§ If an insured person, being a member of an approved society, ceases to be a member of that society, whether voluntarily or by expulsion, and becomes a member of another approved society, there shall be transferred to such other society in respect of such person a sum representing the liability of the first-mentioned 558 society in respect of him (in this Act called "transfer value") calculated in accordance with tables to be prepared by the Insurance Commissioners.
§ Mr. G. LOCKER-LAMPSON
I beg to move, after the word "society" ["member of an approved society"], to insert the words "or branch."
I hope it will not be thought that this is a quibbling Amendment. It is really important, and I think a proof of that is that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has put down what is practically an identical Amendment subsequently. The Amendment deals with the question of a transfer from a branch of a society to another branch of the same society, and it is not at all clear whether that can be done under the Clause. As hon. Members know, members of societies are continually moving about from one part of the country to another. Very often they do not want to change their membership of their society, and would be glad to belong to another branch of the same society. As a matter of fact, by the existing practice, which goes by the name of clearances, members of trade unions and societies are changed in this way. I think, therefore, it would be desirable to have this power.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
I appreciate what the hon. Member has stated as his object, but I think he will find, if he looks at the Amendment of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that that really embodies in the addition which it proposes the substance of what the hon. Member desires. I think his point is met, and that it would be more convenient to have it at the end of the Clause as we have drafted it.
§ Mr. BARNES
I want to raise a matter of very considerable importance to us trade unionists. Although I notice that the Attorney-General has just pointed out that there is an Amendment of the Chancellor of the Exchequer lower down covering the same point, I think I can more conveniently raise the matter now, because it will give a little time to the Attorney-General to consider it before it comes up again. The Amendment of the hon. Member, and also that of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, rather stiffen the Bill in a direction which we thought was altogether wrong already. The Bill provides for branches of approved societies being, so to speak, separate entities. We, I as trade unionists, have no such branches, 559 the union is a thing of itself, and includes all its branches; and, let me say, it will be absolutely impossible for a large trade union to become an approved society at all under the Bill. It would be impossible for it to become an approved society were either of these Amendments carried.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
Which Amendment does the hon. Member say militates against the view to which he refers?
§ Mr. BARNES
In the sense in which the hon. Member uses the word "branches" we have no branches. If the word "registered" were inserted it would meet my point.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
The same question was raised last week by the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald). I then pointed out that the word "branch," as used throughout the whole of the Bill, means "registered branch," and does not conflict with the object which the hon. Member has in mind. If, however, there is the faintest doubt about the matter, words will be inserted on Report to make it clear. But there is not the slightest doubt in my mind that it means "registered branch."
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
It means "registered branch" throughout the whole Bill. But we have the matter before us, and if there is the faintest doubt words will be inserted to make it quite clear.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
I beg to move, after the word "liability" ["a sum representing the liability of the first-named society"], to insert the words "under this part of the Act."
§ Mr. BOOTH
Is it quite clear that this is the proper place for these words? A man may belong to two approved societies and do his State business through only one. He may cease to do his State business through that particular approved society without joining another. He merely intimates that he will do his business through the one society, but he is a member of both all the time.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
This is a mere drafting Amendment to make it quite clear that the provision is confined to the sickness insurance part.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
I beg to move, at the end of the Clause, to add the words:—Provided that such transfer value shall not be so transfered in any case where the insured person has voluntarily ceased to be a member of a society with out the consent of that society, which consent shall not be unreasonably withheld.
§ Mr. CASSEL
I have put down, as an Amendment to the proposed Amendment, to add the words "or when the insured person has been expelled from the society for any breach of its rules, or misconduct," but I should prefer no Amendment at all. If the Government Amendment were reasonable, my words ought to be added; but I think there are great difficulties about the original Amendment. If a man is a member of a society with a special local habitation, and he changes his place of work, why should he not be able voluntarily to change his society without the consent of the society Under the Amendment as it stands, if he removed to the North from the South of England, and wished to join another society or even another branch, he could not do it without getting the consent of his society. It is true that the Amendment says that such consent must not be unreasonably withheld, but who is to be the judge?
