HC Deb 20 June 1864 vol 175 cc2036-46

Order for Third Reading read.

Moved, "That he Bill be now read the third time." — (Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer).


said, he rose to congratulate the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the successful result which had attended the consideration of the Bill in the Select Committee, to which he had consented to refer it. As originally brought in, the Bill consisted of three clauses, and it had come out of the Select Committee consisting of seventeen clauses, sixteen of which, together with the preamble and title, were entirely new. He would also congratulate the hon. Baronet the Member for Hertford for having suggested that the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee; and the course of proceeding pursued in that Committee showed that there was no intention on the part of any of the Members to prevent the passing of the measure or to do it any sort of damage. Before the Bill was sent to a Select Committee he had made some objections to it, and as they had now been removed, he wished briefly to advert to some of the points in respect to which the Bill had been amended. One of the objections he had taken was that the Government were proceeding in a course likely to interfere with private enterprize — that was to say, with Insurance Offices; but that objection was quite removed by the introduction of words limiting any contract for payment to be made on the death of a person to an amount not greater than £100. He had expressed an apprehension that the Bill ran the risk of interfering, not with the larger and profitable concerns, but with what he cared for more—namely, those establishments which the working men got up and managed for their own purposes. That objection had also been removed by the enactment that no contracts for payment to be made on the death of a person should be of a less amount than £20. Another important restriction was introduced into the Bill, and it was that which provided that the tables on which the payments of a sum on death were to be calculated should be based on a 3 per cent rate. In that way all fear of unfair competition, which might have been surmised as possible to be carried on under the first Bill, had been entirely removed. He had on a former occasion stated that if by experience it should be found that the tables were not accurately prepared, a loss might be thrown upon the Consolidated Fund, but his objections on that head had been very much removed by the statements which he heard in the Select Committee from the able civil servants of the Government. He thought that the Bill in its present shape was a good Bill, and no one more desired to see it passed than he did. If a master or employer wished to make a provision by way of annuity for a faithful servant in his old age, he could do so with perfect security under the Bill, and without incurring any such risk as the breaking up of an Insurance Office. The Bill would also be of use to the great mass of labourers in this country. It would be in the power of a young workman about to marry, and it would be his duty, to make provision for his wife and family by taking advantage of the provisions of the Bill. He thought that if the working people of this country did not derive great advantage from the measure it would be their own fault.


said, he was glad to hear what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman, because at one period it was doubtful whether the present admirable measure would pass. He thought it would prove a most useful Act, as it gave to the working classes such a security as they were entitled to. The country at large would be benefited by the reduction of the poor's rate, while the poor being relieved from the hardship of being thrown on the bounty of others would be advanced in the social scale.


said, he should not have taken up so much of the time of the House in an earlier stage of the Bill had he not felt convinced that it was unfitted to carry out the object which the framer had in view. In its present shape he believed that object would be effected; and he trusted that it would confer great benefits on the country. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to think that he was opposed to the principle. That was not so. His objection was only as to the form of the measure, which he believed had been rendered unobjectionable by the examination which it had undergone. His right hon. Friend had shown great patience and courtesy in his conduct of the measure throughout, and he considered the House and the country had every reason to thank him. He wished, however, to ask him, Whether a person who paid money into a savings bank on account of life insurance would be considered as a depositor in a savings bank so as to bring him within the provisions of the Savings Bank Act, which prohibited a person from having two accounts at the savings bank?


