§ Mr. RHYS DAVIES
I beg to move, in page 1, line 19, to leave out the words "seventh day of Juno, nineteen hundred and twenty-three," find to insert instead thereof the words "passing of this Act."
This Amendment is moved in order to elicit some information from the Financial Secretary to the Treasury on a point 945 which was raised in Committee. The Financial Secretary was good enough to promise to look into the matter, and, if at all possible, to meet the claim that we made in Committee, relating to friendly societies operating in Scotland who find themselves between two stoofs. They were first of all registered in Ireland, although the particular branch which I have in mind is in Scotland; and when the Irish Free State was constituted they did not claim registration in this country. The society to which I refer has 8,000 adult members and 20,000 juniors. It is, therefore, not a very small society. I hope that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will be good enough to do something to help the society out of the difficulties into which it will be plunged if this Bill is carried as it stands.
Lieut.-Colonel WATTS - MORGAN
I beg to second the Amendment. All the facts have been already cited by my hon. Friend. It is a pure accident that the society is placed in the position in which it finds itself now.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Mr. Ronald McNeill)
It is quite true that when the two hon. Gentlemen opposite brought this matter forward in Committee I said that I would look into it before we reached the Report stage. The hon. Gentleman will bear me out when I say that I took the precaution of stating that I did not give any pledge as to the action which I might take. The hon. Gentleman has moved the Amendment as if the society for which he speaks had by some oversight or inadvertence omitted to take action which those responsible ought to have taken in consequence of the change of status in Ireland. I have informed myself since we were in Committee, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that that is very far from being the case. I will tell him exactly what took place. The hon. Gentleman is speaking on behalf of the Irish National Foresters (Scotland) Benefit Society. The original society was registered in Ireland, and after the constitution of the Irish Free State it became necessary under the, law for those branches of the society which were operating on this side of the Channel to constitute themselves as independent societies. It was not by any 946 means an inadvertence on their part that that was not done.
The Industrial Assurance Commissioner called the attention of this particular society to the position that it was in, and in June, 1922, it was informed by him that amendments of the rules could no longer be recorded in Great Britain. The society did not take any action on that. In May, 1923, a year later, they wrote to the Commissioner inquiring how they stood in regard to registration. Therefore they were fully informed as to the position and they were told by the Commissioner, in reply again, that they must register as an independent society in Great Britain. Again they did not accept the official view, and considerable correspondence took place between the Commissioner and the society on that point. It was not until April, 1924, a year after the passing of the principal Act, which we are amending now, that they came to the conclusion that they ought to act upon this official advice and register themselves as a separate society. They were, in fact, registered on 28th February, 1925. Therefore, so far as the formality of compliance with the law was concerned they had ample notice of what it was necessary for them to do. They deliberately refused to do it, and did not register themselves in Great Britain until two years after the passing of this Act. But that is not all.
§ Mr. DAVIES
I want to be fair and I am sure that my hon. Friend wishes to be fair also. He will probably be aware that all these societies must have annual conferences to ratify all the decisions of their executive, and that it takes sometimes about 12 months for the societies to get their business through.
§ Mr. McNEILL
Yes, but I am afraid it is not sufficient to account for the lapse of time. That particular point was never taken by them. I am assuming, what is very unlikely, that under their constitution they had no power to call a special meeting in such a crisis. At all events, that would not account for the lapse of two years. But that is not all. I find that the rules of the Scottish society give power to the executive to appoint juvenile collectors. The hon. Gentleman will see the significance of that. It is a point which has brought about this Bill. I refer to juvenile collectors for the juvenile fund. In the last return which 947 was made by the society, that is to say, for 31st December, 1925, there is no such fund shown as in existence; there is no junior fund at all, no payments have been made to collectors, and not a single one of the branch rules makes any mention of a collector, nor is there any payment to a collector in any of the annual returns which have been received from the branches up to now.
Therefore, I suggest this to the hon. Gentleman: I have been told, but have no definite knowledge, that in point of fact house to house collections are being carried out. If so, there is no authority for doing so under the rules of the branches. One effect of acceptance of the Amendment would be, I will not say to authorise, but to a certain extent to whitewash certain irregularity of procedure with regard to these juvenile members. Therefore, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree with me that under the circumstances—I do not suppose they were within his knowledge—it would not be reasonable to expect me to accept this Amendment. It was said in Committee by an hon. Member that he understood there were other societies which were in the same position. I have been making inquiries through the Industrial Insurance Commissioner, and, so far as ray advisers have informed me, there is no other society to which this Amendment would apply. In conclusion, I repeat what I said in Committee, that tills is not such a trifling matter as it might appear to be at first sight. If we were to accept the Amendment it would alter substantially the character of the Bill. The Bill is of the smallest possible scope, and is confined to an enlargement of the definition of juvenile societies, so as to enable the exemption which was given by the principal Act to be extended to societies composed partly of juveniles and partly of adults. The Amendment would go outside the scope of the Bill distinctly, and, in addition to the mere rectification or alteration of the definition in the principal Act, we should bring in societies which were excluded from the original Act. In those circumstances. I would ask my hon. Friends not to press the Amendment.
§ Mr. DAVIES
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will understand me 948 when I say that I have only submitted to him the information which was sent to me, and the information which the right hon. Gentleman has produced, does not tally with the information in my possession. I can quite see that the society, on one occasion at any rate, might not have carried out all that was required of it but I would also point out that the society has been placed in a very difficult position. In view, however, of the facts submitted by the right hon. Gentleman I ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
May I state that the reference to other societies being concerned in this matter was contained in a letter which was forwarded to me, and I only made the statement on the strength of that letter.