§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer.)
, in rising to move that the Bill be read a second time upon this day six months, said: I rise to move the rejection of the Bill, because I believe that if passed it will but add another to that long list of ill-advised and fruitless enactments respecting Friendly Societies which have conspired to leave these societies in that very unsatisfactory condition in which the recent Royal Commission found them. I have carefully studied the voluminous Reports of that Commission, and come to the discussion of this question with the highest respect for the patience and industry displayed by its Members, and especially by those two of its Members who now sit on the Government bench. But I maintain, in the first place, that in the Bill now before the House the fundamental and primary recommendation of the Commissioners has been omitted, and I appeal in support of my position if not from Philip drunk to Philip sober, at least from the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the right hon. Gentleman the Chairman of the Friendly Societies Commission. If hon. Members will refer to the broad outline of the system recommended by the Commissioners, contained in Paragraph 880 and the succeeding paragraphs of their Report, they will find that the very first feature of their scheme is that— 849local registers should he established in which the names, places of business, and certain other particulars of societies carrying on their operations within the locality, shall be recorded in a form prescribed by the Government.If they turn to the unanimous recommendation of the Commissioners in Page 213 of their Report, they will find the first three paragraphs devoted to recommending that in order to provide for the enforcement of the requirements of the law in the case of registered societies—a system of local registration under the control of a central office be adopted, the country being divided into a certain number of registration districts, with a deputy-registrar in each.This is, in fact, the foundation upon which the entire succeeding recommendations of the Commissioners are based. And why? I refer you to Paragraphs 871–2 of the Report for the answer. Because the present system of registration must be considered an utter failure so far as its efficient enforcement is concerned.And who," the Commissioners ask, "that reflects for a moment on what is expected from the present central machinery could be surprised at such a failure? How is one man in London to keep nearly 22,000 bodies of men in all parts of England, in the most remote villages, in the most crowded cities, bodies composed to an enormous extent of the ignorant and prejudiced, to a large extent of the obstinate and self-willed, to some extent, it is to be feared, of the self-seeking and dishonest, up to any conceivable standard, however low it may be fixed? Surely," they exclaim, "in the presence of the enormous development of the Friendly Societies movement, a purely central machinery must break down.And yet, Sir, it is to this purely central machinery that the right hon. Gentleman has reverted. His original Bill was based upon this recommendation of the Commission, and being based upon it, machinery was provided which the Commissioners assumed as indispensable to carry out their recommendations. The right hon. Gentleman in introducing the Bill last Session himself told us it was "obvious" that they must abandon the system to which he now proposed to go back; and he twice placed the institution of a system of local registration foremost among the principles of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman said, to use his own words in Hansard—The main principles of the Bill were to strengthen and improve the machinery of registration; to publish correct tables for the use of those societies; and to encourage and, as far as possible, enforce a system of periodical valuation."—[3 Hansard, ccxix. 1215.]850 And here, Sir, I would ask the House to observe that of these three main principles of last year's Bill only one remains in this. And why is this fundamental recommendation of the Commission, this primary principle of last year's Bill, to be given up? Because it would involve some expense, and because it is alleged that it might load to a want of uniformity in registerial decisions. As to the expense, an official witness—Mr. Malcolm—tells us, in a letter addressed to the Chairman of the Commission, that the country at present loses some £47,000 a-year in the shape of loss of interest incurred in fostering Friendly Societies under the present system. Now, if 40 or 50 local Assistant Registrars were appointed, as proposed by the right hon. Gentleman last year, and if each of them were paid as large a salary as that at present paid to the Assistant Registrars in Scotland and Ireland, the total cost to the country would not amount to more than a fraction of what is now spent uselessly, or worse than uselessly, in subsidizing these societies. As to the alleged want of uniformity of decisions under the present system, with the independent Registrars in Scotland and Ireland, we have experienced the evils of this want of uniformity, and we have examples of societies being registered in one part of the United Kingdom and refused registration in another. But how does the right hon. Gentleman propose to get over this difficulty? Not by abolishing the Registrars' offices in Scotland and Ireland, but by making them subordinate to the office in London—by granting an appeal to the Chief Registrar against the decision of the Assistant Registrars in Edinburgh and Dublin. What was there to hinder the adoption of the same method of securing uniformity of decisions had the number of subordinate registration centres, instead of three, been 40 or 50, as the right hon. Gentleman recommended a year ago? In point of fact, in that Bill the local registrars and the clerks of the peace who were to discharge their duties were effectually controlled from the central office. Nay, the very object of the central control which the Commissioners insisted on was to ensure this uniformity of action. For as the Report points out (Par. 871), three systems of registration for Friendly Society purposes have been tried by this country; two have already 851 been discarded as failures, and they were about to discard the third as a failure also.The only system," they toll us (Par. 872), "which the history of the movement shows us not to have been tried is precisely the one to which the facts of the present time point as a remedy—a local machinery under central control; and we take note of this circumstance," they add, "with a view to the recommendation which we are about to submit.Now, it is important that hon. Members should distinctly understand that the duties assigned to the Assistant Registrars and clerks of the peace under the Bill of last year were not merely to register documents, but to exercise such functions conferred by the measure upon the Chief Registrar as that official might choose to delegate, and generally, as the Bill expressed it—to act and assist in carrying out this present Act, as by regulations to be made under the same shall be from time to time determined." "Surely," again, to quote the words of the Commission, "in the presence of the enormous development of the Friendly Society movement, a purely central machinery must break down."Obviously," to use the expression of the right hon. Baronet himself, "we must abandon the old system of a central authority." And yet, in the face of such emphatic testimony as to the uselessness of this purely central organization, the right hon. Baronet now proposes to dispense with that machinery which was demanded as the first condition of successful legislation. Can it be that there is any chance that the present registration system could overtake any portion of the additional work which it is proposed to impose upon it? In the light of the Report of the Commissioners, in the light of last Session's explanation by the right hon. Baronet, I say, emphatically, no. Look at the extent to which it has failed in carrying out the objects for which it now exists, and which are very much less elaborate and extensive than those proposed to be committed to its care. Why, Sir, once more to quote the authority of the Commissioners, it has broken down to the extent of having failed to bring two-thirds of the existing Friendly Societies up to the point of affording to the public the two most elementary and indisputable data as to their condition. It has broken down even in its dealings with registered Friendly Societies to the extent of having failed to bring half of 852 these up to this simplest standard of legal requirement. I am aware that under the measure now before the House, the Registrar will be entrusted with a certain increase of power; but the Commissioners not only contemplated this, but they and the right hon. Gentleman contemplated also, as the basis of any satisfactory legislation on the subject, the establishment of a system of local registration under his control. For they knew that though they might confer upon him additional statutory powers, unless they could also confer upon him the eyes of Argus and the hands of Briareus, he would be unable, whatever his statutory powers, by himself to carry out the programme which they desired to enforce. As I have shown you, the Government have not only abandoned the first principle of their Bill of last Session, but they have, while retaining the intention to carry it out, eliminated from it the second principle—namely, the publication of correct tables. I shall now proceed to show the House to what extent the adoption of this measure will assist in carrying out the third principle laid down by the right hon. Baronet—namely, "the encouragement, and, as far as possible, enforcement, of a system of periodical valuation." So far as this enforcement applies to registered societies, I should not join issue with the right hon. Gentleman. But it must be remembered that a large number of Friendly Societies, stated by the Commission at a third of the whole, are not registered. These unregistered societies are at pre sent outside the pale of the law—they cannot sue or be sued. The English law affords them practically no protection against fraud and embezzlement on the part of their officials, and their members are powerless to enforce the performance of contracts of which they may have carried out their parts with a life-long pinching and scraping—contracts which it is assuredly not the interest of the State to discourage. Now, Sir, I maintain that the effect of this Bill, if it becomes law, will be to increase the number of unregistered societies at the expense of registered societies; that its effect, so far from raising the standard of Friendly Societies at large, will be to repress that tendency to improvement which is said to exist, and to drive out a number of institutions which 853 at present enjoy the advantages of protection against fraud into the ranks of those Pariah societies which the law only recognizes that it may declare them free to plunder and be plundered with impunity. This is a bold proposition, and before asking the House to hear my argument in support of it, I shall show you that it is not a conclusion peculiar to myself, but one which forced itself upon that half of the Royal Commission which signed the first supplemental Report, and which included the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for Ireland. If hon. Members will turn to P. 219 of the Report, they will find these Gentlemen speaking thus—We fear that instead of increasing the number of societies simply obtaining by registration a legal status, the additional conditions which the Report recommends in respect of such societies, such, for instance, as compulsory periodical valuation, will rather deter them from registration than attract them to it. This would indeed be a most undesirable result.I think no one who knows anything of the subject will dispute the undesirability of this result, and I not only share the fear which this section, numbering exactly one half of the Commissioners, expressed; but I have no doubt in my own mind that if the present Bill becomes law, that fear will be realized. In order-that my argument may be understood, I would especially ask hon. Members to remark the expression of these Commissioners that "societies simply obtaining by the registration a legal status" will, by the enforcement of periodical valuation, be deterred from registering; and I do so, because the number of societies which register simply for the purpose of obtaining this legal status, constitutes the largest section of registered Friendly Societies. This assertion I make, not of course, on my own authority, but on the authority of one of the Assistant Commissioners, Sir George Young, the value and accuracy of whose Report I am sure the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be the first to acknowledge. Well, on Page 31 of Sir George Young's Report, we find this statement—Of the advantages possessed by a registered club over an unregistered, that most frequently referred to, and apparently most valued, is the security obtained for its funds. This security depends, first, upon the power of prosecuting, recovering from, and punishing a fraudulent 854 secretary or trustee (18 & 19 Vict. c. 63, s. 24); and, secondly, upon the means provided under the statute for the settlement of disputes arising between any of the members or officers of the society (18 & 19 Vict. ss. 40, 41, and 42). The testimony afforded me is overwhelming, that no societies of a purely popular and unpatronized character, would take the trouble of registering, or submitting their rules to the Registrar's revision, if they did not obtain this security by registration; and that hardly any one would care to register merely to obtain the minor advantages conferred by the Act upon registered societies, if they knew of a simple way to obtain this particular advantage without submitting to the Registrar's control.Here Sir George Young goes on to point out that another means does exist, but that it is very little known. I shall, before I sit down, allude to that means; but meanwhile I only ask you to remark that there is overwhelming evidence that the great majority of popular and unpatronized societies only register to obtain that legal status which shall give them security for their funds; and, secondly, that the proposal of compulsory periodical valuation will, in the apprehension of one-half of the Commissioners, deter societies which now register for that purpose from registering at all. Assuredly it will, and that in a large number of cases, and for the very simple reason, that while in the case of such societies the inducement to register remains the same as at present, the restrictions and interferences implied in registration will be very much greater. Take, for instance, compulsory valuations. Independently of the serious expense which this implies, and which can only be met by Government fixing a very low standard of fee for the services of the official actuaries, it must be remembered that what are called Friendly Societies are distinctly divisible into two classes—mutual benefit societies, which alone are really co-operative, and which generally provide for benefits in sickness as well as on death, and collecting burial societies, which are generally proprietary and trading companies. In many of the latter, the management of the society, as is clearly shown by the Commissioners, is really in the hands of one man or a sot of men, who look upon the society as they would on a business of their own, and who consider, to use the words of one witness, and that witness a solicitor, quoted in Paragraph 524 of the Commissioners' Report— 855That as long as they have funds in hand sufficient to meet the claims that may fall in on the death of the members, the rest of the funds of the society practically belongs to them, and whether they take it in the shape of salaries or in any other way, they consider practically, and I myself," he added, "consider, that they do their duty to the public.Now purely mutual societies, in the solvency of which all the members are alike interested, need fear no disclosure of the real condition of their society, except in so far as any disclosure of insolvency is calculated to increase their embarrassment by frightening young insurers from joining. But it is self-evident that the proprietors, so to speak, of proprietary societies will view with very different feelings any disclosures adversely affecting their credit and reacting on those profits which they regard as legitimately their own, and which are to be divided amongst them in the shape of salaries or otherwise. The societies, therefore, which most require looking after on the ground of doubtful solvency, will avoid unpleasant disclosures by the simple expedient of non-registration. Again, the Bill contains a provision that no policy issued by a collecting society, which is generally, as I have said, virtually a proprietary company, shall lapse through non-payment of contributions until after the defaulting member shall have been served with a written notice that if he does not pay he will forfeit his contingent benefit. This provision is aimed against the practising of fraudulent lapsing, or putting members out of benefit by intentionally neglecting to collect their contributions; and though, in consequence of the inadequate machinery adopted in this Bill, it will effect little good, it is probably one of the most valuable and legitimate provisions of the measure. But it will also largely diminish the