HC Deb 19 June 1901 vol 95 cc847-59

Order for Second Reading read.

MR. WINGFIELD-DIGBY (Dorsetshire, N.)

, in moving that the Bill be read the third time, said that it had passed through its various stages up to the present time almost without opposition. It was only a two-clause Bill; Amendments were carried on behalf of the Local Government Board at the Committee stage, and the text of the Bill as it now stood contained provision in the second sub-section that— In granting outdoor relief to a member of any friendly society the board of guardians shall not take into consideration any sum up to five shillings a week received from such friendly society in sick pay. He believed that on both sides of the House a strong opinion existed that any effort by the working classes, or any of their poorer brethren, in the direction of thrift should rather meet with encouragement than the reverse. By not allowing them outdoor relief simply because they were receiving relief from a friendly society they were not giving that encouragement. This was a very small measure, and not in any way connected with, although it might be in the direction of, old-age pensions, which they were told the other day at Birmingham the friendly societies were to be the parties to carry out.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."—(Mr. Wingfield-Digby.)


said that though this was not a very large Bill it contained a great deal that was interesting and important. It was a Bill which, like some others, was not fully apprehended by those who merely looked at it in the form in which it was printed. This was a case of legislation by reference to other enactments, although not a bad case of the kind. When he first saw it he had difficulty in finding the full scope of the Bill, and it took some trouble and research through previous Acts to find the interpretation, The Bill began by saying— The discretion given by section one of the Outdoor Relief Friendly Societies Act, 1894, to the boards of guardians to take or not to take into consideration the amount received by a member of a friendly society as sick pay when granting outdoor relief shall be limited as hereinafter provided. The natural course was to refer to the section in the Act of 1894, and there he found it was enacted— Notwithstanding any orders or regulations of the Poor Law Commissioners or the Local Government Board under and by virtue of the Poor Law Amendment Act, 1834, or of any Act amending the said Act, it shall be lawful for any board of guardians, if they think fit, to grant relief out of the poor rates to any person otherwise entitled to such relief, notwithstanding that the said person shall, by reason of his membership of a friendly society, be in receipt of any sum, and that in estimating the amount of the relief that shall be granted to such person being a member of a friendly society as aforesaid, it shall be at the discretion of the board of guardians whether they will or will not take into consideration the amount which may be received by him from such friendly society. Following this up, if one wished to understand the Bill now before the House it was necessary to go to the Act of 1834. There he found himself confronted with very considerable difficulty. It was a very elaborate Act, and he had to spend considerable time in hunting through it before he found the section to which they were now referred. It seemed to be Section 52, which said— It shall be lawful for the said Commissioners by such rules, orders, or regulations as they may think fit, to declare to what extent and for what period the relief to be given.…may be administered out of the workhouse," and so on. It was obvious that even here there was certain obscurity, because there was a reference to regulations to be made under the Act. He had not seen these regulations, although he might have found them perhaps if he had taken further trouble in the matter. This was an illustration of the way legislation was conducted. The discretion referred to in the present Bill was that conferred on the guardians by the first sub-section of Section 1 of the 1894 Act, which he had already read. That discretion was now to be taken away by this Bill up to a certain point. The amount received from friendly societies which was not to be taken into consideration by the guardians in granting outdoor relief was fixed at 5s. by the second sub-section.

MR. BANBURY (Camberwell, Peckham)

said the sub-section was not amended so as to appear in the print now before the House in the form in which it was passed by Committee.

An HON. MEMBER asked whether they were able to discuss a Bill which was not printed in accordance with the Amendments which had been made upon it.