said, that when the Bill was formerly under the consideration of the House a great sensation was created throughout the country, because the working classes believed it would come into collision with Benefit Societies. The result of the labours of the Committee was that no such collision of interests, and no such opposition, would arise between the Bill and Benefit Societies; but in order to obviate all doubt upon the point, the Committee had agreed to introduce a clause providing that insurances under the provisions of the Bill should not be effected for a less sum than £20, the result of which would be that Trade and Benefit Societies would not be affected by the measure. There being thus a distinct declaration on the part of the Legislature, that it was not intended to supersede Benefit and Trade Societies, it necessarily followed that the Government were bound to direct their attention to the condition of these institutions, with the view of correcting any evils and abuses to which they might be subject. It was not right that there should be any ground for the belief that the 20,000 Benefit Societies in the country were so constituted as, in any degree, to leave the door open for fraud and reckless mismanagement. Legislation on the subject was the more necessary as no substitute could be found for those societies, the chief mission of which was to provide for contingencies much nearer to the present life of the working man than those contemplated in the present measure. Philanthropic Members might perhaps imagine that the thoughts of the labouring man were directed to a time twenty or thirty years hence, when he would be old, or perhaps dead; but the truth was, that he was too much engrossed in the struggling life of today to exercise such foresight. He was obliged to consider chiefly how to provide against sickness or any of the other casualties to which he was liable. Another contingency was the burial of his children, for which purpose he had to subscribe to a burial fund. These various arrangements were built one on another, and all came within the scope of the Benefit and Trade Societies—the difference between which was that the latter offered aid in the event of the loss of employment, as well as of sickness or any other accident. In that way the taxpayers were relieved from many claims which would otherwise be made on them in the shape of poor rates, and from every point of view Benefit and Trade Societies deserved the serious and anxious consideration of the Government and of Parliament. He therefore hoped that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would not think he had done enough in bringing forward the scheme before the House, and that legislation in regard to these societies, as in regard to savings banks, would not be left to the enterprize of a private Member. The responsibility of dealing with the subject rested on the Government; and in his opinion they were bound to bring forward a complete and salutary measure so as to afford all the relief that legislation could give. There was some alarm on the part of persons connected with savings banks lest an insurance was to be treated as a deposit account and held to preclude any other deposit account in another savings bank. It was certainly not the intention of the Committee that such should be the case, and he should be glad to learn what construction the Chancellor of the Exchequer put on the provision.


observed, that he had received complaints from some of his constituents of the hardship it was to many persons in humble life who had invested money in the National Debt Office in order to secure small annuities, that payments were made only in London, thus involving considerable expense for agency and stamps in the case of persons who lived in other parts of the kingdom. He hoped the Government would consider whether they could not do anything to remedy that inconvenience, by authorizing the annuities to be paid in Edinburgh and Dublin as well as London.


expressed his general approbation of the measure, which had undergone considerable improvement in Committee.


said, he believed the operation of the measure would be beneficial. There could be no doubt that in too many cases the funds of existing Benefit Societies were misapplied to feasting and entertainments; and he hoped the Registrar would carry out his intention of disallowing such expenses. As to the deferred annuities, he knew, from experience in his own parish, that they were scarcely understood by the labouring classes. In his parish an office had been open for the sale of deferred annuities for five years, and during that period there had not been a single applicant. The measure would be most serviceable to the mechanics in the towns, but he trusted that in time its advantages would be extended to the population in rural districts.


said, the Bill was valuable us far as it went, but he could corroborate what had been stated as to the absolute necessity for regulating the Benefit Societies in a more effectual manner. These societies were of even more importance than any system of deferred annuities to the ordinary day-labourer, who, at the present rate of wages, could do little more than provide against sickness and other contingencies of to-day, without thinking of the future. He did not suppose, therefore, that many members of this body would avail themselves of the Government annuities, which would, however, be of value to other classes. He thought it was the duty of the Government, with the least possible delay, to bring in a Bill for the better regulation of Benefit Societies. The existing law was quite inoperative, and was also extremely unpopular. Working men sometimes boasted that it was easy to drive a coach and six through any of Mr. Tidd Pratt's regulations, and besides they resented the interference of the Registrar as an infringement of their liberty of action. He lately became acquainted with a society, one of the rules of which was that one-eighth of the subscriptions should be spent in drink. If any one would carry out this calculation in reference to the investment of large sums he would see the monstrous absurdity of these regulations. In a police report the other day the case of a man was brought forward who had been expelled in consequence of being sick too often. The magistrate ordered him to be restored, but the managers pleaded that there was nothing in the box, but promised that when there was anything he should partake of it. The society had been ruined in consequence of so many of the members coming upon the sick fund. It was sad to see any man who had worked hard all his life brought to the close of it with no better prospect than the workouse, but it was sadder still to see a man who by prudence and saving had put by a provision for age and sickness, deprived of it through the faults of others. These were matters which demanded serious attention.