§ Mr. CASSEL
There is no such provision in the Bill, as far as I can see, unless it comes under the head of "dispute." It seems to me that a man ought to have the right to move from one society to another if it is desirable for him to do so. If you are going to say that he cannot carry his transfer value with him when he voluntarily retires from a society, why should he be able to do so if he is expelled for misconduct? Instead of moving my Amendment I will oppose the Amendment of the Government.
§ Mr. J. SAMUEL
I agree with the view just put forward. We have decided to admit as approved societies, societies which are strictly local and possibly with only 1,000 members. On a former occasion I pointed out what a danger this 561 would be to the members of approved societies. I understood that we were to have approved societies with branches in every separate district, but now we shall have approved societies with only local connections. There will be hundreds of thousands of removals every year, especially in times of depression. The great societies, such as the Engineers, the Odd-fellows, the Hearts of Oak, or the Foresters, have branches in practically every town; but where the society is a local one, I think it should not be in its power to say that a man who is leaving it shall not become a member of another approved society. You are now going to admit any society, it does not matter who or what they are, so long as they can obtain 1,500 or 5,000 members, whatever may be the number ultimately fixed. They will simply become distributing agencies under the Act. I regard that as a very serious matter. There will be no inducement for a man to become a member of an approved society such as a friendly society in order to obtain additional benefits. A great deal of the work we are doing to-day will have to be undone unless some Amendment is carried, because of the chaos that will exist in consequence of men migrating from town to town without taking their surrender value.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
I think there is some misapprehension on the part of the hon. Member as to the effect of these words. The speech just delivered is one with which in substance I should not at all disagree. Speaking generally, when a man removes from one place to another he should have a right to be transferred and a consequential right to take his transfer value. In all these cases no difficulty will arise. The object of this Clause was to meet an objection raised by friendly societies, trade unions, and kindred associations, with regard to the difficulties with which they would be faced unless there were some restriction upon the right of unlimited transfer. They want, necessarily and naturally, to stop the man who is constantly coming into a society one day and going out the next for no reason whatever. Not because he has migrated from one place to the other—that is perfectly reasonable, and, of course, that will be allowed—but simply to meet the cases of men who for no reason, but nevertheless for some cause, may leave one society and then go to another society, and then again leave that and in two or 562 three weeks, as the case may be, join another. This Amendment is now put down as the result of discussion with representatives of the views of the friendly societies, trade unions, and all the other societies that were represented at the particular conference.
Let us see how it would work: that is the practical test of it. Suppose a member of an approved society chooses to leave in order to go to some other place where he has got work—to go to the North, say, from the South. He therefore wants to join another approved society. If he gives notice to the society in the South he is entitled, under the Bill, I should have thought, without any shadow of a doubt, to take his transfer value with him to the other society. Because, of course, he has moved, and there you have a good reason. He has gone from the South to the North, and that is a good reason. The removal is a good explanation of why he desires to move from one society to another. Supposing that the society should say, as my hon. Friend behind me (Mr. J. Samuel) assumes, for the purpose of putting his argument, "We will not allow you to leave; we will not give our consent." The Bill thereupon comes into operation, and the result of that is that on appeal to the Insurance Commissioners, who, under Clause 50, have the right to decide all these disputes, the man is entitled to his transfer value, and to go to the other approved society to have his transfer value transferred from the one to the other.
These questions will naturally arise. This Amendment is intended to meet the case of a capricious transfer from one society to another. It is certainly not intended to operate in the slightest degree by way of injury to any person or member of one society who wishes for a good cause to go to another society. I should have thought that hon. Members would have borne in mind that this matter has been discussed with those most interested in the transfer, who are agreed on the point. Under these circumstances I think this Amendment might be allowed to pass.
I do not know whether other members of the Committee have been as little impressed as I have with the explanation of the Attorney-General. The intention of the Clause may be ever so good, but it will operate to tie the workman down to the local society of which he happens to be a member. After all the local society can refuse its consent, and if the man is not 563 able readily to transfer from one society to another it is bad. There is also another point: Supposing that the notorious Mr. Osborne had been a member of an approved society, which is his trade union? Would his trade union have allowed him to transfer freely to some other society?
