HC Deb 12 May 1924 vol 173 cc1011-7

Motion made, and Question proposed "That the Bill be now Read a Second time."


In briefly moving the Second Reading of this Bill, I desire to explain that its object is to amend Sections 1, 62 and 65 of the Friendly Societies Act, 1896. The Measure embodies an agreed scheme dating from the latter part of last year. Under the old legislation provision was made for the appointment of a Chief Registrar who must be a barrister of not less than 12 years' standing, and it was also arranged to appoint Assistant Registrars in England one of whom at least must be either a barrister or solicitor of seven years' standing, one Assistant Registrar in Scotland and one in Ireland. The object of the first Amending Clause of this Bill is to provide that anyone who has held the office of Assistant Registrar for five years shall be eligible for appointment to the post of Chief Registrar, it being considered, even though a person has not been 12 years a member of the Bar, if he has carried out the duties of Assistant Registrar efficiently he should be eligible and I do not think there will be any objection to that provision. The first Amendment which the Bill proposes is the removal of that disability, which I am sure will commend itself to the unanimous support of the House.

The second Amendment which this Bill proposes relates to Section 62 of the Act of 1896. Hon. Members will recall that the Act of 1896 provides for the payment of certain funeral allowances on the deaths of children, that is to say, £6 up to five years of age, and £10 up to 10 years of age. When the Industrial Assurance Act of last year was passing through Committee, the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Central Bristol (Sir T. Inskip) incorporated that part of the Act of 1896 in the Measure, and it was at that time proposed by hon. Members now on this side of the House, and by hon. Members in other parts of the House as well, to substitute a rather better scale of £6 in the case of a death of a child under three, £10 in the case of the death of a child under six, and £15 in the case of the death of a child up to 10 years of age—in short, to bring the rate of these allowances up to a point more in keeping with the increased charges made for funeral expenses at the present time. That Amendment was accepted by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and incorporated in the Industrial Assurance Act, which, however, was limited in its scope to the industrial assurance companies. The right hon. Gentleman pointed out at the time that it would be necessary, in order to put the friendly societies, the trade unions and the collecting societies on the same footing as the industrial assurance companies, to introduce a short Bill, which would be, no doubt, an agreed Measure, and put all branches of the enterprise on terms of equality.

The object of the present Bill is to give effect to that promise. There is a certain urgency in this matter, in that the Industrial Assurance Act came into operation at the beginning of the year and the industrial assurance companies have enjoyed this privilege for several months, while the trade unions, friendly societies and collecting societies have so far been deprived of it. The other portions of the Bill are consequential on those I have just described. Provision is made, in the case of the registrar giving a certificate, for the alteration of the amounts on the proposed new basis. There is no other element in the Bill which calls for description. I think there is no division of opinion upon it, and I have every confidence the House will give it a Second Reading unanimously.


I desire to confirm what my hon. Friend has said, namely, that there was a general measure of assent in the House, when the Industrial Assurance Bill was passing through its Report stage, that a Bill of this character should be introduced at the earliest possible moment. I desire to thank my hon. Friend for fulfilling a pledge which I am prevented from fulfilling myself, and to express the hope that in view of the urgency mentioned by my hon. Friend, the House will allow this Bill to go through all its stages as soon as possible.


Without desiring to detain the House, I wish to call attention to the severe hardship suffered by old servants of the County Courts. Some consideration should be given to these men who have spent a lifetime in the service of the Crown and who are not allowed to count any part of that service for superannuation.


The hon. Member is dealing with the wrong Bill. We are now discussing the Friendly Societies Bill.


I fear I shall not do much better than the hon. Member for St. Helens (Mr. Sexton), but there are some points in connection with this Bill to which I wish to direct attention. The Bill is in two parts. The first part alters the qualification of the Chief Registrar, and as it is the first time I have heard of the proposal, I do not look upon it as an agreed matter, but I am not going to say anything about it at the moment. Between now and the Committee stage, however, I intend to make inquiries as to that point. The present qualification is that the person holding the office must be a barrister of 12 years' standing. The Bill abolishes that qualification and throws the appointment open to others who may be, no doubt, qualified for the work, but I will not deal with that matter just now. As regards the second part of the Bill, undoubtedly it is an agreed Measure—or rather the intention is one on which there has been agreement. The original Friendly Societies Act gave power to insure children under 10 years up to a sum of £10. That right was applied to the industrial assurance companies by the Act of 1896 and the result was that the industrial assurance companies or friendly societies could not insure a child for move than £10.

