HC Deb 14 March 1855 vol 137 cc533-8

Order for Committee read.


said, that as no discussion had taken place on the first and second reading of the Bill, and as there was some remarkable points in it, he wished to know whether any Member of the Government had paid any attention to the Bill. As far as the consolidation of the Statutes relating to Friendly Societies he had no objection to it, though he thought it was hardly necessary, and he could not approve of some of the novelties introduced by this Bill. There was a clause giving a power to appoint an unpaid Commission, which was to advise members of Friendly Societies; but then that advice was to have the force of law, and to override the decisions of the Courts, which was a very extraordinary provision. Many of these societies had made prospective engagements for the payment of annuities, and giving relief in old age, to receive which large payments had been made by members; but when they came to demand the benefits they had paid for, they found that the societies were broken up, and there were no funds to pay the claimants, who, consequently, suffered grievous injury. It was found by experience that few of these societies lasted longer than about thirty years, and that fact was fortified by the opinions of Mr. Neilson, Mr. Scratchley, and Mr. Tidd Pratt, who declared that the duration of these societies was of necessity limited. He (Mr. Scrope) thought, therefore, that they ought not to go before the public with the sanction of the Legislature and the prestige of registration and enrolment, and undertake to make engagements for long terms of years which they could not reach. They ought to be limited by law to a certain term of years, say five years, and to engagements for relief in sickness, and burial money at death. In that opinion he was supported by the authority of Mr. Tidd Pratt.


said, that the Bill was, in the first place, intended to consolidate the law of Friendly Societies, which was a very useful object. Great care had been taken in the preparation of the Bill, and it was not before the House for the first time, but was read a second time last Session, and referred to a Select Committee; and he believed the Bill was now the same as it was when it came out of that Select Committee. There were some of the clauses, especially that relating to the Imperial Commission, which required consideration; but he thought the provisions would be much better discussed in Committee.


said, he had not been in time to present several petitions in favour of the Bill, but he would mention that one of them was signed by 1,700 respectable heads of families, and others connected with Friendly Societies in Manchester; and he was authorised to say that all the persons interested in those societies in Manchester were quite satisfied with the Bill.


said, that he had been in communication with many persons in trade who knew how to take care of themselves, who had considered the clauses of the Bill, and in only one instance had any objection been taken to it.

House in Committee.

Clause 1 to 5 were agreed to, with verbal amendments.

Clause 6.


said, he considered that this and the two following clauses were objectionable. There was to be a board, the Members of which were not to receive any salary or fee, and would therefore be irresponsible. This board would override the Registrar who had a salary of 1,000l. a year. He thought the Registrar should be also an actuary, as they would thereby save the expense of an actuary. He should therefore move that the clause be expunged.


said, he could

not agree to the constitution of this board, unless the hon. Gentleman who had charge of the Bill would state the alteration to be made in the clause limiting its powers.


said, he proposed to strike out some words which might be considered objectionable. There were between 22,000 and 23,000 of these societies, and it would be very advantageous that there should be some central authority to refer to on questions relating to the alteration of rules, and other questions which continually arose. A large portion of these societies supposed that when they got the registration they had the sanction of the Government to their rules and tables. A greater delusion could not exist. Select Committees had recommended the formation of a board. He thought that two or three years after the board had been constituted, if it were found to work well, the House ought to be asked to make them some payment.


said, he very much doubted the practicability of securing unpaid Commissioners sufficiently qualified and able to devote their time to the business to be discharged under this Bill. Nor was he quite sure of the urgent necessity for the measure, seeing how admirably the magistrates of this country performed their duties as referees or arbitrators under the Friendly Societies Act. Supposing, however, good Commissioners to be secured, he considered that it would be of the greatest importance to enable parties belonging to these societies to obtain their advice. Still there ought to be no indemnity to persons who acted on their advice, if it turned out to be wrong in law and the acting upon it had injured the property of third parties. The Commissioners themselves could not, of course, be sued; and it would be against the policy of the law to allow a wrong to be committed without a remedy, or to empower parties to dispense with the law. He believed that upon the whole the Bill was a wise and liberal measure, and was capable of being made useful and practicable, and that it would prove very valuable and beneficial.


said, he objected to the Commission because he disliked the system of centralisation, and he believed the people of this country were becoming of opinion that it was well to leave local matters of detail to local self-government. Moreover, it appeared to him monstrous that any body of Commissioners should have the power, without any discussion in open Court, or any responsibility, to issue missives stopping the proceeding in any matter. He was opposed to the introduction of the dispensing power proposed. He was of opinion that Friendly Societies should be restricted to their proper province—insurance for times of temporary sickness; and should not be allowed to undertake for annuities and provision for old age. Their proper object was the encouragement of habits of frugality, industry, and providence. His great objection, however, was to the setting up any body of men to legislate or to alter the law as to these societies. As a Member of Parliament he conceived he had no right thus to delegate his powers, and remove the responsibility which had been confided in him by those whom he represented. Neither did he see any necessity for the constitution of the commission with a view to the revision or construction of tables superseding the authority of the Registrar of Friendly Societies.


