To the Editor
Dear Sir,—For the sake of accuracy, I feel it is most desirable that Miss Roberts should be more explicit than appears to be the case when she spoke on the important matter of family allowances at a Wilmington garden fete. According to the report in your columns, Miss Roberts, referring to the bickering as to which party was responsible for family allowances, said she “had never yet heard the name of the woman who suggested it. This was Eleanor Rathbone, etc.”
It is possible that some readers might have jumped to the conclusion that the splendid humanitarian woman M.P., now deceased, was a Tory. I can well remember some unkind things she said about the Tories from the Independent bench in the House. Would Miss Roberts explain why successive Tory governments, with their overwhelming majorities in a Britain much richer than it is to-day, never got past the talking stage?
Miss Roberts is also reported as saying: “They (I presume this refers to the Tory women at the fete) knew very well of lots of family allowances which the children could do with which did not go to them at all.” Did Miss Roberts ever expect that there would not be such cases where millions are concerned, and does she suggest that to prevent abuse by a few family allowances should end? Or does she suggest that the Labour Government should introduce further measures designed to ensure that family allowances are not squandered by wayward mothers?—Yours faithfully,
Norman L. Dodds
20, Havelock-road, Dartford. [end p9] Dartford Chronicle, 9 September 1949
To the Editor
Dear Sir,—In reply to Mr. Dodd 's letter on Family Allowances published last week:—
Firstly, there was no suggestion at the Wilmington fete that Eleanor Rathbone was a Tory. Most of the audience were well aware that she was not. Had Mr. Dodds and his party been first to pay similar tribute to this wonderful woman, the Tories would have joined him in his act, gladly though in a rather more pleasant manner than he has chosen to adopt in this instance. He points out that she sat as an Independent Member. Let us be a little “more explicit” and add that from 1929 until her death she sat for one of the University seats (Combined English Universities), which the Socialists have now abolished.
Secondly, although the Family Allowances Act did not receive Royal Assent until June, 1945, under the Conservative Caretaker Government a great deal of social legislation was passed by successive Tory Governments which prepared the way for the all-embracing social security plan that included family allowances.
The Socialists have not always been staunch champions of family allowances. What did they do about introducing them during their period of office from 1929–31? Nothing, In fact, the Trades Union Congress turned down the idea of cash allowances in 1930 (see official report 1930 Congress p. 382–3). Further, the Socialist Party resisted an amendment to the Unemployment Insurance Bill of 1929 to increase the children's allowance from 2s. to 5s. In the Division which followed, 204 Socialists, led by Margaret Bondfield, then Minister of Labour, voted against the increase.
Thirdly I do not suggest that Family Allowances should end, as Mr. Dodds seems anxious to infer, but I unhesitatingly condemn their abuse. Nor do I think that “further measures,” in the shape of legislation, would cure the trouble. The problem is not such that it can be resolved by the popular Socialist remedy of more and more legislation. It goes far deeper than that and will only be overcome when individual men and women have sufficient personal responsibility to perform the duties of democracy as eagerly as they accept its privileges.—Yours faithfully,
Margaret H. Roberts,
Prospective Conservative Candidate, Dartford Division. [end p10](2) Dartford Chronicle, 16 September 1949
To the Editor
Dear Sir,—While admiring the remarkable industry of Miss Margaret Roberts in her letters to your paper, may I point out that she has omitted to reply to the most important query contained in my previous letter, which was as follows: Would Miss Roberts explain why successive Tory Governments, with their overwhelming majorities in a Britain much richer than it is to-day, never got past the talking stage? Is it the opinion of Miss Roberts that the 17 years of undisputed power between the two wars was not long enough in which to get such a measure on the Statute Book?—Yours faithfully,
Norman N. Dodds,
M.P., Dartford Division.
20, Havelock-road, Dartford. [end p11] Dartford Chronicle, 23 September 1949
To the Editor
Dear Sir,—Mr. Dodds seems to be doing his best to cover up the Socialist Party's early opposition to cash family allowances by attacking the Tory Party for not introducing them earlier.
While allowances were made to the families of widows and unemployed persons under successive Tory Governments, the principle of extending cash allowances to all children after the first was not universally accepted until the beginning of the present decade. Further to this point, I should like to ask Mr. Dodds the following questions about the Socialist Party's attitude to these allowances: (1) Does he deny that the T.U.C. rejected the idea of allowances in 1930, and that the Socialist Party resisted an amendment to increase the allowance for the children of unemployed persons in 1929? (2) What was done by the Socialist Government during their term of office in 1929–31 towards the introduction of family allowances? (3) Has any Socialist Member from the Opposition Bench ever been such a staunch champion of these allowances as to raise the matter in Parliament during the period between the wars?
If Mr. Dodds goes into the matter carefully, he will find that his own Party's record in this matter is not an active one. I do not chastise them for that, as I think the other great measures of social reform carried out by Tory Governments between the wars were all necessary to prepare the foundations for the final comprehensive plan. But it does not seem fair politics to attack the Tories in order to draw attention from the Socialists' poor record in this matter.
As I shall not be at Mr. Dodds ' “Socialist fairy tales about the Tory Party” meeting, I should be grateful if he would depart from his usual habit of leaving questions until that date, and answer those above through the courtesy of your columns.—Yours faithfully,
Margaret A. Roberts.
