HC Deb 14 July 1914 vol 64 cc1851-71

Order for consideration, as amended, read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill, as amended, be now considered."


I beg to move to leave out from the word "amended" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the words "be recommitted to a Select Committee."

I can state my reasons for the recommittal of the Bill very briefly. I do not know whether it would be desirable to allow me to make a general statement of my case now so as to obviate the necessity of repeating my arguments on the Amendments which appear on the Paper. On the other hand, if you, Mr. Speaker, decide that I should keep strictly to the reasons for the recommittal of the Bill, I will do so and reserve my arguments on the Amendments. It will be remembered that the hon. Member for the Attercliffe Division (Mr. Joseph Pointer) and others opposed the Second Reading of this Bill, and that they ultimately assented to it on the adoption by the House of an Instruction giving power to the Committee to allow representatives of the industrial policy holders to be heard before the Committee. I am fearful that the procedure of such a Committee is not very helpful to the class of people with whom we are dealing here, and I move the recommittal of the Bill to a Select Committee so as to give those people greater freedom and facility for stating their case in all its aspects.

We are here dealing with a large number of poor people unable to brief expensive counsel and go through all the formalities consequent on a Bill being before a Private Bill Committee of this House. I understand that if this Bill be recommitted to a Select Committee it would then be competent for the Committee to call such of these persons as they desire whereby the whole case might be thoroughly investigated with a view to a just determination being reached. I would prefer not to destroy the Bill so long as I had the power to remedy the grievances to which I would direct the attention of the House, but because I apprehend that under existing procedure it is almost impossible to secure that redress I have had to resort to the expedient of moving in this fashion. I do not know whether I am entitled at this stage to make a general statement of my case, because by so doing I could save a great deal of repetition and the necessity of moving further Amendments on the Paper. I would like to have your advice on that point.


The hon. Member is entitled, if he wishes, to point out what Amendments he would suggest supposing that the Bill were to be recommitted, and, therefore, it would be quite in order in moving the recommittal to indicate the particular Amendments which he desires to see introduced in the Bill. Of course, it is open to him later if he thinks right to move those Amendments.


On a point of Order. I would ask whether the hon. Member should also point out that the subjects of those particular Amendments were not considered by the previous Committee that sat, and that before the House is asked to recommit the Bill it should be shown that the Committee which has already sat did not go carefully into the points.


I do not know what the facts were, but it would be open to the hon. Member to say that these points were not considered. It would also be open to him to say that if they were considered they were wrongly decided by the Committee, and that he wished the Bill recommitted in order that those matters should be reconsidered.


I addressed myself to you because I thought that my suggestion might meet the general convenience of the House. My submission is not that the points were not considered, but that they were not adequately considered, and the fact that I have Amendments down shows that in my opinion their decision was not just. The main contention to which I have to direct the attention of the House is the fact that this Bill excludes the larger number of policy holders from the rights of membership. My submission is that all these policies were taken out in the belief that that constituted membership of the society. When we bear in mind that this is a matter which affects the larger portion of assurance in the society we will see that this is a matter of considerable significance. It is admitted in the statement issued by the promoters of the Bill that in the ordinary life department there are 72,725 members assured for £4,206,213, whereas in the industrial department there are 1,397,338 persons assured for £15,143,980. This society was established in 1843, under the laws then relating to Friendly Societies. In the year 1866 it got a private Act of Parliament bringing it under the operation of the Act of 1854, which removed it from the province of all future friendly society legislation, while it retained the friendly society legislation antecedent to the year 1854. The result, as I apprehend it, is that the Society remains a friendly society with regard to its legal constitution, and that all members thereby are entitled to a voice in the management.

I may be allowed to reinforce that point by a reference to what occurred in the Scottish Court of Session, before Lord Anderson, on January 14th of this year. An action was brought by a member of the City of Glasgow Friendly Society, which raised the question of membership in respect of the administration of the society. Lord Anderson held that "a member is a person who contributes to the funds of a society for prospective benefits" If that ruling is good, I claim that this society has no right to exclude the industrial policy holders from membership and from the rights of membership. In 1875 this society started its industrial assurance branch. I want the House to understand that these industrial policy holders are poor persons who in the main built up the funds of this society, and it does not seem to me to be at all fair that they should now be excluded from the elementary rights of membership, and they should be allowed to participate in the administration of this society. I know that it may be urged that in the case of such a very large number of members it may be very inconvenient and lead to clumsiness of administration, but I do not think that we are entitled to accept that as a valid argument against the claim of the industrial policy holders.