number of legitimate lapses occurring in connection with burial societies—the number of persons who owe their lapse of benefit to their own carelessness and unpunctuality. Now lapses, legitimate or illegitimate, constitute the chief source of income of many burial societies. One witness quoted by the Commissioners estimated that seven in every eight insurers who joined his society allowed their policies to lapse without becoming entitled to benefit. Lapsing, he said, is a source of profit to collectors, and more so to the society. He considered that a burial society could 856 carry on for an indefinite term with three months' income, the business changing so rapidly—thanks to these lapses—that the amount in hand required to meet liabilities was very small. "A general burial society," add the Commission (Paragraph 505), "thus lives by its lapses; in other words, by confiscation of the premiums of its members." Now, the provision against lapsing will either kill the societies that live thus, or compel them to forego registration. I am aware that the provisions with regard to lapsing to which I refer are extended under this Bill to unregistered as well as registered collecting societies. But how are they to be enforced? Are we to expect that the machinery which has so utterly broken down when called on to supervise the actions of 22,000 bodies of men will be found capable of controlling those of a still larger number? Had the fundamental recommendation on which this Bill was originally based as its leading feature been maintained, had the right hon. Gentleman adhered to his original system of local registration, it might have been possible to enforce the provisions of the Bill with respect to unregistered as well as to registered societies. As it is, that portion of it which relates to unregistered societies will, like so many other well-meant provisions of the 19 Acts of Parliament which have up to this been passed on the subject, be simply a dead letter, and the sole effect of those provisions will be to drive a number of the very societies which most need supervision into the rogues' paradise of non-registration, where they will be able not only to "lapse," but to cheat and swindle their clients without legal let or hindrance. In this portion of my argument I have assumed that those societies which have registered under the present system shall, when the Bill comes before a Committee of the House, be allowed to choose whether they will continue to be registered or not. The correctness of this assumption does not affect the soundness of my argument. It merely lessens the extent of its immediate applicability. But if it does that, it does so at the expense of a very grave injustice; for if the Bill, as it now stands, becomes law, the effect will be that societies which have, for the purpose of obtaining legal protection against fraud, submitted themselves 857 to the easy and unenforced conditions which registration now implies, will find themselves obliged either to carry on their business under an entirely new set of conditions, or to escape from registration by dissolution. If they dissolve, they must do so at an imminent risk of finding it impossible to reconstruct their societies, while if they hesitate to have recourse to such an extreme step, what will be the result? They must submit to periodical valuations the minimum expense of which will depend entirely upon the fees which the Treasury may name for the services of the official auditors, a point concerning which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has as yet given us no information whatever. As in many societies collectors vote at meetings and take part in the management, it will be necessary to change the constitution of the society in this respect, and here also in the direction of increased expense. The diminution of legitimate lapses, from which, as I have already pointed out, a large number of societies derive a material portion of their income, will, in many cases, necessitate re-adjustment of contributions and benefits, and here again in the direction of increased payments for the same benefits. Having bargained only for a sot of nominal conditions, almost every one of which they knew could be disregarded with impunity, they will find themselves brought under the operation of an Act which, according to a statement made by its draftsman a few nights since at a meeting of the Social Science Association, lays down no fewer than 355 penal offences. Finally, they must be prepared to find themselves bound by a law in which, in no fewer than 12 places I believe, such phrases as the following occur:—" As the Chief Registrar shall from time to time see fit," "as he may direct," "as he may prescribe," and so forth. I am sure it was never intended by the Commissioners or by the right hon. Gentleman, that under guise of a system of voluntary registration, a section, and that a very large and respectable one, of Friendly Societies should be placed between the Scylla of submitting to a series of rules they never dreamt of, and which are in a number of instances left to the discretion of the Registrar, and the Charybdis of dissolution. But if it be the intention of the right hon. Gentleman that such should 858 be the case, I think the fact would furnish another good reason for rejecting the Bill now under consideration. Arguing, as I do, that by casting aside the primary recommendation of the Commissioners, the idea on which the Bill of last Session was based, the chief provisions against fraud contained in this measure will prove as futile as the many which have turned out useless, or worse than useless in the previous 19 Friendly Society Acts. I need not detain the House by referring to various clamant evils to which the Commissioners direct attention, which the Bill—assuming it to be capable of being successfully worked—would fail to grapple with. I will, therefore, only allude to two points of detail which indicate the spirit of indifference to those of the recommendations of the Commission conceived in the interest of the public, which seems to me to characterize the present Bill. One of the most important of the recommendations of the Commissioners is the 43rd—That the existing system of Government insurance through the Post Office for death and Deferred Annuities be extended, so as to cover the whole ground now occupied by what is termed industrial assurance.This recommendation is altogether ignored by the Government. Another of their most important recommendations is the 37th—That, in addition to his power of dissolving the society, the Chief Registrar should have authority, on the application of a certain number or prescribed proportion of members, to make an award binding on a society for the adjustment of contributions and benefits.The Bill of last Session, both in its original and amended form, contained a provision for carrying out this recommendation. That provision has been struck out of the Bill now before the House. Thus, in the Bill we find two of the three main principles of the Government measure of last year struck out, and an important subsidiary one—conceived in the interests of the public—ignored. As I have shown, through the absence of the fundamental desideratum of a system of local Registrars, it becomes extremely doubtful whether the enforcement of the third principle of last year's Bill, that—namely, of compulsory valuation, will not do more harm than good. If, therefore, I were asked to define the principle of the present Bill, as compared with that of the 859 measure of last year, I should characterize it as the principle of emasculation, emasculation of every real safeguard introduced in the public interest. Compared with the Bill of last year, the present measure is but as shadow compared with substance. And now I come to a part of my argument against this Bill which carries great weight with myself, but which I approach with diffidence; because on this point I have not the authority of the Commissioners, or of half of their number, to support me as heretofore, but have to rely on the strength of my case, and the principle laid down by two of the eight Commissioners in an additional supplemental Report. That principle is, that means should be taken for extending the remedies now open to the members of unregistered societies in case of fraud and other malpractices, so that there should not be a temptation held out to fraudulent and designing managers to keep out of registration so as to escape any of the remedial provisions of the law. Sir, I conceive this principle, though endorsed but by two out of the eight Commissioners, to be one of vital importance, and I think very few Members would venture to controvert the forcible language in which one of these Gentlemen (Mr. Rounded) expressed his adhesion to it. He did so, he tells us—on the ground that unregistered societies when not actually illegal, ought not to be regarded as outside the pale of the law, and that power for the punishment of fraud is not so much a privilege of a society as a chock to knaves.Well, as the law at present stands, the members of a society can say—"We know our own business, and don't care to be trammelled by red tape, but we desire that security against frauds, and the benefit of those provisions for the settlement of disputes, which Sir George Young tells on overwhelming testimony is the reason why the vast majority of popular and unpatronized societies submit to registration." They can say—" We desire security, but wish to conduct our own business according to our own fashion," and they can without further question than whether their society is established for a lawful purpose, by simply depositing their rules at once obtain that security for their funds and that legal assistance in the settlement of disputes which they desire, The law 860 on this point is by no means perfect—rules once deposited may be altered, and the object of the society thus changed to any extent, without the Registrar or the public knowing anything of the change; but this is a matter of detail and obviously the result of an oversight. What, therefore, I wish to point out is that in the Proviso regarding societies with deposited rules, the law at present recognizes this most important principle, that the members of every Friendly Society established for a legal purpose, whether its members choose to hold an annual feast, or to spend a certain portion of their money in drink or not, whether it chooses to restrict its investments according to Government ideas or not, whether it chooses to have collectors on its committee of management or not—that every such society is entitled to the benefit of these provisions against roguery and fraud which most people consider to be the right of every subject of a civilized country. Now, the present Bill proposes to put an end to this acknowledgment of a most salutary principle, a principle which, as Sir George Young points out in the Report to which I have before referred, has only failed to be largely taken avail of because the law on the subject was not generally known. It proposes, I say, to do away with this invaluable principle in the existing law, and to substitute for it another to this effect—that the members of every Friendly Society must either conduct their business according to the rules devised by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir Stafford Northcote), that they must invest its funds in the manner which has been laid down, that they must draw up its rules according to his Schedule, that they must submit its accounts to the Registrar, and that they must undergo a valuation of its assets and liabilities once every four years, or that the society shall be considered as outside the pale of the law—that they shall be outlawed as if they were persons of the vilest type, and exposed to have themselves cheated and their funds embezzled without legal remedy. Now, Sir, I look upon the negation of this great principle in the existing law as a drawback which more than counterbalances all the enforceable provisions of the present Bill. Had there been engrafted on the Bill of last Session a 861 provision for the compulsory deposit with the Registrar of such particulars as were necessary for the identification of a society and its objects—its rules, its office address, and the names of its office-bearers; had every society been compelled, as with the machinery of last year's Bill it easily might have been, to publicly record these particulars; and had the provision of the law protecting from fraud and facilitating settlement of disputes been extended to all societies, registered and unregistered, the Bill of last year would, in my opinion, have been a most satisfactory measure. To attempt to amend the present Bill in that direction would be futile. It lacks, as I have shown, the machinery which would be necessary to carry out the provisions which it contains. It is really, so far as the Bill of last Session is concerned, but the shadow of a name. Of the three main principles of that Bill, two—local registration and official tables—have been eliminated from this, and without the first of them, as I think I have shown, the third—that of periodical valuation—will do more harm than good. I have shown that the Bill before us has been curtailed of the most important provisions of that of last Session, and that, maimed and mutilated as it is, it must utterly fail to carry out the recommendations of the Commission. I have pointed out that, contrasted with the three main principles of the Bill of last year, the present Bill seems to have but one main principle, and that is emasculation. I have pointed out the all but certainty that under the new Bill a number of societies now registered, or with deposited rules, will be found to place themselves outside the pale of the law; and I have shown that in proposing to do away with the advantages at present obtainable by the deposit of rules, the right hon. Gentleman proposes to do away with a most salutary feature of our law, and to substitute for it a retrograde and obnoxious one. Having done so, Sir, I think I am fully justified in moving, as I now do, as an Amendment to the Motion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that the Bill be read a second time this day six months.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Dr. Cameron,)862
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. A. H. BROWN
remarked that it was necessary to deal gently with these societies, and while seeking to strengthen their good habits to endeavour to put down those abuses which some amongst them had unfortunately upheld. When he looked over the Bill it appeared to him quite plain that it was simply a direction to a central body to be located in London, and could only be regarded as a sort of sign-post to the road which Friendly Societies ought to go; and its success would entirely depend upon its constitution, power, and ability of that body. He deprecated any powers given to the central body which would have the effect of taking these societies off the register. On the whole, however, the Bill seemed to be carefully guarded in this respect, and in the case of the great affiliated Orders this power of the central body was subject to the consent of the central body of the Order. Further, it recognized the fact that there was nothing which the working classes so disliked as unnecessary interference. One provision in the Bill required further consideration, and that was the proportion of members at whose instigation the central body was to be put in motion. In this respect the Bill was hardly sufficiently elastic. Societies differed greatly in the number of their members; some were local, some general. While some numbered over 300,000, some were only 50 in number, and the same proportion of members at whose instigation the central body was to be put in motion did not suit all. While recognizing the right of minorities, it would not be well to encourage factious minorities; and he would suggest that, in the case of societies which were not local, one set of numbers should be prescribed, and another set in the case of societies which were local, to justify the interference of the central body. The Bill contained various improvements in the law. Among these was a provision limiting the amount of insurance upon the life of infants. It seemed to him that the amount mentioned in the Bill—£3—was a very fair one. It was said that £3 was not enough to pay the doctor and undertaker, but in these sad cases a doctor was not in attendance, and the funeral was of the cheapest 863 kind. He did not believe that any attack was thereby intended upon working men; the provision being directed against the serious evil known as baby farming. He also differed from his hon. Friend (Dr. Cameron) with regard to local registration, for he thought that the absence of the local register in the Bill was an improvement upon the measure of last year. His hon. Friend had objected to the Bill on the ground of the absence of actuarial tables; but the words of the 10th clause gave quite sufficient powers to the central body to make provision for that and other purposes. Reviewing the whole provisions of the Bill, he must say he saw nothing in it which could induce him not to give it his hearty support. He cordially supported the measure, because he believed it was an honest attempt on the part of the Government to do what they could to strengthen and improve good societies in the interest of the working classes, leaving them, as far as possible, to manage their affairs in their own way. He most strongly deprecated anything being done which would impede the passing of a Bill introduced with such an excellent object.