That provision continued in force until 1923, when a Measure, dealing only with industrial assurance companies, came before the House and an Amendment was accepted late in the evening extending the insurance of children up to a sum of £15. That did not touch the friendly societies and, undoubtedly, it was then agreed that a Bill should be brought forward to put the friendly societies on the same footing as the industrial assurance companies and that was all that was intended. This Bill, however, is a most extraordinary example of bad drafting. Every Parliamentary draftsman loves to legislate by reference. I have appealed against it time after time, though I suppose it is almost useless to do so. This Bill will have to be understood by laymen and used every day by laymen in all parts of the country, just as the Act of 1923, which was a consolidating Act, is being used every day and has to be understood by every person using it. Section 4, Sub-section (1) of that Act makes perfectly plain what an industrial assurance company can do, namely, insure, a child up to £15. This Bill now comes along and repeals that provision of the Act of 1923. The Act of 1923 had in turn repealed the Act of 1896, but the Act of 1896 was the only thing which applied the Friendly Societies Act to the industrial assurance companies. Section 4, Sub-section (1) of the Act of 1923 set out quite, fully what was to be done, and it said: The provisions of Sections sixty-two and sixty-four to sixty-seven of the Friendly Societies Act, 1896, relating to payments on the death of children, shall extend to industrial assurance companies. I do not think much of the drafting of that provision itself and I said so at the time, but still it was something which a layman could understand, even though with some difficulty. Now this Bill comes along and repeals it. Therefore, you have this position, that there is nothing which applies the Friendly Societies Act to the industrial assurance companies at all, and the only way in which you try to do it is by Clause 2 of this Bill which says: Section sixty-two of the Friendly Societies Act, 1896 (which relates to assurances on children), both as originally enacted and as applied to trade unions and industrial assurance companies, shall have effect as if for that Section the following Section were substituted. But it is no longer applied to the industrial assurance companies, because the Act of 1923 had repealed the Act of 1896, and by this Bill you are repealing the Section which affected them in 1923. I resent this, because as lately as 1923 you had a code which everybody could use. I hope I have made my point clear. It is that the original Friendly Societies Act said that you shall not insure for more than £10; the Act of 1896 applied that Act to industrial companies; the Act of 1923 repealed the 1896 Act; and, having repealed it, substituted Section 4, Subsection (1) of that Act. This Bill, admittedly intended to put both people on the same footing, repeals that Section 4, Sub-section (1), and under Clause 2 refers to Section 62 of the Act of 1896 as applied to industrial insurance companies. As I said before, the Act of 1896, which was the Act which applied to insurance companies, was repealed in 1923, and, therefore, the obvious intention of my hon. Friend and myself has not been effected by this Bill.

I think I am right, but, even if I am not, I hope the hon. Gentleman will redraft the Bill in such a way as not to revoke the code drawn up in 1923, because of the extreme inconvenience caused to ordinary people when they find that the Section on which they have been working is repealed, and have then the trouble of looking up some other Act, in a library or elsewhere. There is nothing more important, in drafting Acts of Parliament, than to make them easy for the practitioner and easy for the layman to use. More harm is done by mistakes in such points as these than is perhaps credited, and I ask an assurance from the Government that not only will they see that the intention is properly carried out, but that the form of the Bill shall be altered, and that we shall be able to keep the Act of 1923, as it is now, the code which is being used throughout the length and breadth of the land. The difficulties which have arisen under it are rather large, but, whatever they are, it is being used by everybody.


Up to the time of the 1923 Act, a friendly society and a company came to a very large extent under two separate forms of legislation. Nothing has done more to bring friendly societies—and, of course, that term embraces trade unions as well—into line with proprietary insurance companies than the 1923 Act has done, and, as has already been pointed out, the purpose of this Bill is again to bring the friendly societies into conformity with that Act. The companies have, since that enactment, been practising this extended scale and are issuing policies under it, whereas the friendly societies have been prevented from doing so until this legislation has been amended. Moreover, I want to remind the House that this Amendment to extend the scale, to allow a larger scope for insurances on the lives of children, was not a case put up by the insurance agents or, indeed, by the insurance companies or the insurance friendly societies It was rather a case that was put up in this House, and I would remind hon. Members that the proposed Amendment to extend the sum from £10 to £15 was put up in this House, I think, as late as on the Report stage. I wish to submit that, since this House has determined this scale, and by far the larger portion of the concerns transacting industrial assurance are already operating, the least the House can do is to enable all concerned to come into uniformity.

No one deprecates legislation by reference more than do insurance men themselves, and it is becoming increasingly difficult year by year for us to keep pace with these Acts, but I see in the 1923 Act a real attempt to bring the big friendly societies and the insurance companies into a degree of uniformity. At least, this much obtains, that we come under one Commissioner to-day, whereas formerly part of the business came under the Board of Trade and another part under the Registrar of Friendly Societies. I hope, as the thing develops, that experience will lead to more uniformity, which in turn will enable us, perhaps, to make the law clearer and proof against any mal-administration, which was largely the purpose of the 1923 Act. I support the Second Reading of the Bill.


I think, speaking offhand and without full inquiry into the undoubted difficulties of legislation by reference, that the right hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Rawlinson) is probably wrong in the point he made, in that all that we seek to do here is to repeal part of Section 4, Sub-section (1). That is all that is done, and the operative part of that Section remains. Therefore, I think there will be no difficulty on the point he has raised. However, I undertake during the Committee stage to clear up any point that has not been made plain to-night.


My point is, that Clause 2, as it is drawn, does not touch that power, because the Friendly Societies Act no longer applies to industrial insurance companies. However, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his reply.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.—[Mr. Snowden.]