever. The Minister rather implied in his opening speech that the Beveridge Report had suggested that 8s. was enough, that 8s. was the subsistence figure. I think, however, by this point in the Debate, it has been made perfectly clear that the original Report proposed that, assuming the cost of living from 1938 until the time when the scheme came into operation, had increased by 30 per cent., the figure should be a total of 9s. I think it is interesting to see how this 9s., which is the 1938 figure of 7s. increased by 30 per cent., is made up. Paragraph 228 of the Report states that it is made up as follows: Food, 5s. 11d.; clothing, 10d.; fuel and light 3d. Now the figure of 5s. 11d. is the assumed average taken from other figures given in Paragraph 227, which states that the diet for children, which has been worked out by the League of Nations authorities, was calculated, on 1938 prices, to vary between 4s. 6d. and 7s. 6d., according to the age of the child. I question very much whether the figure worked out by the League of Nations can be regarded as adequate. My hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) referred to the survey of Great Britain made by Sir John Boyd Orr. In the report of that Survey, which was based on the year 1934, there is produced a series of interesting graphs which show that until 10s. a week is spent on food the diet made available is not really adequate. The report shows that, unless 8s. to 10s. was spent in 1934, the diet was inadequate.
Taking that figure of 10s., what would be required to-day? The Ministry of Labour's figures of the cost of living for 1934–45 show an increase of about 43 per cent. Therefore, if you are to provide the income which Sir John Boyd Orr said was necessary for adequate diet, you will now have to provide 14s. a week. I believe that the figures in the Beveridge Report are the very minimum that could possibly be countenanced. I believe they were worked out, not in the main in relation to diet but in relation to political expediency. I believe that the whole Report was made on the basis of, "Let us produce a Report so modest that no one in the country can quarrel with it, and then we shall get it through easily, without controversy, in war-time, so that its proposals can be ready to be put into operation by 1945." If the figures of Sir John Boyd Orr had been taken into consideration the allowance for food should have been put not at 5s. 11d. but at something double or three times that amount.
The Minister, in opening the Debate, said that the Government had no intention of saving money in their proposal to cut down the figure from 8s. to 5s., and suggested that the extra amount was to be paid in kind. Compare the figures. The Beveridge Report assumes that the cash allowances will cost £110,000,000 a year at the beginning, and there is a cash allowance of 1s. a week on top of that which will cost another £25,000,000. Excluding the first child, the cost will be £135,000,000 under the Beveridge Scheme. Under the Government's proposals, school meals will cost about £60,000,000 and cash payments will cost £57,000,000, a total of £117,000,000. The Government's proposals, therefore, are about 12 per cent. cheaper than those put forward in the Beveridge Report. The result of decreasing the amount in cash, and increasing the amount in kind, is to exclude children who are on holiday, those who are sick and those below school-leaving age, who need what is to be provided as much as anyone else. The Government's case is that this amount is not meant to be sufficient, but to be a share towards sufficiency. If the Government take that view then I do not think we can complain, but I think we ought to hold them to the necessity of increasing benefits in cash when the parents are on benefit, for then there is no one with whom the cost of the child can be shared. The logic of the Government's case is that when the father is on benefit the allowances ought to be increased.
I think the most important of all the financial considerations of the Bill is this: The logic of the Beveridge Report was based on benefits which are tied to the cost of living. The experts said, "Let us take 1938 as our datum line, calculate what is necessary for rent, clothing and food and so on, and arrive at the benefit figure." For the purpose of argument, the Report assumes that when the scheme comes into operation the cost of living will be 25 per cent. up on 1938 prices. I am not going to argue to-day as to how much the cost of living has gone up, and by how much I anticipate it will go up after the war, but one cardinal principle of the Beveridge plan was that benefits were tied to the cost of living, and I believe that the whole thing may prove to be a hollow sham unless we do tie these benefits to the cost of living. To-day the cost of living is controlled by the Government. By administrative action they can withdraw subsidies, and so increase the cost of living; they can give money with one hand and take it away with the other.
The best test of the sincerity of the Government's statement that that was not their intention would be to say, "We are going to tie the benefits to the cost of living because we know we shall keep the cost of living stable." If they say, "No, we cannot tie the benefits to the cost of living because the cost of living might go up," then I for one would look with grave suspicion on their economic policy, because it would make me think that they were unable or incapable of keeping control over prices. My hon. Friend the Member for Barnstaple and I have put down Amendments which suggest a formula which would tie these benefits to the cost of living, and I hope that the Government, between now and the Committee stage, will think about this matter and produce something which will tie the benefits to the cost of living in a manner which will be satisfactory to the House.
Hon. Members have spoken of the excluded classes. When the Beveridge Report was first published I did a lot of talking about it to men serving in the Army, and I found that there was no topic that aroused greater interest amongst those who were normally unpolitical. Time and time again I have given factual discourses on the Beveridge plan. In those days, late 1942 and early 1943, it was being taken as a guide for the future, as something that made people think that times were going to be better after the war than before. If I had said to these men that the children's allowance would not be paid to us who were in the Forces but would be paid to Members of Parliament and civil servants—to everyone except us—I should not have got very far. I hope the House will resist the proposal that the Government is going to take power to exclude the children of men who will still be serving in the Army of Occupation, or perhaps in the Far East, when the Bill comes in.
There have been pleas that these benefits should not be subject to tax, but I am glad they are. If there is a certain amount of money to be distributed, we should see that it gets first to those who want it most. We should distribute a flat rate and take some back in taxes from those who have the largest incomes. The idea that it is the middle classes who are most heavily taxed is not borne out when you look into the incidence of direct and indirect taxation. I am glad that the principle of taxation is introduced but I believe the whole of the benefits want increasing. I welcome the principle of the Bill because, apart from being a partial carrying out of the Beveridge Report, it introduces the idea that we must move towards a system in which the wealth of the nation is fairly distributed in accordance with the needs of the individual, though it is a very small step in that direction.
