§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 4.46 p.m.
§ The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Captain Crookshank)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This is a small Bill which, I think, does not raise any truly controversial issues, and it is in line with other Measures which have been introduced since the beginning of the war in order to assist, whether it 2041 be ourselves or outside bodies, in the transaction of business in the changed conditions of war-time. I will run through the Clauses. Four different groups of questions are raised, and for the convenience of the House I will explain them at no great length. First of all, I will refer to the definition Clause. It defines a society asany trade union, friendly society or building society, any such unincorporated society as is mentioned in Section seven of the Building Societies Act, 1874, any society registered under the Industrial and Provident Societies Acts, 1893 to 1928, and any society certified under the Loan Societies Act, 1840.So by and large that covers the great bulk of organisations of this type. The first Clause gives power to modify certain of the rules regarding meetings, the appointment of officers and the arrangements for amending rules. In the Great War a Measure similar to this was found to be necessary, and the Societies (Suspension of Meetings) Act was passed in 1917. Nowadays, with the difficulties of the black-out and evacuation, there is even greater need for a Measure of this sort than there was 20 years ago. Not only are many of these organisations scattered, owing to the war work they are doing, but with regard to the question of having conferences evacuation has made such a congestion in towns where conferences are likely to take place that it becomes necessary to prepare other measures. The first Clause deals with that aspect of the problem. The Committee of Management may apply to the Chief Registrar, and he may give directions on these various points.
We hoped to get this Bill through a good deal earlier because it would have made matters easier, but it was not possible owing to the pressure of other business. It may well be, knowing that this sort of Measure was to be introduced, that some societies may have anticipated its terms. Sub-section (3) of the first Clause gives the Chief Registrar authority to deal with such cases as that. The fourth Sub-section of the first Clause deals with the possibility, which may very well arise, of members objecting to the appointment of particular officers or to the amendment of rules which have been made under the procedure outlined earlier in the Clause, although with the direction of the Chief Registrar. There is therefore a safeguard in that the Chief Registrar may direct that the appointment 2042 or the amendment to which objection has been taken shall cease to have effect at a given date unless it was confirmed in the ordinary way.
The second Clause is very much the same in its effect in that it makes it possible for the central body of a society to take the place of the Chief Registrar and give a direction so as to get uniformity and obtain the same safeguards with regard to the rules of the branches. I understand that there are some 80 such societies and 17,000 branches, and some procedure of this kind has been asked for by those concerned. The Government are not forcing anything upon the organisations, but it is at their request that these alterations are being made. The third Clause, I think, is obviously a necessity in regard to the postponement during the war of the whole of the ordinary basis of valuation. For the time being all such matters must be very difficult to estimate, quite apart from the fact that there is a great deal of work involved. This Bill is drafted extremely simply, and there is no difficulty in understanding what it means. The Clause merely deals with the position of societies which are affected by the Prevention of Fraud (Investments) Act, 1939, Section 10 of which provides that a society which was registered under the Industrial and Provident Societies Act, 1893, before 26th July, 1938, and certified by the Registrar to be a society which could not now become so registered, can either convert itself into a company registered under the Companies Act, 1929, or amalgamate or transfer its engagements to such a company without payment of Stamp Duties provided it did so before 28th April this year. In the circumstances, since last September it may very well be that such societies may not have had the time nor the opportunity of doing it, and therefore there is a year's extension. I think it will be agreed by everybody that this is a wise decision. That is the first group of Clauses which deal with the modification of rules and statutory requirements.
The next group concerns Clauses 5 and 6, which deal with amalgamations and transfers of engagements of building societies and trade unions. This is a simplification of the existing procedure again, but is not limited to war time. It is therefore not a war emergency arrangement, but a continuing arrangement. It 2043 is convenient to introduce it now because there may now be reasons for amalgamations which would not have been so obvious perhaps a little time back. The only point I wish to deal with in Clause 5 is that Sub-section (3) deals with building societies and associations in connection with cases which have aroused public attention at the time, where small but wealthy building societies, under the pretence of dissolving, effect the transfer of engagements to larger societies and when doing so large sums out of all proportion to what would have been proper compensation for loss of office were offered by the large societies and accepted by the officials of the smaller societies. It is because of that rather undesirable practice that the Sub-section (3) is inserted.
Now I will come to Clauses 7 and 8 in the next group, dealing with rights of persons engaged in war service. Clause 7 deals with the case of some friendly societies where apparently on joining the services of the Crown a member automatically loses, under the rules, his membership or his benefits. I would say that, of course, all these matters which are being dealt with in this Bill could be dealt with properly, so far as I know, by any individual society amending its rules, but in view of the war situation and of the labour involved, certain questions have been put to us asking that they might be covered as a whole. This is the provision in regard to the rights of members who are either called up or who voluntarily joined the Armed Forces of the Crown, and it provides that no rule or amendment of rule shall deprive such a member of his membership, but that his rights to any benefits shall be suspended so long as he fails to pay contributions.
§ Mr. Burke (Burnley)
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman says, "These questions have been put to us, and we have received representations." Are we to understand that the three kinds of institutions which are dealt with in this Bill—building societies, friendly societies, and trade unions—have each of them asked for a measure along these lines to be introduced?