§ LORD ESLINGTON
said, he hoped, as he took a deep interest in this subject, that he might be allowed to make a few observations on this occasion. He could not imagine for a moment that the House was prepared to reject the Bill, and unless some stronger reasons than those given by the hon. Member opposite (Dr. Cameron) were adduced against the principles of the Bill, he had every confidence that the House would support its second reading. He regarded the provision in the Bill requiring periodical valuation as absolutely indispensable to soundness. The hon. Member who moved the rejection of the Bill said that that provision would cause a great number of the present registered societies to become non-registered societies, over which there would be no control. Now, that argument proved too much, because if pressed to its legitimate conclusion, it would follow that any restriction imposed on the societies, or any provision that might be framed to secure for contributors that knowledge and publicity which were essential to the soundness of those institutions, would deter societies from registering or force them to become un-registered. 864 That argument applied against the whole Bill, and would apply to any Bill which might be framed, and he hoped the House would not be led away by any such false issue. The great object of this Bill, and of the complicated machinery which it provided, seemed to be to encourage the powerful institutions, and indirectly to discourage the less powerful. The experience they had had, as well as the evidence taken on the subject, all proved that the great bodies ought to be encouraged, and that the larger they were the greater was their power of doing good. But there was one defect in their rules which he wished to point out, and he was sure that any suggestion made in temperate language would receive from those societies a respectful consideration. The rates of contribution had not been so accommodated to agricultural wages as to induce the agricultural class to join the great bodies, and to derive the advantages which the economy of their management insured. He believed that in that great institution, the Manchester Unity, only 7 or 7½ per cent were agricultural members. It was a great misfortune that the proportion should be so small. It was the wealthier class of artizans which constituted the ranks of the great affiliated Orders to which he was referring, and the poorer labourers were kept out. But his chief object in rising was to express his strong objection to the limitation contained in the Bill as to the insurance of infant life. That would be looked upon as an insult by the working classes, and though he had looked carefully more than once into that part of the Commissioners' Report which attempted to justify the limitation, it appeared to him singularly inconclusive. In the first place, the evidence upon the subject was extremely limited, having been confined in the main to the manufacturing districts of Lancashire and the great town of Liverpool. Besides, more than half of those examined stated that the power of insuring infant life had no tendency whatever to produce a high rate of infant mortality. It should be remembered that the Commissioners based their conclusion upon the rate of mortality among infants up to four years of age in the manufacturing districts. To base any conclusion upon such facts was, he thought, a great mistake, Before he admitted 865 that this mortality was due to the power of insuring he would like to know what was the normal ratio of mortality at that age as compared with other ages. He thought the mortality in certain manufacturing districts was stated to be 30 per cent below two years of age and 50 per cent up to the age of four. He wanted to know whether there were not circumstances connected with the habits of the people in the manufacturing districts which would largely account for the mortality of infants at those ages? Might it not be that the temptations of the mill induced the mother to return to her work far too soon for her own health and for that of her infant, the latter being left to the care of a young sister or other unskilful nurse, and not receiving proper nourishment? In that way a considerable amount of infant mortality might arise. Those considerations induced him to form the opinion which he entertained against the limitation of insurance, in addition to which the sum allowed was insufficient for the purpose. He understood the hon. Gentleman opposite to prefer the Bill of last year to the present one; but the impression out-of-doors appeared to have been that the Bill of last year went too far, whereas the persons who were supposed to largely represent the working classes regarded the present Bill as a really good one, so far as its principle and its main provisions went, although they might take exception to some of its details. The Bill would materially tend to give publicity to the accounts and to the obligations of those great institutions, and that object would be attained by means of an efficient audit, periodical valuation, and quinquennial Returns, the want of which at this moment was one of their great defects. The measure, he hoped, would also have the effect of encouraging the amalgamation of the smaller with the larger societies, and of thereby strengthening those institutions. What they must try to do was to secure the maximum of publicity with the minimum of interference, with a view to the soundness and safety of those societies, which he looked upon as the great practical schools of the country for the adult population, inasmuch as they fostered that feeling of self-reliance and self-government which could not be sufficiently encouraged. He cordially 866 supported the second reading of the Bill.
§ MR. LOWE
said, that considering the very long time that this matter had been under consideration, and the persons for whose information this Bill was intended, the House had every right to expect that the Bill would be a model, at any rate, for clearness and perspicuity, whether Members were able to agree with its provisions or not. On that point, however, he was extremely disappointed, and he would call the attention of the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone (Mr. Forsyth) to the Bill, which appeared to him (Mr. Lowe) to embody almost every vice in the drawing of Bills which it was possible to conceive. This was extremely to be regretted, because it was a measure intended for the poorer classes, who were very often ignorant people to whom it was desirable that the matter should be made as clear as possible. Instead of that the art of Parliamentary mystification had in this measure been carried as far, probably, as it was possible to go. He would give his reasons for thinking so. First, it was a Consolidating Bill. By that he understood a Bill which repealed former statutes, and bound them all together in a single Act, so that those who wished to know what was the state of the law on a particular subject might have that single Act to refer to. The present Bill proceeded partially in that course; it began with repealing the Act 18 & 19 Vict., a Consolidating Act for Friendly Societies; but having repealed that Act, as if for fear of making matters too simple, it reserved three sections which were still to remain in force, and to which we must go back in order to find out what was the state of the law as embodied in these three sections bearing on the important subject of interest to be given by certain large insurance offices. But that was not all. Of course, there was nothing more important in this Bill than the office of Registrar, and the state of the law as bearing on this point was to be fished out by referring to four different clauses. Then, when you had read these four clauses, you would not yet have read the most important of what applied to the Registrar, because after that you must go back to the very Act which was repealed, and which stated what the office of the Registrar was, as the Bill said you were to have the same powers now vested in the 867 Registrar of Friendly Societies as were given in the repealed Act. If you wanted to know what those powers were you must go back to the Act 18 & 19 Vict., already mentioned. Probably the most important provision of the Bill was to be found in the very Act which, with the exception of the three clauses that had just been alluded to, had by this measure been entirely repealed. But there was a further objection to the drawing of the Bill, because it only incorporated such powers as were given by the Act of 18 & 19 Vict., and as the present Bill dealt with a great many matters—rules and so forth—which were not in contemplation when the Act of 18 & 19 Vict, was passed, he did not believe, so far as he could judge, that it did give the Registrar the same power over the rules which this Bill laid down, as he had over the former rules. Thus, by the slovenly way in which the Bill was drawn, probably very serious legal difficulties would be created. Then there was another objection as to the manner in which the Bill had been prepared. Instead of its being divided into sections each of which should contain a fresh subject, it was divided into a few sections first, and then these were sub-divided into subordinate sections denoted by numbers, and these again were re-subdivided under letters. So that a reference on valuation would be, for instance, section 14, No. 1, letter F. And this was the way the Bill was drawn for the use of poor people who did not understand such technicalities very easily. A serious fault in the drawing of the Bill was that it contained very little of the real law on the subject. While consolidating, it left the door open for almost indefinite additions, because it enabled the Treasury to make rules for carrying the measure into effect. That was a most salutary arrangement in an Act in which you had established a principle, and had nothing to do but provide the means of giving effect to that principle; but a measure of this kind was more a matter of detail, and the effect in this case was equivalent to giving the Treasury power to adopt almost any provision on the subject, so long as it did not contradict anything in this Act. The consequence would be, if that power were exercised, that the working classes, whoso affairs were influenced 868 by this Bill, would have to refer in addition to Acts that were repealed, to a number of rules prepared by the Treasury that would have the force of an Act of Parliament. That would tend very much to confuse and perplex the subject. So much for the drawing of the Bill; and he must express his extreme regret that it had not received more attention, and especially that it seemed to be drawn rather for lawyers and Members of Parliament than for persons to whom information as to the state of the law on the subject ought to be made as easily accessible as possible. But there were other objections to the Bill. He had endeavoured to find out, from perusing the provisions of the measure, what was the real view of its framer with respect to the persons for whom the House was legislating, and whether he was legislating for men or for children. Having tried the best that he could, he had totally failed to satisfy his mind on that question. The arguments were exceedingly strong both ways. Nothing would be easier than to sustain the thesis that this Bill was intended to be a paternal Bill, treating the working classes as children who were not able to take care of themselves, or that it was founded in some degree on the principle of laissez faire. The most important thing was as to the Registrar; and in that respect the Bill presented a strange anomaly. Here was a person who was an administrative officer; he had duties to perform, for instance, in registering companies; but here he had other duties thrown upon him, which were of a judicial character, and was invested with great power of superintendence and interference. Now, if there was any principle firmly established, it was that if you made a man a judicial officer, you ought to keep him clear of administration. The same man might not be found to administer well and to judge well; and in that respect the Bill involved a violation of the recognized rules by which business was carried on. Then the Registrar had the power of summoning witnesses—all the powers, in fact, of a Justice. He was to decide a great number of questions, and an appeal lay from him to the Court of Queen's Bench. And yet, what was the tenure of his office? He was to be appointed by the Treasury, and to be removable by the Treasury, 869 He (Mr. Lowe) had always thought that when a great judicial officer was appointed, it was the Prerogative of the Queen to remove such a person. He had heard of Judges being removable at the pleasure of the Crown; but here was one who was to be removable by the Treasury, and from whom there was to be an appeal to the Court of Queen's Bench—an anomaly he had never heard of before. There had, no doubt, been a considerable change in this Bill by the withdrawal of the local Registrars; but, on the other hand, that seemed to be compensated for by giving the central Registrar a number of powers such as neither he nor any other man ought to be entrusted with. He was to be the Registrar of these societies, and when he had registered them, if he had made a mistake, he could cancel that and undo it again. No man in the world ought to be allowed to do that. If he made a mistake, the mistake should stand. What a hardship for a society of this kind, suddenly to receive notice from the Registrar that it should cease to exist! That officer had likewise the power to suspend a society, thus paralyzing all its operations. All this was extremely serious, and went too far in the paternal direction; but when he came to look at the construction of the Bill he found, on the other hand, that its framers had shrunk from carrying out their principles. They were to take care to give these people security that their affairs should be well managed. In the Bill we had a requirement of this kind—that a certificate should be filed when the society was registered, to the effect that the benefits which were promised would be obtained when payment was required. Well, that was a very old provision; it was in the old Act. In the same way he found that an audit and valuation were required; that the accounts were to be kept in a distinct manner, and so forth. But all these things were required under the former Act. All these things had been tried and utterly failed, and now the House was asked to re-enact them. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER dissented.] What he (Mr. Lowe) spoke of was the certificate, the audit, the valuation, and the method of keeping the accounts. With respect to these, the Bill gave us no better security than we had before. We had a perfect assurance 870 that those things would not work under the old plan, and therefore the only justification for re-enacting them would be something in the present Bill that would make them work. What was that? It was that not doing those things was made an offence against the Act, which would be punished if anybody thought it worth the while to try to enforce the penalty of from £1 to £5. That was the whole security, and such legislation he regarded as of a most objectionable nature, because the expectation was held out by it that things would be done for the performance of which no adequate security was given. Not only was the security not given, but people were induced to suppose they had got it when such was not in reality the case. In these circumstances he regretted very much that those provisions which had already failed should have been brought back again. Now, what was wanted was to prevent a small number of persons from getting those societies into their hands and misusing their powers. Certificates, audits, valuations, and the keeping of accounts were required; but the very persons against whom it was sought to guard the societies were left practically without cheek, because they had the power of choosing the very persons who were to check them. It was what was vulgarly called "giving the cat the cream to keep," and reminded him of the story of Dr. Bentley, who, as head of Trinity College, was accused of mal-administration of the funds under his control—an offence which rendered it desirable that he should be deposed from his office. There was, however, a clause in the College statutes which provided that the master per Vicem Magistrum ejiciatur, and as the vice-master, a certain Mr. Walker, was appointed by the Master, the latter continued to enjoy the emoluments of his office for a period of 40 years in defiance of the Fellows. In those circumstances, although admitting that the present Bill had met with a good deal of acceptance among the working classes, he felt bound to say, as having been mixed up in this matter from the beginning, that it appeared to him to be defective in its conception; that it was thoroughly ill-drawn; and that it would tend to establish principles of a most objectionable nature, particularly with regard to the Registrar and the absurdity of trying to 871 check people by leaving them to appoint officers to check themselves. Having said that much, he would venture to make an observation or two in the direction of what appeared to him would be a better frame for the Bill. It seemed to him that the way in which the Bill dealt with registration assumed that registration was to benefit only the societies, and that if the societies did not choose to enforce it themselves, there was no harm to any one else. But he maintained that registration was as much a benefit to the public as to the societies; because the use of registration was that the societies could sue and be sued through the trustees, and if a society was not registered, it became a legal monster which could not be sued, excepting by suing all its members. It was most necessary and desirable, therefore, that everything should be done to facilitate the obtaining of that power. But these societies were unwilling to come in and take that power; and he did not much wonder at it. It occurred to him, however, though he did not say that we should register societies against their will, to ask why a law should not be passed, saying that all such societies which were not illegal should be able to sue and be sued by their trustees. In the matter of registration, it would have been better to have followed the course laid down in the Public Companies Act; but to erect the Registrar into a high judicial personage, as was done under the Bill, was contrary to the spirit and genius of our Constitution. It seemed to him that the real question resolved itself into a very simple matter. It must be taken into consideration that there were two kinds of societies. There was one kind of societies which could not be too highly commended, and which we could not do too much to help—societies which existed for the purpose of giving assistance in cases of sickness and funerals; and, as for these, if Parliament gave the power of suing or being sued, with any enabling clause that might be necessary, it would do all that was required. Better leave them to work out their own rules in their own way, without encumbering them with all this legislation. The advantage would be that they would learn something. Experience forced on people was apt to slide off; what they worked out themselves stuck; and that would 872 be the gain in this case. There was another class of societies which really dealt with questions of insurance, and it appeared to him a great pity that they should be taken up by the working classes at all. They had not the leisure or the knowledge to work them effectively; the Government ought not to be in any hurry to encourage them, and would do more wisely to let these alone also, letting them manage themselves in their own way. One more suggestion. Government might effectually compete with these societies by means of the Post Office, and thus place perfect security within the reach of the working classes if they chose to have it. Why should we not follow, with regard to these societies, the plan that had been adopted and found to work perfectly well in the case of joint-stock companies? Instead of entering into all this quarrel about certifying their rules, which gave those rules an authority to which they were not entitled, why not prepare for them, as in the case of the joint-stock companies, a model form of regulations, which should be their rules, unless they chose to vary from them? He could not help thinking that by the provisions of this Bill, it would be impossible to work out the end in view. There ought no longer to be any hesitating between two opinions. He believed the working classes were able to manage their own affairs in the first class of societies to which he had alluded, and he thought it a pity that they were not loft alone to do so. At the same time, he admitted the Bill had gained a good deal of out-door popularity by giving up everything which should have been kept, and keeping everything which should have been given up.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