It is quite in order. There were only two drafting Amendments made in Committee. The words "up to 5s. a week" were struck out at the end of Sub-section 2 of Clause 1, and the words inserted were, "except in so far as such sum shall exceed 5s. a week." The House, as is usual in such a case, did not order the Bill to be reprinted.


said it was still a case where the limit was 5s. The proposal in this Bill was the negation of the Act of 1834. The idea of that Act was that support should only be given, whether by outdoor or indoor relief, after every other source of subsistence was exhausted. The present Bill had for its underlying principle the idea that people had a right to a certain amount of support, not to save them from starvation, but as a reasonable provision, and that the fact that a person was receiving certain benefits as the result of an investment in a friendly society Was no reason why he should not receive the same consideration in the matter of poor relief as a thoroughly thriftless person. That was a revolution in the way in which we had hitherto looked at poor relief. It approached the question from a socialistic point of view. It laid down the principle that a man had a right to assistance as against the State. Personally he had no objection to such a Bill, but to think that the matter would rest there was to deceive themselves. It would advance further stages in the same direction, until old-age pensions were reached.

MR. STRACHEY (Somersetshire, S.)

said the noble Lord had referred to the Bill of 1894. He would remind the House that alterations were made upon it in another place by the present Prime Minister, and that was the reason why it was so complicated. When the Bill came back to the House of Commons he did not make any objection to the alterations, because he was only too glad that the principle of the Bill was accepted. He believed they were generally agreed as to the proposal in the present Bill to give assistance in the case of those who had made a certain amount of provision for helping themselves by becoming members of friendly societies. He had introduced the Bill at the instance of the National Conference of Friendly Societies, and he desired to thank the President of the Local Government Board for assisting its progress through the House. He also thanked the hon. member for Peckham for not persisting in his opposition which he had intended to give to the Bill.


said that as all the stages of this Bill had been taken after twelve o'clock, it had been impossible for him to explain his attitude towards it, and he should like now to say a few words in regard to the motives that actuated him. He had never had the slightest objection to the Bill as a Bill. Hitherto he had said that no man should receive outdoor relief unless he was in such a state that he could not subsist without it. He did not object to the Bill because it was proposed to give assistance to those who had become members of friendly societies. They owed to friendly societies very great obligations, and they ought to be encouraged in every possible manner. His only objection to the Bill was that it encouraged but one form of thrift. He thought that a man who invested a small amount of money in the Savings Bank or bought a small cottage was just as much entitled to the assistance provided by the Bill as a man who joined a friendly society. He thought it would have been advisable before passing the Bill to see whether some means could not be devised whereby others who had been thrifty would benefit in the same manner.

MR. BOND (Nottingham, E.)

said it was only by a happy accident that they were in a position to pay any attention to the far-reaching principle which underlay the apparently insignificant and unimportant Bill now before the House. They were told that the Bill was introduced at the instigation, or, at all events, with the sanction, of a large number of the friendly societies of this country. That predisposed many hon. Members to accept the Bill. He himself yielded to no man in his admiration for friendly societies. They represented a movement which had, notwithstanding great difficulties, developed one of the most important features in our social system. The principle on which friendly societies were based was that of co-operative independence. The founders and promoters of those societies wished to be beholden to no man for assistance; but the friendly societies were forgetting the precepts of their founders when they desired to come in contact with the poor law system, from which it was originally desired to rescue themselves. He thought therefore that a good deal of weight which would naturally attach to their opinion in this matter was taken away. When the friendly societies were found in conflict with the principle so long established in the poor law that relief should be given only in cases of destitution, the House should pause and consider carefully how far measures of this kind were likely to lead. He understood from what Mr. Speaker had said that an Amendment had been introduced into the Bill—he knew not when or how—which extended the operation of the measure not merely to allowances from friendly societies in time of sickness, but to all cases where members of friendly societies were in receipt of allowances not exceeding 5s. per week. He did not know whether it was intended, but it was evident that they had there introduced in an insidious and unobtrusive way the principle of old-age pensions—a question which had not received the consideration of the House. The provision prohibited guardians from taking such allowances into account. It was pretty evident that they had gone a long way in the direction of old-age pensions without proper legislative sanction being given to the proceeding. That seemed to him a rather serious state of things. He hardly thought it proper that they should pass this measure after such scanty discussion on the Third Reading. It was a measure which might have far-reaching consequences, and he ventured to think that it contained much potential mischief for the friendly societies themselves with regard to the administration of the poor law up and down the country. It was a curious thing that the introduction and conduct of this Bill had fallen into the hands of two Members who represented West Country rural constituencies. Anybody who was acquainted with the way the poor law was administered up and down England knew that the objection to having recourse to the poor law did not prevail in anything like the same intensity in the West Country as in other parts. It had become almost a matter of course in the rural parts of Somerset for an old labourer to receive out-door relief from the guardians. The labourer did not think there was any disgrace in having accepted that form of relief. He could well understand how Members representing districts where that feeling prevailed should think they were doing the district a good turn in promoting such legislation as was now under consideration. But the House should recollect that there were other districts where high-minded and independent men were unwilling to avail themselves of an appeal to the poor law. This would be the first time since the Act of 1834 was passed that the House would put its seal to a proposal which would break down the principle that relief should be given for destitution only. The Bill either went too far or not far enough. If they were going to set their seal to the principle that there was to be encouragement of thrift, they ought to make it encouragement of thrift of every kind.