§ Captain Crookshank
Yes, that is as I understand it. The whole purpose is to get something agreed by everybody. I 2044 do not wish this to be controversial, because if there is any controversy in connection with this Measure there is no object in the Government fathering it. Clause 8 brings me to a more difficult matter, because this Clause provides that persons who are otherwise entitled to benefits from societies in respect of war injuries should have those benefits reduced by the amount received under the Personal Injuries scheme. That is to say, if a person was injured and received benefit under the Government scheme, those benefits to which he might be entitled from his society would be pro tanto reduced. I gather that the object there was to try and protect the finances of societies which, when they had collected the various sums and had drawn out their benefits scheme, may not have had in mind the possibility of civilian casualties in time of war. On the other hand, it has been represented to me that there is by no means unanimous feeling about this Clause, and, if that is so, I will certainly be prepared to consider dropping it, because I do not want to ask the House to accept anything which is not generally agreed. As it is possible, as I said just now, for any society to make amendments in its own rules should it so desire, it would be better to let the Clause go on to the Committee stage rather than let any controversy arise about it.
The next group consists of Clause 9, which from the point of view of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and myself is one in regard to which I should like publicly to express gratitude to the societies, because they came forward and suggested that they should be given powers as a result of which it would be possible for them to set up and administer rules for the purchase of defence bonds or national savings certificates, and in that way assist the great financial effort which is required for financing a war. Needless to say, that suggestion was warmly approved of by us. This is the Clause which makes it possible for that course of action to be taken. Having made sure that these societies are only too anxious to play their part in that way if they are given the authority, it may well be that we can look forward to a very large increase in the money going into the savings movement as a result of this Clause. The first lot of Clauses in the Bill were devised for the protection of societies and to 2045 assist them to carry on, and the last Clause was devised to help the Government to carry on the financial burden of the war. We propose that the House should give a Second Reading to the Bill to-day, and we propose to take the Committee stage after Easter so that there will be ample time in the intervening period for consideration of any points which may arise to-day. So far as I know, it is an agreed Measure to facilitate the business of a great number of societies.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Rhys Davies (Westhoughton)
We are very much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for the clear statement he has made on the provisions of the Bill. On the surface it looks a very innocent little Measure, but on close examination there are certain points contained in it which are open to some criticism. Those who are closely connected with friendly societies and trade unions and who are not members of committees of management are a little alarmed at some of the provisions of the Measure. Since the war commenced we have been asked to pass certain Bills just to ratify arrangements which executives and companies had arrived at in conjunction with the Government. The other day we debated a Bill which was arranged between the insurance companies and the Government, and it fell to us as an Opposition to champion the cause of the millions of policy holders who never had a say at all as to whether the provisions of that Bill should be passed into law or not. I wish therefore to say a few words that an ordinary member of a friendly society or trade union might feel about a Measure of this kind. We do not intend to divide against the Bill to-day; but in Committee we shall move some Amendments which may probably be acceptable to the Government.
I was glad the right hon. and gallant Gentleman dwelt on Clause 8, because it is indeed a very fundamental section of the Bill. The largest part of the Bill need not be put into operation at all unless societies make a request to that effect. On the other hand, Clause 8 is mandatory, and in that sense the society would have to contract out of it, otherwise the mandatory provisions would operate automatically. The Measure, of course, is brought forward because of the national emergency. Were it not for the 2046 war, some of us in the trade union movement would have nothing at all to do with some of its provisions. The fact is that we are not quite satisfied that the Government should interfere in the private affairs of friendly societies and trade unions; but we are at war, and consequently friendly societies and trade unions paying sickness benefit are very anxious to safeguard their funds and their organisation. I would ask the right hon. and gallant Gentleman not to emphasise unduly the difficulty of convening annual delegate meetings and the holding of committee meetings because of evacuation. Most trade unions, as far as I know, are carrying on their business now just the same as before, and I trust they may continue to do so.
I now come to the actual provisions of the Bill. Clause 1 gives committees of management of societies very large powers over their membership. When I point out one such power, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will see why some of us are a little disturbed. Not only do you hand over to the committee of management all the powers of delegate meetings and of the branches of the organisation, but the committee can transfer those very powers to a sub-committee of its own. It does not say how many members shall compose that sub-committee; it may be only two or three; and so you may have a very large society with perhaps millions of members being governed during the emergency by just two or three members of its committee of management. Some of these friendly societies are colossal organisations. I believe one of them has investments amounting to £25,000,000. Therefore, we are dealing with rather important problems in this Bill. Clause 1 does something else; it allows the trustees and the officers to remain in their seats during the period of the war, following, I suppose, the practice of Parliament, with a sort of political truce inside the society or union. I do not know how the trade union rank and file will feel about that, but I should imagine that there will be some criticism of that provision if the war lasts, say, for five, seven or ten years and the same people are left in control as at the beginning of the conflict. I should think there would be some criticism of the provision that no election is to take place for certain officers. As a matter of fact, some trade unions are now holding elec- 2047 tions annually just as if the war had not taken place. If I offered my own opinion I should say definitely that it is the business of a trade union or friendly society to undertake its own tasks without the Government intervening at all in its affairs. That is my personal view.
These committees of management can also amend rules without submitting the amendments at all to any delegate meeting or the membership of the society. That is rather an important provision. Clause 2 deals with registered branches of friendly societies; and there are thousands of these branches. There may be thousands in one single friendly society; every branch is a unit of its own and can deal with its own finances, pay what benefits it likes, and manage its own affairs; and its link with the central organisation is almost nothing more than a name. Under this Bill the central committee of a friendly society at its headquarters will be able to decide for each separate unit of the organisation what it ordinarily does for itself. Representatives of friendly societies have probably been to the Treasury asking for this Bill, but unless I am greatly mistaken they do not represent the membership of these thousands of separate branches on this issue. I apprehend that there will be criticism from them on the ground that they have not been consulted at all in regard to the power that is given over them. There may, of course, be very little objection to Clause 3, which suspends the quinquennial valuation of the funds of societies. At the same time if we are going to safeguard the funds of societies I should not like to see the valuation set aside for too long a period. Contribution income and benefit payments are, after all, based on what you can disburse as the result of actuarial calculations and valuations quinquennial or otherwise. Though I can see no objection at all to that I feel that we must not be too loose even on this point of valuation.