Perhaps in that particular case consent would have been willingly given. On the other hand, one can well imagine a case in which there might be a conflict of interest between the trade union on the one side and the friendly society on the other side. It seems to me that a certain degree of competition between these various societies is desirable, because it improves the management, generally keeps the society up to the mark, and therefore enables the best benefits to be given. But if a man is to have difficulties put in his way, it seems to me that we have no right to compulsorily bring him into insurance. If this Clause were in the rules of a voluntary society I should not object to it at all, because you have there to protect the society itself as well as the member. But where you are compelling a man to join a society you have to be particularly careful not to put restriction which is not necessary upon his personal liberty. The Attorney-General says this Clause is only intended to catch the capricious man and the man who is "in and out." Surely there cannot be many such? It cannot be an amusing thing for a man to join a society one day and then to leave it. After all he has got to sign forms. He has got to have a medical examination, or at any rate to go through some ceremony or another. That surely cannot be a thing which often happens? The Clause as proposed by the Government seems to me to go far beyond meeting the special case of the capricious man. It gets at the man who is regularly moving from one district to another by reason of his employment, or who desires either to leave a friendly society and join a trade union or vice versa.
§ Mr. J. SAMUEL
I should like to put a point to the learned Attorney-General. Suppose that a member in one town is a member of an approved society, and suppose that this man is a critical member, as some members of this House are. Suppose that the committee or the officials of the society to which this man belongs 564 take umbrage at his criticisms? Have they the right to report that man to another society in the town that he is removing to? That, I think, is a very common thing in these friendly societies—in fact in all societies. You have very critical men who are very obnoxious to the official section of the society. To give power to the official section of the society to in fact boycott the man—
§ Mr. J. WARD
You were saying that they would not like to transfer him; they would be glad to get rid of him.
§ Mr. J. SAMUEL
What I am objecting to is the power given to the officials to object to that man joining another society. I would like to point out another fact. The hon. and learned Gentleman says that consent shall not be unreasonably withheld, or, in other words, that every man who will become a member of an approved society will have the right of appeal to the Insurance Commissioners. We are bringing in practically 10,000,000 of uninsured persons at the present time to the intricacies of insurance. A large number of these men, thousands of the older classes from forty upwards, will be more or less illiterate. They will not have the slightest idea of what an Insurance Commissioner is. They will not be able to write an intelligible letter to him. That form of protection, unless it is an appeal to some local commissioner or some local district commissioner with power, will be no use. The protection within the Bill is really of no practical value to such a man, because he will have to go to somebody to take his case before the Commissioner. That part therefore, in my opinion, is no protection whatever to these particular men. I think that this Clause would be very much better if the words "without the consent of the society" were left out; if indeed the latter part of the Clause were left out.
§ Mr. HARRY LAWSON
The vexed question of freedom of transfer is much more important than, I think, the Attorney-General imagines. A formula does not settle everything in practical working. The Committee ought not to abandon their right of independent judgment, even when a settlement has been arrived at between the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the representatives of the friendly societies. It is a case of individual liberty against corporate power. What I want to point out to the Attorney-General is that he has spread his net so wide that, while he takes in every sort of 565 society, he cannot guarantee that there will be fair treatment extended to the individual member under this scheme with even the same degree of latitude as is given to-day. That might have been presumed even when the Bill was first introduced. If we had to deal only with branches of the great affiliated societies it would be a different matter. But I would point out to him how real hardship may arise. In the first place, the aggrieved member will have to go to the general committee of his society. He will then, under the rules, very likely have an appeal to a board of arbitration. Then, and only in the last resort, can he go to the Insurance Commissioners.
There may be a very real hardship amounting to a pecuniary fine on the individual whom the society desires for its own reasons—not necessarily sinister reasons, but natural reasons—to retain. Every society in every branch has a direct pecuniary interest in retaining its members. It may inflict, by way of fine or penalty, a very heavy burden upon an individual member which will debar him from going to the Insurance Commissioners, and may make it very difficult for him to have that liberty of choice which the Attorney-General says the Government wishes to secure. I venture to think the right hon. and learned Gentleman would do well to abandon this Amendment. Now that we are setting up a new system, although we ought to be guided by the practice of the great societies, yet you have to consider here that we have taken in so many bodies of various kinds which have very little to do with the affiliated orders that it is necessary to properly safeguard the individual member. Therefore I hope the Amendment in the name of the hon. and learned Gentleman below (Mr. Cassel) will be accepted.
