HC Deb 04 August 1882 vol 273 cc872-81

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clause 1 (Short title and construction) agreed to.

Clause 2 (Limit of grant of annuities).

On the Motion of Mr. FAWCETT, the following Amendments made:—In page 1, lines 25 and 26, leave out "through the medium of a savings bank;" and in page 2, line 1, leave out "two," and insert "one."

Clause, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 3 (Contract for endowments and definition of insurance) agreed to.

Clause 4 (Limits of insurance).

On the Motion of Mr. FAWCETT, the following Amendment made:—In page 2, line 18, leave out "two," and insert "one."

Clause, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 5 (Tables for annuities and insurances).

On the Motion of Mr. FAWCETT, the following Amendment made:—In page 3, line 23, leave out from "persons," to "such," in line 24, and insert "entitled to insurances in force at that time."

Clause, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 6 (Regulations).


, in rising to move the Amendment of which he had given Notice, said, that he ventured to raise a protest against the plan of the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General, on behalf of those friendly societies which, he considered, had rendered great service not only to the working classes themselves, but the community at large, by enabling the working classes to make insurances. The right hon. Gentleman's intention, as he (Mr. Torrens) understood it, was to do a great service to the classes who at present were restricted, in some degree, as to the possibility of insurance; and he would, if the Committee were in a position to enter fully into the question, and would enable him to do so, state succinctly what seemed to him to be sufficient reasons why the proposition made by the right hon. Gentleman in this clause should be regarded as fraught with serious danger. He objected to the proposal on the simple ground that, in the independent Companies in which the middle classes had to insure, measures were taken to enable them to guard against fraud; whilst the Postmaster General proposed that the Exchequer should gratify the desire of poor people to make money out of the lives of their relatives. He (Mr. Torrens) could not help thinking that that was not likely to improve the morality of the working classes, or conduce to their domestic happiness. There were honest and dishonest men in all classes. Even in the orders of society to which Members of the House belonged there were, confessedly, sometimes found individuals who made very grave errors in the matter of insurance—errors deserving of being stigmatized in Courts of Justice with very severe rebuke; and it would be affectation to say that because a man lived by wage labour he was above the temptation to make an insurance that could not be defended. The right hon. Gentleman proposed to do that in the Post Office which was never done anywhere before—namely, to assure to the amount of £25 without requiring any medical examination or certificate. He (Mr. Torrens) would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he would sanction that system of insurance in the case of the upper classes? He thought that all of them who, in the course of their lives, had been moved by solicitude for the welfare of the working classes, and had identified themselves with the various movements which had taken place in the interests of those people, were bound to have regard to that sacred maxim, "Lead us not into temptation." The proposal of the right hon. Gentleman certainly seemed to him to be leading into temptation people who had never been so tempted before. His right hon. Friend said — for he (Mr. Torrens) had argued the question with him in private—that because a man was not likely to commit a fraud in his own case he was not likely to do it in others; but he (Mr. Torrens) did not agree with that at all. Working men, like other men, had family ties and in-cumbrances. If they taught him to gamble with the lives of his children, they would be taking a false step, which they would never be able to retrace. The right hon. Gentleman the Post-master General said he was cautious in this matter, and would not risk the public purse beyond £25 in each case; but how did the right hon. Gentleman know that his successor, whoever he might be, would not raise the maximum to £50? The present Government's proposal would prove simply the thin end of the wedge. If they taught these people to lose consideration for the health of their wives and children, they would never be able to go back, because when they proposed such a thing they would be told that they were casting aspersions on the character of the working classes. He knew it would be in vain, still he ventured to protest against this proposal, in the true interests of social economy. He wished to move the Amendment which stood in his name.

Amendment proposed, In page 3, line 28, after "state of health," insert "and any other circumstance tending to affect the duration of life as certified in writing by a duly qualified medical practitioner resident in the district."—(Mr. W. M. Torrens.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."