Clause 6 deals with amalgamation and transfer of engagements of trade unions. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has told us that this provision is going to be permanent. I want Members connected with trade unions to take particular note of that. Some people will argue that the amalgamation of trade unions ought to be made very much easier; that amalga- 2048 mations have been frustrated because the present legal conditions are too onerous for the membership. In spite of that I should not like to give to the executive of any organisation such easy means of amalgamation which would offend the, membership.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman was in some doubt about Clause 8 and there is quite frankly a division of opinion about it. Let me try to put both sides of the case. No friendly society or trade union paying sickness benefit has ever laid down in its scales of contribution anything to cover injuries which might be caused by a terrible air raid. To that extent the argument in favour of Clause 8 holds good and is very forcible. On the other hand, it is argued that you are doing an injustice to such members. An injured member may get £1 a week by way of pension from the State, and if the friendly society only paid 15s. sickness benefit he would not in that case get a penny piece from his friendly society. If on the other hand a member of a friendly society or trade union is injured at work in the course of his employment he will get workmen's compensation and sickness benefit as well and the same would apply if he recovered damages at Common Law. I do not know of any trade union or friendly society which asks a member claiming sickness benefit, when he is otherwise qualified for the benefit, "Do you belong to any other society? Do you draw compensation or benefits from any other source?" Those two arguments are pitted against each other and for my part the second is the stronger of the two.
There is another fundamental point in Clause 8. A friendly society or a trade union paying sickness or disablement benefit will have to contract out of it, otherwise it automatically operates over all societies alike. It is still possible, I hope, for a friendly society or a trade union paying sickness benefit to re-draft their scales of contributions and benefits to do exactly for themselves what Parliament is trying to do on their behalf in this Bill. Once again, I confess that, on balance, I would prefer the friendly societies and trade unions to do all this themselves; they know best how to do it. I gather from the right hon. and gallant Gentle- 2049 man that building societies, friendly societies, and trade unions have made representations to the Government for this Bill. I wonder why on earth building societies have been mixed up with trade unions in this Bill? The Bill has several sets of Clauses. I should have preferred to see trade unions dealt with in one set of Clauses, building societies dealt with in another, and friendly societies dealt with in a third, instead of bundling them together in this way. My feelings on this Bill are not quite so definite as they are on other Measures; and, therefore, I hope the House will forgive me if I have tried to state the case just as a lawyer would put it if he were paid to do so.
§ 5.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Jagger (Manchester, Clayton)
Like my hon. Friend, I approach the Bill with very mixed feelings. I will start by stressing the point at which my hon. Friend left off. Why did we have a Bill which made all these provisions for a certain number of chartered bodies, and then have a second Bill which lumps together three sets of societies, more different from each other than some of them are from the societies which are covered by the previous Bill? The right hon. and gallant Gentleman referred to the difficulty of holding conferences and delegate meetings and of consulting the members of these organisations, yet, in Clause 8, he provides that we have to hold these conferences and call these delegate meetings unless we are to be compelled by law to refuse to pay to our members the benefits for which they have contributed. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman did not mention it, but the only way of escape that I can see for any organisation which wants to carry out its obligations is for it to summon a special delegate meeting and to alter its rules, because Clause 8 says:the amount of any payments by way of benefits for sickness or infirmity (other than benefits conferred by the National Health Insurance Act, 1936), which he would otherwise be entitled to receive from the society or union shall, unless the rules of the society or union expressly provide to the contrary, be reduced by the weekly amount….Obviously, as there has never previously been any provision for compensation to be paid by the Government for war injuries to civilians, the rules of none of these organisations make any special pro- 2050 vision. Unless we are to escape from honouring our obligations, we must hold those special delegate meetings, which, the Minister has said, it will be so difficult to hold, and the difficulty of holding which is given as a reason for the introduction of this Bill. As one who, only last week, was re-elected president of a very large union by an enormous majority, I must protest against the Government giving an opportunity to people like me to stay in our places without the formality of re-election.
Nothing has happened so far to make it impossible for us to have a meeting or to make it difficult for us to meet our obligations. Had those eventualities come, the Bill might have been too late; as they have not, I am inclined to think that it is perhaps a little too early. There is only one possible justification for the Bill that I can see. It is perfectly true that the calculations fixing the benefits to be paid by the friendly societies and trade unions do not include the calculations of war risks. As the State is undertaking that liability, it may well be argued that there is no serious injustice done to the person because he is deprived of the benefit—
§ Mr. Buchanan (Glasgow, Gorbals)
Employers often undertake the liability of paying wages during sickness. Does the hon. Member argue that if wages are being paid, organisations should not pay sickness benefit to which their members are entitled?
