HC Deb 22 April 1846 vol 85 cc852-9

House in Committee on further consideration of the Report of the Friendly Societies Bill,

On the Question that Clause 1 stand part of the Bill,


said, that the Bill at the present moment was much misunderstood. There was no doubt that a great number of friendly societies now in existennce would be greatly circumscribed and crippled in their operations if this clause were allowed to stand part of the Bill. He proposed that these societies should, under the new Act, have the power of transferring their shares. A deputation had waited upon him that morning, from a friendly society, stating a case in which they would be interfered with. A few days ago some members of a friendly society wished to emigrate to Russia. They had been subscribers to their society for a length of time, and of course their subscriptions were worth something to them. After the passing of this Bill, they would be unable to withdraw their money, or to transfer their shares to any other persons, whether they were or were not connected with the society, and of course their money would be left behind them in this country.


said, that the hon. Gentleman was incorrect in stating that the tendency was to narrow and restrict the power of friendly societies. The object of the Bill was the reverse. The effect of the judgment of Mr. Justice Wightman, from which no appeal was made, was, no friendly society could be held to be lawful which was not ejusdem generis, with certain specific principles of association in the existing law; and the object of the present Bill was to enlarge and extend the powers of those societies, without directly contravening that judgment. With reference to the particular point made by the hon. Gentleman with regard to the transfer of the shares of these societies, he thought that the hon. Member was not correct in stating that the law at the present moment permitted the transfer of shares. The clause they were discussing did not operate so as to interfere with those societies registered before the passing of the Act; for all shares in such societies, if they were transferable, would remain so. With regard to the policy of making shares transferable, he objected to the principle; for he conceived that these associations were associations of mutual confidence and assurance. The law assumed, and rightly assumed, that the members of these societies were parties known to each other, and who trusted each other; and, as the case was put by the hon. Member, members of these societies would have the power of transferring shares to persons not known to the society—to parties not trusted by them, and not acceptable to them, and who might not be agreeable associates for the other Members. He conceived that it was not right that new members should be admitted without any power of checking or controlling their admission on the part of the society in general. He wished to make these shares, not a matter of barter: he did not wish to create friendly society stags as well as stags of another nature; and whatever might be the law with respect to these societies, he was not prepared to introduce the principle of unlimited and unchecked transfer to strangers; for the law based these societies on the assumption that they were formed for the purpose of friendly and mutual assurance. He therefore proposed to strke out the words after the word "that," and to add the words "the investment of each member shall be employed for the sole benefit of the person investing, or for his children, or kin, and that no party shall give his investment for the relief, maintenance, or endowment of any other person or member whatever." That addition would make the investment the property of the parties subscribing, or their relatives.


thought that it was just and fair that persons who subscribed funds to a society should have the power of transferring them. He thought it would be better to have the clause stop at the word "transfer," and to leave out the words proposed by the right hon. Gentleman.


said, he wished to be perfectly candid on this matter. He was perfectly willing to admit the right of persons to combine against their employers, for the purpose of getting higher wages; and under the existing combination laws, it was perfectly legal for them to do so. But he was afraid that the accumulation of those societies, which bore a high rate of interest, might be directed to the purpose of holding out under the strike with their employers for a long time. He was afraid that if they stopped at the word "transfer," without adding the words which he proposed to the end of the clause, facilities would be given to what, for the sake of brevity, he would call strike associations. He conceived the words he had proposed were quite necessary to prevent such an abuse.


had no objection to the caution manifested by the right hon. Baronet, but thought his object could be better attained by a different course. He was of opinion, for instance, that the right hon. Baronet would more fully and easily secure his point, by limiting the accumulation of each share or individual to 20l., or, at any rate, a low comparative sum. He did not argue that the Bill should prevent shares being transferred.


said, that the hon. Member who had objected to the clause did not refer to the object and intention of the 4th Clause—namely, giving the power of investment to such societies, for the purpose of support to the members, in provisions, fire, &c., with or without the assistance of charitable donations. An accumulation of funds by these societies must arise, and such accumulations could not be allowed to take place without regulation upon ultimate disposal. The hon. Member also who had last addressed the House (Mr. Rutherfurd) was desirous that shares held in friendly societies should be made personal. As regarded the powers of withdrawing money invested by the holders, that was at present allowed, generally, by the rules of the societies themselves—he meant as to the investment of savings. If a limit were placed upon the amount accumulated, he thought the object sought might, perhaps, be attained.