I remember when the Trade Union Bill of last year was before the House that certain of my colleagues urged that the machinery then proposed for in that measure was very complicated, and would involve various trade unions in a large amount of administrative work. It was pointed out, however, that the men had the right to be directly appealed to and consulted on the questions which were submitted. In my opinion the case, in this connecton, is equally as strong as that urged on the occasion to which I have referred. There are one or two other points which seem to me to afford additional justification for the action I am taking. When the Bill was before the House of Commons Committee a very serious departure was made in Clause 37. I do not know why it was done here. It came from the Lords without any insertion, and certainly it was inserted at such a stage as did not allow the industrial policy holders a fair opportunity to consider it. In Clause 37 there are these words inserted: ("Other than Sections 5 and 10 thereof which shall not apply to the society"). This exempts this society from Sections 5 and 10 of the Collecting Societies and Industrial Assurance Acts of 1896. Not only do the promoters of this Bill seek to exclude the industrial policy holder from the elementary rights of membership, but if I construe this provision aright, they also deprive them of the facility from ever knowing what business is being transacted by or on behalf of the societies.

Some hon. Members may be able to satisfy themselves that the industrial policy holder ought not to have the status of full membership, but, nevertheless, no one in my opinion will seek to defend the provision which deprives them of the right of knowing what business is being done by the society. After all they have large funds at issue. They have built up the funds of this organisation, even if they have not the right to take an active or direct part in the administration of the society if they have the facility for knowing what business is proposed by the administration of the society they then have means left to them to make representations to the directors or to the ordinary policy shareholders of the society who have the opportunity of taking an active part in the business. I feel that is a very grave departure. First of all, I believe it constitutes an alteration in the general law, a departure which is always viewed with grave apprehension by this House. We often hear talk that it is inadvisable to allow such a departure in a Private Bill, and that it ought to be the specific subject of legislation. Because of that and the general principle of the Bill, the definite exclusion of this majority of persons who have built up the larger proportion of the funds I feel that this House might very well agree to the recommittal of the Bill as desired. It may be urged of course that these industrial policy holders never have been recognised as members in the society. I hope to show that there is very substantial evidence to show that they have been so recognised, and that they are hereby being deprived of a right. The general literature issued by the society does not discriminate as between the ordinary policy holder and the industrial policy holder. It is advocated to the general public as Standing unique as the only mutual industrial office in the United Kingdom. And then under a heading called "Special Features" it holds out this inducement: After three years' membership in the ordinary department and five years in the industrial department all adult policies, so long as they remain in force, carry the option of a free policy or cash value. The point I desire to make is that there is no indication given to the industrial policy holder that he has no right as a member, and in fact his being bracketted with the ordinary policy holder seems to me an implication that he does possess the right of membership. Further there is a little leaflet here entitled "Something good in profit sharing," which consists of a reprint of an article from the "Insurance Mail" of 20th March, 1909. There it is claimed: This society is worked on the mutual principle; it is the only industrial ordinary mutual office, and so, having no shareholders to take half the profits, it is able to give the whole thereof to its policy holders. Again there is no differentiation as between the two classes of holders. In the arrears notice, which is exclusively issued to the industrial policy holders, they are requested, if they are desirious of continuing "their membership" in the society to pay up at a certain time. Reference to policies goes to show that until comparatively recently these industrial policy holders have been regarded as members of the society and entitled to the consequent rights of membership. I have here a goodly number of policies; I will simply quote from one, and if any hon. Member thinks that they are not all in the same fashion I will pass the others to him. The policy states on the face of it that it is issued "liable to the conditions endorsed hereon", and on reference to those conditions it appears that If any doubt should arise at any time as to the age of a member …. Again: Notice of the death of a member shall be accompanied by a registrar's certificate. Again: If any dispute arises between the society or any person acting under it and any individual member therein …. These references seem to me to constitute proof positive that these industrial policy holders have been regarded as members of the society and ipso facto entitled to the rights and privileges of membership. It is true that since the year 1904 a change has taken place in the form of these policies. The holders are no longer referred to as "members," but as "assured persons," and are called "the assured." That seems certainly to prove that down to the year 1904 these industrial policy holders were regarded as members and, we claim, had the full rights of membership, even if they had not thought well to exercise them. Since 1904 no Parliamentary change has taken place; therefore, it cannot be said that they have legislative sanction for this change.

I have had conversation with a goodly number of Members of this House, and they have expressed surprise that the Committees should have passed this Bill. Many of them agree that it would be eminently desirable that the matter should be further and more thoroughly investigated. In my opinion that would be the more agreeable course to take. If, after the Select Committee had thoroughly investigated the matter, they felt that the case I had represented had not been established, I, as a Member of this House, would feel bound to abide by their decision. But because I know the class of people with whom we are dealing, a large number of small and poor people, because I appreciate the difficulty of getting them together in sufficient number to enable them to take concerted action to defend their rights, because I know how difficult it is for them to raise sufficient money to secure adequate representation in the way of counsel before the Committee, I respectfully submit that the matter has not yet been sufficiently investigated, that I am not exceeding my rights as a Member of this House in requesting that the points to which I have directed attention should be sympathetically considered to-night, and that the Motion I am now making should receive the support of the House.