observed, that the House had at least the assurance of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lowe) that the Bill was favourably looked upon by the working-classes. The right hon. Gentleman had urged the desirability of leaving the working-classes to manage their own affairs, and this was exactly what the Bill proposed to do. The main object and great principle of the Bill was to ensure publicity by the rendering of accounts and valuation. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the fact that these provisions were contained in former Acts of Parliament, and now existed. That was so, but they were practically inoperative, 873 not having been secured by adequate penalties; and one of the main objects of the Bill was to see that the law as it existed should be operative and successful. In styling the Registrar a high judicial personage, it seemed to him the right hon. Gentleman had considerably magnified that functionary's importance, seeing that his duty was simply to see that societies complied with the rules in force. There was a good reason in giving to the Treasury the power of his appointment and removal; and if his conduct were called into question there was a Department ready to inquire into the matter without the employment of cumbrous and special machinery. He confessed he could hardly reconcile that part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech where he urged the adoption of means to prevent the management of societies from falling into the hands of a knot of dishonest persons with the desire he subsequently expressed that the working-classes should be loft to manage their affairs themselves. In point of fact, the Bill did contemplate the management of the societies by the people themselves, and provided a great check on improper proceedings by means of publicity and the influence of public opinion. Again, the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion that there ought to be rules scheduled under the Act seemed to be directly opposed to the principle on which he desired to proceed. What the Government desired was that, subject to the cheek he had mentioned, the working-classes should have full liberty to found, control, and carry on such societies as they considered necessary or advantageous to themselves. It was not for the Government to say what the wants of the working-classes might be; but it was for Parliament to say that their own rules should be observed when laid down; that accounts in conformity with the Act should be rendered; and that quinquennial valuations based upon those accounts should be made in order that the ignorant and the simple might have within their reach information to guide them in the selection of a society. The hon. Member for Glasgow (Dr. Cameron), to judge from his speech, could hardly have been aware of the existing law with regard to Friendly and Insurance Societies. [Dr. CAMERON: There are 4,000 illegal Insurance Societies 874 in existence at present throughout the country.] At any rate, every such society of an illegal nature might in future be proceeded against under the provisions of the Life Insurance Acts, and this circumstance alone would, he believed, prove a great safe-guard to the public. He refused to believe, however, that the great majority of the Friendly Societies of this country were so dishonestly managed that they would be afraid of that periodical valuation which was one of the most important provisions of the Bill. If they continued to exist, they would be compelled to render their accounts either as Friendly Societies or as insurance companies. The Government were charged with reference to this Bill, on the one hand with doing too little, and on the other with doing too much. The Bill was an attempt to keep clear of the evil of paternal Government, and at the same time—and he believed it would prove to be successful—to take away from those who were breaking the law the immunity with which they now broke the law, and to compel them to make their actions clear before the world. It would be impossible by any mere legislation to provide absolute security either for the societies or their members; but it was very necessary that the public should not be loft without information when there was the power to compel the officers to make returns. At present, however, there was no penalty attaching to the rendering of a false return, and to show the value of obtaining returns he would only say that a short time since he received information of a society which had a reserve of only £45,000, but which had insurances of £6,200,000. That society had not made a return because it did not come within the law as it at present existed; but if this Bill passed it would be bound to make a return at the specified period. Another objection which had been raised against the Bill was that it was an enabling Bill, but practically he considered it was a compulsory measure; because societies must register themselves as Friendly Societies, or subject themselves to the penalties of Insurance Societies if they did not bring themselves within the scope of Mr. Cave's Act. He expressed an earnest desire that if the Bill was read a second time the House would do all in its power to perfect its machinery, 875 which was intended, as far as legislation could go, to give security to the saving, to encourage by all possible means that most valuable spirit of thrift and economy which existed in so large a measure among the working-classes, and which was too often discouraged and depressed by the fact that savings, going on for years and years, had turned out to be entirely lost from the fraud or mismanagement of those to whom they had been entrusted.
§ MR. W. HOLMS
I concur to some extent with my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow (Dr. Cameron) in his opinion that this Bill is not satisfactory, at the same time I think that there is in it so much that is good, so much that is sound, and so much that is in accordance with the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Friendly Societies that I shall support the second reading with a view to going into Committee, and, if possible, remedying the objectionable clauses. My hon. Friend has told us that a vast number—probably not less than a third—of all Friendly Societies are unregistered, and has used this as an argument in favour of having a large number of local registrars. I wish to point out to the House that the fact of a large number of these societies being unregistered is not a question of the number of registrars; it is a question of whether certain classes of Friendly Societies can be admitted to registration. At present the law is, that no "yearly" or "dividing" society can be registered. On inquiry I find that a very large proportion of unregistered societies come under this class; for instance, as regards 12 districts in Scotland, the Assistant Commissioner has reported that wishing to ascertain the reason why so many societies were unregistered, he made an inquiry, and found that of 2,756 no fewer than 2,216 were "dividing" societies, and therefore could not be registered; of the remaining 540, some were unregistered for other reasons, such as not having power, if registered, to invest their funds in shares. I would remind my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow that the Bill now before the House proposes to admit dividing societies, and to allow all Friendly Societies to hold shares. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of London has described the Bill as a weak Bill; 876 but I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that it contains two admirable provisions, and if it contained nothing else, and thorough effect could be given to them, I venture to think that it would not be a bad Bill. The first of these provisions gives full power to a certain number of members of a society to demand an investigation into the state of its affairs, and the second provides against lapses; it has been the habit of some societies to neglect to call upon certain members for their periodical contributions, the consequence being that those members lapsed out of benefit, and in the Report of the Commissioners this is repeatedly referred to as a cause of fraud on poor and ignorant people. If the House accepts the Amendment of my hon. Friend, legislation will be delayed at all events for another year, it cannot be urged that we have not sufficient information on the subject, for in this respect the Report of the Royal Commissioners has been most complete and exhaustive. Nor can it be said that we have not had time to consider this measure. Last year the Bill was laid before the House, read a second time, and afterwards committed and reprinted. During the Recess, hon. Members and deputations from Friendly Societies have had opportunities of laying their suggestions before the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I am bound to confess that the right hon. Gentleman has always received such suggestions with the greatest courtesy and consideration. The result of all this is the Bill now in the hands of hon. Members. It may be asked, are the Friendly Societies themselves in favour of legislation? It has been my good fortune to have come much in contact with leading men connected with those societies, and I can assure the House that those men, representing upwards of 2,300,000 members, are desirous of such legislation as will clearly define their position; that will protect the ignorant and helpless, so far as they can be protected by Act of Parliament; and that will give the public confidence that their operations are conducted on sound principles. At the same time, they are most anxious that there shall be no undue Government interference, and that within certain well-defined limits they shall have full power to manage their own affairs in the manner they 877 think best; and it appears to me that they have good reason for taking up this position. If we look to the history of these societies, we must acknowledge that the working men of this country have in their management shown an amount of prudence, self-reliance, and practical sagacity which forms one of the most interesting features in the progress and civilization of the century in which we live, and which finds no parallel in any other country in Europe. Friendly Societies are of comparatively recent origin. The first Act for their regulation was passed in 1793. Such, however, at that time was the ignorance of vital statistics and of the principles on which such institutions should be conducted, that few or none of the societies founded during the last century are now in existence. During the last 30 years, and more particularly during the last 10 years, their progress has been remarkable. So quietly, however, have their operations been conducted, that until the Report of the Royal Commission was published, I believe that the public had scarcely any conception of their magnitude. I find that the Manchester Unity of Odd Fellows had in 1873 470,000 members. During the preceding five years its in come was£2,800,000, or nearly £600,000 a-year. Of this £1,928,000 was distributed in sick allowances and grants made on the deaths of members. Another society—the Ancient Order of Foresters—which in 18–15 had only 66,000 members, had in 1873 increased to 420,000, with an annual income of £491,000, so that those two societies alone have between them nearly 900,000 members, with a revenue of more than £1,000,000, and, I believe, funds amounting to £4,920,000. It has been estimated that 3,000,000 of the very very flower of the working classes are directly or indirectly interested in these great affiliated orders or brotherhoods. There is another class of societies even more numerous in their membership. I refer to the Collecting or Burial Societies, one of them, the Royal Liver, having upwards of 600,000 members. Besides these great classes, there is an infinite variety of local and other societies, the whole forming an aggregate of 4,000,000 members, with funds in hand amounting to£11,000,000 or £12,000,000. It has been estimated that by their means £2,000,000 a-year is saved to the rates; 878 but, what is of greater importance, these societies, while thus tending to lessen the degrading influence of our Poor Law system, promote habits of thrift and forethought. They are the great life insurance companies of the working classes, who naturally look with jealousy upon any legislation of an arbitrary character, or which will favour one class of society at the expense of another. It is well that the healthy breeze of public opinion should be brought to bear on them, but we should carefully avoid interfering with what is sound, vigorous, and useful in the work now going on so successfully. I give the Chancellor of the Exchequer full credit for desiring to make this a good measure. At the same time, I am bound to say that I think it contains provisions which, if allowed to remain unaltered, will seriously affect the future success of Friendly Societies. To some of these I shall now, with the permission of the House, briefly refer. The first and most important requisite for these societies is sound tables. The Royal Commissioners report as follows:—A main cause of the wide-spread insolvency of Friendly Societies is the inadequacy of the rates of premium for the benefits promised;and they recommend that tables of premiums for sickness and death claims should be prepared by Government, the adoption of which should not be compulsory. I trust that a clause will be introduced into the Bill instructing the Chief Registrar to prepare such tables, as will constitute a standard by which the public may judge whether a society is being conducted on a sound basis or not. I venture also to suggest that a provision should be made that all monies for insurance purposes should be kept distinctly apart from the funds that are destined to be divided. I agree with the hon. Member for Wenlock (Mr. A. H. Brown) that the number of persons who can demand an investigation is too small; it is an anomaly to provide, as proposed in the Bill, that three-eighths of the members are necessary to an investigation, when the total number in a society is under 1,000, and that only 100 should be required to obtain an inquiry when the members are under 10,000. The most objectionable clause, in my opinion, is Clause 29, which enables societies carrying on their operations within one county to be free from nearly every restriction imposed in the Bill, and if 879 passed in its present form, the result will be that instead of encouraging those large societies to which reference has been made by the noble Lord the Member for South Northumberland (Lord Eslington), an undue advantage will be given to small local societies, which under the shadow of the law will be enabled to continue unchecked those abuses so ably pointed out by the Royal Commissioners, I would strongly urge that local societies should be placed in the same position as other societies. There is in this clause a remarkable peculiarity, unregistered societies are required, under certain penalties, to give rules and policies to their members, to give notice to members before their benefits can lapse, to provide a balance sheet for the inspection of members; but, nevertheless, there is no machinery provided in the Bill to give the Registrar any hold over them: I would suggest that all unregistered societies, by sending a copy of their rules and the address of their chief office or place of business, should have the benefit of the clauses for the prevention of fraud and the settlement of disputes, and might be called "Enrolled Societies." I confess that I am at a loss to understand why societies should by this Bill be permitted to invest their funds in shares of any kind they like while they are limited to the purchase of one acre of land in each county in which they may have an office. Why, Sir, had their power in this respect been untrammelled in the past their property would have been greatly increased in value, for hon. Gentlemen are well aware that there is no class of property so safe, and none which has more increased in value than land. In conclusion, I wish to call attention to the almost unlimited powers given to the Chief Registrar under Clause 37. I am strongly of opinion that all rules, regulations, and forms of Returns, should, as far as practicable, be set forth in Schedules in the Bill itself, in the same manner as has been done in the Life Assurance Companies' Act. I have thus endeavoured to point out some of those features in the Bill which appear to me to be objectionable, and I trust that if read a second time, the Chancellor of the Exchequer will allow such a time to elapse before going into Committee as will enable hon. Members fully to consider the various points to which their 880 attention may be called in this debate; and, I further trust that the right hon. Baronet will be prepared before going into Committee to make such alterations as may be necessary to render this Bill what I am sure ho, and this House desire it should be, a measure that will deal fairly with all Friendly Societies, and tend to promote their greater usefulness and further development.
