§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a Supplementary Sum, not exceeding £2,136, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1913, for the salaries and expenses of the Registrar of Friendly Societies."
Perhaps the Secretary to the Treasury will be able to give some explanation of the amount required on this Vote. Perhaps he will be able to tell us why there should be any increase at all. There have been more friendly societies wound up last year, I believe, than in any year for the last three or four years. I have not got the figures, but I am told that three times as many friendly societies have been wound up since the National Insurance Act came into operation, compared with the previous years. If that is so, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will say how it is that more money is required by the Friendly Society Registrar when there will be a smaller number of societies to be dealt with. A very important question that arises on this Vote is the position of the schemes under Section 72 of the National Insurance Act which are referred to the Registrar of Friendly Societies. I presume that a large part of this expenditure is due to the extra assistance given to the Registrar of Friendly Societies in considering various schemes under Section 72. We have from time to time tried to find out by question and answer in the House what is the position of the various schemes which have got to be lodged under Section 72. Perhaps the Secretary to the Treasury 209 will now take the opportunity of telling us. There is another point, and that is, what provision is being made by the Registrar to protect the existing members of friendly societies; those who are over sixty-five and have been in the past subscribing for medical benefit, and who find now that the National Insurance Act has come into operation that they are deprived of the medical benefit for which they have previously been subscribing? That is a liability of the friendly societies which they have undertaken towards their members.
§ The CHAIRMAN
That is a question of policy, and I do not see how it arises on the salary for the staff. The hon. Member might ask for what this increase is required.
I was asking whether this increase was due to the schemes under Section 72, and then I was referring to the schemes with the view of asking a question as to what the Registrar was doing in connection with the particular matter which will have to be included in the schemes. If the Chairman will allow me to complete my argument, which will not take more than a minute, he will see whether I was in order or not. We have very few opportunities of raising this matter. If we cannot ask the question now, we have only the battledore and shuttlecock business at question time to rely upon, and that is very unsatisfactory. May I now ask the Secretary to the Treasury whether he can inform the House what is being done in regard to these schemes in connection with the contract rights of the existing members of friendly societies, which ought to be protected by these schemes which are coming before the Registrar of Friendly Societies, and for which we are now asked to make a grant? That is a plain question, and we ought to obtain an answer. If you rule that is not in order, Sir, I can sit down, because I have put my question.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member is very persuasive, but I ought not to be dissuaded from obeying the Rules of Order. It is distinctly a question of policy, which does not arise on this Supplementary Estimate, and I am obliged to prevent the answer.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Mr. Masterman)
The only answer I can give under the Rules of Order is to say why this Supplementary Estimate is required. The answer is a simple one. 210 Two reasons have thrown more or less unexpected, and therefore unestimated, work upon the Registrar of Friendly Societies. One is the Insurance Act itself, which has resulted in a general stirring up of friendly society activity, and a large number of questions have been referred to the Registrar of Friendly Societies, such as the question suggested by the hon. Member (Mr. Worthington-Evans), which I should very much like to answer if it had not been against the Rules of Order for me to say a word about it. The other thing is co-incident with the business of the Insurance Act. There was a change in the personnel and in the work of the Registry of Friendly Societies. There was a general reconstruction of the office that resulted in an increase of the staff, which was inadequate to do the work for some time. I think we shall have to work overtime for some time to come. That is the simple explanation, and I think the Committee will agree it is a good one, so far as this Supplementary Estimate is concerned.
§ Mr. GODFREY LOCKER-LAMPSON
Is not part of this increase due to the fact that the Registry Office has to scrutinise the quinquennial valuations of friendly societies? Since the Insurance Act was passed into law they have had to make that scrutiny. In the old days they did not do it. Some of the expenses in this Estimate must be due to the extra clerical work which has been thrown upon the office in connection with that scrutiny. The right hon. Gentleman did not mention that fact. There are two questions I should like to ask him. Would it not be a good plan if the Registrar would give his opinion to the House of Commons and to the public generally, whether from the actuarial reports which are being sent in he believes that the friendly societies in the future will be able to work the voluntary side of their schemes?
§ Mr. MASTERMAN
On a point of Order. It is unfair to ask questions which obviously I cannot answer owing to the ruling you, Sir, have given. That is a question as to future policy.