MR. GOULDING (Wiltshire, Devizes)

said that allusion had been made to the manner in which the Amendments had been introduced, but he would point out that the Amendments appeared on the Order Paper for a couple of days, and that they were passed in Committee of the whole House. He could not imagine any more public way of amending the Bill. He congratulated his hon. friends on their success in carrying the Bill to its Third Reading. The hon. Member for East Nottingham had said that he was a supporter of friendly societies and desired in every way to encourage them in their good work, but he added that the Bill was brought forward by hon. Members representing West Country and rural constituencies, and that it had not the support of other Members. As a matter of fact, however, the Members whose names appeared on the back of the Bill came from all quarters of the United Kingdom, and the Bill was universally supported by all who believed in the good work of the friendly societies for the thrift they had inculcated in the minds of the people. He was thankful that the Bill had reached its present position, and he was certain that when it became law it would have a good effect, especially in rural constituencies, in inducing non-members of friendly societies to reconsider their position. He desired very cordially to support the Third Reading of the Bill.

MR. THOMAS BAYLEY (Derbyshire, Chesterfield)

said he wished to congratulate the hon. Member for South Somerset on having brought the Bill into its present successful position. He also congratulated the Government on their changed attitude from a year ago, and he thought that the General Election had educated them more than anything else. The hon. Member for East Nottingham objected to the Bill because he said it would affect the independence of friendly societies, but he did not advance a single argument in support of that contention. The societies would be quite as independent as they were before, and he thought the Bill would help them by encouraging people to join. Poor law guardians were mostly in favour of the Bill, and from the ratepayer's point of view, it was undoubtedly a very important question. If the hon. Member for East Nottingham represented a constituency where friendly societies were strong, his view on the Bill would be very different from that which he expressed. The hon. Member said that the Bill was the beginning of a great social reform, but he was not even prepared to take the first step in it. The country, however, was not only prepared to take the first step, but to take further steps in the same direction. The hon. Member for Peckham said he did not know how to define what a friendly society was, but there was a public official known as the Registrar of Friendly Societies, and if the hon. Member applied to him he thought he would get a very excellent definition.


said there was no definition in the Act of 1896, to which he presumed the hon. Member was alluding, and he was further informed that the Act of 1896 could not be read in conjunction with the Act of 1894.


said that the best definition would undoubtedly be obtained from the Registrar of Friendly Societies. He, for one, would be quite willing to include more societies, but at any rate the Bill was an excellent Bill, and the friendly societies would be perfectly satisfied with it.

