§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ Mr. CARLILE
How does the right hon. Gentleman propose to proceed with this Bill if it is now read a second time?
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
I think it ought to go to Committee of the Whole House. It is a measure which meets with the general approval of everybody connected with industrial provident societies. I have consulted every society I could get in reach of, and I believe that every clause of the Bill is non-contentious.
§ Mr. CHARLES BATHURST
This Bill deals with so important a subject that I rather regret that the right hon. Gentleman has not thought fit to give some explanation of its effect. After glancing through the Bill I should like to say, on behalf of the agricultural co-operative societies, that I welcome certain clauses, notably 811 the second Clause, which substitutes £300 for £200 as the maximum amount of financial interest which any person may have in the shares of a society. In my opinion that will be a great lever in the development of agricultural co-operative societies in this country. Owing to the very small maximum of £200 no doubt a good many of the village societies have gone to the wall. As the House is aware, it is the custom to call up a very small proportion of the total share capital of the company, the uncalled balance being the security upon which advances can be obtained. Where in a society like this you have the maximum interest fixed at £200, and probably only one-eighth—or £25—is called up, and where you have a comparatively small number of well-to-do people in a village financially able to support such a society, the difficulty is great. I also welcome Clause 3, which enables the registered societies to combine and form a federated registered society with all the advantages which the industrial and provident society possesses, and particularly the avoidance of the large expense consequent on the formation and incorporation of a company under the Joint Stock Companies Acts. There is one other clause which is really significant of modern financial legislation, and that is Clause 8, which says that no Stamp Duty shall be payable on receipts given under Section 43 of the principal Act. It is an indication of the unfortunate trend of modern finance that you have in the case of a society such as this Bill deals with to make an exception with regard to a portion of the Finance Act of the past year in order to avoid an unfair burden being thrown on those who belong to these societies. I have always felt very strongly that this increased Stamp Duty was a very great mistake both from the financial point of view and from the point of view of developing the industries of this country, and this is a very strong indication that it is not altogether to the advantage, at any rate, of the poorer classes of this country.
§ Mr. MOONEY
I do not rise for the purpose of objecting to the Bill, but to ask the right hon. Gentleman what is the object of the Government in sending this Bill to a Committee of the Whole House when at the present moment the Grand Committee is doing nothing. This Bill is 812 a complicated measure, and makes Amendments to three Acts of Parliament and to the Finance Act. Moreover, it imposes penalties, and I think it ought to be discussed upstairs in the Grand Committee, because, as the matter stands now, the Committee of the Whole House will be taken some time after eleven o'clock, and nobody will know what the Bill is about. I am altogether opposed to this system of amending Acts of Parliament by reference, but when there is any such Amendment it ought to be done after discussion upstairs, where we can see the effect of it. I really do think that the might hon. Gentleman should explain why the present course is taken.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
I have really no preference for this Bill stopping in the House, and if the House wishes it to go upstairs, I should not offer any objection, but I think, on the whole, it being a purely uncontentious Bill, to which no objection can he taken, and which has been welcomed by the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Bathurst), and as very little opposition is to be expected, it might as well stay down here.
§ Mr. ASHLEY
I really do hope the right hon. Gentleman will not follow the example of his colleagues on the Front Bench, and always give way to pressure from Ireland. I have the strongest objection to sending Bills upstairs, where we have a sort of hole-and-corner legislation. The speeches are not recorded and the general trend of the discussion on the Bill is not available to the public. Surely we have enough Bills sent upstairs, and if we can possibly keep them down here, where they can be discussed, we ought to do so. If the Bill is unopposed, why should we continue the foolish practice of sending it upstairs?
Interested as I am in the greatest possible economic improvement in the development of small culture in this country, I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman if he will say why, if it is considered necessary that an alteration in the maximum amount of interest which any person may have or claim in the shares of the society should be made, the limit should he fixed at so small a sum as £300? An hon. Member who sits just below me has just explained to the House how seriously these small co-operative societies have been handicapped by the 813 Clause limiting it to £200, and I cannot think that the change made in limiting it to £300 will adequately meet the objection. If small culture is to develop in this country, as we all hope it will, in the same way as it has been developed in many other countries, such as Denmark, the operations of these small companies are of considerable importance, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman, while he is extending the limit, will extend it still further, or at any rate provide that the extension is not to be confined to a limit of £300.
§ Bill read a second time.
§ Resolved, "That the Bill be committed to a Committee of the Whole House."—[Mr. Hobhouse.]