§ Mr. BOOTH
I make an appeal to the Committee to support the Government Amendment for more than one reason. One is, that I am afraid that many of the organisations, particularly the old organisations, will decline to work the Bill unless this Clause is in. I think the Committee ought to know that this Clause is not in the interests of the Government—certainly not in the interests of the new societies. The people whom I have had the honour of specially speaking for in this House are not interested in the passing of this particular Amendment. But it is vital to trade unions in particular, and to old friendly societies. I do not disguise from the Committee that the insurance 566 agent is an industrious and a most excellent canvasser; but I submit that the old friendly orders ought not surely to be perpetually subjected to men poaching and trying to take away their members. I have been an advocate of freedom of choice and freedom of organisation, but that is not because ten millions of people are coming in. Institutions that have lived a long time and are properly conducted ought to be protected against attack. You have not merely to consider the individual. I do not yield to any man in my love for individual liberty. I hope I have proved that since I have been here. But how can there be stability in a society if canvassers may go around from time to time trying to get the members away from one society into another? That cannot make for the success of our scheme: it will lead to nothing but confusion and disorder I appeal on behalf of the older trade unions and the older friendly orders.
The hon. Member who has just sat down has based his appeal very largely upon the interests of the trade unions. It appears to me, however, that there is another side to that point. I am just afraid the trade unions are going to lose more from the introduction of the Chancellor's Amendment than they are going to gain. The scheme is framed upon the ordinary practice of the friendly societies of admission at the age of sixteen, and, if so, then in very many cases this is the kind of thing that will happen. A young man who selects a certain friendly society as an approved society, and when he reaches the age of manhood—that is to say, twenty or twenty-one—he will wish to join his trade union, and it may occur to him that he would like to be insured in his trade union not only for unemployment benefits, but for sickness benefit as well. Such young men may then desire to change from their ordinarily friendly society of which they have been members during the years from sixteen to twenty, and join their trade union as an approved society for sickness purposes as well. It may be possible that the friendly society in the first instance may offer some resistance to that, and may say that the reason given for the transfer is not a bonâ fide reason. They may hold the opinion that the trade union ought not to interfere or poach upon work which they believe is reserved for them wholly, and they may say that because trade unions in their view ought 567 to occupy themselves with industrial insurance, and not with sickness insurance, they do not believe there is a bonâ fide reason for transferring. If that were so, it is quite obvious to everybody that that is going, sooner or later to dry up the whole source of supply for the trade unions, and, therefore, from that standpoint, unless I hear from the Attorney-General some other reason which will quiet my fears, I am afraid I shall have to vote against that Amendment. The difficulty may be all in connection with the word "reasonable," and the Insurance Commissioners may not allow such difficulty to arise, because they may hold that it is reasonable to transfer in that case. May it not be as well that we should have some indication of what the Insurance Commissioners may deem to be reasonable and what they may deem to be unreasonable?
§ Mr. J. W. HILLS
I think we have a real evil to meet here. I think the Clause as drawn goes much too far, and the reason is this. Some members will transfer for no good reason at all, and they will flit from one society to another and from branch to branch for no good reason. I quite agree we ought to stop that, but the Clause goes too far because it throws the burden of proof on the man. Before a man can leave a society or a branch for another he has to prove that he leaves for good reasons. Surely the burden of proof ought to be on the society, and they ought to be compelled to pay his transfer value unless they can prove that the man is unreasonably leaving them. I quite agree with the last speaker that the Clauses drawn will be extremely hard upon trade unions; but if you throw upon a society or a branch that wants to keep a man the burden of showing that that man is leaving them from caprice or for no good reason at all, I think we should be limiting the Clause so as to meet a real evil.