said, he had given careful attention, not only to what his hon. Friend (Mr. W. M. Torrens) had urged that night, but also to what he had previously urged in private conversation on the subject, and everything which fell from the hon. Member deserved careful and respectful attention. He (Mr. Fawcett) knew the interest the hon. Gentleman took in the subject. Well, he (Mr. Fawcett) was anxious to bring about an assurance for small sums, because he believed that, in that way, a structure of thrift could be gradually raised up amongst the labouring classes of the country. He believed it was possible—and those who had had experience in connection with friendly societies would bear him out—with proper security, to dispense with the necessity for a medical certificate. Medical certificates, there could be no doubt, offered very serious difficulty in the way of assuring for small sums. It was said that they could get certificates for small amounts, and that if a certificate was worth anything at all, it ought to be as careful in the case of a £5 insurance as in the case of an insurance for £500 or £5,000. That might be true; but experience taught them that a certificate was not as careful for a £5 insurance as for an insurance for a large amount. The Post Office proposed to adopt the greatest security against abuse, and it must be understood that the Post Office had no option as to the form in which the assurance business had to be carried on. The Post Office were merely agents for the carrying on of the business. The conditions of it had to be first of all laid down by the Commissioners, sanctioned by the Treasury, and then laid upon the Table of the House. What was proposed was this—that, in case of small amounts, the person who insured did so without a medical certificate; but the most careful inquiries would be made, and if the person insured died within six or 12 months he would get no advantage at all, and if within one or two years—the period being determined by the National Debt Commissioners—only half the amount assured. If the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Whitley) was in the House he would say, from the great experience he had had in connection with friendly societies in Liverpool, where they adopted this plan, that this system of deferred or partial payment would give security against fraud. As to the temptation placed in the way of the working classes, he (Mr. Fawcett) knew that fear was sometimes expressed; but it seemed to him that such fears applied to the whole system of insurance, because if a man wished to insure a life from an improper motive, he would be more likely to do it in such a way as to be sure that the moment the life ceased he would be entitled to full benefit, rather than that if the life lasted so long as a year and a-half he would only get half the amount. If the House would give the Post Office the opportunity of making this experiment, it would be made under the most careful conditions laid down by the National Debt Commissioners.


said, he could not agree with what had fallen from the Postmaster General. One of two things must happen. If they were going to insure sickly lives, they must certainly load those lives, or else they would not be doing justice to the healthy lives; and how could they tell whether a life should be loaded, or insured at the ordinary premium, except on a medical inquiry? The right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General said they expected to gain the object by refusing payment if death took place within a certain number of months; but how unfair that might be. Take the case of a postman, whose duty took him out in all weathers. Suppose he insured his life in October, and in November he caught cold and shortly afterwards died, he, or his family, were to be refused the insurance.


Not necessarily. The assured will have the option of insuring under a medical certificate and coming to full benefit at once, or without a medical certificate and only coming to full benefit after a certain period.


said, the right hon. Gentleman suggested, however, that the insurance would be principally without a certificate. A man might say—"I am strong and healthy; there is no occasion for me to go to the doctor; I will insure without a certificate," and soon after his insurance he might catch cold and die. Was there any reason why such a man as that should not have full benefit? There was no reason why there should not be a proper medical examination in every case. It could be done at a very small price; a medical man could be appointed in every district, I who would give a certificate for a very small amount. He (Mr. Staveley Hill) would ask the right hon. Gentleman really to consider this matter again, and could assure him that it would be much better and safer if the assurance was allowed to all alike on a proper medical certificate.


said, he rather agreed with the views of the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General. He (Mr. Whitley) had had some experience in insurances of this kind, and there could be no doubt that the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman was one which was advocated by the Insurance Companies, who had to deal with these lives. In assuring the lives of the poor—in £25 assurances, for instance—there was much greater difficulty in regard to medical certificate than in regard to assurances for larger amounts. When they came to deal with probably 100,000 people, it would be found that the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman was the most practicable one—that was to say, where a man, having the option of obtaining a medical certificate, refused to avail himself of that option, and chose to run the risk of dying before the end of six months, 12 months, or two years, it should be open to him to do so. Such risk would prevent that temptation which had been referred to this evening; and it must be borne in mind that this plan was one which was adopted by those Insurance Companies which did a large amount of business amongst the poorer classes. He really believed that in adopting the proposition of the Postmaster General they would be adopting the principle recognized by the Insurance Companies; and he could not help thinking that though medical certificates might be of some advantage where an insurance for a large amount was effected, he thought that where the amount assured was small the suggestion of the Postmaster General was one that would be most efficacious for protecting the Post Office from fraud, and, at the same time, be best for the working classes.


said, he was very much impressed by the arguments of the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. W. M. Torrens). There was only one thing which the hon. Member had said with which he could not agree, and that was his expression of the hopelessness of opposing the proposition of the Postmaster General. In matters of this kind they should never abandon hope. The question before the Committee was a very serious one. When they looked at this clause, the eye caught the figure of £25, and they imagined it was a question of £25; but, on looking a little further into the matter, they saw that the subject was insurance, and that the £25 might amount to hundreds of thousands of pounds a-year, and it became apparent that the undertaking was a large one. It was a very serious matter; but what was most serious was the question of principle. The proposal now made was an encouragement to people of all classes to endeavour to cheat the Government; and they knew that there were a great many people who would willingly cheat the Government, who would not cheat anyone else. Some ladies thought nothing of cheating the Revenue by smuggling lace into the country; and many people, without the slightest qualm, would bring through a few cigars without paying the duty. They must take people as they were. The honest man paid the Government all he owed, and paid his neighbour all he owed; but that was not the general sentiment. Amongst the lower classes especially, it was considered a clever thing to cheat the Government. He (Mr. Warton) gave the Postmaster General credit for good intentions; but he must say he thought his proposal most unjust. How did Insurance Companies live? Why, they had tables prepared as to the average risks in ordinary lives, and they insured people by those tables, and they got the pull by cutting out the unhealthy lives. They got their profit by taking wholly healthy lives on calculations based upon all lives in general. How could the Government do as they proposed, seeing that if they did they would be cheating the healthy lives? He saw no provision in the Bill relating to option, and he protested against proceeding on the assurance of what was to be done.