§ Mr. Jagger
I was not saying that it was an advisable thing, but that the Government have undertaken this liability, and, therefore, it might be argued that the societies have been relieved of their obligations. It is possible that if civilians were injured on an enormous scale, the amount which the friendly societies and trade unions would have to pay in disability benefit would cripple them financially, and make them unable, at a later stage, to pay benefits for other forms of disability, caused otherwise than by the war. To that extent, I suppose, there is some justification for saying that the societies should have power so to safeguard the rights of their members who are not injured as a result of the war that the benefits they would otherwise have got should not be paid away to people already compensated in some way by the Government. That is, to me, the only possible 2051 justification for the Bill. I do not know that my feelings in regard to this Measure are as mixed as those of my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies). In my mind, the bias is very largely in favour of saying that the trade unions and friendly societies can themselves be trusted to alter their rules in such ways as the emergency may make necessary; and I view with great apprehension this compulsory alteration, without any consultation with the members who have provided the funds.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Rear-Admiral Beamish (Lewes)
I want to say a few words on this Bill, because I have come into contact with building societies of late, and have been much interested in their activities. I am delighted to see this legislation, which aims at further support and encouragement of the organisations mentioned in the Bill, and also, to some extent, at the protection of the public. Recently, I put a Question concerning building societies to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury; and, in reply, he said that a Bill was being introduced, and that it would contain provisions for the better protection of the public and would increase the powers of the Registrar-General of Friendly Societies. I wish the Registrar-General had been given still further powers. The trade unions, friendly societies, and building societies are part of our national life, and it needs no words of mine to point out what an unpayable debt we owe them for all that they have done for the people of this country. We are fortunate in possessing these organisations, but we are also fortunate in possessing, in the Registrar-General of Friendly Societies, a watchdog who does his utmost to promote their interest, and also to protect people against the errors which may at times creep into the management of all such organisations. Amid the wealth of virtue and good will and efficiency of these movements, we find that tiny percentage of error that runs like the "rogue's yarn" in naval rope, through almost every national activity and profession. It is that slight percentage of error which I hope Clause 5 will help to prevent.
It is a queer, unpleasant, but justifiable, reflection, that so much of our legislation is designed to protect the public against the misuse of power and 2052 the acquisitive tendencies of a tiny minority. In saying that, I am fortified by the annual report of the Registrar-General of Friendly Societies. One or two paragraphs have a direct bearing on Clause 5 of this Bill. Of the building societies alone, I note that, since 1928, no fewer than 35 have been absorbed by larger concerns. I have no objection to absorption, but there can be, and often is, objection to the method of absorption. Something like 26 of them have been absorbed in the last four years, and all except one have been small concerns. The thing which puzzles, and bothers, me is that there has been competition among some of the larger societies to get hold of the assets, the good will, and the energies of the smaller societies. There is no harm in competition so long as it is properly controlled, but it is proved by the Registrar-General's report that this is not always the case. The report refers to the type of advertisement which is meant to attract some of the smaller societies into allowing themselves to be swallowed up by some of the larger societies. At the end of an advertisement, published in the "Building Society's Gazette," and inserted by the Brighton and Sussex Building Society, appear these words:The Secretary of any society of which the board would care to consider proposals on these lines of amalgamation, whereby the officials and directors are amply safeguarded, should communicate in strict confidence with…..Then follows the name of the managing director. I must confess that these two words "strict confidence" make no appeal to me. I do not like the idea at all, and I feel that it is not square and is not entirely above board. It should not be in strict confidence, or for the boards to go behind the backs of members of the societies. I would remind the House that in many instances the smaller societies are approached by several big societies. It is a form of approach which I am sure does not make an appeal to anybody in this House. There is another thing I would point out about the society in question concerning which I know practically nothing, except what I read in the report of the Registrar-General. Of one of the societies that was absorbed by the society that I have mentioned, the Registrar-General reported that the directors received payments representing about 2053 61 years' salary, and that the secretary of the absorbed society received the equivalent of his salary in perpetuity. [Interruption.] I presume that these must be the facts if they are in the report of the Registrar-General. Is it any wonder that he asked for certain powers to enable him to investigate these matters? I do not know anything about the society where the directors received 61 years' salary, but I maintain that the members of these societies are not given sufficient consideration, and the thing ought to be much more open and put before the members of these societies.
As a further instance, I see that five small societies that were absorbed by a boa constrictor received only 18 per cent. of the reserves and unappropriated profits that had been built up by their energy and by their directorates over many years. But a higher figure—which goes to show again that the Registrar-General should have more power of investigation—one of 29 per cent. went in compensation to directors and officials, and 11 per cent. was used for expenses. I do not want to quote any more figures, but only to try and make a case for the protection of the members of these admirable societies, and I hope that I may be allowed in Committee to move an Amendment to Clause 5 still further to protect the members of these societies.
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Buchanan (Glasgow, Gorbals)
I rise to say a few words on this Bill, particularly in relation to Clause 8. I recognise from the speech of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury that this is not a Government Measure in the ordinary sense, but that it has really been introduced to oblige the parties concerned. I would like him, if possible, to look again at Clause 8. In some respects I do not agree with the provisions of certain other Clauses, but it is really Clause 8 to which I take exception. I do not like the provisions about meetings and the continuation of officers for long periods. I do not accept the view that it is impossible to collect votes because of the war emergency. The temptation to accept the provisions of Clause 1 enabling me to continue in office might be very great. I am the chairman of my union and I am due to retire in the next few months, and this Clause, I suppose, would allow me to continue in office. [An 2054 HON. MEMBER: "If the Registrar-General agreed."] He would agree, and he agrees in other cases. I have not heard of any case where he has disagreed. I see no insuperable difficulties at all in the taking of votes.