§ Mr. MASTERMAN
I am asked to make a statement as to what may be the future policy of the Registrar of Friendly Societies. It has nothing whatever to do with the Supplementary Estimate.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I cannot pretend to be as well acquainted as the right hon. Gentleman with these things. Therefore I am bound to listen with some patience to a question before I can say whether or not it raises a question of policy. I think the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. G. Locker-Lampson) knows the rules fairly well.
§ Mr. G. LOCKER-LAMPSON
Perhaps I did not explain myself clearly. I understand that at the present moment the Registrar is making out a statement in regard to the possibility of friendly societies not being able to work the voluntary side of the Act during the next few years. What I want to know is whether the Registrar is in possession at the present moment of sufficient material to enable him to say from the actuarial reports whether the friendly societies in the future will be able to work the Insurance Act successfully, so far as the voluntary side of their work is concerned, but after all he is being paid very largely with that object.
But there is another question I want to ask. From information which I have received from one of the most eminent actuaries in the country, accounts are continually being sent in to the Registrar of Friendly Societies by auditors; they are signed by the auditors, none of the columns are filled in by the secretaries, and it is done because the secretaries have sent their accounts in to the auditors asking them to put their signatures to them and send them back for the secretaries to put their figures in, and the auditors have forgotten to send them back to the secretaries but have sent them on to the Registrar of Friendly Societies. When the Registrar receives accounts of that sort does he make it his business to approach the Insurance Commissioners with the object of getting the withdrawal of approval for such societies? If that sort of thing goes on it merely means that in the next few years these societies will become insolvent and the burden will fall upon existing members. The Registrar is being paid out of public funds for the purpose of looking after these accounts, and if he finds that accounts are being sent in by auditors not filled in by the secretaries of friendly societies at all, it is his business to approach the Commissioners with the object of getting their accounts put right or having approval withdrawn from them. I should like to ask whether it is the case that this happens, and if the right hon. Gentleman does not know, will he kindly 212 inquire and make it his business to instruct the Registrar in the future to approach the Insurance Commissioners when they find this sort of thing is going on?
§ The CHAIRMAN
I think the hon. Member has not quite appreciated the point. If this was a Vote for the salary of the Registrar, there might be something in that, but this is only a Supplemental Vote for an increase of staff, and the only question that arises is why there is need for this increase of staff and not the policy under which the Registrar and the office generally acts. That comes on the main Estimate for the year.
§ Mr. JAMES HOPE
The contention is that the work of friendly society registry has been very largely increased as the result of the National Insurance Act. My hon. Friend is contending that this increased staff is not doing the increased work in a proper way and, therefore, I submit that his criticism is in point.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The increased staff, of course, is under the control and guidance of the Chief Registrar. I thought at first that the hon. Member was pointing out some way in which it was not necessary, but he was developing into a question of policy and clearly suggesting that the Registrar ought to do certain things. That is a matter for the main Vote.
§ Mr. RUPERT GWYNNE
I really think the right hon. Gentleman might give us some further information as to the amount of this increase. It is not as if it were merely a nominal increase. The original Estimate was £10,000, and there is an increase on that of £2,000. It is twenty per cent. We might have some Further explanation as to this gross under-estimate. It does not appear to be the case in Scotland or in Ireland. In Scotland the increase is £56, in Ireland £28, and in England £2,000. Merely to say there is extra work thrown on the Registrar owing to the National Insurance Act seems to me a very inadequate explanation because there has also been an increase of work in Scotland and Ireland, and the extra amount asked for there is small. The right hon. Gentleman should be able to give some further explanation. He must have known beforehand that there would be more work thrown on the Registrar's Department.
§ Mr. MASTERMAN
I agree that the cost was substantially under-estimated The hon. Gentleman has taken an interest in the Insurance Act, and he must be aware that when a gigantic new service like this is set up it is very difficult to obtain exast estimates of the amount of clerical work that will be required. I agree that the bulk of the work of the Registrar is registration in England, and especially in dealing with what are called international societies. If the hon. Member takes into account all the circumstances, and especially the fact that there are 14,000,000 insured persons, I do not think he will consider that £2,000 a year is an unfair demand to make.