§ Mr. J. WARD
I can quite see that while we should make it as easy as possible for members to be transferred from one society to another, there is also a very grave danger which has not so far been mentioned in this discussion, and it is this. If you are going to open the door so absolutely and completely for members to transfer without rhyme or reason, one could quite understand a society getting into difficulties and being ordered by the Commissioners to reduce their benefits in 568 order to make up for something that that particular member may have insisted upon doing. If you so open the door for transfer without reason it may mean the death knell of that particular society. That is the danger which ought to be well considered, and I venture to say that the proposal before the Committee for transfer at the present moment is as easy as it ought to be for men to shirk their responsibilities in one society by transferring to another.
§ Mr. HUME-WILLIAMS
The impression left upon me is that the evil which it is desired to cure is very small, but entails a considerable danger to others who are not included in it at all. Everybody will admit that the greater number of people who desire to be transferred from one branch to another are those who are going to work in fresh towns and who will, therefore, require to leave one branch in order to join another. But beyond that surely it should be open to a man who has joined one society, if he thinks another society would give him better terms, to leave the one and join the other. I very much fear, if you put upon him the onus of applying to the society he desires to leave for their sanction, and hold up before them the fear that if the society does not agree, as very likely it will not, that he will have to appeal to the Insurance Commissioners, he will stay as he is rather than do that, which undoubtedly restricts the free choice which he can have. With regard to what the Attorney-General says about the very proper desire of preventing a man capriciously leaving one society to join another, there is the power with every fresh society to which such man applies to reject him and not to insure him, and the man, knowing there is a possibility of rejection, will probably elect to remain where he is. I see no sufficient reason to put restrictions upon the free choice of a man, which undoubtedly must work considerable hardship upon his legislative desires. If it is a matter of offence to leave Society A and B, and if men have to go to all this trouble of appeal to the Insurance Commissioners, it will necessarily handicap them in their choice.
§ Mr. FORSTER
I confess, although the proposal in this Amendment is very simple, I find it difficult to make up my mind which way to vote. The choice open to us is very wide. There is a great deal to recommend the choice in any direction. The argument of the hon. Member opposite is a very 569 strong argument, as showing the danger trade unions and the old friendly societies will run of losing their membership owing to the attention of agents of the friendly society. That argument was present to the minds of the friendly societies themselves. The hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. John Ward) directed the attention of the Committee to the difficulty which may very well arise. As I understand him, he asked what would be the effect when a deficiency takes place and an absolute levy has to be made. When a deficiency has occurred the existing members of the society remaining are liable to make the deficiency good, even although transferred to another society. But if before the deficiency occurs, when the members of the society think that owing to exceptional sickness or some cause or another the funds of their society are going to show a deficiency at the next valuation, then undoubtedly there will be very great temptations on the part of the members of the society to migrate and join another. If you refuse them leave to migrate you throw upon them the obligation of meeting a deficiency which arises, although the deficiency may be due to no fault of theirs. On the other hand, if you give complete freedom of migrating then you will inevitably bring ruin on all the weaker societies of whose financial position there may be some doubt. We are on the horns of a dilemma, and I do not find it at all easy to come to a conclusion. I grant there is a great deal to be said in favour of the Amendment, but, on the other hand, there is a great deal to be said in favour of complete independence and freedom for the individual member of the society. On the whole, I am disposed to the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Durham as one way of finding a way out of the difficulty, which is acknowledged in all corners of the House. I hope the Attorney-General may see his way to accept the Amendment to the Amendment he has proposed.
§ Mr. JAMES HOPE
I venture to suggest, in order to carry out that purpose, certain words which I think are simple, that is to leave out the words of the Chancellor's Amendment "without the consent of that society, which consent shall not be unreasonably withheld," and to put in instead thereof the words "if the society is able to show such withdrawal is unreasonable." I think that would meet the difficulty.