I beg to second the Amendment.

My hon. Friend has made out so complete a case for reference to Select Committee that it is unnecessary for me to go into details. The Bill, it appears to me, is drafted to give the directors of the company almost sole control of its affairs. This appears if ne goes through Clause after Clause. If it is an inspection of the books it can only be done by the directors of the company. We suggest that there should be an opportunity for members to have access to the books. Nineteen-twentieths of the policy holders belong to the class that are excluded from any share in the control. More than a million of industrial policy holders are going to lose their rights if this Bill goes through in its present form. These find two-thirds of the profits. So far as I can make out they are to have no voice in the allocation of these profits. Practically the sole control is to pass into the hands of the directors. The Registrar-General, I gather, gave a ruling at an earlier stage of the Bill that these disfranchised industrial policy holders were in fact members. He then varied his decision which seems to me to show that there is good ground for further inquiry in the direction that we suggest. I find that the agents of this society—and there are many of them scattered throughout the country—are somewhat concerned as to their positions under the terms of the Bill. They have been given certain pension rights—it may be as a matter of grace—but there is no evidence in the Bill to show that what has been set aside for them will be definitely kept apart from other investments, and so guaranteed to them.

But the most important point of my hon. Friend clearly was that before the Private Bill Committee the comparatively poor persons involved could not possibly get that kind of hearing that would suit them. Counsel at Private Bill Committees are always expensive. The great number of policy holders for whom we speak have not been heard, and if there was a Committee so constituted as to receive a larger volume of evidence without the necessity to pay heavy fees there is a greater likelihood of justice being done. I very well recollect the difficulty that a large number of the poorer of my Constituents in Sunderland had in voicing the grievances they felt in respect of another company's Bill, and I can quite well understand the difficulty which the people of whom we speak have had in respect of placing their case before the Committee. We say that another, a better, and a fairer opportunity should be given to these policy holders. All these policy holders are now losing rights. They represent a huge majority of the persons interested in this company, and we should have a type of Committee that would give an opportunity in an inexpensive way to them of laying their case before Members of this House. If as a result of that Select Committee's findings it is shown that the case we make is not substantial, then it appears to me that what will have happened is that the society's Bill will only be deferred for some time. If their case is a strong one the supporters of the Bill have nothing to fear if they allow the Bill to go to a Select Committee, but they have everything to gain by giving greater confidence to the million policy holders involved by allowing their case to be heard in a fairer and fuller way than it has been.

The CHAIRMAN of WAYS and MEANS (Mr. Whitley)

I am sorry that I am unable to recommend the House to accede to the Motion moved by the hon. Member for Norwich. I may, perhaps, remind the House of what has occurred in connection with this particular Bill. It came on first in the other House and there these persons petitioned in due course, and were heard, I must assume, at such length, and with such evidence as they desired to put before that Committee. I understand as a result of the hearing certain alterations were made in the Bill at that stage. The Bill then came down to this House and when it appeared for Second Reading, hon. Members then moved, in the first place, the rejection of the Bill. The same plea was made as is made to-night. I should say that the persons who petitioned in the other House did not renew their petition in this House, and they pleaded before me the expense of so doing. I went out of my way, rather contrary to a good many of the rules of procedure to make a departure which was very unusual, namely, to say that although they had not petitioned, and although they had not paid the fees, usual to be asked from petitioners in this House, yet they should have a second hearing before the Committee of this House.

I do not think more than that could be done for petitioners in the case of a Private Bill. I had very serious consideration whether I was not setting up a dangerous precedent in making the proposal which I did. They then, without the expenditure that other petitioners have to bear, were heard. I do not know whether they were heard in person, or by counsel—[HON. MEMBERS: "By counsel"]—but the Motion I put before the House was that they might either be heard by themselves, or by Counsel, as they might please, and I then, I think, said it was the custom of the Committees in this House to hear, not with less, but usually with more patience and attention those who were unable to be represented, and appearing only in person before a Committee. So this House had already taken, I think, every possible reasonable means to see that those persons should have a proper and effective hearing, I am bound to say I think that after all that trouble had been taken, and that unusual procedure adopted in their favour that the decision of the Committee would have been respected, and the matter not raised again on the floor of the House.