Sir, I shall commence the few remarks I have to make by answering one or two by-questions which have been put to me in the course of this conversation. The hon. Member for Dublin (Mr. Vance) has heard complaints from some of his constituents that annuities purchased in the National Debt Office are payable only in London. There are two systems at present in operation. One is the sale of annuities in the National Debt Office in London—in those cases the dividends are payable here; the other is the purchase of annuities through savings banks—in that case the dividends are payable where the annuities have been purchased. As far as this Bill goes, it will spread the sale of annuities all over the country, and the dividends will be payable wherever the annuities are sold. If the hon. Member wishes to know whether an annuity can be transferred from the National Debt Office after it has once been purchased there, I am sorry to say that at this moment I am unable to give him the requisite information, because I am not aware the question has ever been raised; but if he will kindly furnish me with the circumstances of any given case, I shall be glad to recur to the subject on a future occasion.

A question has been put to me by the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton) and others to the effect, whether a person who may become an assurer of life under this Bill, and who, on that account, will be entitled by law to be subjected to the Savings Banks Acts, will not bring himself under the operation of the disability imposed by those Acts, forbidding any person holding two accounts at the same time. Now I have great satisfaction in stating that the words used in this Bill are mere repetitions of the words which have been in force ever since the system of public annuities was first introduced, dating as far back as 1833. Public annuities have since been purchasable through savings banks, with the condition that the Savings Banks Acts should be applicable to them, and consequently liable to the force of the objection, whatever that may be, with respect to the opening of two accounts. After an experience extending over thirty years, I may say confidently that there is no legal difficulty in the matter, and that a man who purchases an annuity, or makes a Life Assurance, will not be understood as opening an account in the sense of a savings bank deposit.

With respect to this Bill as a whole, it is, of course, a matter of great satisfaction to me that as it entered this House in peace and quietness, so it is likely to quit it with general expressions of good-will. I am glad the right hon. Member for Wilts (Mr. Sotheron-Estcourt) has thought it right to raise a special discussion upon the third reading, because it gives me an opportunity of doing that which it is both a pleasure and a duty for me to do; and that is frankly to tender my best acknowledgments to all the Members of the Select Committee, without any exception or distinction—between those who had originally favoured and those who had originally objected to my proposal—for the very valuable assistance they have given in maturing and developing this measure. When the Bill was first introduced into the House it contained little more than the recognition of a general principle, together with a maximum limit of amount, and our intention was to provide by regulations all the subsidiary particulars which would be necessary in order to constitute a working scheme; but the discussions which took place upon the Bill led me to put on the notice-paper a number of clauses, and, very naturally, after the subject had attracted so much attention from Parliament, there was a disposition to embody in the Bill various points of regulation and management. The result is that there will be greater confidence felt in the working of the measure by those who may place themselves under its operation; and not only so, but the members of the Select Committee, by their advice and suggestions, have rendered valuable assistance towards the formation of a useful set of rules. As respects the unanimity of the Committee, I may mention that the principal, if not the only difference of opinion we had related to a question of great interest and importance both in itself and viewed as a mere legal problem—the question whether those assurances which are to be effected under this Bill should be a property transferable at law? The Committee decided by a majority that they should be transferable, and I confess I am well satisfied with that decision, and, indeed, I might have had some difficulty in acquiescing in the contrary view. If a proof were wanting, after the animation of the debates which took place upon the Bill in its earlier stages, of the undisturbed impartiality of the minds of those who set about the consideration of the clauses in Committee upstairs, I could not give a stronger or more conclusive one than the fact that in the division which occurred upon this subject nearly all those who supported my view of the clause as it stands were the original objectors to the Bill, and the most prominent among the opponents of the clause were hon. Gentlemen who had from the first been favourable to the principle of the measure. I am inclined to think that a greater proof of judicial impartiality could hardly be conceived.

The hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets raises an important question when he says that this Bill will leave a large province still open to and still occupied by institutions independent of the Government. Of that I have no doubt whatever. I have no doubt that the competition of the Government will be highly useful to existing societies. I believe, too, that the operation of this measure will tend rather to extend the total area of provident arrangements of this kind than to diminish the actual space now occupied by voluntary institutions. But the hon. and learned Member truly says that there is a case for legislation with regard to the present constitution of Benefit and Friendly Societies; he hopes I shall not, on the part of the Government, shrink from the responsibility of that legislation; and he regrets that in the case of savings banks it was left to the hon. Member for Evesham and himself to introduce a measure of reform. I do net wish to avoid responsibility, either on my own part or on the part of the Government, and here I may speak the more freely because I do not know that general legislation on the subject of Benefit and Friendly Societies, if it fell to the share of the Government, would be so appropriately lodged in the hands of a Finance Minister as in those of the heads of several other Departments of the Executive; but I may be permitted to point out that there are certain subjects upon which independent Members, well qualified for the task are much more efficient legislators than the Government. There are certain Subjects upon which an independent Member who is known to feel nothing but a benevolent interest in the question, and who by his experience, by his general ability, and by his station has acquired public confidence, can do a great deal more than can be done by a Minister, because he is free from that suspicion and jealousy which naturally — nay more, which very properly—attends upon and watches all steps taken by the Government. I have no doubt that if the right hon. Member for Wilts had not been at the moment withdrawn from us by indisposition he would have been in a condition to exemplify in regard to savings banks that which I have now stated; but at any rate it was exemplified by the hon. Mem- ber for Evesham and the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets when they introduced and carried their Bill. No doubt the course was cleared for them by our legislation with respect to Post Office savings banks. That legislation produced a willingness on the part of the older institutions to be handled and manipulated afresh by the Legislature, which was greater than they had shown on former occasions; but I do not believe it would have been in my power to do that which was done by the hon. Member for Evesham and the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets with such slender assistance, or at least goodwill, as I was able to give them, in the passing of their valuable, though necessarily stringent, measure for rectifying the constitution and governing the proceedings of the old savings banks. What I will venture to say is this—I think we must see the plan embodied in this Bill in operation before we can have so much additional light thrown upon the subject as will enable us to judge whether new legislation ought to be applied to existing Friendly and Benefit Societies. That this Bill will lead to that legislation I entertain little doubt, but I think we must see it fairly at work before dealing with so important a subject. I hope that during these discussions I have not at any time appeared to question the motives or intentions of the hon. Baronet the Member for Hertford (Sir Minto Farquhar), and that, however sharply we may be opposed upon this, that, or the other question, no word will ever fall from me inconsistent with the warmest personal regard or with the most implicit confidence in every statement he makes in this House. On this occasion I am glad to be able to render special thanks to him and to the right hon. Member for Wilts, and to say that I can very well both accept and return their congratulations, because I feel that, though starting with different points of view, we have laboured cordially together to perfect a measure of no little importance. Nor can I sit down without saying that another Member of this House who did not serve upon the Committee, because he was unwilling to interfere with others, deserves the warmest thanks from me for the part he has taken in promoting this Bill. The hon. Member for Perth (Mr. Kinnaird) is very well known as one of the most active philanthropists of the age: it is to him in a great degree that I owe the suggestions which led to the in- troduction of this Bill, and I beg to return him my best acknowledgments.

Motion agreed to.

Bill read 3o and passed.