We have an amazingly small House discussing what has been described as one of the greatest revolutions in our social insurance scheme. The suggestion is mat we are going to spend something like £117,000,000, of which nearly £70,000,000 is provided by the Bill, and one would have thought that a change of that sort would arouse far more interest than apparently it does. I think one reason is that the House is really tired of chewing this thing over and over again without any action being taken. The hon. Lady the Member for the English Universities (Miss Rathbone), who has been the foster parent to the scheme, is entitled to our congratulations for having brought it to this stage. I am sure she will not accuse me of being unkind when I suggest that it has been coming along so slowly that she will have to hasten it or she will be leaving the stage before she sees the appearance of the genuine article. The Government started consideration of it in 1940. It is now March, 1945, and no one can tell even now when we are going to have it, because we have now adopted the really vicious principle of postponing the operation of legislation until some appointed day. We used it very sparingly before the war, but now we are adopting it with complete abandon.
I believe we ought to tender our thanks not only to the hon. Lady but also to General Rundstedt, because he is also partly a parent of the Measure. That we at last have the Bill is not due to the efforts of the Government, or of my fight hon. Friend who is responsible for it, but to the fact that the Government finds itself with more Parliamentary time than it ever expected to have. We learned from the Prime Minister last week that the European war was expected to be over last October. We all know very well that with the collapse of the European war the Coalition Government collapses too, so that the Government has had five months added to its life by Rundstedt's winter offensive, and it had to do something with the time which Rundstedt has inadvertently given to this Parliament. So they have done it, but in the usual gingerly fashion. Instead of telling us that we are going to have this reform they give us another White Paper, in the form of a Bill this time, because we drive them slowly. I congratulate the hon. Lady and her associates on the persistence with which they have driven the Government. There is no real enthusiasm for the job on the opposite side of the House. We have approached it with more circumstantiality in the Bill than in the White Paper and in the Report, but we have not got it yet.
I should like to make a protest on constitutional grounds against the use of this method of asking the House to carry legislation and then leaving it to the Executive to determine the date on which it shall come into operation. I consider it extremely vicious. Suppose the Coalition breaks up. Suppose that German military resistance collapses, and we find ourselves faced with the usual schisms which develop when the cement has dropped out of the Government structure, the cement provided by the necessity of continuing the war. Suppose that the rump of the Conservative Party is left and my right hon. and learned Friend has crossed the Floor and sits on this side, and we are speculating on the possibilities of an election. What have we done? We have presented the Government with an extraordinary instrument of mass bribery. They can either go to the country and say: "Immediately we come back we will put this into operation," or, three or four weeks before the election, they can operate it and they can also arrange for persons to receive the money at the proper time, and thus influence the atmosphere of the election. Far be it from me to suggest that such sinister designs are present. We all know the high-mindedness with which Conservative candidates always approach a General Election.
I seriously suggest, however, that there are all kinds of good constitutional reasons why the House should not leave it to the Executive to determine when certain benefits are to be given. If this is a good Bill, the sooner it is operated the better. What argument is there for postponing its operation? We have been wanting it for a long time, and we are now having it only because the Government's military plans miscalculated. We have been wanting it for a very long time, and I want to know why we cannot have the benefits of the Bill immediately. In other words, why cannot the country be told that this Bill is passed by this Parliament to be operated upon a certain day, and that that is determined by 615 representatives of the people in the House of Commons and not by some decision reached for all kinds of reasons, good or bad, behind closed doors by the Executive? Then there are no good financial reasons for postponement, it has already been made clear that this scheme is not to be charged to an insurance fund. The Government are finding this money, so that we have not to wait for the assembly of reserves of money in the sense of the National Health Insurance Fund before the payments are made. At the same time, there is no argument that people cannot spend the money in the meantime because of rationing. That is an argument for avoiding every form of increase. If this money is paid out immediately and families cannot spend it because they cannot buy what they want at the moment, they can save it and spend it when they can.
Therefore, I really want to take serious exception, not to an innovation—it is certainly not the first time this has happened—but to a principle which, if it is extended, will have vicious constitutional results. We saw this, for example, in the case of the Education Act. The substantial benefit of that Measure was the raising of the school-leaving age, and many of us supported it, although we had considerable objections to many other features of the Act, because there was that sugar on the pill. We knew that if the school-leaving age was raised it would be necessary to undertake great additions to schools and things of that sort, and we would have other advantages. What happened? The fact is that the Education Act is now almost entirely administrative. We have lost effective control over its operation. The same thing may happen in connection with this Bill. I earnestly suggest to the House that we are already losing effective control over foreign policy; surely we ought to try and hang on to whatever control we have of our domestic affairs.
I would like to say a word about the excluded classes, and very important classes they are. It seems to me to be outrageous that the Government should have decided to exclude these classes at all. We had an argument the other day, in which my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) took a conspicuous and brilliant part, over the new rates of unemployment insurance benefit. The Minister of Labour did not attempt to defend those rates. On the contrary, he said they were merely regarded as assistance to the unemployed family until they could find employment again. What justification is there, therefore, for not supplementing unemployment benefit by these allowances? I cannot understand the reason. We have had the same thing in workmen's compensation. Nobody has attempted to defend it on the ground that it is adequate. If the income going into a family as wages is so small that social insurance has to supplement it, the income is obviously smaller if the family is on unemployment benefit or workmen's compensation or is in receipt of one of the other forms of benefit. The only reason we are discussing this Bill is because, in the type of warfare that takes place in industry, the poor are hopelessly disadvantaged against the rich. If all the mechanisms at the disposal of the workers in modern industrial civilisation—the trade unions, the social services, literacy, propaganda services, organisations of various kinds, political enlightenment—if all these instruments at the disposal of the wage earners were adequate in their struggles with employers over fixing wage rates, we should not be discussing this Bill at all.
The normal functioning of the industrial system should see to it that incomes are provided adequate to maintain a workman's family without this legislation. These Acts of Parliament are merely attempts to redress the ill balance that exists in society between the poor and the rich, between the employer and the workman, with the addition, I must add, that the wage-earning system makes no provision for the size of families, a very important modification. Nevertheless, it is a modification, for the other factors still remain and the inadequacy of the incomes going into the homes is the main driving power, the main thrust in society behind these social insurance schemes. There is no drive for family allowances from the well-to-do. They have won in the tug-of-war. The drive comes from those who have lost. Who has lost more, who has failed more in the struggle, in this in- sistent tug-of-war that goes on in society, more than the widow, for whom we have made special provision, more than the unemployed man, more than the man on workmen's compensation, who has been reduced from his earnings to workmen's compensation rates?