After all it is a matter for the Committee. I confess I tried to go into the merits of this Bill—I am not going into them to-night although I may have opinions upon the matter—I think, it is a subject which required to fee dealt with by a Committee. As I understand it that Committee heard all the evidence that was tendered. If there were not as many witnesses as the petitioners might desire, that could be no one's fault except their own. They would not have any easier opportunity in the case of a Select Committee. They would have to attend all the same, and I do not see, that they could put forward any evidence which they were not given the opportunity of putting forward on the occasion when the. Bill was before the Committee in this House. If our Committee procedure upstairs is to be upheld at all I must claim from the House that at least this case has not had merely the usual procedure in both Houses, but has had exceptional privilege in this House for the purpose of opposing it. I think, under those circumstances the House, and indeed those who rightly on the Second Reading put their case before the House must be satisfied that they have done all they could, and indeed in obtaining the concessions which I ask the House to give them, more than usual to secure that those whom they represent should have even more than the usual privileges of the House.


The hon. Member who moved the Motion for the recommittal of this Bill dwelt upon the point of the membership of certain policy holders. Very early in the proceedings I directed counsel's attention to this point and I said that that seemed to me and to the Committee the one and principal point to be decided, and practically all the evidence was devoted to that point. With regard to the number of policy holders we have heard it put at 1,400,000. If the Committee is to go by evidence it seems to me that there should have been more than twenty-five signatures to the petition. When we come to the evidence itself I am bound to say it was about the poorest I have ever heard. There were only two witnesses for the opponents of the Bill and they were both agents of the Company. One of them had formerly occupied the post of Inspector and had been reduced to the rank of agent and the other was an agent. We listened very patiently to all they had to say and when they had closed their evidence I asked each in turn, in my capacity as Chairman, whether they were familiar with the rules of the society and neither of them had read the rules. I asked why they had not read them and one of them pleaded that they cost one shilling, which was somewhat of a reflection when we remember that they were appearing before the Committee upstairs by counsel. The other man gave no satisfactory reason for not having mastered the rules of the society for which he was agent. I hope the House will support the Committee in their decision.

12.0 M.


I think it will be agreed that after what the Chairman of Ways and Means has said it would be quite impossible to recommit this Bill without rendering the system of Private Bill Committees an absolute farce. Therefore, I shall vote against the recommital of the Bill. I should, however, like to draw attention to a letter which I received this morning, and which I think is a most improper letter. It is headed "The Wesleyan and General Assurance Society, Special Representative's Office, Hamilton House, 155, Bishopsgate, London, E.G., 13th July, 1914," and it begins: The Consideration Stage of the above Society's Private Bill, which is put down to he taken to-morrow (Tuesday) evening. Then it goes on to say: I am in a position to assure you that the great majority of the society's agents and policy holders in your Constituency are earnestly desirous that this Bill (which is vital to the best interests of the society and all concerned) should be passed in its present form. May I therefore respectfully express the hope that the Bill will have your valuable support and that you will vote in its favour. That is all right, and, if it had ended there, I should have come down here, listened to the Debate, and have voted as I thought right; but now comes this paragraph: I will take care that your action in the matter is made known to the many workers in your Constituency who are interested in the passing of the Bill, and will see that at the proper time your help is not forgotten. That is a most improper letter to address to a Member of Parliament. If it means anything it means this: "If you do not vote the way we wish, your conduct will be placarded all over your Constituency at the next General Election. The pressure which is put upon Members by people interested in Private Bills is absolutely wrong. The great majority of them seem to think that we shall vote in the way they choose to tell us, provided that there are a larger number of people who say "Vote Aye" than there are those who say "Vote No." This sort of pressure does not influence me, and if the hon. Member who moved the recommital of the Bill had anything of a case at all, after receiving this letter, I should vote for him, but his case, in my opinion is absolutely absurd. He has not a leg to stand upon. Therefore, notwithstanding this letter, I shall follow the advice of the Chairman of Ways and Means and vote against the Motion to recommit the Bill.


Neither the Chairman of Ways and Means nor the Chairman of the Committee which considered this Bill has made a single suggestion which should alter the opinion expressed in the speech of the hon. Gentleman who moved the recommital of the Bill. They have unquestionably stated that these people appeared before the Committee, but here is ample evidence that, as a matter of fact, the Bill is changing the membership of a considerable body of people who have invested their money in the concern. There is not much doubt about that. It is a moral certainty that as the Bill stands policy holders are not to be considered as members of the society and are not to have the ordinary rights of membership. Under those circumstances I venture to suggest, though the Committee may have listened to all the statements that were made on the other side, that it is quite clear they paid no attention to them, and that they were more concerned with the passage of the Bill than they were with protecting the interests of the men who had contributed to the financial stability of the society.


May I explain that we carefully considered whether they held the status of members and came to the conclusion that they did not?