§ MR. HOLT
wished to thank the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the kindness which he had shown to deputations who-had attended on him with reference to this matter. He thought that, if such a measure as the present was to be of practical value, there must be nothing like petty meddling, and broad principles must be laid down for the government of Friendly Societies. The constituency he represented (North East Lancashire) took a great interest in the question, and he had received a good deal of correspondence on the subject of the Bill. The whole of these communications, however, he might say, mainly referred to two matters—the first relating to infant assurances, and the second to restrictions placed on the investment of their funds by the societies. As regarded the former, they were in favour of having matters left as they were, so far as the insurance was concerned; and they thought that if the receipt of the insurance money were limited to parents or guardians, that would practically be a sufficient precaution against abuse. The Commissioners believed that it would be impossible to ascertain, without compulsory powers and without the right of indemnifying witnesses, whether or not the present system encouraged child murder; and he thought there should be full inquiry before such a stigma as that involved in the provisions of the Bill should be passed upon the working classes. With regard to the investment of the funds of these societies, objections were entertained to the limitations contained in Clause 16. The working classes looked at this question from a practical rather than a theoretical point of view. He had some figures affecting 55 societies in his district, containing 10,000 members, with an accumulated capital of £55,720, upwards of £33,000 of which was legally invested. It suited the purpose of many of these societies to run the risk of illegal investment rather 881 than submit to the restriction of the law, which hampered their action and damaged their property. If undue restrictions were imposed, the societies would refuse to register, and would keep outside the pale of the law; and he hoped, therefore, that some relaxation of the 16th clause would be made. He asked the Government, also, whether it might not be desirable to put a clause in the Bill which would make societies anxious to register? This Bill would certainly not have that effect; and ho, for one, was desirous that all societies should be registered. On the whole, he recognized great improvements in the Bill compared with that of last year, and trusted that in Committee it might be still further improved. It was impossible to meet the requirements of every particular case. Parliament must be content to lay down certain broad principles, and its object should be to strengthen rather than fetter the action of these societies in carrying out their very laudable purpose.
said, that for over 20 years he had had considerable experience of these societies and was unable to concur with his hon. Friend (Dr. Cameron) in the Amendment for the rejection of the Bill. On the contrary, he thought that the Bill fairly met the requirements of those societies. It might be amended in Committee; but, substantialy, he believed it would satisfy the managers, and be of service to a very important section of the community. One of the strongest passions of Englishmen was their desire to take part in matters of a public nature, and if a number of them were thrown upon a desert island, he believed the first thing they would do would be to call a meeting, appoint a Chairman, and nominate a Committee of Management. This desire was gratified in the case of working men by their becoming members of these societies. There they became acquainted with the restraints of public business, were enabled to meet their brother workmen, and to discuss matters affecting themselves and their fellows. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had evidently studied the whole subject very carefully; and of the three Bills which had been prepared, the second was better than the first, and the third was better than the second. Some persons were of opinion that the best thing the 882 Legislature could do for these societies was to leave them alone; while other persons held that such societies should be hedged round by legal restrictions. The Bill struck a very fair medium between these conflicting views, and, with the Amendments, which would no doubt be adopted in Committee, he should cordially support it. Friendly Societies wanted protection, not interference. By protection he meant protection from the improper proceedings of dishonest officials; but there should be no Government interference with the internal affairs of the societies. He believed that the educational influence of these societies was felt by the entire community. With respect to their stability, there existed a general impression that they were insolvent. Now, he admitted that some of them, if they were suddenly called upon without warning, would not be able to meet their engagements. For instance, when the cholera was very prevalent some of them were considerably paralyzed; and if a similar calamity should again occur in some parts of the country, other institutions, besides Benefit Societies, would be placed in great difficulty. Some 24 years ago he was a member of a society which many authorities pronounced to be insolvent, but that society was in a flourishing state to-day. The Amalgamated Society of Engineers was said by very competent persons to be insolvent; but it was more powerful to-day than ever. He had no faith in predictions. Prophecy was a very seductive but not a very profitable tiling. They had heard many predictions that this country was on the high road to ruin; but the gentlemen who made them would now be the first to admit that England to-day was more prosperous and the people more contented than ever. The predictions with regard to Benefit Societies and their insolvency were as little to be relied on as political prophecies. The last Bill which the House had before it proposed that tables of contributions should be published for the benefit of these societies. Such tables should be framed upon the very lowest scale of payment compatible with security, and for this reason; a working-man might have nominally £75 a-year; but owing to deductions on account of holidays, weather, and other causes, his real earnings might not average more than two-thirds 883 of that sum. A mason, for example, would be better able to pay 3s. or 4s. a-week in summer than a third or fourth of that amount all the year round. The Government, therefore, in preparing tables would do well to make the payments as small as possible. He agreed with the observations which had fallen from his noble Friend the Member for Northumberland (Lord Eslington) with regard to Burial Societies. He could say from his acquaintance with working-men that the recommendations of the Royal Commission on the subject, and the clause in the Bill had been a source of serious pain and grievous annoyance to a largo class who viewed it as an insult to themselves. He was quite certain that neither the right hon. Gentleman nor the Royal Commissioners meant that any such interpretation should be put upon what they had clone, and that no man in the country seriously harboured the thought that working-men would allow their children to die of neglect or by some means still more culpable if they were enabled to insure their lives. It would be a libel on the working classes to say so. The best course to take would be to strike the clause out of the Bill. He had for years sympathized in their political opinions, and worked with them for their social improvement. He had watched them closely, and he knew that the statement that they were indifferent to their offspring was not founded on fact. No man felt more keenly for the poor man than his brother workman, and the parental feeling of the artizan was as strong for his children as that of other persons in higher classes. It was impossible to meet the views of all parties, or to please such a highly-critical Gentleman as the right hon. Member for the University of London (Mr. Lowe); but he had hopes that a Bill would be passed which substantially would meet with general approbation, and which would be satisfactory to the great mass of the "working people of this country.
§ MR. STANSFELD
said, he was surprised, after the speech of the hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. Cowon), that he was not prepared to support the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of London (Mr. Lowe) instead of opposing him, for, if he understood him rightly on this subject, the working classes required protection— 884 but not interference—and that was the view which his right hon. Friend propounded. As to the manner in which the Bill had been drafted, that was a matter which might safely be left to the Committee. Undoubtedly, the quinquennial returns and valuations, however imperfect, would be of value, because, when published, they would have a beneficial effect upon the course of business of these societies. He noted, also, with considerable confidence, the clause in the Bill which referred to the inspection of the affairs of societies as one which would probably be very operative. The subject had been investigated by a Commission consisting of very earnest and able men, and the evidence taken by them showed its great complexity. Instead of entering into a critical discussion of the clauses of the Bill, he would state the general views which he was disposed to entertain, with regard to legislation on this complicated subject. There were two principles under the guidance of which it appeared to him they might safely legislate. The first was one which had been laid down by his right hon. Friend the Member for the University of London, and no reply had been made in regard to it by the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. W. H. Smith). It was that in the interests of the societies themselves and of the community at largo, it was right that the societies should have ordinary protection against fraud—that they should be brought within the law and enabled to sue and be sued on easy terms. The second principle was not so absolute, although it recommended itself to his mind. It was that if after adopting the former principle they wished to apply a more stringent law in order, step by step, to raise the character and status of these popular bodies of men it ought to be done by voluntary arrangement, and there ought to be nothing compulsory. If the Legislature was guided by these principles, they would be able to effect all that it was desirable to attempt. With respect to the application of these principles, different methods were possible. Four of the Commissioners who had considered the subject recommended in a separate Report a method of their own. It was that discriminating certificates should be given to the societies, those whose affairs were found by the 885 actuaries to be highly satisfactory receiving a first-class certificate. Having regard to the principles he had mentioned, this plan of requiring all societies to be registered, but granting discriminating certificates, did not recommend itself to him. He thought it too stringent, and that the line of demarcation between the two classes of societies would not be broad enough. Whilst granting protection to all societies, without registration and on deposit of rules, he should be prepared to go much further than this Bill proposed in the direction of making more stringent regulations for the government of registered societies, and so to secure their practical solvency. He should be willing to have registered societies a select class to be dealt with much more stringently than they were at present, but to which additional privileges should be given in return. He should also be prepared to render them greater assistance than it was quite clear that the right hon. Gentleman proposed to give them by this Bill, and he should like to see the machinery of the Bill strengthened. He wished to know why the Bill did not include the provisions which were in the measure of last year for the appointment of an actuary and the framing of insurance tables. The Bill enacted that a society already registered would be a registered society, and that with respect to the societies not registered, they would have to be registered, or else comply with the regulations under which Insurance Companies were established; and the argument of the Secretary to the Treasury was that in this way all Friendly Societies would come within the purview of the Act. He doubted the efficiency of central management and control, and could not see how a Registrar in London could undertake to superintend all those throughout the country, and he therefore hoped the Government would take care to provide an adequate local machinery. On the whole, however, he should advise the hon. Member for Glasgow (Dr. Cameron) not to press his Amendment that the Bill should be read a second time that clay six months, in the hope that the right hon. Gentleman would give a careful consideration to the various suggestions that had been offered in the course of the debate.
§ MR. MORGAN LLOYD
agreed with the right hon. Member for the University 886 of London that the Bill should be re-modelled, in order that it might be bettor understood, not only by lawyers, but by the officers and members of Benefit Societies. There were provisions in it which were contradictory, and others so obscure as to leave those who attempted to understand them in a perfect fog. It was, he understood, intended that the measure should be applicable not only to England, Scotland, and Ireland, but to the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands; but though the 1st clause provided that the Bill should extend to the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands were not again mentioned from the beginning to the end of the Bill, except that in the Interpretation Clause it said that "England" should include the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. Hon. Members all knew that the Channel Islands were in some respects independent of that House—had Legislatures of their own, and had a system of law of their own, and methods of administering justice totally different to those in force in this country. There would, therefore, be the greatest difficulty in applying the provisions of the Bill to those Islands. With regard to the Isle of Man—indeed, the Bill contained some special provisions, but still its operation in that Island would probably be loft doubtful and uncertain. That consideration being borne in mind, it would have been a great deal better if the framers of the Bill had confined their attention in the first instance to England and Wales, and then have added substantive provisions by which to apply it to the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. He regretted that it was not proposed to repeal the various Acts upon the subject, and to re-enact such portions of them as it might be thought desirable to retain. Upon the whole, however, he could not but express satisfaction that the Bill was a great improvement upon that of last Session, especially with respect to the very reasonable compromise which was now proposed with regard to insurances upon young children, and he would, therefore, support the measure.