But I feel strongly in regard to Clause 8, and I want to say something about the unjustifiable and unfair treatment of friendly society and trade union members who have paid for friendly society benefits. No one can defend that Clause on its merits. When one joined these societies war was not on the horizon, and it is unfair to ask these bodies to take on a war risk. That could be argued about a lot of other things, and I am surprised at hon. Members who have used that argument. When I joined a trade union and insured against unemployment, I did not expect that unemployment would reach the colossal figure of 3,000,000. Unemployment is a disease just as deadly as war, and, indeed, is a war in another form. When trade unions had to contend with 3,000,000 unemployed, they had to face a set of circumstances which they had not contemplated. The trade unions, with a few exceptions, came through the terrible depression with funds depleted and with serious inroads into their membership. There was no trade union that did not face up to that situation. They did not need to come to Parliament and ask for an Act of Parliament similar to the Measure that has been introduced to-day.
The union of which I am chairman has three benefits for its members—unemployment, sickness and superannuation. They are heavy commitments. When the depression came we found that we could not pay the unemployment, sickness and superannuation benefits for which the rules made provision, but we did not rush to Parliament to try and secure the passage of a Bill. We had to face the situation. Trade unions are empowered at any time to take measures to safeguard their finances. We had to reduce the sickness, unemployment and superannuation benefits, and increase contributions. We did this without reference to our members, but we had to face them for re-election, and not one of us was defeated. Here we are introducing a Bill which I do not think is really necessary. If it be a war risk, as the hon. Member for Clayton (Mr. Jagger) 2055 said, the executive should have power to act.
I believe that under Clause 8 the trade union and friendly society member is put in a worse position than the recipient of Poor Law relief. The first £1 of a disability pension is exempted under Poor Law relief, and also under unemployment assistance, but under this Bill there is no exemption for the member of a friendly society who receives a pension of £1 a week. It is said that the State compensates him. The private employer compensates the man under workmen's compensation. Does anybody suggest that because he is compensated by workmen's compensation, he ought not to get sickness benefit from a trade union or friendly society? A man with £1 a week disability pension is to get no friendly or trade union sickness benefit, but if he is hurt in another field of industry, he will get 30s., and shortly, in the case of married men, it is to be increased. He is to get his sickness benefit in full. I used to get £1 a week sickness benefit from my trade union, and 30s. if out of work. If I get hurt inside Fairfield Shipbuilding Yard, I get my friendly society money, but if I walk outside and get hurt by a splinter from a bomb, I get nothing. If I am knocked down by a motor car, I claim at common law for damages and receive, say, £1,000, and I get my friendly society benefit, but if I am injured by a bomb from the air and I receive £300, I get no friendly society benefit. Is there any defence to a position like that? I want to go further. There is not, in this Bill, a single safeguard for an aggrieved member who comes back, injured, from the war, and gets a miserable pension. I am surprised when people say that he is being compensated. If I join a friendly society, I do so in order to get something more than the man who does not join. What is the use of joining a friendly society and paying for benefit if I cannot get something more than the man who does not pay?
Take the case of two men coming out of the Army. One is a non-unionist and the other a trade unionist. One has paid, all his working days, 2s. a week to his union, and the other has not paid a penny. Both get £1 a week pension, and the one who is a trade unionist gets no 2056 assistance, although he has paid for it, while the non-unionist also gets nothing, but with this difference—that he has never paid anything. The thing for which a man has contracted is not received by him. Frankly, there is no justification for this at all, and I say to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman that we may well be faced with casualties. My views on the war are not popular, but so long as you have sickness members there is no justification for dealing with one member in a different way from another. They should all be treated alike. The Co-operative movement usually pays a man his full wages when he is away from work. He will receive his sickness benefit, but another man coming back from the Army, who may not have been in Co-operative employment and who receives a small pension, will get nothing at all. On the grounds of equity and human decency this should not be allowed. If you asked the average trade unionist to-morrow for power to raise the premium to cover this risk, every decent man of a union, and of a friendly society, would say that they would pay 1d. or 2d. a week more for this extra risk rather than see a man who has served his country treated worse than any other class of member. Under this Bill you have no right of appeal. The Ministry of Pensions says "You get this amount for an injury," and it is done. But a man may become ill again 12 months later, and have paid contributions for the 12 months, and the Minister says, "You are off again for the second time because of this injury, and no sickness benefit will be paid." Clause 8 is a shockingly reactionary Clause, and I trust we shall not proceed with it.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Naylor (Southwark, South-East)
I find myself largely in agreement with the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan). I approach this Bill from the point of view of an unofficial member of a friendly society and of a trade union, and I ask myself whether there is anything in the Bill that could not be done by a friendly society or a trade union without any assistance whatever from the State. The Bill proposes to eliminate the right of the ordinary member of these societies to say whether or not he will agree to continue membership on the 2057 terms on which he joined. This is to be done without any prior consultation with the members affected. One might well ask, especially of the Law Officers of the Crown, whether these members, not having been consulted, agreed to a Measure of this kind and whether it is legally or morally right that they should have forced upon them an Act of Parliament upon which they have offered no opinion and to which their executives have no authority, under their rules, to consent.
I object to the Bill largely on principle, and that applies to Clause 1 as well as Clause 8. It is proposed to delegate the powers now possessed by these democratic societies into the hands of the committees of management without the members themselves having previously been consulted. I am also opposed to the principle on the ground that there is nothing in the Bill that could not be prescribed, by properly adopted rules, by a friendly society or a trade union. I know of one trade union which, three months ago, recognised that there was a possibility of serious charges becoming due, and, desiring to preserve themselves against these adverse conditions, passed a rule providing that the executive could, if, in their opinion, the emergency justified it, modify or reduce benefits. What one union has done others could have done, and it is not too late for them to do it now. Conditions are comparatively normal so far as holding meetings and the taking of ballots are concerned, and it ought to be possible for the friendly societies and unions to call their members together and ask them whether they would modify their rules to protect themselves against the circumstances which might arise as the result of war, or whether they would be prepared to conform to the conditions laid down in this Measure.