It is evident they are asking to have the Bill recommitted in order to show that they joined as members and have been reinstated as members. My hon. Friend read out some of the literature issued by this society. I have more of it here, and in every case both where arrears were asked for, and in other matters I find such phrases as "If you wish to retain your membership," and so on are used. There is ample documentary evidence, apart from any question that might be put to witnesses to show that the society has reinstated these men as members for a very considerable time. But for some reason or other they are now appealing to this House for a new franchise by which they are going to place these people who have invested their money in the concern on a different basis and status to that which they previously occupied. I am tempted to wish that one could remember and not forget the peculiar change of circumstances which has occurred in this House. Within the last two hours there have been charges of breaches of Parliamentary contract hurled from one side of the House to the other, and it has been contended that Parliament has no right to get men to do a certain thing and then later on at its will and pleasure alter the contract in any way it chose. Strange to say, the speeches to that effect were all delivered by hon. Members opposite. But now, when we come to the case of workpeople who have contributed their money to a concern, we find the same hon. Gentlemen arguing that the law which they contend ought to apply to settled estates, is not to be made applicable to the investments of the working classes.

I venture to suggest there is ample documentary evidence supplied by the society itself to prove my contention, and when we come to deal with Amendments it can be amplified. Meantime, I should like to be informed by the Chairman of the Committee how it is that in the face of all this official documentary evidence it could come to the conclusion that these men are not entitled to the status of members. How could they so decide when the society itself has circularised these people and given them that status? I can quote from many documents to that effect. In one, for instance, I find the words— I beg to remind you that premiums are now due on your policy—to the amount of the sum stated below, and if you are desirous of retaining your membership. Surely the society would know whether they are members or not. The Committee evidently has ignored everyone of these documents, which show that the society has been acting on the assumption that these people are members and have been contributing their money on the basis of membership. My point is this. If the society wants to alter its status or its relationship to the people who belong to it—people who have contributed their money and will continue to do so in the future, surely it has no right to alter the conditions of membership of those who have been members for years and who, in all these documents, have been recognised as members. It is absurd to pretend that the Committee could declare by its fiat that all these documents were so much fudge, or that this society did not know what it was about when it called these persons members. The Committee has really decided that all these documents are so much trash, and that when the society referred to these people as members they did not mean it. It is a most peculiar thing that such a decision should be arrived at.


Is it in order on a Motion to recommit the Bill to discuss the proposals in the Bill?


The hon. Member's point is that the Committee came to an improper conclusion, and therefore it is right that the Bill should be recommitted. I would point out to him that he has stated that point once already, and that it is unnecessary to insist upon it again.


I imagine from the discussion that the difference between an ordinary Committee and a Select Committee is that in the case of a Committee such as that to which this Bill was referred you have to appear by counsel—[HON. MEMBERS: "No"]—and that so far as a Select Committee is concerned it is only necessary to apply stating that you wish to give evidence. In that case the cost of appearing is only a penny postage stamp and the loss of time. I take no account whatever of the suggestion made by the hon. Member who was Chairman of this Committee that there were only twenty-five people who wanted to protest against this Bill. I very much doubt whether but a few of these million people will ever know that their status has been altered until the society gets this Bill as an Act and informs them that for the future they are not members of it and that their relationship to it has entirely changed. I should require positive proof that the whole of the people knew perfectly well that the conditions under which they joined were entirely changed by this Bill, as they undoubtedly are. Then we should see whether there was any protest against it. The fact that at least twenty-five people object is sufficient indication that there is a feeling among the members that they are being injured by this proposal. It is not sufficient that the Chairman of Ways and Means or the Chairman of the Committee should state that they heard the evidence, because it is amply proved from the documents issued by the society that they not only ignored the statements of those who have paid the premiums, but that they actually ignored the documentary evidence supplied by the society itself. In these circumstances it is quite clear that the Committee came to an improper decision and I therefore support the Motion that the Bill be recommitted to a Select Committee.