MR. COHEN (Islington, E.)

said he congratulated the hon. Gentleman opposite on having piloted through the rather troubled waters through which a private Member's Bill had to pass in the House of Commons a measure which he thought would be very useful, but which no one would deny was extremely important, as it introduced a valuable principle into the present outdoor relief system. He thought the Bill would be the forerunner of further measures of the same character. He did not, however, really know why an exception should be made in favour of friendly societies, and why persons who had deposited money in friendly societies should be entitled to relief, whereas persons who had put money into the Government savings bank should not have a similar advantage. That was a new principle, and would necessitate further legislation. He recognised entirely that the friendly societies had done most valuable and beneficent work for the poorer classes, but they were not the only means of encouraging thrift. He hoped the measure would become an Act of Parliament, and he believed that it would be the forerunner of other measures of a similar character.

*COLONEL BLUNDELL (Lancashire, Ince)

said he thought the Bill ought to include other classes. There were, for instance, pensioners whoso pensions were insufficient to support them, and he thought the measure ought to comprehend such persons and others similarly situated.

MR. JACKSON (Leeds, N.)

said he was really in a difficulty with regard to the Bill, because, as had been pointed out, it was not known that the Bill had been amended in Committee. He now understood that the words "sick pay" had been struck out, but surely that entirely altered the character of the Bill, and with all respect to the hon. Member opposite, who took to task the hon. Member for Peckham for asking for a definition of friendly societies, he had been honestly striving to find a definition which would apply to friendly societies as mentioned in the Bill, and so far as he knew there was no such definition. The hon. Member who moved the Third Reading of the Bill appealed to the House to encourage thrift. He entirely agreed, as he thought it was extremely desirable that thrift should be encouraged; but the becoming a member of a friendly society was not the only method of encouraging thrift, and so long as the words "sick pay" remained in the Bill—

SIR WALTER FOSTER (Derbyshire, Ilkeston)

May I point out to the hon. Gentleman that in the last clause of the Bill the words "sick pay" are retained?


said that if that was so it made a great difference as regards the definition of the Bill, and he apologised for having misunderstood it in that particular. The fact that the words "sick pay" were retained made it much more easy to determine or define to what persons the Bill would apply. But he would point out that there were only certain societies which gave sick pay. Would an accident society, or one of the societies connected with the great railway companies which made good the wages of a railway servant for a number of weeks up to his full pay and for a certain number of other weeks up to his half pay? That was how it worked out and he would like to know whether a man who had contributed his own money to a society, in the expectation of getting a certain amount of benefit from so doing, was to be shut out from the benefits of this legislation because his society was not to be termed a friendly society under the terms of this Bill. Perhaps he had not made his point clear. But supposing a railway servant receiving 5s. a week from his benefit society was, under some unfortunate circumstances, obliged to appeal to the parish for relief, would he be permitted to retain that five shillings and yet have the benefit of parish relief? If the author of the Bill did not make that plain he would leave grave doubts in the minds of the House. There were other societies besides so-called friendly societies which promoted thrift. He himself had had the honour of taking an active part in the amendment of the law relating to building societies. In his own constituency they had some of the most important and he believed some of the largest building societies, and he believed they were the most solvent in the kingdom, and what he wanted to know was, whether a man who had set aside in these societies money to provide against the future was to be excluded from the benefits of the Act. It was obvious that the man who contributed to a building society was doing just as much to make provision for the evil day as the man who contributed to a friendly society, and yet they had his hon. friend the Member for East Nottingham saying that the new form of legislation which was going to alter the general law apparently applied to one class only. He thought the Bill ought to benefit all classes who had attempted to provide for themselves. He thought the Bill was a defective Bill, and he agreed with his hon. friend the Member for East Nottingham that it had either stopped short or had gone too far; if the Bill was for the purpose of benefiting those who exercised thrift, it ought to extend to all alike and not only to members of friendly societies. He was not opposed to friendly societies, and had always done what he could to promote and encourage them, and therefore he could not be open to the suspicion of having any objection to friendly societies; but they ought to be fair and equitable and extend an equal advantage to all who have practised the same virtue and made the same struggles to provide for their old age.