§ Colonel GREIG
I would like to ask what happens when a man applies for a transfer, assuming he is refused. I presume he applies to the Insurance Commissioners, and then the onus is thrown upon the society of showing that their consent has been reasonably withheld I do not see that there is any hardship upon the man in this case. Another point has been raised with reference to the difficulties that may occur as to what may be the reasons for a society refusing consent. No doubt within a short time after the passing of this Bill a code will have been arrived at by custom, practically regulating the majority of cases, and then it will be known what are reasonable causes for transfer. Probably a single case brought before the Insurance Commissioners will govern hundreds of other cases, and instead of putting into your Act of Parliament all these cases suggested, you will be able to settle a number of cases in this way without difficulty. It has been argued why put upon a man the necessity of asking consent. The man must give notice to his society before he transfers, or how will the society know he is going to transfer? I do not see that there is any difficulty put upon the man, and in my opinion the Clause is quite workable.
§ Mr. BUTCHER
It has been admitted that the Clause, as put down by the Chancellor of the Exchequer with the Amendment, is too wide. I think it is clear that there is a case to be made out for the Amendment which has been suggested from this side of the House. I am rather inclined to support the Amendment suggested by the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. James Hope), which throws the onus upon the friendly society, or the trade union, as the case may be. The Amendment proposed by the Attorney-General seems to be an unnecessary restriction upon the freedom of the member. Let us not introduce any unnecessary restrictions. The right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite says that the man need be under no fear in regard to this proposal, and that all he needs to do is to engage in a lawsuit. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] At any rate, the appeal has to be made to the Insurance Commissioners or to a referee, and that will cost the man money. The man will have to be away from his work a certain time, and at any rate it will cost him his time and a great deal of trouble. The Attorney-General says his proposal is only intended to apply to cases 571 of capricious refusal. Perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman will tell us what capricious refusal is. Is it capricious refusal if a man thinks he can better himself by joining another society? Would that also apply to a transfer in the case of a man who thought his society was not being well managed? Personally I find it very difficult to see why a man should engage in a purely capricious refusal. Why should he transfer himself unless there is some reason, and if he has a good reason why should he have to go to the Insurance Commissioners? I think the case would be met by the Amendment which has been suggested by the hon. Member for Sheffield, and if he goes to a Division I shall support him.
§ Mr. JAMES HOPE
I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Amendment, to leave out the words "without the consent of that society, which consent shall not be unreasonably withheld," and to insert instead thereof "and where that society is able to show that such withdrawal is unreasonable."
§ Sir GODFREY BARING
I think the hon. and learned Member for York has raised rather a fictitious objection. He says that anyone who wishes to transfer will be put to serious legal expense. In my opinion the only expense he would be put to would be communicating with the Insurance Commissioners, and this he might do by sending a postcard calling attention to the fact that his society had unreasonably refused to allow him to transfer. The Insurance Commissioners would then inquire into the matter, and that would be the extent of the man's trouble. With regard to the Amendment to the Amendment which has been moved by the hon. Member for Sheffield, it does not seem to me to be any improvement upon the Government Amendment, because the onus will in all cases really be upon the society to show that they have not unreasonably withheld their consent to transfer. When the man, by means of a postcard, reports to the Commissioners that he has been refused a transfer, the Commissioners will draw the attention of the society to that refusal and call upon them to point out that they have not unreasonably withheld their consent.