As I was on the Committee which considered this Bill, perhaps I may be allowed to make a few remarks, even after the able way in which the Chairman of that Committee has put the matter before the House. Hon. Members who are opposing the Report stage of the Bill have spoken of the industrial policy holders as losing rights and have said that their membership is being changed. That, of course, begs the whole question, which is whether these people ever have been members. I may say for myself, and I am sure I may say it for all the members of the Committee upstairs, that we most carefully considered whether these policy holders ever had been members, and were most anxious not to deprive them of any right they had ever enjoyed. I am perfectly satisfied that we have not done so. I should like to point out that the claim to membership depended upon a certain case heard in Scotland—Pitman v. The City of Glasgow Friendly Society—in which it was held that contribution to a friendly society constituted membership. As a matter of fact this was not a friendly society. It is quite clear that the Registrar of Friendly Societies considered and reconsidered this case, and, in the third communication he made to us he said, speaking of societies of this class:— From and after 13th July, 1854, they ceased to be friendly societies. And again, later in the same document, he says:— As I have reported above, Section 1 of the Act of 1854 provides that they are no longer a friendly society. Therefore it is quite evident that this judgment as to the contribution of a friendly society did not apply in this case, and therefore there was no reason on that account to say that those policy holders were members. In fact, they had one and all signed a contract which embodied the rules of the society, and they expressly said membership was confined to two classes only, of which industrial policy holders were not one. The industrial policy which they signed was expressly said to be without profits, and Rule 14 of the society expressly stated that the holders of such policy were not entitled to attend the annual meeting. Therefore, so far it was abundantly clear that they were not members. But on the other hand, it is perfectly fair to admit that the literature which has been quoted to-night, and notices which were sent out and which were perfectly applicable to those classes who really were members were sent to the industrial policy holders to whom they were not really applicable at all. It was a very slovenly proceeding, but it could not overcome the contract which these people had actually signed. It was indeed argued by the counsel who appealed against the Bill that the society was estopped from saying they were not members, because of this loose form of notice which had been sent out to them. There may have been law enough in that to go to the House of Lords to argue as to what the nature of the estoppel was, but I am certain that under this Bill, if it passes, the industrial policy holders will retain all the rights that they have ever practically had, that they have never as a matter of fact claimed membership, although there have been 1,400,000 of them, and that they have never claimed a right to share the profits of the society, although as a matter of grace or business a certain small share of profits was given to them. They were heard before us by very able counsel, and I ask the House to say that they are retaining all the rights that they ever had.


I certainly think this matter ought not to be greeted with shouts of "Divide" when one considers the immense number of people, mainly poor people, whose interests are affected. I suppose if it was a question about ½ in the £ Undeveloped Land Duty we should be talking about it for a month and there would be cries of "Gag" at the end of that. I think it is merely a matter after all that we have a right to consider when we are told by the Chairman of Committees that these very poor people have been given the greatest possible consideration, and indeed that such consideration had exceeded that usually given. Everybody knows perfectly well that the vast bulk of the insured industrial policy holders are very poor people indeed, and that the agents hold their office at the goodwill of the folks who are mainly interested in the prosecution of this Bill.

The folks who have their head offices in Birmingham hold practically in the hollow of their hands the lives of the very men whose evidence is necessary in order to show how unfair a Bill of this kind is, and so soon as a man puts himself forward, or a number of men are prepared to put themselves forward to establish the case of the policy holders it may be taken that their days would be very short in that particular line of business. I know something of what I am talking about—in fact I have been connected with this company against which, on the whole, I have nothing at all to say. I was only a spare-time agent and did not take much money out of the job. But, after all, has this House not a right to consider the proposals in the Bill? Four men have been sitting on the Private Bill Committee—four estimable men; there is not the slightest doubt about that—but surely when a matter of this kind comes down to the House we are not to be led astray merely by the fact that four men have sat and given their best intellect in dealing with the Bill. We have to consider what it really means. Does anybody who knows anything at all about this company, or any similar company, not know that the industrial policy holders are the backbone of such societies, and that they get from the tens of thousands of the industrial policy holders the funds which enable them to offer very much better advantages to the ordinary policy holders than they would otherwise have got.

It would be a waste of time and an infliction on the House to go into the literature which has been sent out by the acting authorities of this company, but it is sufficient to say that in every case they obtained their business because of the literature sent out. Instead of that literature being, as stated by the hon. Member for North West Durham (Mr. A. Williams), of a loose form, it was signed by the general secretary, and it describes the industrial policy holders as members of the society, showing that the society was a mutual society for ordinary and industrial members. The two terms are bracketed, and surely it is not fair to say that this is a loose form of expression, and that a statement signed by the general secretary can be treated lightly, or that it ought not to affect the Bill now under consideration. That is really a very serious point. If week after week and month after month people all over the country have been induced by the circulars sent out to put small sums of money, amounting together to hundreds and thousands of pounds, into the society, it is all the greater reason why the House should give these poor men an opportunity of submitting their case to a Select Committee which would be larger in number. In the multitude of counsellors there is wisdom, and when they look into the Bill itself the Committee will see that the existing rights of the industrial policy holders are to be swept away by certain Clauses, these people being treated as if they had no rights.


Can the hon. Member say what rights the industrial policy holders ever enjoyed in practice are being taken away from them?