Pensions and soldiers' allowances are regarded as substitutions for the loss of wages. That is the justification for them. We take a man from his civil employment and put him in the Forces, and pay him an allowance or, when he is injured, give him a pension. That is supposed to be a substitution for what he has lost, so that he is financially back where he was. Therefore, why withhold family allowances from him when all the rest are going to have it? What is the argument? It is merely the pedantic argument that a man ought not to receive two forms of income from the State for different categories of benefit. That is sheer pedantry. There is no reason why all the other allowances, pensions and rates of benefit should not have this allowance superimposed on them. I would like to have more substantial reasons than we have had so far, especially when we come to the Committee stage. I apologise for mentioning it now, but I do so because it may be able to short circuit a good deal of discussion when we come to that stage.
I am not going to argue much about the difference between 5s. and 8s. I am much more concerned about getting right principles adopted. If we do that it is much easier for us later to consider amounts. We can always add to the 5s. later, when we come to review the whole of the social insurance system. It is more difficult to get wrong principles put right if we allow them to pass now without any opposition. That is why I do not agree at all with this exclusion of the first child. I do not think the justification for these allowances is encouragement to have families. It may have that effect. I had an argument with the hon. Lady the Member for the Combined English Universities some years ago about this. I cannot, find irrefragable evidence—I will admit there is tendentious evidence—that the payment of family allowance has any effect on the birth-rate. Statistically, it is not borne out. Of course, there is always the answer that we do not know how far the birth-rate might have fallen if family allowances had not been made.
I admit that there is no such positive evidence that they may increase the birth-rate. In any case, the proposed allowances are so small that they only just tip the balance in the right direction. We still have the lowest birth-rate in the world.
The poorer people have the biggest birth-rate. I am much more frightened about the decline in the size of families among the middle-class. I suggest that the main reason is the appalling snobbishness of the middle-class. They will insist upon paying such huge sums for the education of their children in all kinds of inferior institutions that they cannot afford to have many children to educate. If my hon. Friends opposite who belong to the middle and upper classes, or are trying to climb there—or perhaps are falling away from there—would only send their children to educational establishments that are much cheaper and better they would be able to afford larger families. I am certain that any inquiry into the outgoings of the middle-classes on educational charges would show that they are extremely high, very high indeed.
I admit that the economic argument applies to them, merely because they will insist upon a higher rate of stupidity than the rest of the population. [An HON. MEMBER: "We are a free country."] Certainly, and there is no reason why hon. Members cannot be as stupid as they like. I agree that it might be the fifth freedom. I seriously suggest that there is no justification at all for the denial of the money to the first child. It is at that stage, after the first year, when the young husband and wife have settled down, that the first shocks begin to occur. I should have thought that the more cushions we provided for that period the better, and that we should not wait until later on, when difficulties begin to accumulate.
We are up against a really important problem with the illegitimate child. We cannot pay the illegitimate child an allowance merely because it is illegitimate without giving rise to a discrimination which is extremely unwholesome. At the same time, we cannot exclude the illegitimate child from the benefits of this allowance without anti-social consequences. Is it not therefore much simpler to bring the first child in, when the illegitimate child would be included with the rest, rather than to have this thing raised over and over again? I entirely agree that there are girls who have had illegitimate children who do not want to marry the fathers.
Yes, certainly, on grounds of strict morality, it would be far better not to marry them, than to marry them. Where the woman is a much superior creature to the father, of the child, all kinds of domestic maladjustments and crises would exist, in a framework of misery and depression which would be created for the child. Should we withhold from a woman of that type the benefits of this legislation? I seriously suggest that the Government ought to think about this matter again and give way to the overwhelming opinion of the masses of people in this country.
With that, I sit down. I am delighted that the Bill has been brought forward but I deplore that its benefits are withheld. The Government should put it into operation immediately. One of the most important and attractive by-products of this terrible war is that we have been compelled to pay such attention to our children that they are better off than they were in peace-time. That is owing to the feeding in schools. We have been able to prevent what happened in the last war, when the weakest of our population suffered. I hope that we shall continue to give them the benefits of our farsightedness and civilised attitude in this matter, and not spoil what may be a good structure by inattention to incidental detail.
At the outset I should offer a word of apology for not having been able to hear many of the speeches that have been made in the course of the Debate, but no doubt ignorance will be bliss, for I shall be able to proceed quite unaware that I may be repeating what other hon. Members have said before me. First I should like to add my word to the welcome given to the Bill. I agree that as a contribution to the solution of our population problem it is unlikely to make very much difference, one way or the other. The evidence to the contrary is not very convincing.
There are two main reasons why this principle of children's allowances is overdue. The first was mentioned by the Minister, namely that only by treating the responsibilities of the worker otherwise than through his wages, will it be possible to maintain "the rate for the job." It clearly is a fact that workers with children have additional liabilities and responsibilities compared with those who are without children. It is necessary, in my view, to maintain the principle of "the rate for the job," so those responsibilities must be taken care of if that principle is to be preserved.
The second reason why I have always felt that the principle of children's allowances is good, is that it helps to keep a gap in any national insurance scheme between those on benefit, and those on wages. If the children are recognised only when a man is on benefit and ignored when he is earning wages—conditions which used to prevail and which I hope will not prevail any longer—the man with a large family on benefit came very much too close to the minimum wage level to ensure a gap between the two. It was for that reason, no doubt, that when the Beveridge Report came out, the principle of children's allowances was regarded as a fundamental pre-requisite of any satisfactory system of national insurance. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) raised the question of dealing with a subject of this kind, and of having an appointed day, to be settled by the Executive later. I am not competent, and I have not the experience, to comment on that from a constitutional point of view, but it seems to me very improper to bring in, at this moment, a scheme of this kind, in which the taxpayer's money is to be paid to everyone, regardless of whether he is in need or not, when we are only financing about 50 per cent. of our current expenditure associated with the war.
The hon. Member alarms me. What does he mean by that? Does he mean that the operation of this Bill should now be postponed to some indefinite period when our national finances have adjusted themselves to better proportions?