said, that nothing could be more distinctly removed from his intention, than that the shares of these societies should be transferred promiscuously to anybody. What he wished to see effected, was this, that power should be given by the Bill to allow any Member, if desirous of leaving a locality, to dispose of his shares to any other member of the society. Nothing, he was ready to allow, could be so pernicious to societies of this nature as to sanction any proceeding of a gambling or speculative character. The right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for the Home Department had stated his object in opposing the proposed alteration, to be that of putting down strike associations; and although he said it was right that men should combine for the purpose of raising the rate of wages, yet he could not allow the funds of these societies to be used for such purposes. But the fact was, that many associations of the character for which the Bill was designed, used their funds for such purposes to this day. A society of woolsorters in Bradford in Yorkshire did so. He contended that this Bill was calculated to circumscribe, in a very material degree, the operation of the present law with regard to friendly societies; at all events, it would very much limit the privileges of the members of such societies. With regard to the decision of Mr. Justice Wightman on the point alluded to, he might state that the hon. and learned Solicitor General had stated that that decision was entirely wrong, and that the decision could not be maintained if it were appealed against. The opinion of the Solicitor General was, that friendly societies, in whose rules there was a provision for the support of Members out on strike, had every right to be certified and enrolled, because, as he and Sir Charles Wetherell had stated in their written opinion, such a purpose was perfectly legal. The fact of these societies having applied for permission to be enrolled, showed that they wished to come under the operation of the law. He felt quite confident that if the clause proposed by the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for the Home Department was adopted, it would impose very grievous and unnecessary disadvantages on many a deserving member of the community, as well as his family.


said, that there were two questions involved in this discussion which ought to be kept entirely distinct: the first question was, as to whether any shares or interests in the funds of a friendly society should be allowed to be transferred or not; and the second question was, whether any such share or interest should be transferable by any member of those societies or his family. In the belief then, that the law still remained, and that it would still remain as it was expressed in this clause, it was desirable to retain the enactment, which was framed expressly with the view of preventing speculation among those classes of society to whom it was most mischievous. It was one of the chief duties of the Legislature to take measures for saving such an evil from taking place. It was true that if they had only to do with lawyers, the greater part of the interests of friendly societies would be well taken care of under the provisions of the present law. But in reference to the observation of his hon. Friend opposite, he must beg to observe, that the amount of the property of any contributor to a friendly society's funds, could no more be disposed of than could any one in the receipt of an income legally sell or mortgage his next quarter's salary. He most positively asserted that the transfer of any such power was altogether illegal; nor were there any powers, or any words which at all sustained the opinion that such contributions had been made, or could be made, transferable. But, in order to save the public from such an impression, and to give a sufficient reason for actually preventing the transfer of contributions to the funds of friendly societies, this clause was expressly introduced; and it was partly to remove the impression which seemed to be entertained by his hon. and learned Friend opposite, that he (the Solicitor General) declared that such was the case; and he would emphatically state that the interests of a contributor to a friendly society were not transferable. It was the more necessary that this should be known, because if they allowed one transfer to be made—if they once threw around a transaction of this sort anything like the sanction of legal approval—if they permitted only a single case to occur, there would be no limit to the practice of disposing of those contributions; and the wife and children of the contributor might in the time of sickness, or suffering from accident, be deprived of that relief which was their only reliance. It was consequently necessary to prevent the transfer of those contributions, either by selling, mortgaging, pledging, or otherwise raising money on them for any future period. Though the sums to which this clause referred might seem small to some persons, yet they were of immense importance to the parties concerned; and these individuals might in a moment of thoughtlessness, or actuated by the infatuation of gambling, give up all that, which a month afterwards, in the time of sickness, they would need; and thus the family of a man who relied upon those contributions for their support, would be deprived of all advantage from them. If the House only considered the subject, they would see, that of all the community it was the working portion of the people which was most entitled to protection from the Legislature. He was now desirous of removing the impressions of the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Duncombe) respecting the words of the second part of this clause. Whether the words could bear the meaning or not, he (the Solicitor General) believed that they did; it was desirable to put a still more stringent restriction upon the selling or pledging of contributions to friendly societies. But mistakes had arisen in the minds of some persons, which it was necessary to remove. The words had been introduced into the Bill in consequence of an impression that had got abroad, and which had reached the well-informed mind of the hon. Gentleman opposite, that because shares were pledged, sold, and transferred, that such transactions were sanctioned by law. It was also supposed that if any person who had contributed to the funds of a friendly society in London was desirous of removing to some part of Scotland or Ireland, that on doing so he ceased to become a member, and that he would lose his title to his portion of the funds in the hands of the society, and was, consequently, deprived of all right to his former contributions. This was a great mistake, for it was a misapprehension to suppose that he was to lose all his benefit. Although deprived of the right to sell his contributions or to pledge them, yet he would be entitled to receive back the whole worth of his property in the funds. There was no desire to prevent any member of these societies from enjoying those advantages; but the object of the Secretary of State for the Home Department was to hinder the appropriation of the funds of any society towards the support of individuals who had entered into any association or combination for the purpose of supporting persons who were conspiring or combining to raise wages, or had entered into any arrangement to strike for wages. The object of the Amendment, as proposed by the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Duncombe) was, in fact, one to be regulated by the rules for governing the society, rather than by the law under which it was established; and he believed it was, in fact, comprised in the rules of most friendly societies now in existence, and came under the control of Mr. Tidd Pratt, who was the proper officer to supervise or introduce it. An hon. Member had stated, that the law relating to friendly societies as it then stood, was very uncertain in its operation. He was not prepared to state, that under the words in the existing Act of Parliament, namely, "for any other purpose not illegal," that the powers of the Act might not be applied to purposes other than those connected with friendly societies; such, for instance, as the hon. Member had suggested. It was because there existed so much uncertainty upon the present laws relating to friendly societies, that he considered some alterations were essentially necessary.