§ MR. MELDON
said, the Chancellor of the Exchequer appeared to have altogether forgotten the interests of Ireland in framing the provisions of the Bill. There were two great objections to it as affecting Ireland. In the first place, the 887 poorer classes, who were the principal members of Friendly Societies, were not protected in the way in which any Bill of this nature ought to have protected them; every facility was offered by the Bill to societies holding property in England to extend their operations to Ireland, where they had no funds or any other property to meet their liabilities. The result would be that those dealing with such societies must have recourse to the property in England to enforce their claims. This system must work a great injustice to the poorer classes who principally dealt with Friendly Societies. Surely it was not fair to oblige a tradesman or humble man in a remote part of Ireland to enforce his claim in England. There should be a provision requiring every society having its principal place of business out of Ireland to have funds or property in Ireland to meet its liabilities. These societies ought to be made as local as possible, and every protection afforded to those who contributed to their funds. In the next place, the proposed system of having a central office in London to which all appeals from the Assistant Registrar in Ireland must be brought was essentially bad. The jurisdiction of the Irish Courts was ousted, and power was given in certain cases of suing debtors to the societies in England although resident in Ireland. This effort at centralization must be strenuously resisted, and the interests of the Irish people protected. Great injury had resulted from the poor of Ireland insuring themselves in English societies, which were not amenable to the Irish Courts. These societies ought to be made as local in their operation as it was possible to make them, and no society ought to be allowed to do business in Ireland unless it was registered in Dublin, was amenable in every respect to the Irish Courts, had its principal place of business in Ireland, or else hold funds or property in that country equal to its liabilities there, so that it might be sued in the Courts of Dublin, which were perfectly competent to deal with any question that could arise out of the working of such societies. The registration of joint-stock companies in Dublin had answered very well.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, he had often observed that, in discussing the second reading of a Bill, 888 they were a little apt to turn their attention too much to the clauses, and they occasionally ran into the danger of not being able to see the wood for the trees. In what he had to say he should endeavour to avoid that error as much as possible. With regard, however, to what had fallen from the hon. Member for Kildare (Mr. Meldon), he would observe that so far from the Government having in any way omitted to consider the case of Ireland, so far from their having attempted to set Irish interests aside, they considered that it was one of the recommendations of their measure that it would meet many grievances which were brought under the notice of the Royal Commissioners, as existing in Ireland under the present law. What the societies found so very inconvenient was that there were three different Registrars for the different divisions of the United Kingdom, and that each of them proceeded upon principles which were not necessarily the same as those of the other Registrars. It not unfrequently happened that societies which were registered in one part of the United Kingdom failed to get registered in another part in consequence of the different mode of proceeding there, or of some difference in the construction put upon the law by one or the other Registrar. The consequence was that an Irishman who insured in a society registered in England, but not in Ireland, might find himself unable to obtain redress. He was willing to admit that there might be points in the Bill which might have failed to meet entirely the case of Ireland; but he could only say that if any amendments were required for that purpose they should be fairly considered, and he might say the same with respect to what the hon. Member for Beaumaris (Mr. Morgan Lloyd) said about the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. He had received several communications on that subject, and there were Amendments which he was prepared to introduce, so as to put the Bill on a proper footing. But these were points which would be better discussed in Committee. This was a subject of great complexity, and he should be greatly delighted to find that there were no greater difficulties to deal with when they went into Committee than these details. He could hardly expect that this Bill would not be challenged on the second reading; 889 and he was quite prepared to see a Notice placed on the Paper by some hon. Member for reading the Bill a second time that day six months. But he owned he was rather surprised and very sorry to see that Notice in the name of the hon. Member for Glasgow (Dr. Cameron), because there were very few Members in the House, as he knew, who had paid so much attention to this subject as that hon. Gentleman. He had heard of gentlemen who had worked for six months at the Report of the Royal Commission, but the hon. Member for Glasgow had been working at the question for years before the Royal Commission was appointed, and no one gave them better evidence when they were in Glasgow than the hon. Member. He was, therefore, sorry to find that the Bill had so far displeased the hon. Member that he found it necessary to put so strong a Motion upon the Paper. He hoped, after what had passed, and after what had been stated by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld), the hon. Member would not find it necessary to press his Motion to a division; and that, after the general feeling expressed in all quarters that the measure was at least one deserving of examination and consideration in Committee, it would be allowed to pass the second reading without opposition. He admitted, however, that the hon. Gentleman had raised many points well worthy of attention, and his Motion had given occasion to a debate which could not fail to be instructive, and he hoped useful, in the further stages of the measure. He would endeavour, in the observations he had to make, as far as possible, to keep to the leading principles of the Bill; and he would say it rested upon three principles, of which one—he might call it the main and governing principle of the whole measure—was this, that they should endeavour to proceed by way of recognition and amendment of the present system rather than by endeavouring to sweep it away and establish a new one. If they had a tabula rasa before them; if they had a new work to undertake, he was not prepared to say that the system embodied in this Bill would be in all respects that which they should select. But that was not the state of the case. They were legislating for an existing state of things, A system, of 890 law and practice founded on that law had grown up for now quite a century, and they had a very large number indeed of the working class and the lower middle class of this country interested in the system that now existed. According to evidence given before the Commission, they had reason to believe that there were 4,000,000 persons directly, and probably another 4,000,000 indirectly, interested in these societies as they stood, and they must take very great care that any legislation they attempted considered properly the interests of these 8,000,000 persons. The House of Commons was always most tender with respect to vested interests; and were there any vested interests that could compare with those of this great body of people to whom he had referred, who had invested under the present system, he believed, not less than £11,000,000 or £12,000,000 sterling, and in the respect to which any step taken, though seemingly harmless, might produce disastrous consequences? Therefore, they could not deal with this matter in the smooth and easy way in which they might deal with it if they were about to set up a now system, and considering what that new system should be. He ventured to say, both on the ground of policy and justice, they must be very considerate of these people, and of the societies which had come into existence. What was the condition of those societies? There were at least 30,000 Friendly Societies, and of these 22,000 at least had obtained registration; 22,000 societies were now in possession of the field, and their rules bore the signature of Mr. Tidd Pratt or Mr. Stephenson. Were they going to ignore these societies? Were they going to sweep them away altogether? They could not strike out the names which had been signed; they could not—to coin an expression—un-Tidd Pratt these societies. What were they to do with them? Were they to leave them in possession of such a prestige as their present certificate denoted? Surely that would be simply to stereotype the Government approbation to which so much objection was raised. In any action they might take, they must consider the class of persons to whom their legislation applied, and the effect it would have upon them. What was the history of these societies? From what had they sprung? Not from, 891 the legislation of Parliament, but from the action of the people themselves. What was that action? It was the effort of the great mass of the people to free themselves from the demoralizing influence of the Poor Law; it was what he might call the heroic conduct of the great mass of the people to provide for themselves. It might, perhaps, be the case that in some of the steps taken they had not altogether kept themselves free from error, follies, or mistakes; but it would be as ungenerous and unworthy to allow the contemplation of these errors and mistakes to blind them to the real merits of that great system, as it would be to criticize the conduct of a patriotic band of Volunteers engaged in defending their native land from hostile invasion, because they did not keep step or march with all the exactness of the Regular Army. This system had grown up by the exertions of the people themselves, and they must take care that what they proposed commended itself to their favourable consideration, otherwise their laws would be waste paper, and things would be no better, perhaps worse, than before. Then, again, they had to consider that this system, though sprung from the people themselves, had been elaborated so far by the concurrence and assistance of the Legislature. They could not say they washed their hands and kept themselves clear of the system. They had made themselves responsible for a great deal that had occurred; and they could not say they would be responsible no longer. They must bear in mind that their laws had been of very great weight in determining the condition into which this question had now come. It was quite true that many of their regulations were not adopted with a view to the precise effect they had produced. The Registrar's certificate, for instance, was to the effect that the rules of such and such a society were in conformity with the law; but it was not originally the intention that the certificate should indicate a well-managed society. It was given on account of the jealousy with which Parliament regarded these secret societies, and was intended merely to imply that there was nothing in the objects of the society contrary to public policy. It was true it had grown into something different; because the Registrar now looked into the rules of the society to see whether they were in conformity with the objects Parliament 892 had in view, and whether they were or were not such as he thought would be calculated to accomplish the objects which the society professed. But, that being what the thing had grown to, they could not set all that aside, because they were already responsible for having brought those societies into the position in which they stood; and if they were now to abandon them and place them in the difficulty in which they would thereby put them, the societies would have a very just cause of complaint against them. Therefore, he said, their new Bill was one founded on the present system, while they also endeavoured to amend that system where it required it. For a main or, at all events, a primary justification of their course in so doing, he would appeal to the men who were connected with those societies and who managed them themselves; and even the right hon. Member for the University of London (Mr. Lowe) was compelled to admit that the measure was one which had, on the whole, the approval of the working-classes of the country. And there was a great deal in that. It was everything, in fact, as regarded the principle of the measure; because they were now taking the opinion not of the worst of the working-classes, but by hypothesis that of the very best, the most prudent them—of the men who had done most of to advance the cause of providence and independence among the people. They were taking them into council, and it was in accordance with their views and wishes that they were proceeding in the matter. And having now spent several years in the investigation of that subject, and having had occasion to communicate with largo bodies of people, and with the representatives of most of the largest of those societies, he said with confidence that the best of those who represented that cause would tell them boldly and fairly that they looked on the system of registration as a great advantage, and that it had been by the influence of the Registrar and of the Registration system that they had been enabled to bring about many of the reforms they had accomplished. If they asked those who were responsible for the affairs of the Manchester Unity, the Foresters, or other great societies, they would all hold the same language. That did not arise from any desire to throw off the responsibility which belonged 893 to them, or from a wish, to lean on Government responsibility; but those persons found in that system, even with the defects pertaining to it, an assistance and support in working out the improvement of their societies, and therefore they desired to uphold it. What happened five years ago, when the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Lowe) proposed to alter the system, and brought in a Bill to do away with the Registrar's office? Why, there was such a general movement among the different societies in opposition to that measure, that the right hon. Gentleman was obliged to suspend, if not to abandon, his proposal, and the result was the appointment of the Royal Commission which had led to the introduction of the present Bill. He had said the Bill proceeded on three principles, and that the governing principle was to proceed on the lines of the existing law. And they would do so within these two limits:—First, that they should endeavour, as far as possible, to give assistance and information to the promoters and the members of these societies; and, secondly, that they should require from the promoters and managers of these institutions information which would enable those belonging to them to form good opinions for themselves as to the character, solvency, and general management of the societies of which they were members. And he thought that, on the whole, they had succeeded tolerably well in framing their measure on those lines. He did not say it would not have to be considered and discussed in Committee. There were many amendments in it that would have to be made; but he should be much disappointed indeed if the principles they had sought to lay down were not accepted by the House. With regard to the general tenour of the observations of the hon. Member for Glasgow (Dr. Cameron), he would admit that the Bill differed materially in several important respects from the recommendations of the Commissioners. The Bill introduced last year was more nearly in accordance with those recommendations than the present Bill. He was not ashamed to say that if the matter were entirely free from difficulties he would prefer that the present Bill should have more closely followed the recommendations of the Commissioners; but the representations made from all parts of the 894 country in conferences which he had held with persons connected with those societies had convinced him and his Colleagues in the Government that it was necessary in some respects to modify those recommendations. He did not, however, think they had departed from them by any means to the extent the hon. Member supposed. They had given up one important provision—he meant the local registration—but in other respects the changes which had been made were more apparent than real. For instance, with regard to the question of Government insurance, that was a matter which lay outside the Bill, and which could not be dealt with in it, although nothing had been said on that subject and certainly nothing had been said to intimate that the Government would not at the proper time, or under the proper restrictions, take that proposal into consideration. He did not wish to express now, on the part of the Government, any opinion favourable or unfavourable upon it. Then with regard to the preparation of the tables and the actuarial staff, it was true that provisions on those points did not appear in the present Bill; but, as had been pointed out by his right hon. Friend the Member for Halifax, those provisions were not necessarily set aside because they did not appear in the Bill. As he had informed the House when introducing the measure, it was the intention of the Government to proceed with the preparation of tables; and the reason why they had not inserted the words in the Bill was that they found an impression prevailing on the part of many societies that the words in the Bill of last year implied