It is a question of degree. I would say that, so long as we are providing only £1 of every £2 we are spending, it is no time to give out money which is borrowed from the future, or from someone else here and now, to people who, quite clearly, are not in need of it. It does not necessarily mean that the Budget has to be literally balanced in the sense we understood that term before, but it is when something very much nearer to that position than the present situation has been achieved that an arrangement of this nature should be put into operation.
I understand that the hon. Member objects, in principle, to paying out this money when the State is already paying out more money than it raises. I take it that he does not wish to reduce our present expenditure to the amount that we raise. He thinks it should be spent, although we do not raise it. On what principle would he allow it to be spent?
It is difficult, without seeing that last statement written down, to follow what the hon. Member has in mind. But I do not intend to be drawn off into any academic discussion about what we should do with our money at the present time. It is one thing to improve the lot of those who have fallen by the way, as has happened in the case of supplementary pensions and other matters during this war, when we are not anything like paying our way in this war. It is quite another thing to distribute substantial sums to a very large number of people who, by no reasonable test, can claim it on grounds of need. That is the only point. It is a question of degree. Under present conditions I say that the time is not ripe for the operation of this Bill, and on practical grounds I would not quarrel with the decision of the Government to defer, until the future is more clear, the appointed day for the start of this Measure.
Finally, I wish to bowl a brief "over" in what may be known perhaps as the "parents' match." I should like to stake a claim to participate in the match on the side of the mothers' team. If one looks at it from the theoretical point of view, the father is the recognised financial head of the family. There may, perhaps, be a technical point in that, but that has largely been destroyed when we learn that maternity benefit, for which the father has contributed, is at present paid to the mother as of right. So a substantial departure from that principle has already been made. Everyone would wish that the sums should finally reach the destination, and be put to the use, to which they are intended to be put, but I would have said there was a far greater chance of that happening if it was claimable as a right by the mother, with a satisfactory provision for an alternative method to be adopted where it was clear that the mother was an unsatisfactory person to have it. I do not know if anyone is to open a sweepstake on the outcome of the free vote of the House on this matter, but I trust that the services rendered on this subject, by the hon. Lady the Member for the Combined English Universities (Miss Rathbone) will be rewarded by the mothers' team winning the parents' match.
I think my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of National Insurance will be very pleased with himself after listening to the Debate which has taken place on the Second Reading of this Bill. I am a little alarmed however that the real mind of the Conservative Party was left undisclosed until we heard the final speech from a back bencher, the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Summers). I think my hon. Friends behind me will also be a little apprehensive lest the power of the hon. Member may be greater in determining the date of operating this Bill when it becomes an Act than that of my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister.
When the Coalition comes to an end I am expecting my right hon. Friend the Minister to cross over to where he ought to have been from the beginning. As this is a Second Reading Debate I do not intend to deal with the details of the Measure. I have lived long enough to see all the social insurance schemes of this country come into operation, except the poor law system. I remember the first Act of Parliament dealing with workmen's compensation.
No, nearly a century later. I remember the argument then put forward that the employer could not afford the premiums. I also remember the first old age pensions scheme for 5s. a week. It is a very strange turn of events that the nation to which we belong began by paying 5s. a week to old age pensioners over 70 based on an income test now concludes its social service efforts by paying 5s. a week in respect of the child. It might have been very much better if that order had been reversed and we had commenced with the children. I have been very pleased that no one in this Debate has claimed that the payment of this allowance will have any substantial effect upon the population problem. It would have been better if the Report of the Commission on Population had been issued before this Debate ensued. It has been my lot to study the reports of the International Labour Organisation on this problem of population and children's allowances. I have assured myself, so far as reading and study can go, that monetary contributions have not the slightest effect upon the birth rate in any country. Let us be clear that the idea of children's allowances originated from the Latin countries of Southern Europe and that it was based, in the main, on religious considerations.
I was once in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, between the two great wars and I found traces of family allowances within the old Austro-Hungarian Empire, which could be traced back for about 40 years. If hon. Members care to inquire after this war they will find the same history of social service in Hungary too. I leave that question, by repeating that no one has claimed that this 5s. a week will, of necessity, increase the population of this country.
Let me turn to other points raised in the Debate. I happen to be a father, and know what it means to bring up a family. It may interest hon. Members to know that I got married on 26s. a week; we had three children before I earned more than 30s. a week. If hon. Members care to inquire into the family life of the working people of this country, they will find that it is very much more expensive to feed and clothe the first child than the second and third children. As a matter of fact, the cradle and christening robe are bought for the first child, and generally used for all subsequent children.
Yes; I know a christening robe which is about 60 years old, and has been used for several generations of the family. The issue that has aroused most controversy is whether the amount should be paid to the father or the mother. I am very pleased that the question of the payment of maternity benefit has been raised. That is paid, as a right, to the mother. I have raised that point elsewhere, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows. Millions of pounds have been paid in maternity benefits since the National Health Insurance Scheme came into operation, and I have yet to hear any complaint of abuse of that money by the mother. When the father is to receive the maternity benefit, for which by the way he has paid contributions, the mother must give a certificate to that effect. There is no basis therefore for refusing to pay this 5s. to the mother. In addition, there are probably millions of widows who have already received pensions and children's allowances under the National Insurance scheme, and I have never heard anyone complain about those payments to women either.
I cannot understand where hon. Members get their ideas, about family life. Some hon. Members, including some of my hon. Friends on this side, tell strange tales about the family life of this country. It is a new suggestion to me that the married woman must humiliate herself and beg so much per week from her husband. On the contrary what I experienced, when I worked in the pit, was that every collier I knew placed the whole of his wages on the table at the week-end, and his wife handed him 2s. 6d. or 5s. as pocket-money. These notions about wives asking in a humiliating fashion for money from their husbands belong, I am afraid, to the aristocracy, and not to the working class. In fact, I see no prospect of decent relations between husband and wife, especially in a working-class home, unless the wife handles the money in the manner I have indicated. In any case, it is the mother who buys the food and children's clothes. Even if you paid the 5s. to the father, it would be the mother who would spend it.