An hon. MEMBER said, the hon. and learned Member for Bridport (Mr. Warton) did not seem to be aware that the whole subject had been before a Select Committee, and that they made no recommendation on this point, because there was ample evidence that the Post Office could protect itself.


said, that the Post Office could only protect itself by aiding honest people. His wish was to see the morality of the people protected.

Question put, and negatived.

On the Motion of Mr. FAWCETT, the following Amendments made:—In page 3, line 42, after "Act," insert— Or otherwise for regulating the mode of payment of such annuities or insurances, or of any annuities granted under any Acts repealed by 'The Government Annuities Act, 1853,' and for regulating the receipts to be given for the same;

Page 4, line 3, at end, insert as a separate paragraph— (e.) For enabling a person to whom an insurance is granted to nominate a person to whom the money due under such insurance, not exceeding fifty pounds, is to be paid on the death of such person, and for the discharge to be given for such money; and. Line 5, after "for," insert— The making of contracts, the making of payments to obtain Savings Bank Annuities and Insurances out of the deposits in a Savings Bank. Line 6, after "behalf and," insert "the contracts and payments so made;" and, in line 13, at end of Clause, insert— Regulations may be made, in pursuance of the said section sixteen of 'The Government Annuities Act, 1864,' as amended by this Act, by the National Debt Commissioners, with the approval of the Treasury, so far as regards any annuities and insurances granted by such Commissioners either directly or through any parochial or other securities.

Clause, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 7 (Application of Saving Banks Acts).

On the Motion of Mr. FAWCETT, the following Amendments made:—In page 4, line 24, leave out "obtaining," and insert "the immediate purchase of;" and, in line 34, leave out from "and," to "unlawful," in line 37, and insert— And it shall be lawful to credit the account of a depositor with any such deposit or sum: Provided, That if, after such deposit or sum has been credited, the aggregate sum standing to the credit of a depositor exceeds the maximum amount which otherwise is allowed to be deposited in a savings bank, either in any one savings bank year or in the aggregate, such excess shall bear no interest, but shall be forthwith applied to the purpose for which it was deposited, or paid over to the depositor.

Clause, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 8 (Trust and joint account).

On the Motion of Mr. FAWCETT, the following Amendments made:—In page 4, line 42, after "insurance," insert— (Except such trusts as are from time to time recognised by law in relation to deposits in savings banks, and except such trusts as are provided for by section ten of 'The Married Women's Property Act, 1870,' or any enactment now or hereafter to be passed relating to the property of married women);

Page 5, line 2, after "receivable by," insert "the National Debt Commissioners or;" line 14, before "as," insert "persons;" and, in line 17, leave out "the," and insert "any."

Clause, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 9 (Insane or incapacitated grantee); Clause 10 (Amendment of 27 & 28 Vic. c. 43, ss. 8 & 11, as to surrender of policy or assignment of policy after payment of five years premium); Clause 11 (Forfeiture by person holding annuity or insurance exceeding the maximum or making false declaration); and Clause 12 (Penalty for receiving annuity or insurance in fraud of the Commissioners) severally agreed to.

Clause 13 (Application and investment of sums paid for savings bank annuities or insurances), postponed.

Clause 14 (Definitions) agreed to.

Clause 15 (Repeal of Acts and savings).

On the Motion of Mr. FAWCETT, the following Amendments made:—In page 8, line 23, insert as a new paragraph— The regulations in force under any enactment repealed by this Act shall continue in force until revoked or superseded by regulations made in pursuance of section sixteen of 'The Government Investments Act, 1864,' as amended by this Act.

Clause, as amended, agreed to.

On the Motion of Mr. FAWCETT, the following New Clause agreed to, and added to the Bill, after Clause 15: —

(Extension of Acts to Channel Islands and Isle of Man.)

'"The Government Annuities, 1853,' 'The Government Annuities, 1864,' and this Act shall extend to the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, and the Royal Courts of the Channel Islands shall register the same accordingly


On the Motion of Mr. FAWCETT, the following Amendment made:—In page 1, line 7, leave out "when granted through the medium of savings banks."

Preamble, as amended, agreed to.

Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.