Clause 7 is certainly something which commends itself to me. It says that the mere suspension of payments of contributions by men of the Services shall not disentitle them to the benefit of the rules. I am wondering whether that applies to trade unions as well as friendly societies, because it is not quite clear as the Clause reads. One would suppose that it applies only to friendly societies, and perhaps the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will make that clear. I refer to this because I wonder whether this is some kind of 2058 sugar coating for the bitter pill contained in Clause 8. If we are prepared to hand over these powers by passing a Measure of this kind, without the men and women affected being consulted, I think we should be false to the interests of all members of a democracy, of which we form a part. What becomes of our democratic principles if we are to go over the heads of the members of the societies and do this injurious thing?
The hon. Member for Gorbals, in referring to Clause 8, dealt with the case of a man who happens to be in receipt of compensation on account of war service, or is a casualty in an air raid, and is deprived of the benefit for which he has paid. Supposing this Clause ultimately stands in the Bill, what about those members who have paid considerable sums, amounting to many shillings per week, for benefits? Is there to be any refund of those contributions in the event of their being deprived of benefit? If they make payments for certain benefits, and those benefits are taken away because of the provisions of this Bill, surely they ought to be entitled to a refund of the contributions they have paid. That seems to me to be a necessary corollary in a Clause of this description. While the Second Reading is to be allowed to go through, I hope that there will be substantial alterations made in the Bill in Committee. Otherwise it seems to me that those who are in favour of our democratic institutions will be unable to vote in support of the Third Reading. If I do not challenge the Second Reading of this Bill, it is only because I am more loyal to my party than to my own convictions.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Oliver (Ilkeston)
I should not have intervened in this Debate had it not been for some observations made by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan). I was intrigued by the argument which he put forward, and which was repeated by my hon. Friend who has just sat down, but when he made reference to the fact that the trade unionists will be deprived of benefit, I, with great respect, beg to differ. The trade unionist is not to be robbed of benefit if I understand the Clause aright. The hon. Member for Gorbals says that the member pays his contributions to meet the contingencies of industrial life. It is quite 2059 true that if this Bill is passed the obligations on the trade unions will remain precisely the same: to meet the liability of the industrial worker if he should fall sick, whether through a motor accident, the weather, some industrial disease, or is receiving workmen's compensation. When this particular Clause is passed those liabilities remain unimpaired. The member has not paid for the liability which the Bill intends to cover. It is a liability which is peculiar to the war situation. It is wrong and misleading to suggest that something is being taken from the member of a trade union or friendly society because they must meet every liability which they have undertaken to meet. This is an additional liability which has never been contemplated, and is a liability due to war conditions.
§ Mr. Buchanan
Then the hon. Member would stop paying funeral benefit if the member was killed in the war?
§ Mr. Oliver
It makes no difference when the death occurs; the liability is there for the trade union. With respect to the death benefit, there can be no doubt that the obligation of the trade union and friendly society must be met. The point I am emphasising is that this is a liability which the trade unions have not undertaken but which the Bill seeks to meet, and thus relieve trade unions from the obligation. It is an obligation the magnitude of which no one can foretell. It may be of such enormous dimensions that many trade unions would be insolvent if they attempted to meet such a liability.
§ Mr. Naylor
It may be next to nothing; and where will the member be? The Bill is based on the assumption that there are going to be great disasters, that large numbers of members will be hurt in the war and that trade unions and friendly societies will not be able to pay the benefits. Experience has shown that it is not persons but property that suffers in air raids, but the member is still under the compulsion of this Bill.
§ Mr. Oliver
That may be true, but the principle is not at all distorted, whether it is one person or a thousand persons. The liability is peculiar to war conditions, and it is a liability from whch the Bill seeks to relieve trade unions. I cannot 2060 see how the principle can be vitiated whether it is one unfortunate member who is injured or a dozen unfortunate members. But provision is made so that trade unions, if they wish, can alter their rules and pay benefit to those members who are injured as a result of war conditions. It is quite competent for a trade union at their next revision so to amend their rules that they can incorporate this liability in their rules and pay their members. [Interruption.] I only want to point out to the hon. Member for South-East Southwark (Mr. Naylor) that in the Bill there is provision for adjustment if trade unions do not like it, but I think there will be very few trade unions which will so amend their rules as to incorporate the liability in the Bill. If the trade unions are incensed about it they have the remedy in their own hands on the next occasion when the rules revision committee meets. On Clause 1 the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) referred to officers being appointed for the duration of the war. I have read the Clause closely, and I think that is quite an erroneous conclusion to draw. The Clause says "for the period which the Registrar determines," and in Sub-section (4) there is a check. If the members of an organisation object to the executive or officials holding their jobs too long this Sub-section would come into operation and representations could be made to the Registrar of Friendly Societies objecting to a prolongation of the period.
From September of last year I know that there have been many factors operating in trade unions which have made it impossible for them to conform to the rules which have been provided by the rule-making body, and one can think that circumstances may arise in this country when it will be completely impossible for trade unions, friendly societies, or building societies to subscribe religiously to the rules which bind them. I think it is a wise contingency that if Clause 1 is not to the liking of an organisation they have no reason to employ it, they can keep away from it altogether; it does not affect trade unions if they do not wish to employ it. I am afraid that my hon. Friend has not read the Clause with his usual diligence. My only complaint about the Bill is that it groups three different bodies together, and criticisms which one might apply to one group may 2061 not be applicable to the others. I can only speak in respect of trade unions because of my long and early association with them, and I cannot see very great objections to the Bill. There may be some, and when the Committee stage is reached one or two appropriate Amendments may be submitted.