Clause with amendments agreed to.

On Clause 3 being read,


inquired if those societies whose rules had been certified by the revising barrister should be taken to be legal societies under this Bill. He conceived that the stricter provisions of the Bill were retrospective, and might break up some of those societies that had been already certified.


said, that all the societies which had been established before the passing of the Act would stand on the same legal footing as they would do if the Act had not passed; but in case of any doubt being entertained by any of those parties in consequence of the legal foundation on which they stood, they might under the fifth paragraph of the clause apply to the Secretary of State and Attorney General for a new constitution.


contended that to carry that object into effect, the word "or" should be introduced into the clause, so that the Bill might include all the friendly societies whose rules Mr. Tidd Pratt had certified. He moved to insert the word "or."

The Committee divided — Ayes 7; Noes 93: Majority 86.

List of the AYES.
Crawford, W. S. Strickland, Sir G.
Escott, B. Williams, W.
O'Connell, D. TELLERS.
O'Connell, J. Duncombe, T.
Powell, C. Evans, Sir De L.
Dist of the NOES.
Ainsworth, P. Duncombe, hon. O.
Antrobus, E. Elphinstone, H.
Arbuthnott, hon. H. Estcourt, T. G. B.
Arkwright, G. Ewart, W.
Baillie, Col. Finch, G.
Baillie, H. J. Forbes, W.
Baine, W. Fuller, A. E.
Baring, rt. hon. F. T. Gordon, hon. Capt.
Baring, rt. hon. W. B. Graham, rt. hon. Sir J.
Beckett, W. Granger, T. C.
Bennet, P. Gregory, W. H.
Bentinck, Lord G. Grimsditch, T.
Bodkin, W. H. Grogan, E.
Borthwick, P. Hamilton, Lord C.
Bowles, Adm. Hawes, B.
Bramston, T. W. Hay, Sir A. L.
Broadley, H. Hayes, Sir E.
Buckley, E. Henley, J. W.
Buller, Sir J. Y. Herbert, rt. hon. S.
Busfeild, W. Hope, Sir J.
Cardwell, E. Hope, G. W.
Carew, W. H. P. Jermyn, Earl
Chichester, Lord J. L. Jolliffe, Sir W. G. H.
Clerk, rt. hon. Sir G. Jones, Capt.
Coote, Sir C. H. Kelly, Sir F.
Cowper, hon. W. F. Kemble, H.
Craig, W. G. Langston, J. H.
Denison, E. B. Lawson, A.
Douglas, Sir C. E. Lockhart, W.
Duckworth, Sir J. T. B. M'Neill, D.
Duncan, G. Mahon, Visct.
Manners, Lord J. Strutt, E.
Marsland, H. Sutton, hon. H. M.
Meynell, Capt. Thesiger, Sir F.
Milton, Visct. Trelawny, J. S.
Morgan, O. Trench, Sir F. W.
O'Brien, A. S. Vyse, R. H. R. H.
Ogle, S. C. H. Waddington, H. S.
Pakington, J. S. Walker, R.
Patten, J. W. Wellesley, Lord C.
Rawdon, Col. Wood, Col.
Rolleston, Col. Wood, Col. T.
Rutherfurd, A. Worsley, Lord
Sanderson, R. Wortley, hon. J. S.
Scrope, G. P. Wrightson, W. B.
Seymour, Sir H. B. TELLERS.
Sotheron, T. H. S. Young, J.
Spooner, R. Cripps, T.

Clause to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses to 15 agreed to.

House resumed.

Committee to sit again.

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