said that as a Member for an agricultural constituency he took a great interest in the Bill, and he would appeal to his hon. friends to look at the good portions of the Bill and endeavour to pass it. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Leeds had undoubtedly pointed out defects in the Bill, and the hon. Member for East Nottingham, with great honesty of purpose, and speaking on a subject with which he was well acquainted, also pointed out defects, but he would ask his hon. friends to look upon the Bill as an instalment. Friendly societies generally had had a very great struggle in agricultural districts, but they were now beginning to make their way among the agricultural labourers, who were fighting shy of the so-called "slate clubs," held in public houses, which were no use to them in their old age, and they were discovering the necessity of joining friendly societies. He knew of no Bill that the friendly societies were more anxious to have. That there were omissions in it he was prepared to acknowledge. His hon. and gallant friend had pointed out one, namely, Army pensioners, and he hoped that that class would receive some consideration, and that railway and other societies should be eventually added, but he would appeal to hon. Members not to throw the Bill out at the present moment. He believed the intention was a good one, and that though the measure might infringe some part of the sacred Poor Laws, which were looked upon with such respect by some hon. Members, he believed it would do incalculable good to friendly societies and to agricultural labourers generally

SIR JOSEPH PEASE (Durham, Barnard Castle)

said he also desired to congratulate the hon. Member, He agreed that the Bill did not go far enough, and that all persons in receipt of an allowance from any society to which he directly or indirectly contributed should be included. The principle on which outdoor relief should be given was that the amount should be sufficient, in addition to what the recipient was receiving from any other source, to fit him to return to work as soon as possible. All the friendly societies in his constituency had urged him to support the Bill, and he trusted the House would give it a Third Reading.

MR. COURTENAY WARNER (Staffordshire, Lichfield)

said that he too wished that the Bill had gone a great deal further, and had included Army pensioners, and men belonging to railway societies who were in receipt of grants. But the friendly societies had encouraged thrift more than any others, especially that kind of thrift which saved the rates, and for that reason he thought that the principle of the Bill should be established. They were all indebted to the friendly societies for the good they did, and he would have been glad if the Bill had gone even further in their favour. If the Bill were carried into law it would not only be a good thing for the friendly societies, but it would effect a saving of the rates, by encouraging men to join the societies. He hoped the discussion would soon be brought to an end, as many hon. Members appeared to be inclined to continue the debate, with the object of preventing another Bill being discussed.


said he had the greatest respect for friendly societies, and considered that they had an additional claim on the sympathy of Parliament because they seldom came forward to ask for legislation, and he was prepared, therefore, to look on the Bill with the most favourable eye. But he would like to know what this Bill was going to do. The Bill of 1894 was an enabling Bill. It enabled boards of guardians to grant or withhold relief entirely at their discretion to or from members of friendly societies, and to grant relief to any person notwithstanding whether he was or was not in receipt of a grant from a friendly society. Had that discretion been abused? If so, he had never heard of it. Looking at the Bill as it stood, did it mean that the guardians ought to take into consideration what a man received from a friendly society? Did it mean that if a friendly society gave a man 16s. a week the guardians ought to deduct 5s. a week, and treat him as if he had only 11s. a week? It seemed to him that the Bill would not place boards of guardians in a very different position to what they were under the present legislation. The boards of guardians who had been niggardly and grudging under the Act of 1894 would not change their nature and increase their relief under the Act of 1901.

MR. LLEWELLYN (Somersetshire, N.)

said he supported the Bill most heartily. One especial reason why the House should pass the Bill at once was that it would legalise what was done every day of the week. On the whole, whether it was legal or illegal, boards of guardians had always been glad to grant where necessary outdoor relief to members of friendly societies, and the Bill would legalise a practice which has been in operation for many years.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the third time and passed.