I am sorry that the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) is not here, because she attacked the trade union movement on this issue as she has done before. She said that the trade union movement was against family allowances. Perhaps she will be good enough to read to-morrow what I am saying now. The trade union movement has never opposed family allowances where the money is paid direct from the Treasury. I have opposed in this House the payment of family allowances when the money was to come from the wages pool of each industry, as happened on occasions on the Continent. I would oppose this Bill too if it were proposed that the mining industry, for instance, should be separated from other industries—and the engineering industry in the same way—and family allowances paid from the wages fund inside the industry. The trade union movement has also opposed a contributory scheme of family allowances. But, at long last, we have a Bill covering a non-contributory scheme; the whole of the money is to be paid from the Treasury; and, therefore, I welcome this Bill and feel certain that the trade unions welcome it too.
Let me see if I can sum up rightly what the hon. Member for Northampton meant to say. He said in effect that you cannot very well ask the Minister to put this Act into operation, and pay 5s. per child per week out of the Treasury, so long as we, as a nation, are spending more than we are earning.
The only point on which the hon. Gentleman might mislead anyone who reads what he is saying, is that I made the distinction that these payments are intended to go to all, irrespective of need. That is why the position of our finances is of infinitely greater importance than would be the case if the payment were confined to those in need.
The hon. Gentleman apparently assumes two things. He would not mind the Act being operated forthwith, if the payments were based on a means test and our finances were sound. But if we are to wait until the finances of this country are in the healthy condition which I assume he has in mind, this Measure could not come into operation for very many years to come. Where do we stand as a nation about finance? We are told, officially, that we shall require very nearly as much money as the total pre-war Budget to pay interest on the present National Debt. According to that, we should not get this Measure put into operation for a decade.
We are paying millions of pounds to soldiers' children now from borrowed money, and I see no escape from doing it when they return to civil life. If the hon. Gentleman, and the Tories generally, have come to the conclusion that this Act cannot be put into operation until we are in the position that we need not borrow money for our national services, the House of Commons has wasted the whole of its time to-day. I trust that the Solicitor-General will be able to tell us something more encouraging than that—if he has sufficient influence over the Tory Party—though I am not sure whether that is so. As stated, I welcome the Bill; I think it a very worthy Measure, and ample tribute ought to be paid to all who have been agitating for years that this deed should be done. Finally, I understand that the complaint of parents who refuse to have children is not, exclusively, that they have not enough money to rear them; the housing problem is one of the paramount issues confronting large families. Then parents are beginning to say that they refuse to bring children into the world to provide cannon fodder for wars. That, however, would be a very large argument, though I can well imagine that the peoples of all the countries of Europe must feel like that at present. I can only add, in conclusion, that I welcome this Measure.
My first task is to express the gratitude of my right hon. and learned Friend and myself for the reception which this Bill has had from the House. Despite the amount of time that has been devoted to the issue of whether the allowances should be paid to the father or the mother, practically every one of the 19 speakers to whom I have listened with so much pleasure has taken the opportunity of welcoming the Bill and commending his exposition of it. But the very wealth of speeches that we have had would make it, perhaps, of less value to the House if I were to go through them all chronologically and deal with each of the points, very interesting though they were. I think that the House would find it more useful if I took the half-dozen broad issues that have been raised, and tried to put my views on the various points that have already been placed before the House.
The first of these, to which I have already drawn attention, is the question whether the allowance should be paid to the father or the mother, and, to continue the figure of speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Summers) the score at the time that I rise is 18 speeches to one in favour of the mother. If I may, with deference, deal with the one speech, that from the Noble Lady the Member for Central Bristol (Lady Apsley), who had the temerity to commend the case of the father, I only want to say that she was absolutely right in her views of what the Bill provided, in saying that the intention was that when the order book was issued it would be made out in the names of both parents and either would be able to cash the order. That I think was the point on which the Noble Lady asked for information; but, on the broad point, she is in a single minority. That is the position in which the House is expressing its views.
Broadly, there have been three reasons which have commended themselves to different hon. Members of the House, quite irrespective of divisions of party, on this point. The first is the innate evil which rests in man and the high proportion of husbands would would be liable to misuse this financial trust. My hon. Friend the Member for the Combined English Universities (Miss Rathbone) says that it might be as high as 10 per cent. I could not help feeling that, in the mind of the hon. Member for West Fulham (Dr. Summerskill), even a higher percentage lurked in her view on that subject.
May I be allowed to say that I did not put forward any definite estimate? We cannot know until we see. I based my criticisms in the sense that I said that, supposing difficulties arose in one case in 10, it might mean 250,000.
I am sorry if I have been too optimistic with my hon. Friend in regard to husbands as a class, but I say that that was one position that was taken up, and that, generally, the House being composed as it is, I do not think that it was a reason which commended itself to the majority of the House, who, of course, are of the male sex and are husbands. The second reason was the increase in the status of motherhood and the work of the mother to-day. That was an ideal which we all shared, and I think that none of us would wish to avoid paying that respect. But I think that the third reason, which was that the housewife or mother is the person who is the most knowledgeable about how the money should be spent and most able to decide the spending, was the one which commended itself to most of the speakers and received the most acclaim from the House. I think that that, fairly, is the way that it was put, and the House, as has been pointed out by many of my hon. Friends, will have the opportunity of deciding that point on a free vote on the Committee stage. I only want to make it clear, as I have done to the noble Lady the Member for Central Bristol, that the Bill, and the scheme envisaged in the Bill, did quite clearly set forth that the wife would be entitled to cash the order and get the money. We were looking at what, despite all that has been said today, I believe to be the position in the vast majority of cases—that the husband-does turn over his money. My hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) and I know Lancashire very well, and we know that the custom still persists there that the money is handed over. I am sure that is the position in the vast majority of cases, and I cannot help feeling that the tremendous importance of this problem has been slightly exaggerated in the most interesting discussion that we have had to-day. Still, the views are clear, and the House knows that it will get the opportunity of doing what it desires.
Now I come to the two problems—there are really three—which specially interested my hon. Friends the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) and the Mem-
ber for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) in that they are problems which arise on Second Reading, or on the Financial Resolution, and then not again. The first of these is the question why there should not be an allowance for the eldest child. I think it would be helping the House if I gave some indication of the problem which that raises. There are 3,000,000 one-child families, and there are 2,600,000 families of two or more. Therefore, there are 5,600,000 first children out of the 10,000,000. The Bill provides for 4,400,000 children, and that costs £57,000,000. It is, therefore, a mere matter of arithmetic that it would cost another £73,000,000 to pay 5s. a week to 5,600,000 children, making a total for the cash portion of the scheme of £130,000,000 a year. The position as to the first child was set out by my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir W. Beveridge) in his Report, in paragraph 417, in which he says:
First, it can be argued that the allowances for children should be regarded only as a help to parents and not as relieving them entirely of financial responsibility.