Dartford. [end p12]
(3) Dartford Chronicle, 30 September 1949
To the Editor
Dear Sir,—As a result of a misleading speech by Miss Roberts, this subject was introduced into your columns, and now for the second time she not only ignores my query about the 17 years of strong (in numbers) Conservative Governments in between the war years, but raises questions about the stewardship of a Labour Government (in office, but not in power) for as many months from 1929 to 1931. In her previous letter she gave specific details which are even more misleading than her original speech, in what can be termed, even for politics, a “below the belt” attack, which went as follows: “The Socialist Party resisted an amendment to the Unemployment Insurance Bill of 1929 to increase the children's allowance from 2s. to 5s. In the Division which followed, 204 Socialists, led by Margaret Bondfield, then Minister of Labour, voted against the increase.”
But what a different picture this becomes when the full facts are known. On the Committee Stage of the Unemployment Insurance (No. 2) Bill on December 3, 1929, Miss Jennie Lee (Labour) moved an amendment to increase the allowance. This was opposed by Miss Bondfield on the ground that the Bill, which contained many desirable provisions for unemployed persons, together with other legislation the Government had to get a Supplementary Estimate before Christmas (only a matter of days away), and it would have been impossible to do so by adding a further indebtedness of over £4,000,000 at that late stage. Those familiar with Parliamentary procedure will appreciate this explanation.
It is what Miss Roberts left unsaid that is of such great importance—the amendment went to a division, presenting a golden opportunity for the 258 Tory M.P.'s to indicate their desire for family allowances. But what are the facts? The proposed increase was supported by 32 Socialists, four Liberals and three others, but not one single Tory M.P. supported the proposed increase, and, furthermore, they solidly voted against this humanitarian Bill in both the Second and Third Readings.
I want to make it clear that I am convinced Miss Roberts had no intention of deliberately misleading the public, but really she must be more careful. In many of her recent speeches she has introduced matters which it is impossible to deal with in the Press, and as it is vitally important that the public should have the facts, I should like to know if Miss Roberts is prepared to discuss them in public.—Yours faithfully,
Norman N. Dodds,
M.P., Dartford Division,
Dartford. [end p13] Dartford Chronicle, 7 October 1949
To the Editor
Dear Sir,—Further to last week's letter on family allowances:—
(1) Mr. Dodds offers a feeble and involved excuse which shrouds the real reason for the defeat of the 1929 amendment to increase the children's allowance for families of unemployed persons. The blunt fact of the matter was that under the Socialist Government the Unemployment Insurance Fund got into such serious debt that it could not stand any further expenses. By the time the Socialists were driven from office this fund was £100,000,000 in debt. To increase the drain on it at the time seemed an unwise suggestion to both the Socialists and the Tories who voted against the amendment.
(2) I see Mr. Dodds does not deny that the T.U.C. rejected the principle of cash family allowances in 1930. The T.U.C. did not reverse its decision until 1942.
(3) In answer to my query, Mr. Dodds does not give the names of any Socialist Members who raised the matter of family allowances for all, from Opposition benches between the wars. Usually, if a party is burning with enthusiasm about a principle, it voices its keenness in the House. If the sitting Member has been unable to find any names, I take it there are none.
(4) In order to clear up a lot of misunderstanding, may I give a very brief history of the movement for family allowances. In 1924 Eleanor Rathbone, who represented no party, conceived the original idea. She set out her views in a book, entitled “The Disinherited Family,” published that year. From 1924 to 1929, as she herself put it, the progress was “mainly one of opinion.” In 1929 she was returned as Independent Member for Combined English Universities. Outside the House she began to convert all-party women's organisations to her way of thinking. Inside Parliament she managed to gain the support of many individual Members from all parties. In 1940 an allparty Members' group was founded to further the cause. In 1941 152 Members of all parties signed a motion in favour of a “National State-paid scheme of family allowances.” From this time the demand was put forward by all parties together, and, as your readers know, the report of the Beveridge Committee in 1942 put forward the suggestion as part of a comprehensive scheme. The Family Allowances Bill was put on the Statute Book in June, 1945, and the first cash benefits paid in 1946.
In the light of these events, it is most unfair of Mr. Dodds to attack the Tories over this matter, when the Socialists were far from constructive about it themselves in the years between the wars.
Let us both be honest and say (as I said in my original speech on this subject) that the real tribute should go to Eleanor Rathbone. She belonged to neither party, but eventually enlisted the support of both, and that support grew simultaneously on both sides.
Finally, Sir, I see the long-expected challenge has come. Now that Mr. Dodds and I are on speaking terms—thanks to the good offices of the Chairman of Crayford Urban District Council—perhaps we could arrange a private meeting between the officials of both parties so that we could fix a date, frame a motion, draw up a procedure, select a non-party chairman, and organise the seating arrangements, etc. to our mutual satisfaction. I will leave it to Mr. Dodds to contact the Conservative office at 74, Spital-street, to fix this preliminary meeting.—Yours faithfully,
Margaret H. Roberts,
Prospective Conservative candidate, Dartford Division.
Galley Hill, Darenth-road,