§ Mr. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
I confess that I am not so sanguine as the hon. Member who has just spoken as to the ease with which matters arising under 572 this Clause can be settled, and I do not think they will be settled simply by a half-penny postcard. I think it is absurd to say that a postcard from one of 15,000,000 insured people to say that consent to his transfer has been refused by his society, or that his transfer is being unreasonably withheld, is sufficient. The first thing the Commissioners would have to do with such, a complaint is to ask the man to satisfy them in what manner it was unreasonable, and why it was unreasonable. As a layman I have often listened to hon. and learned Gentlemen on the Front Bench, whether in this Government or another, explaining where the onus of proof lies. It appears clear to be that a man has got to make out a primâ facie case before there will be any inquiry at all. The society will not have to show primâ facie reasonableness until the individual has shown primâ facie unreasonableness. I think the suggestion of my hon. and learned Friend behind me is an improvement upon the original Amendment. I should not have taken part in debating this point had it not been for an observation which the Attorney-General interjected in the remarks made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for York (Mr. Butcher). I am not sure whether that interjection was a considered opinion, but, if so, it shows what a delicate subject we are dealing with, and how very wide is the effect of what we are doing. My hon. and learned Friend asked the Attorney-General would it be reasonable ground for a transfer if a man could show that he could better himself by such transfer, and the Attorney-General said that that would be the best possible reason. That carries you a very long way and exposes you to all the dangers which the hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Booth) pointed out. It means that a prosperous society, or the most prosperous society, will draw away as time goes on members from the less prosperous society, until those less prosperous societies get into absolute difficulties and have to be wound up. I do not think that was the intention of the Government. I do not like to express an opinion upon it without having given rather more thought to it, but many of us accustomed to life assurance offices would very much like to have the opportunity at any stage of our insurance to change from the office in which we originally went and transfer our accumulated reserves to another office if we find that the the other office by better management or better investments or any other cause 573 could give us better benefits. This proposal certainly opens a very wide field. I think it suggests great dangers for societies. There is the case where a man might find, either by changing his trade or locality, that it was more convenient for him to become a member of another society. He might find new friends in the new place who were members of a different society, and as they were going to be his companions and neighbours he might wish to join their society. He might, on the other hand, find some other additional benefits which would induce him to transfer. All these cases are very reasonable, but I am not quite certain that to say generally that if a man found out that by transferring himself to one society rather than to another he would better his position, that ought to be in itself a sufficient reason for allowing the transfer. I think the whole subject is one of extreme difficulty. I confess that I prefer the amended form suggested by my hon. and learned Friend behind me to the original form of the Amendment proposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. If we do adopt the Amendment, I think it is a subject which between this and the Report stage the Government ought to give further attention to, and I think we ought to raise the matter again upon the Report Stage.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
I think the result of the discussion has been to show that really we are all agreed. The difficulty is whether or not by the Clause as drafted the burden of proof is thrown upon the society or not. For my part, I quite agree the burden should be upon the society in refusing to pay the transfer value to show that it had reasonable grounds for refusing its consent, and I am quite ready to adopt words to meet that point. I do not think, however, the words of the hon. Member for Sheffield quite run. They were, of course, drafted roughly. I think it would be better to redraft the proviso with the object of carrying out what is the intention of the House and what I think everybody agrees should be done; that is, to make it quite clear by the words of the proviso that the burden is put upon the society and not upon the member. If that would meet the views of the Committee, I would suggest that the hon. Member for Sheffield should withdraw his Amendment and that we should draft a new proviso.
§ Mr. JAMES HOPE
As a matter of personal vanity, I think the words do run, 574 but I shall be very glad to meet the hon. and learned Gentleman and to withdraw them.
§ Amendment to the proposed Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Original Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
I beg to move, at the end of the Clause, to add the words: "This Section shall apply to transfers from one branch of an approved society to another branch of the same society in like manner as it applies to transfers from one society to another society."
§ Mr. HARRY LAWSON
I wish to suggest that the words "to another branch of the same society" are unnecessary. It is not only from one branch to another branch of the same society, but from one branch to another branch of different societies.
I will try and show it is not covered, and, if it is not, perhaps the Attorney-General will try and meet it. As the words stand, this section applies to another branch of the same society but not to a branch of another society. We want it to apply whether it is between the branches of the same society or between the branch of one society and the branch of another society. There is no reason why it should not apply all round.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
If the hon. Member will read the Clause itself, he will see that point is covered.
You are making transfers between branches on the same footing as transfers between, societies, but you have limited it to transfers between branches of the same society. We are at one with the intention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but not with the words. If you alter the words so as to make it read "another branch of the same or any society," you will get the decision at which we all wish to arrive.
§ Mr. HILLS
This point is very important. Supposing a man transfers from a branch of the Oddfellows to a branch of the Hearts of Oak, his transfer value would not go to the society to which he transfers, because the Amendment transfers the transfer value between branches of the same society, and that 575 would not do. It is purely a question of drafting, but it is extremely important from the financial point of view.
I beg to move, after the word "same" ["another branch of the same society"], to insert the words "or any."
§ Amendment to proposed Amendment agreed to.
§ Proposed Amendment, as amended, agreed to.
§ Question, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.