I can only say that they were led to believe that they possessed certain rights, that the literature sent out from the head office spoke of the new forms of profit sharing, and that the industrial policy holders along with the ordinary members were led to believe by the bracketing of the two sets of policies that they were entitled to the benefits of this new system of profit sharing. If they were induced by that kind of manifesto to place their money in a particular venture would not hon. Members say that they were entitled to such relief, and when we are told that after all that was loose literature that ought never to have been issued we must remember that it came from the chief office signed by the chief officer of the company. People were led by this literature to pay their money week after week and month after month. If it was loose literature it was either known that it was loose literature or it was not known. If the head office themselves did not know that it was loose literature that is all the greater reason why this House should give further attention to the case. If the head office did know that it was loose literature, which seems to be the general argument now advanced, then they were obtaining the money of these poor people by fraud. I think that I am putting two honest alternatives. If the literature was known to be loose—[An HON. MEMBER: "Who said it was?"]—I am repating this in order to emphasise it, and in doing so I am not guilty as the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London sometimes is guilty of tedious and irrelevant repetition.

In this case where the literature sent from the head office and signed by the head officer is described as loose literature, it is desirable that the House should know whether it was loose intentionally or loose unintentionally. If it was loose intentionally then I have already described the process. If it was loose unintentionally then there is all the greater reason why this House should give it further consideration. I can assure hon. Members that a great many more than twenty-five people outside this House are taking a keen interest in the fortunes of this measure. We do not wish to prevent an association like this engaging as largely as possible in the beneficial work in which they are engaged, but we do desire when they wish to extend their operations outside their original objects, when they desire to be able to effect work with other societies, to sell their company altogther and to transfer the whole interests of all their members, and when the vast body of members, nineteen out of every twenty, are to have no voice in such a transaction, that the House should take the matter into its very serious consideration. It is for that reason that I support my hon. Friend in asking that the Bill should be recommitted.


There seems to me a little risk of this matter being dealt with too hastily. The allegation made in this case, which in my opinion has not been dealt with satisfactorily, either in the speech of the Chairman of the Committee or in that of the other Members of the Committee, is that a number of poor people have been induced to go in to this society by representations made from the head office that by doing so they became members of the society. Now that is either true or it is not. If it is true there is a case for serious investigation. Speaking for myself and feeling satisfied with the assumption that such a charge is true then there is a case that ought to be investigated. That being so, I shall vote for the recommittal of this Bill.


I am very much surprised at the attitude of the hon. and learned Member opposite. He stated the case that if any number of policy holders had been induced to join the society owing to what has been called "loose literature" that constitutes a reason for the recommittal of the Bill. I should suggest that that might be a reason for an action in a court of law, but it is certainly no reason for the recommittal of this Bill. There are only two reasons for the recommittal of this Bill. In the first place, that the Bill has not been sufficiently considered by the Committee—and the Chairman of Ways and Means has entirely disposed of that point and the Bill has been submitted to the Registrar of Friendly Societies who supports it—and in the second place, the charge that the Bill constitutes an impropriety is ill-founded. I think that so far from the status of the industrial policy holders being altered it is the policy of hon. Members opposite which is seeking to alter their status. I do not think the House ought to take into account at this stage literature which hon. Members opposite

state as being "loose literature," and I would suggest that on this question of the status of the industrial policy holders the rules are perfectly clear and distinct. For forty years these rules have been accepted by the policy holders, and no question has been raised until now. No ground has been shown by hon. Members opposite for taking the drastic step of recommitting this Bill and of preventing the Bill from becoming law this Session.


We ought to have the Law Officers of the Crown here to tell us whether or not these men are members of the society. We ought to be sure of that point. With the object of securing of the Law Officers to say whether we are right or not I beg to move "That the Debate be now adjourned."


I beg to second the Motion for the adjournment of the Debate.


It is not the duty of the Law Officers of the Crown to be here, neither is it their duty to give their opinion without a fee.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

The House divided: Ayes, 127; Noes, 40.