That is the way in which we put this Bill forward. It is not completely relieving but is a help to the parents. My hon. Friend goes on to say:
There is substance in this argument. To give full subsistence allowances for all the children of a man or woman at work may be described as wasteful and certainly cannot be described as a measure indispensable for the abolition of poverty; very few men's wages are insufficient to cover at least two adults and one child. When the responsible parent (that is to say the parent on whom the children depend) is earning, there is no need to aim at allowances relieving the parent of the whole cost of the children.
And so my hon. Friend goes on in that strain. The argument which we suggest is worthy of the consideration of the House is that when the parent is earning, his wages will be sufficient to provide for himself, his wife and one child. That is a basis which is often taken in many circumstances which are known to the House, and therefore the heavy expense would not be justified, bearing in mind the other calls that we have, even in this field of our national activities at the present time. There is the other point, which I am sure the House will bear in mind, because it is important in this and other aspects of the matter, that the expense to the parents of providing for the first and only child will be materially
reduced by the provision of the free meals and milk in the other part of the scheme. Therefore, we are acting in accordance with the original suggestion of the hon. Member. We have sound reasons for maintaining this attitude, and when one considers the additional cost, I suggest to the House that it is not the best use—I am not saying it would not be a good use in normal and ordinary circumstances—of so great an additional sum in the circumstances in which we are at present placed.
The next broad point which my hon. Friends rightly wanted emphasised at this stage of the Bill is, Why is the allowance 5s. and not the 8s. suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed? There has been considerable discussion and my hon. Friend's Report has been quoted from at a number of places, and I think in the end he himself was prepared to agree that he was contemplating that the allowance should be both in cash and in kind, but that he preferred that the greater part of it should be in cash. I would like, as the hon. Member for Skipton (Mr. H. Lawson) is in his place, to give my version of the costs again, because the House ought to realise and face up to the cost. They were slightly different from those published by my hon. Friend and, therefore, I would like him to consider them and to consider the basis on which I am putting them. I agree with the figure that he quoted as to the cost of the Government's scheme, as he quoted the Government figure of £57,000,000 for the cash benefit and £60,000,000 for the kind benefit, making £117,000,000. But if we take what was suggested by my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, then I differ from him again. As a mere matter of arithmetic, if you are paying 8s. while we are paying 5s. you get a figure of £92,000,000 as compared with £57,000,000. Then I add the actual cost, which my hon. Friend was valuing at 1s. a week, of school meals as they exist to-day—not as they exist under the scheme which, we hope to bring into force as soon as is humanly possible—which is just over £16,000,000. So the cost of the scheme proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed would, on that view, be £108,000,000 as compared with our £117,000,000.
The hon. Member is quite right. I do not think that he was in his place when that point was discussed and I was not, of course, going to avoid it. I think he will agree with me, because I want to take him with me on the first question, Are the Government being niggardly as compared with the scheme of my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed? My figures are an answer to that question. It is not the question of cost that decided us on the kind as against the proper proportion of cash. I would like to make this point with regard to the kind, that it applies to all children, as I emphasised, including the first child.
There is no Income Tax payable upon it. Whatever be the value of money a square meal and milk retain their value. There is a very definite lessening of the mother's toil. We all know what the communal mid-day meal means at the present day. Judging from my own children, a child makes a far greater effort to be good mannered, to conduct itself better at table, from the competition of the communal life. All these things, I believe, are of great importance and, therefore, it cannot be put at us that we are being niggardly when there are great advantages to be gained from an allowance in kind.
My hon. Friend will understand that the amount that will come back in Income Tax depends on the scale of taxation applicable to the various people that will benefit. Taxation will hardly touch the poorer people. It will be very slight on those who have only a small portion of taxable income and tax would be at the lower rate. Therefore there are too many factors for me, I am afraid, to give my hon. Friend an estimate. I was going to deal with the position of Income Tax as one of the main points, and if there is any further point I hope my hon. Friend will interrupt me again.
Before the hon. and learned Gentleman leaves the question of school meals, may I ask whether the Government have considered again the possibility of making any interim cash grant in lieu of meals in those areas where meals are not obtainable and may not be for two or three years?
My right hon. and learned Friend has considered the point, but he cannot at the moment see how that can be done. We are always anxious to consider it, and also anxious to consider what we think is an equally important point, that of trying to gear up the school-meals side of the scheme as soon as possible.
I am sorry to interrupt, but this is an important point. The administration of school meals depends on the local education authorities. It is surely not difficult to deal with those authorities who do not make arrangements for school meals, and to pay cash allowances if they will not do it; or, alternatively, which is the better plan, to gear up by exerting very severe pressure on the backward authorities, who exist, to do the job. If that can be done, how long is it going to take?
I am sorry if my hon. Friend was not satisfied with the answer. He was certainly given an answer, although I hope he will forgive me for my slightly bad memory, because it is quite a long time since I started listening to the Debate and I cannot remember every interruption that has been made in it. However, on the general point, he ought to have heard it from my right hon. and learned Friend, and he has heard it from mc, that the second of his suggestions of gearing up the local authorities to get this scheme into operation is, we think, the best method of dealing with it.
When my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale interrupted me, I made clear that that dealt with the charge of niggardliness, and I suggest there is a complete answer to that charge in the comparison with the scheme of my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed. There is, of course, the point that the cost of the kind portion of the scheme is considerably higher, as my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed said, but even at that estimate of £20,000,000, there is still a very small difference between the two schemes. It would reduce our scheme to £97,000,000 net as compared with £108,000,000, and I would suggest to the House that even on these figures there is an answer to the suggestions made by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed that the Government scheme is falling below the amounts that he thought were necessary. The difference even on that is so small as to make it impossible that one figure could be right and the other could be wrong. However, I do urge the House to remember that we are putting this scheme forward as a supplementary scheme for aiding the income, not for taking the place entirely of the income which the parents can provide. I think the next point—
I have listened very carefully, hoping that the hon. and learned Gentleman would deal with the point of the only illegitimate child. He has dealt with the first child, but not with the only illegitimate child.