§ 6.9 p.m.
§ Major Milner (Leeds, South-East)
In my view this Bill contains some valuable provisions but also a number of matters to which attention should be directed. I am a little surprised at the speech of the hon. Member for Ilkeston (Mr. Oliver). I cannot conceive why Clause 8 should have been inserted. I cannot conceive why it should not be open to any individual who suffers injury by reason of the war to draw the amount which this House has provided under the Personal Injuries Act and also to draw the benefit for which he has paid for a number of years to his trade union or friendly society. I do not know what authority the Financial Secretary has for bringing forward this proposal. It would, it is true, affect a saving in the funds of trade unions and friendly societies, but I take the view that there being a war on there is an additional risk on all. It is surely, therefore, perfectly competent for those who are so unfortunate as to be injured—they may be few or many—to receive the compensation which the State has provided and also the benefit for which they have paid as a member of a trade union or friendly society. I hope, therefore, that the Financial Secretary will consider carefully whether this particular Clause ought to remain in the Bill.
As to the general principle, I think the provision in Clause 1 to enable the rules and the practice of trade unions and friendly societies to be modified is a useful provision. I recognise that there is a case to be made out that in some degree our democratic rights as members of these organisations may have to be interfered with, but at the same time these powers are purely permissive and I think we can rely on the Chief Registrar to look at any proposals very carefully and to have regard to the interests of the members of the organisations concerned. In my view, therefore, some, if not all, of the provisions with regard to trade unions and friendly societies might very well be supported in the House.
2062 I really rose, however, to address myself to the question of building societies. I think I am the father of the proposal to make the provisions for amalgamating building societies more simple than they are at present. On the Second Reading of the Building Societies Bill, almost a year ago, I expressed regret that some such provision was not included in that Bill. But if I am not the father, it may be that the Chief Registrar is the step-father. There are some 900 building societies in this country, of varying degrees of strength, financial and otherwise. In war-time and in a time of financial stringency through which we may have to pass I think it is particularly desirable that there should be facilities whereby smaller societies, not necessarily less sound societies, but those societies which for one reason or another do not feel competent themselves to carry on during these difficult times, or which think that they cannot render proper service to their members, should be able to bring about an amalgamation with a larger or stronger society, provided that the terms of the amalgamation are fully disclosed and that it is carried through, as I understand will be largely the case, under the general direction of the Chief Registrar of Friendly Societies.
The hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Rear-Admiral Beamish) referred to this matter, and I do not know that I take any very great exception to what he said, except that he mentioned one society in particular and seemed to imply that it was necessarily a sinister matter to insert an advertisement asking for particulars to be furnished in strict confidence. I hold no brief for that society, but I do not think it ought to be said that an advertisement inviting particulars to be furnished in strict confidence in a matter of this sort is necessarily sinister: Surely, these matters are necessarily confidential, at any rate in the first stages. There may be cases where there are improper practices, but certainly, I do not think that the insertion of an advertisement by a society like that mentioned which I believe to be of the highest repute should be considered to be in any way sinister. The essential thing is that the full facts should be disclosed, and that any compensation payable should not be disproportionate or unfair having regard to all the circumstances of the case and the nature of the vacated office.
§ Rear-Admiral Beamish
I did not wish to quote the name of any society. My whole object in speaking was to deal with the general principle of the protection of the members, but I found it impossible not to quote the name because I was reading from the report of the Chief Registrar of Friendly Societies. There was nothing in my mind directed against any society.
§ Major Milner
I am obliged to the hon. and gallant Member for making that plain. Clearly, on general principles, the matter of amalgamation is an important one, and it is right that provision should be made whereby it can be brought about in a simpler fashion and under proper control. The real point of this provision, and indeed of most of the provisions of the Bill, is that the trade unions, friendly societies and building societies concerned are brought rather more closely under the survey, and indeed, even under the direction, of the Chief Registrar of Friendly Societies. That is all to the good. At present, as in the past, the Chief Registrar of Friendly Societies carries out his statutory duties with exemplary care, patience and capacity; he is one of our most useful officials, acting as he does primarily in the public interest. I welcome the fact that he is to have a rather greater say in these matters than he has had in the past.
There are several other matters in connection with trade unions, friendly societies and building societies which I should like to see dealt with. I particularly welcome the fact that the Chief Registrar will have full knowledge of, and some control over, the question of the compensation, and so on, paid to the directors and officials of building societies. I do not think anyone ought to jump to the conclusion that those payments are necessarily wrong. The amounts must, of course, largely depend upon the length of service of the director or official concerned, but if they are proper payments, which are fully disclosed and which have the approval of the members of the society, I see no objection to them.
There is one matter which I think ought to receive the attention of directors of building societies and indeed of public companies also, particularly at a time when the maxim is, "Equality of sacrifice." Only a few days ago, it was brought to my notice that the rules of 2064 one society—and probably of very many others—and certainly the Articles of some public companies provide for the payment of directors' remuneration free of tax. I think that it places a very great burden on the members of the societies if they are to be called upon to pay the very much increased Income Tax of the last Budget, and possibly the still more greatly increased Income Tax of the next Budget which could never have been foreseen by the members. It ought also to be made clear that the provisions of the Bill—at any rate, as I understand them—do not do away with the necessity of the members giving their approval. The Bill will do away with the necessity for the shareholders approval, but I understand it will still be necessary to have a resolution passed by three-quarters of the members present at a general meeting called for the purpose. For the reasons I have given, I think that, in general, the Bill deserves to receive our support, but I feel that on the Committee stage and in particular on Clause 8, there ought to be some considerable amendment.