Division No. 170.] AYES. [12.35 a.m.
Agg-Gardner, James Tynte Esmonde, Dr. John (Tipperary, N.) Maclean, Donald
Amery, L. C. M. S. Eyres-Monsell, Bolton M. MacNeill, J. G. Swift (Donegal, South)
Armitage, Robert Falconer, James MacVeagh, Jeremiah
Baker, Sir Randolf L. (Dorset, N.) Ffrench, Peter Markham, Sir Arthur Basil
Baldwin, Stanley Fiennes, Hon. Eustace Edward Marks, Sir George Croydon
Banbury, Sir Frederick George Fisher, Rt. Hon. W. Hayes Meehan, Patrick J. (Queen's Co., Leix)
Barnston, Harry France, Gerald Ashburner Morrison-Bell, Capt. E. F. (Ashburton)
Bathurst, Hon. A. B. (Glouc, E.) Ganzoni, Francis John C. Munro, Rt. Hon. Robert
Beach, Hon. Michael Hugh Hicks Gladstone, W. G. C. Newdegate, F. A.
Bennett-Goldney, Francis Glazebrook, Captain Philip K. Newton, Harry Kottingham
Black, Arthur W. Goldsmith, Frank Nolan, Joseph
Boland, John Pius Gretton, John O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)
Booth, Frederick Handel Guinness, Hon. Rupert (Essex, S.E.) O'Kelly, Edward P. (Wicklow, W.)
Boyle, Daniel (Mayo, North) Gulland, John William O'Neill, Dr. Charles (Armagh, S.)
Boyton, James Hackett, John O'Sullivan, Timothy
Bridgeman, William Clive Hamilton, C. G. C. (Ches., Altrincham) Peel, Lieut.-Colonel R. F.
Brocklehurst, W. B. Hayden, John Patrick Perkins, Walter F.
Bryce, J. Annan Helms, Sir Norval Watson Pollock, Ernest Murray
Cator, John Higham, John Sharp Pretyman, Ernest George
Cave, George Hope, Major J. A. (Midlothian) Pryce-Jones, Colonel E.
Chaloner, Colonel R. G. W. Horne, Edgar Ratcliff, R. F.
Clough, William Hughes, Spencer Leigh Rawlinson, John Frederick Peel
Cooper, Sir Richard Ashmole Hunt, Rowland Reddy, Michael
Craig, Ernest (Cheshire, Crewe) Jardine, Sir J. (Roxburgh) Redmond, John E. (Waterford)
Craig, Norman (Kent, Thanet) Jones, H. Haydn (Merioneth) Redmond, William Archer (Tyrone, E.)
Cullinan, John Jones, Leif (Notts, Rushcliffe) Robertson, John M. (Tyneside)
Currie, George W. Jones, William (Carnarvonshire) Roch, Walter F. (Pembroke)
Dalrymple, Viscount Kelly, Edward Ronaldshay, Earl of
Dalziel, Rt. Hon. Sir J. H. (Kirkcaldy) Kilbride, Denis Russell, Rt. Hon. Thomas W.
Davies, David (Montgomery Co.) Lane-Fox, G. R. Sanders, Robert Arthur
Davies, Timothy (Lincs., Louth) Larmor, Sir J. Smyth, Thomas F. (Leitrim, S.)
Davies, Sir W. Howell (Bristol, S.) Leach, Charles Stanier, Beville
Dawes, James Arthur Lockwood, Rt. Hon. Lt.-Colonel A. R. Stanley, Hon. G. F. (Preston)
Duffy, William J. Lowe, Sir F. W. (Birm., Edgbaston) Starkey, John R.
Du Pre, W. Baring Lundon, Thomas Steel-Maitland, A. D.
Elverston, Sir Harold Lyttelton, Hon, J. C. Talbot, Lord Edmund
Taylor, Theodore C. (Radcliffe) Whyte, Alexander F. Wing, Thomas Edward
Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton) Williams, Aneurin, (Durham, N.W.) Worthington Evans, L.
Thynne, Lord Alexander Williams, Penry (Middlesbrough) Wortley, Rt. Hon. C. B. Stuart-
Webb, Henry Williams, Colonel R. (Dorset, W.) Yoxall, Sir James Henry
Wheler, Glanville. C. H. Wills, Sir Gilbert TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Sir
White, J. Dundas (Glasgow, Tradeston) Wilson, Rt. Hon. J. W. (Worcs., N.) E. Cornwall and Mr. Evelyn Cecil.
White, Sir Luke (Yorks, E.R.) Wilson, Maj. Sir M. (Bethnal Green, S.W.)
Whittaker, Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas P.
Bowerman, Charles W. Joyce, Michael Richardson, Thomas (Whitehaven)
Brace, William Low, Sir Frederick (Norwich) Rowlands, James
Chapple, Dr. William Allen McGhee, Richard Sherwell, Arthur James
Clynes, J. R. Marshall, Arthur Harold Smith, Albert (Lancs., Clitheroe)
Doris, William Meehan, Francis E. (Leitrim, N.) Sutton, John E.
Duncan, C. (Barrow-in-Furness) Millar, James Duncan Swift, Rigby
Field, William Molloy, Michael Taylor, John W. (Durham)
Flavin, Michael Joseph Neville, Reginald J. N. Walsh, Stephen (Lancs., Ince)
Glanville, H. J. Nuttall, Harry Wedgwood, Joseph C.
Goldstone, Frank Parry, Thomas H. Wilkie, Alexander
Hancock, John George Phillips, John (Longford, S.) Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)
Harvey, T. E. (Leeds, West) Pollard, Sir George H. TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Mr.
Hayward, Evan Pratt, J. W. George Roberts and Mr. J. Ward.
Hudson, Walter Raffan, Peter Wilson
Jones, J. Towyn (Carmarthen, East)

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill, as amended, considered.