Perhaps I may explain the order that I had in mind, and then I shall be glad to answer any other point. Having dealt with the question of payment to the father or mother—which we really threshed out earlier in the Debate—as I have, very shortly, giving a resumé of the arguments to the House, I then wanted to deal with the first child, which I have. I have also dealt with the 5s. plus kind against 8s. point, raised by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed. I was then going to deal with the question of non-duplication, which I thought was the broadest issue of the greatest interest to the House; then with the question of Income Tax which has been raised. Then I was going to deal with a number of shorter points, including the question of the illegitimate child, but I welcome the interruption of my hon. Friend on this because I am very anxious that no point which is of interest to the House should be omitted from the Government reply—if I am not boring the House by going on so long? [HON. MEMBERS: "Not at all"].
On the question of non-duplication, I should like to remind the House of the way in which it is put in the Act. As far as the Services allowances are concerned, they are dealt with in Clause 13 in the way that unless the Minister does make regulations, then both the Service allowances and the present allowance will be paid. If my hon. Friend the Member for West Fulham will look at her speech again, or think back to it, that was the point where—with great respect to her—she put it rather the wrong way with regard to Clause 13. As Clause 13 stands, both allowances will operate unless my right hon. and learned Friend makes a subsidiary instrument deciding that there will be some reduction or modification, so that it was not right for her to say that as the Bill stands the children of someone who is receiving an Army pension are automatically excluded. However, when we come to Clause 14—and this is the point which engaged the attention of both my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals and my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale—it is the other way, that in the case of someone who, at the moment, is getting workmen's compensation or unemployment benefit or some benefit under the Contributory Pensions Act, when family allowances come into force, then they cease to get the original benefit—that is, there is no duplication of benefit. Again it is rather important to be exact. I hope the House will not think I am being pedantic, because it is not my intention, but it is important to see the structure. The structure there is that you do not get the original benefit—I will come on to the effect it has on Income Tax under a separate heading—
Because the new benefit is higher. I was going to take the example of my hon. Friend the Mem- ber for Gorbals, which was a very clear one, under the Contributory Pensions Act. There you have your 10s. and 5s. for the first child and 3s. for the other children; under this you would, with respect to the second and third children, get 5s., but you would lose the 3s. My hon. Friend said that the net gain is only 2s. a week in respect of each child. The other example given by the hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) was with regard to workmen's compensation. He put it this way, I think: He said that under Part II of the scheme of Industrial Injury Insurance a worker will contribute five-twelfths to the workmen's compensation scheme and, therefore he ought at any rate to get five-twelfths compensation. Perhaps he might have put his case higher and said that the worker ought to get more because it was a contributory scheme. As I have emphasised, the effect of the Bill is that the two pensions do not run at the same time, that is, either the workmen's compensation or the contributory pension.
I appreciate the insurance argument which has been put forward by hon. Members. They say that these payments are in the nature of a return for insurance premiums, as if they had taken out an insurance policy to cover the same risk. I ask the House to consider that question broadly, and in the light of the whole work on which we are now engaged. We are trying, while never forgetting the whole picture, to hammer out point by point improvements in national insurance and social conditions over the whole of the national field. Each of these advances has had to be made with great consideration of all the factors and of the position in which the country is to-day, remembering that every advance we make has to be paid for by our efforts and our determination to increase the national production, and improve the national position in order that we may carry this load, and make it relatively light, to the full flow of our power.
There are two points of great substance. One is that in these cases of unemployment insurance benefit and workmen's compensation the beneficiary will have already paid for his benefit. The Solicitor-General has dealt with that point, but there is this second point, and that is that unemployment insurance benefit and workmen's compensation are in substitution for loss of earnings. We have the position where a man remains at work, suffers no loss, and will receive 5s. benefit, while the man who has partial restitution of his wages will not receive the benefit of this 5s. That creates an intolerable anomaly.
I am genuinely obliged to my hon. Friend for putting that point so clearly. I agree that there is that most effective way of putting it, but I ask my hon. Friend and the House to consider this answer to it: We are trying to improve the field of the State's assistance by way of substitute income. When we are improving one field we have to remember that another improvement is made in another field, but the combination of our improvements can only at a certain time come to a certain range. I agree that there are always two views, and that it is most healthy that there should be, but the Government have to try and form their plan according to their purview of the whole field. That is what we have tried to do, and that is why we feel, in our first presentation of this scheme, that it is right not to have the duplication. Of course, we are always ready to consider suggestions which may be made but, on the other hand, we ask the House to consider the principle which underlies our action in this case.
We can discuss this matter again on the Committee stage, but the point is of importance in that so far as workmen's compensation is concerned it has a relationship to another Bill which the Minister of National Insurance is preparing, and which makes this difference: The new Workmen's Compensation Bill will provide for a contribution by a workman towards his own compensation. If there was to be a denial of the family allowance to the child of a disabled workman we ought to know that now, because it would colour our view towards the new Workmen's Compensation Bill.
I thought I had dealt broadly with my hon. Friend's point on workmen's compensation. He will remember that I dealt with his point of the five-twelfth's contribution. The position with regard to workmen's compensation is that there you have 7s. 6d. for the first child and nothing for the others. To that scheme this would marry without any injustice.
I have dealt with that point under the existing scheme, and I have indicated what is weighing in the Government's mind on the question of my hon. Friend's insurance point, which rests on the making of a contribution. Now I want to say a word or two with regard to the question of taxation.
It has been suggested that these payments should be free from tax. On the other hand, the hon. Member for Skipton took the opposite view, and I agree with him. That agreement is not based merely on the fact of saving money. I believe that, when we give recurrent or income benefits which increase the income, the contribution to the taxation of the country ought to come out automatically, according to the different incomes which the different recipients have. There is nothing to stop these allowances being received by people with vast incomes. Another £13 a year on top of a vast income will practically all go in taxation, whereas people in the £2 or £3 a week income range, will get probably the whole of the allowance. I think that is right in principle. [Interruption.] When you take into account the personal allowance, the earned income allowance and the children's allowance, there will not be even the £65 left which is now taxed at 6s. 6d. in the £. On the other hand, as a general principle I think it is right that we should work on the amount of money that is paid when we are giving the grant and that we should then say that the recipients, if it is an income grant, will pay their tax on it. If we once start trying to go into differences of taxation, it makes the payment of an income grant absolutely impossible.