that the tables to be put out by the Government were to be compulsory on the societies. That would have been entirely at variance with the principles on which they intended to proceed. Anything further from their intentions than putting out tables that were to be compulsory on those societies could not be conceived. They retained, however, the intention of promulgating such tables; and so with regard to the actuarial staff or whatever staff might be necessary to strengthen the central office; that would receive attentive consideration. Now that they had parted with local registration it followed that they should make the central office as strong as might be requisite for the 895 work it would have to do. With regard to the criticisms of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Lowe) he confessed he had expected a very formidable onslaught on the measure from that right hon. Gentleman, and he was somewhat relieved when he found him first directing his attack against the draftsman. That gave him the impression that the right hon. Gentleman had not seen good ground for assailing the principles of the Bill. Some of his strictures as to the drawing up of the Bill turned on points rather of taste and of fancy than of material importance. And when it was said that it was difficult to understand the Bill, he must observe that the great mass of persons connected with those societies with whom he had been in constant communication had found no difficulty in understanding it, whether they altogether approved its provisions or not. Then the right hon. Gentleman opposite said they professed to consolidate the law and repeal all the Acts on the subject with the intention of re-enacting them, but that they left many of them standing, and then they had clauses to invest the Registrar with powers which it was impossible to understand without reference to some Acts which they had repealed. But that was not quite the case. The clause to which the right hon. Gentleman alluded referred, indeed, to the powers possessed by the Registrar under other Acts; but those Acts did not relate to Friendly Societies, but to Savings Banks, Trades Unions, and other institutions which it was attempted last year to weld into one Bill, but which they were compelled to keep separate through the objections—mistaken objections, he thought them—of Trades Unions and other societies to be incorporated into one Bill with Friendly Societies. The right hon. Gentleman said—"You profess to lay down a certain code of law, but you really give the Treasury the power of making regulations which are to be law; therefore, after taking all this trouble to lay down a code of law, it is really the Treasury who are to make regulations for the Registrar, the procedure under this Act, and so forth." That was a very formidable objection at first sight, and he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) turned for a moment to the Bill to find out how they came to put such a clause in it, and then it occurred to him that it 896 was a clause which was not original. It was plagarised from a very high authority. In fact, it was taken word for word from a clause which was contained in a Bill introduced by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of London himself in the year 1870, with two exceptions. One of those exceptions was that in that Bill the President of the Board of Trade was to make these regulations, whereas in this Bill it was to be the Treasury—he did not know whether that made any difference—and the other was that by this Bill the Government proposed that all these regulations should be laid before Parliament, whereas in the right hon. Gentleman's Bill there was no provision of that kind. Therefore, if they had erred, they had erred in very good company. There were other provisions which the right hon. Gentleman criticized; but, as he was not then present, he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) would not detain the House by going minutely into them. But there was one observation he made which was a little amusing, because after he told them his objections to the Bill, and said it interfered too much, and hampered societies, he gave them a little cursory sketch, not very fully worked out, of what his own idea was; and his own idea was that they should make model rules for all these societies, and put them into Schedules to the Act. He (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) must say that if they attempted to deal with these societies on the principle of making model rules for them, and put them into Schedules, they would be doing something much stronger than he had attempted to do by this Bill. He was quite satisfied that the Manchester Unity, the Foresters, and even the Ancient Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes, and other Friendly Societies should be allowed to make their own rules, subject to the condition that the Government should see there was nothing in those rules that was distinctly contrary to law, and provided also that they should see those rules contained matter which it was essential for them to contain in order to give proper information. And such rules as those actually were in the Schedule of this Bill—that was to say, the points which must be touched by those rules were all distinctly set forth in the Schedule, power being reserved to 897 the Treasury to lay before Parliament from time to time such regulations as they might think should be incorporated with those rules. If anybody could feel jealousy on that point, it would be the managers of societies, and he was bound to say that he had discussed with many managers of societies, and he thought, upon the whole, that they were convinced, when they talked the matter over, that it was better the House should not try to cast these rules into hard-and-fast provisions in the Schedules of an Act of Parliament, but should allow the greater elasticity which belonged to the action of the Treasury and the Registrar's Office. As to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld), he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) did not know that there was very much in it that it was necessary for him to remark upon. The right hon. Gentleman said that, in his opinion, they ought to bear in mind two principles—first of all, that they ought to afford ordinary protection to all societies against fraud; and, secondly, that if they wished to raise their status they should do that by 'voluntary arrangements.' He (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) confessed he did not thoroughly understand the second of those principles. He did not quite understand the meaning of raising their status by voluntary arrangements. It appeared to him that the right hon. Gentleman set aside—as he quite agreed with him in setting aside—the recommendations of half of the Commissioners who wished to make two grades of societies. As to the deposit of rules, it was one of the most inconvenient points in the present law. It was one of the ways by which a door was open to evade provisions of the law, and one of the greatest improvements they could make was to get rid of the system of the deposit of rides. But the right hon. Gentleman said they ought to afford ordinary protection to all societies against fraud. He did not know whether the right hon. Gentleman meant all Friendly Societies or all societies whatever. If he meant to say that the House ought, by provision of law, to protect all persons associating themselves for any object whatever from fraud, he was quite prepared to agree with him. To a certain extent that was already done by the Act of the Recorder for the improvement of the law of larceny; 898 but that Act did not protect all associations against fraud. He did not think protection ought to be limited to Friendly Societies. He thought they ought to extend whatever protection they wished to give to all associations of persons who were assembled for lawful and innocent purposes. But if he meant to give a privilegium of that kind—protection against fraud—to Friendly Societies, as such, he introduced a different principle, and one that the House would have very carefully to consider. That led him (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) to the consideration that the status of Friendly Societies was a privileged status. That must never be forgotten. They put these societies into a position which they could not occupy by the ordinary law. That was an answer to a great many complaints that were made by them or by writers who said Friendly Societies had this restriction and that restriction put upon them. Those restrictions were imposed upon them because a privilege had been given to them. They were exempt from the legal control to which life insurance companies were subjected, and from the operation of an Act of George III. which prevented the insurance of those in whom the would-be insurers had not an insurable interest. When it was said this legislation accomplished no good whatever—that societies would try to keep out of it, or would disestablish themselves in order to get away from it—he did not consider that was a correct description of the condition of things that would arise. There were ample means and ample inducements for those societies to bring themselves within registration. It was said the registration would be futile, as it had hitherto been. He did not think it would be, because by this Bill, for the first time, the obligations imposed on registered societies were to be enforced by penalties. It was also said—" What was the use of penalties when they had done away with all local registration? "He had confidence in the good sense and good feeling of the managers of the great mass of these societies, and he believed when their attention was really directed to the subject, and they were supported by more stringent and more convenient provisions, they would be quite ready to come forward to make returns in a way that would render it unnecessary to attempt 899 to enforce the making of them. Nothing had struck him with more admiration than the way in which they had for years made these returns, at great trouble to themselves, all the time knowing that no use was being made of them, that they were put on a shelf, and the Registrar's office encumbered with them; that they had received no acknowledgment of them, and that perhaps the only communication they had received was a notice that they ought to send in a return, which they had sent in two or three months before. Looking at the way in which the societies had worked under the present law with all its inconveniences, he confidently expected that the Bill, affording them as it did increased facilities for the conduct of business, would meet with their cordial co-operation. He believed that although the Government had not been able to devise local machinery which could be put into an Act of Parliament they would have the assistance of the local machinery which already existed in carrying out the provisions of the Bill, and that the spirit of independence which was spreading throughout the country, and which the discussions of the Manchester Unity, the Foresters, and other societies did so much to promote would raise them up a host of friends and assistants. This feature of local co-operation was, indeed, one of the great recommendations of the course which the Government were pursuing. The Bill itself, he was convinced, would materially aid in the establishment of county societies, and stimulate the efforts that were being made in every quarter of the land to improve such societies as already existed.
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
said: The chief objection that has always been made to the existing relations between the Friendly Societies and the Government is, that the system is "neither the one thing nor the other." That there is a plan of Government registration, which by many persons is very naturally taken to imply solvency; while those who really understand the position of affairs well know that registration does not imply solvency at all. So unsatisfactory from this point of view is the existing state of things, that the right hon. Member for the London University (Mr. Lowe) proposed on behalf of the late Government to abolish registration. 900 The chief complaint against the present measure is, that it retains, if it does not intensify, this hesitation in the attitude of Government towards the societies. The Chancellor of the Exchequer refuses to abolish registration altogether; but he still proposes that registration should not be compulsory; and under his Bill, while he will worry the great and solvent societies, he will obtain no additional control over the insolvent societies against which he complains. Personally, I see no objection to a small annual outlay by the State for the maintenance of an officer charged with the duty of collecting and diffusing statistical and actuarial information among the societies; but while the great object that should be sought is to get bodies partly of uneducated and partly of poor men, although in part composed of the best of the working classes and small tradesmen, to avail themselves of actuarial science—to force this upon them by Government interference is to make them at once dislike it, and in reality to defeat your own ends. They will make a perfunctory use of the regulations which you obtrude upon them, and when difficulties arise, they will shift the responsibility from off their own shoulders, and cast the entire blame upon the Government and its officials. If you leave them to find out—as the Manchester Unity of Odd Fellows and the Ancient Order of Foresters already have done—the value of actuarial skill for themselves, they will value it in a higher degree, and be less likely to resign the advantages which once they will have conquered. By what means have caution and prudence in the investment of savings been, so far as they have been, instilled into the minds of the richer classes? By experience, taught and brought home to them through the losses of the less intelligent. I do not believe that you will make men more prudent by a system designed to do that which cannot be done—namely, guarantee them against all possible loss. In throwing doubt upon the value of this Bill, I do not wish to attack either the policy of the appointment of the Commission, or the Report, as a whole, which that Commission made. The evidence collected was of enormous value, and the Reports of the Assistant-Commissioners form a text-book of all the learning upon the subject, But a great 901 many of the remarks in the Report of the Commissioners themselves—while they are of value as suggestions to the societies for their self-improvement, are not of use to us for legislative purposes; because they refer to subjects with which the State cannot hope to deal successfully. I venture to believe that the true policy which should guide us is to aid in the diffusion of sound knowledge and information; but to leave the business of seeing that the law is not infringed to the action of the individuals who may be aggrieved in the ordinary Courts of the country. If you wish to go further—if you think that you can point out evils to justify a departure from the ordinary practice of the State—then, I venture to suggest that your action should take the form of a prevention of the creation of new societies with bad rules. This would have the effect of giving a virtual monopoly to the older and more powerful orders. New societies, at the present time, start in country districts by offering to the young an inducement of lower contributions than those of the older societies; and if you can prove that this evil is on the increase, the prevention of the creation of new societies with false rules is the proper way to meet it, and not interference with the old societies that already exist; because you dare not propose as regards the old societies an interference such as would really form a safeguard. You are not prepared to insist on registration; you are not pre-pared to suppress by force the whole of the unsound societies. You did not propose it even in your first Bill of last year; your second Bill was still further from it; and the third Bill which we have before us now, is still further off from it again. You wish to induce societies to register; but the more restrictions you put upon their financial transactions, the more you force the weak and bad societies—which are the very ones you want to register—away from, and out of, registration; and that is the great blot upon the Commissioners' Report and upon the three Bills. But it is questionable whether the worst of the existing societies cannot be dealt with directly by the existing law. The Commissioners say, page ccii., section 867, that the country swarms with illegal companies, and that of the 10,000 unregistered Friendly Societies, probably 4,000 are setting at defiance 902 the Life Assurance Companies' Acts. I think it would be found that the majority of the worst societies have incurred heavy penalties under the Act of 1870; but, if not, they would fall under the old Assurance Act, 14 Geo. III., c. 48, and their insurances probably are void at law at the present moment, and might be repudiated. Others—the worst of the dividing societies—are illegal companies, under the 4th section of the Companies' Act of 1862. It is therefore absurd to agitate the country in favour of a stringent friendly societies' law on the ground that in the rural districts, and in parts of the North of England, the poor are swindled by bad societies; when, on the one hand, the Bill which you introduce would not touch the evil in the least, but, on the contrary, by frightening them out of registration, would intensify it; while, on the other hand, it can be contended with at least some show of argument, that the worst of the bad societies have already made themselves obnoxious even to the present law. Mr. Bircham, in his most valuable additional and separate Report—page ccxxi.