said, that when the proposition for a Commission was first brought before the Committee, his own opinion was adverse to it; and though, after the evidence they received, his views had been much modified he should recommend his hon. Friend to reconsider the whole subject before the bringing up of the Report.


said, the clause now under discussion involved a very serious principle, which should be well considered. In the first place he doubted as to the wisdom of an unpaid Commission. What was the Commission to be appointed to do? The Committee which had sat upon the subject had described the powers proposed to be entrusted to the Commission as very extensive. It was his opinion that it would be best not to agree to these clauses at present. What were the reasons which rendered the appointment of a Commission requisite? He objected to anything having the aspect of a Government sanction to the friendly society tables. It was said that if Mr. Tidd Pratt died no one would know anything of the thousands of friendly societies in the country. There was, however, in the Bill no provision for any species of record of its proceedings. Practically the whole business of the Commission would fall into the hands of the secretary as in the instance of the Ecclesiastical Commission. He disbelieved in the necessity for any such central authority at all, and he hoped the clauses in question would be withdrawn for further consideration.


said, he should assent to this suggestion, and withdraw the clauses that touched on this matter; but there had been great misconception as to the functions of the Commission.


said, he would suggest that another registrar should be associated with Mr. Tidd Pratt.


said, he would suggest to the hon. Member (Mr. Sotheron) to propose on the bringing up of the Report the appointment of an official actuary as well as a registrar.


said, that a more objectionable proposal could not be made. In the first place, if it were adopted the House would fall into the error of giving something very like a Government security; in the second place, it would be difficult to appoint an actuary, seeing that no two actuaries could be found to agree; and, lastly, no actuary could prevent those frauds in the management of these societies, which formed the chief subject of complaint.

Clauses 6, 7, and 8, withdrawn.

Clauses 9, 10, and 11, agreed to.

Clause 12.


said, he would beg to move that the limit of 50l. to the annuities assured be reduced to 30l., and that the limit of the sums paid upon the death of any person be reduced from 200l, to 100l. In his opinion, persons who insured to the extent of 200l. ought to go to the ordinary insurance societies.


said, that in all the Acts previous to the last one the sums had stood at the higher amounts, and although they were reduced by the last Act to 30l. and 100l., it was thought better to revert to the original amounts. Persons were allowed to deposit as much as 200l. in savings banks, and there was no reason why the same amount should not be insured by means of friendly societies. He would mention some instances of the injurious operation of the late Act, One society in Belfast was made use of by the Presbyterians of the north of Ireland for providing for the widows of their clergy; and they found that the limit imposed by the late Act had the effect of almost neutralising their operations. By extending the amount of allowance as now proposed, this and other societies would be able to go on.


said, he agreed with the promoter of the Bill, thinking it an advantage that these societies should not be confined exclusively to the working classes. He admitted the occasional failures of these societies, but the benefits he considered far outweighed the dangers.

Amendment negatived.

Clause agreed to; as were Clause 13 to 19 inclusive.

Clause 20, in answer to Mr. WICKHAM,


said, the object of this clause was to allow societies, instead of going to a public house, or hiring a place for their meetings, to possess a building for themselves, and, if they could not get one ready made, that they might erect one for themselves. He did not think it desirable to allow these societies to hold land for other purposes, or to invest their money in real property.

Clause agreed to; as were also Clauses 21 to 35 inclusive.

Clause 36 struck out.

Clauses 37, 38, and 39 agreed to.

Clause 40,


said, he would suggest an alteration of the clause. As the clause stood the person who committed a fraud would be able to compromise his crime by a double payment, and perhaps something in addition. There could be no greater offence than that of a person cheating a society by fraudulently representing himself as a nominee or executor, and he should not have it in his power to compromise that offence by a money payment.


said, he thought it would be desirable to have the money that was fraudulently obtained from the society returned, At the same time the criminal offence should be punished more severely. The clause was important, and he would suggest to his hon. Friend to consider the clause with a view of framing it anew.


said, that the Committee followed the precedent of former Acts in framing the clause.

Clause withdrawn.

Clauses 41 to 43 inclusive were agreed to.

Clause 44 struck out.

Remaining Clause and the Schedule were then agreed to, and the House resumed.

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