My hon. and gallant Friend made a rather more difficult point when he put to me the question of Service allowances. He said that in the Services you do not pay Income Tax on your allowances; and why should we not have the same thing here. I think all the allowances that one used to get in the Army were made in lieu of what one should have got, if one had been living in. The background of it is that you used to get marriage quarters when marriage was only allowed after attaining a certain rank; you were supposed to get your own food allowance and quarters allowance, and so on, and they are all really based on allowances in kind, which, of course, have never been taxable. But I do not think that is a conclusive argument, in view of the history of military allowances, against the general point that I have been putting.
Will my hon. and learned Friend deal with my point that this allowance should be regarded as income but has to be expended on behalf of the child by the mother as the child's trustee and, therefore, the child not having private means, it would not attract liability to tax?
I will certainly consider that but it seems to me a very artificial way of looking at the position. It is dependent really on the fact, on which I thought the House was in agreement, that we have to decide whether one parent or the other should own the allowance, and I said it was 18 to 1, as far as speeches are concerned, in favour of that parent being the mother. If that parent owns it, it would be artificial and difficult to treat it for taxation purposes as being in the ownership of the child. That would cause great difficulties and, at the same time, would be artificial and not in accordance with the fact.
I do not think that is the right way of putting it, because, under the existing law, the husband's and wife's incomes are pooled for purposes of taxation, so it makes no difference which pays it.
That is what it says—that it makes no difference—and neither the hon. Lady nor the hon. Member for West Fulham seems to think that a matter for the slightest regret as far as the husband is concerned. There used to be some difficulty about taxation without representation but they have gone a stage further and declared themselves in
I have left one point, and that is the case of the illegitimate child. I think we all agree that we must approach it with the greatest sympathy. I think the real answer to the qualms and doubts of the hon. Member for West Fulham is that in general the illegitimate child will attach himself or herself by maintenance to some other family. There are a few cases where the mother keeps the illegitimate child with her but, in the main, the child tends to get into another family and, of course, once it is attached by maintenance, as clearly as though it were attached by blood to the other family, the provisions of the Act will apply.
I have two apologies to make to the House. One is that the variety and number of the speeches have prevented me dealing as I should have liked with all the interesting points which every speaker has raised. The other is that I have taken a rather long time to deal with the broad points which I thought were of greatest interest to the House. The point of greatest interest to us all is this. We have with great pleasure and readiness turned our attention and thoughts to the assistance of the old, but still, at the bottom of our hearts, we know that the future and the reason why we care about the future is the existence and hopes of the young. I feel that in this Bill we have really looked towards that future, we have really done something to give the young a better chance, and if we can carry that into effective operation we shall, indeed, have taken part in something to which we can look back with modest pride.
On the question of backward local authorities who refuse to supply meals to children, will the Government consider issuing a periodical black list of such authorities in order to spur on and inspire those in these authorities who are in favour of the Government's desire?
There is power under the Education Act to urge them on or gear them up, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Educa- tion is most anxious to make effective use of that power. I hope that that will satisfy my hon. Friend, but I will certainly bear in mind what he and others have said on this point.
I understand that the Government intend subsequently to move that this Bill be committed to a Committee of the Whole House. Since, under the Standing Orders, that Question can only be decided without Amendment or Debate, I am obliged to intervene on the Second Reading in order to give the reasons why my hon. Friends feel that it would be more appropriate if this Bill and all similar Bills were referred to a Standing Committee. There are two arguments in favour of its being so referred. The first is the lack of Parliamentary time. Hon. Members in all parts of the House are always asking the Government for days to debate Motions in which they have special interest, and the answer is almost invariably lack of time. If many Bills of this kind are to be dealt with in Committee of the House it will consume a large number of Parliamentary days. The second argument is the kind of scrutiny to which the Bill will be subjected. You yourself said, Mr. Speaker, a few moments ago that the House had to look forward to an uninteresting discussion in Committee—
I apologise Mr. Speaker; I misheard. I certainly shall regard it as a most uninteresting discussion, and I suggest that it is the kind of matter of detail which could far better be referred to a Committee upstairs. I suggest that a Committee of 615 Members is not really suitable for considering in detail any large Measure. It is impossible for hon. Members with many other duties in other parts of the Palace to spend the whole of their time hearing discussions on the Committee stage. The result is that when a Division comes, many of those who take part in the Division have not heard the arguments which have been advanced in favour of an Amendment. I hope that the Government will consider whether the most desirable procedure is not for the policy of the Government to be accepted on the Second and Third Readings, and for the details of a Bill to be referred for consideration to a Committee upstairs.
I can speak again only with the leave of the House, and if I have that leave I would say that I agree with a great deal of what my hon. Friend has said, and I will certainly convey it to the Leader of the House. We have grown rather unaccustomed to realising that there are Committees upstairs. For a good many years all these Bills have been considered in Committee of the Whole House. In the old days it would have been an unheard of thing that this Bill, which is quite plainly a Money Bill—the imposition of a charge being the main substance of the Bill—should have been taken in any way other than in Committee of the Whole House. There is now a new Standing Order, No. 64A, under which it is possible to do otherwise. I think our practice, with regard to these Money Bills, thanks to the Standing Order, is to have our Second Reading before we pass the Financial Resolution. The practice still is that they should be taken in Committee of the Whole House.
I take it that the Leader of the House, in considering whether it should be a Committee of the Whole House or upstairs, senses the opinion of the House, considers the nature and extent of the Bill and the number of people who are to be affected by it, and the question whether the interest in the Bill is wide spread or not, and also, as the hon. Member said, the state of Business of the House and of the Committee. I will certainly convey to my right hon. Friend what has been said, and in future I will see that the question of whether it should be a Committee of the Whole House or not is always very carefully considered.
If there was any consideration of not taking this Bill in Committee of the Whole House, would that not completely do away with the concession that the Government have made in agreeing that the question of the payment of the money to the mother shall be left to a free vote? You cannot have a free vote in Standing Committee.