—points out that societies which persist in not registering—which will increase in number as the law is made more vexatious, will not be touched by any of the registration proposed. Fraudulent and designing managers will purposely keep those bad and feeble societies out of legislation, so as to escape the perils which you put in their way by your new laws. Yet it is the ignorant members of these bad and feeble societies, who are just the people that you want to help, because the strong can take care of themselves. Mr. Bircham having seemingly a prophetic knowledge of what your Bill would be, pointed out that such a measure would mean less power of controlling the societies, which would hold themselves outside the law, and less power to interfere with, or even to inquire into, the affairs of the worst organizations than of the best. That the fears of the harm that you may do by increasing your interference are not mere idle bug-bears, is clear, from the harm which, in similar cases, you have already done. At page xliii, sections 155 and 156, it is shown that the virtual independence which the former Friendly Societies Acts have conferred on branches has very seriously interfered with the solvency of the great 903 orders. In the case of the Fireman's Society, one of the branches altered its rates and scale in a wrong direction, and the controlling body, which would otherwise have prevented the change, has, under your legislation, lost its power to do so—the Registrar being legally bound to accept alterations by the branches which he knew to be, and which the society knew to be, financially unsound; and the Registrar now, contrary to his former practice, refuses even to certify a branch rule providing that the rules of the branches shall not be altered without the assent of the general body. You may meet one such case of hardship by this Bill; but where you meet one you create a dozen, which is a fate that always attends Government interference with the affairs of the people. If you must needs interfere, strengthen the old orders, strengthen' the head quarters, strengthen the control of the governing bodies over the branches. But, at the present moment, your interference goes in the opposite direction, although the Commissioners can find no words too strong to express their delight at the progress which is being made by the central bodies of the affiliated orders. The Commissioners state—That they are increasing not only in magnitude, but also in stability; "that the smaller clubs "are rapidly diminishing under the stress of the competition of the affiliated orders;" "that it is impossible to deny that they may succeed in rectifying their remaining faults, after they have already succeeded in rectifying so many;"—and in answer to Question 59, the gentleman who has been for 37 years examiner of the rules of Friendly Societies in the Registrar's office, says—As regards the Manchester Unity and the Foresters, persons deputed by those orders have drawn up a model set of rules, which guide all their branches, and meet all their requirements. They were submitted to our office some years ago, were examined, and were settled with the secretary of each order. All difficulties are smoothed over, and their rules are now certified almost without alteration,and that is without your present Bill. Now, I am aware that the Chancellor of the Exchequer thinks that the great societies are friendly to his Bill. The fact is, that while there is a powerful and active minority among the governing bodies of the great orders, who are opposed to this Bill root and branch, there is a majority favourable to accepting 904 it provided that changes are made in it to which he has said there is no chance that he will agree. To show that I am correctly stating their view, I must quote their words. These are from the speech of the spokesman of the deputation who waited on the Chancellor of the Exchequer—As they had grown to their present proportions without help from any Government, it was not unnatural that members should be jealous of any action or over interference on the part of the Government, knowing as they did, that the success as yet attained, has rested with themselves, who for the most part are really working men earning weekly wage … they regretted to find in the amended Bill several matters which, if passed into law in their present shape, would inflict upon their societies very serious injury.It then named a series of points of which only one is touched by the changes that have been since made in the Bill. In the official document which they put out as to the second Bill of last Session, they said—The great professed aim of the Bill is to bring all friendly societies within the limits of registracy. This is most desirable, but we submit that the Bill defeats its own aim by imposing such regulations and restrictions as must tend to prevent registration on the one hand, and to drive societies already registered to form themselves under the Companies Acts on the other. While the Bill assumes to propound a remedy for certain real or alleged evils, it is marked throughout with the utmost indefinite-ness of provisions in detail, leaving its issues to the caprice or experimental regulations of sundry officials specified therein—a course which could not fail to lead to litigation and increased expenditure without efficient result. While the Bill is professedly incompetent as to detail of suitable provisions, it has deputed extreme and almost unlimited powers to the central office, giving in effect the force of an Act of Parliament to any regulations that may be drawn up by such office.They then go on to speak of the provisions of the Bill as—Extreme and impracticable—totally inadequate and unsatisfactory to the societies and to the country at large, and tending to diminish the self-reliance so important to working-men in their own affairs.Now, that is what the Chancellor of the Exchequer calls the societies supporting his Bill! The Scotch societies, in their Report on this very amended Bill now before us—that is—on the third edition of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's scheme, use language of a similar kind. Yet no one knows better than he does how great are the interests at stake. The measure seriously affects societies 905 possessing 4,000,000 of members and £12,000,000 of funds, and that is a measure, which we are not in the House of Commons bound to accept upon the ipse dixit of a Minister, even though he does tell us that the societies themselves do not oppose it. Some of the societies believe that if they do not pass this Bill they will be worried more and more, year by year, without end. They think that while it will not do any good, it will not do very much harm—a reason which I think is hardly sufficient for our passing a most complicated measure, and one upon which we possess singularly little knowledge. Bills are often passed with hardly any opposition, which afterwards we regret; and we often in the House of Commons vote for measures—which subsequently we wish we had opposed;—as, for instance, the Licensing Act of the late Government, which we passed without opposition through the House except upon points of detail, although it was a measure at least of doubtful expediency. The famous proviso to which I called attention last year, that registration—shall not be taken to imply that the rules of the society, in respect to which the same may he given, are legal, or that the society, is established on a sound basis,has been omitted in the now Bill; but, until corrected, I venture to think that the words have been omitted by the draftsman, upon receiving a hint from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that they revealed too nakedly the impolicy of the Bill, and I would ask whether the omission of the words taken by itself has any significance whatever. I think that when the Chancellor of the Exchequer had once put those words in his Bill, and had so shown his hand, and revealed the weakness of the measure, he might just as well have left them as before this year, and that their omission has no force, and that they were equally understood whether they were there or not. I have also another great ground of objection to this Bill, and it is that it lumps together the great orders, the small friendly societies, the burial clubs, the benevolent societies, workmen's clubs, cattle insurance societies, fishermen's societies for the insurance of boats and nets; whereas the great friendly societies ought, if dealt with by Parliament at all, to be dealt with by a Bill which would apply only to themselves. 906 I have but one thing to add to my criticism of the Bill, and that is, that those things in it which appear to be good, are, without exception, contained in the existing law—namely, the 18 & 19 Vict. c. 63, being an Act to consolidate the law relating to Friendly Societies, as amended by 21 & 22 Vict. c. 101, and 23 & 24 Vict. c. 58. Those three Acts the Bill repeals and re-enacts, nobody knows why. Probably, for the reason for which most new Acts of Parliament are passed—namely, that a Commission has sat upon the subject, and has made a Report; that a clause has been put into the Queen's Speech promising legislation. We should remember that there is no country in the world which can show anything like our great orders. I, for one, should greatly regret to see Government attempt to undertake that which we already find the people are doing for themselves. We cannot be too careful when we are dealing with great associations affecting the interests of enormous numbers of people, and organizing the greater portion of the tendencies towards providence, and towards brotherly help, which exist among the people of this country. I dare say there are many who will have to deal with this subject who are hardly aware of the numbers and wealth of the great orders—indeed, I may observe that Parliament is, perhaps, loss competent to deal with the subject of Friendly Societies than with any that could be brought to its notice. Sir George Young, one of the Assistant-Commissioners, has said—Everywhere that I have been I have heard the same story from members of the older or local clubs. We cannot stand against the great orders; wherever they penetrate, the existing clubs at once cease to enter young members, and within half a generation they die out or break up.… Of the various orders which have come under my notice, there is none that can be said to occupy a third place with the Manchester Unity of Odd Fellows, and the (London) Ancient Order of Foresters. I have visited no town, and but few large villages, in which a 'lodge' or 'court' of these orders was not to be found. …. The constitution and character of these societies is well known to the Commissioners. They aim at combining the advantages of local and non-local clubs, their branches being financially independent, as far as the sick pay is concerned, but interdependent within limits of a district, so far as the liability for burial money is concerned; while the districts, again, are independent of each other in all pecuniary relations, but co-operate in sending delegates to a general assembly for legislative purposes, and the whole is kept together by a central executive, 907 responsible only to the general meeting, and elected by the delegates. This form of benefit club appears to have been first worked out by the Odd Fellows (Manchester Unity), and since it is the undisputed invention of men be-longing to the class for whom benefit societies are intended, it is important to point how admirably it is adapted to meet the primary requisitions of a good system of thrift, as thrift is understood by the members of that class in England. I find it to be universal that the first benefit desired by the working man from his club is the weekly provision in case of sickness; the second is with equal unanimity declared to be the sum at death, to clear off standing scores, pay funeral expenses, and assist a widow or children through the first days of bereavement. There is not an equal concurrence of opinion as to the third, but a very considerable number are in practice found to prefer an increase upon the usual burial benefit, to any other. Taking these two to be the primary objects of a benefit club, the chief difficulties encountered in securing them are, in the first case, imposition; in the second, insufficient numbers to form a basis of insurance. The mischief which may be done by imposition and by lax administration, which accompanies it, is best guarded against by confining the sick club to a small area within which the members know each other, and each can watch his neighbour, while the intenser personal interest which they naturally take in a fund locally subscribed, ensures that the supervision, shall he stricter. A small area may be sufficient to afford a basis for sick pay, while insufficient to ensure burial money, because the payments are smaller in the proportion of shillings to pounds, and are distributed among a larger number of the members. In the case of burial benefits, the risk requires a large area, which is found in the district of the affiliated orders. The sagacity necessary for the guidance of such great societies, as these have become, is sought out by the delegate system and utilized in the central executive, and the general meeting so organized is both an excellent medium for disseminating just ideas throughout the order, upon the questions brought to issue, and also a fair representation of the best opinion current among the members. I purposely abstain from entering into a more particular examination of the system pursued in these societies. But I desire to express a conviction, formed by intercourse with their members in every place I have visited, that their claim to speak in the name of the present generation of working men, so far as concerns the largest section of the most intelligent among them, is well founded; and that their existence and prosperity, founded as it is upon the spontaneous energies and mutual help of individuals, without external initiative, and with but a minimum of Government aid, is in itself a valuable national possession. "Ce qui a fait jusqu' ici le succés de ces sociétés,—succés lent a la vérité comme tout ce qui concerne les masses, c'est la liberté, et cela s'cxplique."—Bastiat Harmonics Economiques.The Registrars of Friendly Societies have also stated (Question 14,976) that the Foresters and Odd Fellows Societies have a far better system than the 908 smaller societies; and, if so, that is surely a ground for not dealing with them in the same Bill with burial societies and societies of an inferior type. I want to know what is the result you can hope to obtain by this Bill, in regard to those societies, other than that which you have already obtained without it? But my real objection to the Bill is, that which I have already pointed out, namely—that while it contains stringent and objectionable provisions pressing upon registered societies, it furnishes no particular reasons to induce societies to register; and that in consequence it would be the solvent societies that alone would come under the operation of an Act which is intended to protect persons against the insolvent societies.
§ MR. EVELYN ASHLEY
wished to say, in reply to the challenge of the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles W. Dilke), that the Executive Committee of the Ancient Order of Foresters, who had asked him to represent their interests in the House, viewed that Bill with great satisfaction. They considered that it dealt with them most tenderly as one of those great solvent societies which were doing so much good; and that if they were not cumbered and fettered by any further restrictions in Committee, they were perfectly prepared to accept the Bill.
§ MR. DODSON
said, he was disposed to approve of the plan that the Government should prepare and publish tables of mortality, rates of contributions, and other model forms; and he would suggest that there would be an advantage in providing, by a clause in the Bill, that it should be the duty of the Government to prepare such tables, but that the use of them by societies was to be optional. After the very general consensus of opinion on the part of the House that the Bill should go forward, he trusted that hon. Members would not be put to the trouble of going to a division.
§ MR. SALT
agreed that, in the main, these great societies were in favour of this Bill; but, at the same time, he had received from a most important body of Friendly Societies an expression in strong terms of their doubts as to the working of several parts of the measure. He would urge that the objections to the Bill should be most carefully considered before going into Committee. The position, 909 functions, duties, and powers of the Registrar, and the definition of what Friendly Societies really were, were points requiring special consideration. But the real point was, whether the Bill really covered one half of the question. It was distinctly shown before the Royal Commission that more than half of the societies were unregistered, and the House ought to know distinctly before it parted with the Bill whether these societies were to be brought under the Companies, Life Insurance, and other existing Acts, or whether they would be dealt with by the Bill.
§ MR. SERJEANT SIMON
confirmed the statement of the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. E. Ashley) with regard to the feeling of the Order of Foresters. He hoped the Chancellor of the Exchequer would not hurry on the consideration of the Bill in Committee.
said, that after the general expression of opinion which had been given by the House, he would withdraw his Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, 'withdrawn.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for Thursday 11th March.