§ 6.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Watkins (Hackney, Central)
I do not know whether the Financial Secretary to the Treasury has been surprised by the rather mixed reception which this innocent little Measure has received. He submitted it to us in a most disarming way; he really was not interested in it, the Government were not interested in it, but people outside had asked them to bring forward the Bill. I take it that one of the bodies which approached the Government was the General Council of the Trades Union Congress, and I suppose it was that fact which led my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) to be rather more impartial and objective than he usually is. I share many of the misgivings on Clause 8 that have been expressed from this side of the House, and I welcome the Financial Secretary's statement that if that matter proves to be too controversial, consideration will be given to the question whether Clause 8 should be proceeded with. In any case, the Bill will not be considered in Committee until after the Easter Recess, and by that time we shall have clearer views as to whether or not we want Clause 8 to be incorporated.
With regard to Clause 1, a great deal of the discussion seems to have been 2065 based on the assumption that we are living in normal times. We are not. I welcome the provisions of this Clause, which will enable trade unions to carry on whatever may be the circumstances of the time and whatever may be the dislocation in our national life. Trade unions are governed by rules, and those rules are binding upon the executive committees of the trade unions. The term of office of the officers is also a matter that is governed by the provisions in the rules. Circumstances might easily arise in which a rule would need to be amended in the interests of all the members of the trade union. For instance, it might be found that the funds of a union could not in war time stand the charges which the existing rules would impose upon them. Something would have to be done to meet the situation, and the only way in which that could be done, under the rules, would be to call a national conference representative of all the branches. It might be a physical impossibility, in the conditions of the time, to call together the representatives of the branches and to take a vote. Many trade unions hold annual conferences at which 500 or 1,000 delegates attend. The situation at the time when such a conference was called might be such that the chief constable of the town in which the conference was to beheld would not permit the meeting because of the risks that would be involved. Therefore, were it not for the provisions of this Bill, the executive of the union would be in an impossible position. They would continue in office with no right to do so, they would seek to operate under rules that were no longer possible, and indeed, the whole situation would become entirely impossible.
Clause 1 gives trade unions the right to apply to the Chief Registrar of Friendly Societies in order to get a relaxation of the rules or the substitution of amended rules, on certain conditions. Some of the semi-jocular remarks that have been made in various speeches might lead one to think that a trade union official could make application to the Chief Registrar in order that he might remain in office merely because he wanted to do so. That would not be possible. The Chief Registrar has to be satisfied that, by reason of circumstances attributable to the emergency, the alteration in the rules, or the continuation in office, should be authorised. It seems to me 2066 that the principle of this Clause is the principle of appointing an arbitrator, someone who is impartial and outside the trade union movement, to give a decision on the question whether the rules should be amended if the executive, in their judgment, deem it to be wise to amend them. Under the provisions of the Clause, if circumstances arise in which the rules cannot be amended because it is impossible to summon an annual conference—which at present is the only way in which the rules can be amended—authority can be obtained from the Chief Registrar of Friendly Societies, in whom the whole trade union movement has the utmost confidence and who will give an impartial and fair verdict on the question whether the rules should be altered. Therefore, as we may very shortly encounter circumstances in which ordinary trade union organisation is no longer possible, and yet, as everybody will agree, the trade union organisation must be carried on, I think it is a wise thing that someone should have approached the Government and persuaded them to introduce a Measure to enable the trade union movement to carry on whatever may be the circumstances of the future.
§ 6.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Collindridge (Barnsley)
I hope the Financial Secretary to the Treasury does not think that because we criticise the Bill we feel that there is nothing good in it. It would be foolish to say that there are not good points in the Bill, but I think that the discussion will have convinced the right hon. and gallant Gentleman that certain parts of the Bill will have to be amended. Although, generally, the speeches that are made from these benches are true to type and seek the same objectives, on this occasion there has been a difference of opinion. I hope that the Minister will consider the strong plea that was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) with regard to Clause 8. I differ to some extent from my hon. Friend who has just sat down. I am very much concerned with Clause 1, and particularly Subsection (2) of that Clause. I view with some degree of diffidence the power which is given to decide that meetings shall not be held. In my trade union, the Yorkshire Miners'Association, and the friendly society movement, with which I am connected—at least the rank and file of the members—would, I think, wish their 2067 meetings to go on untrammelled. It is a safety-valve if an emergency arises that the members' representatives can be called together to deal with the situation. My association have had some idea of what war may mean in this regard. After the first month of war the representatives were called together and they immediately decided that in the emergency all members serving with the Colours should be allowed, without contributions, the continuing benefits which they would have had if they had remained in civilian life. I can, however, visualise instances which might arise and which could not be dealt with in that particular way.
I believe that this legislation must have resulted from the atmosphere existing at the beginning of war, but, for my part, I would say that the more we keep to normal conditions the better. We are fighting here for democracy, and I wonder what the rank and file of trade union movements, or friendly societies, would feel if they were prevented from making their voices heard. If at the end of a year, as frequently happens, there is a surplus, friendly societies arrange a system of distributing greater benefits amongst their members. While I do not suggest that an executive would be precluded from doing that by this legislation, members would not have the same chance of expressing their views. Sub-section (3) of Clause 1 is also a very dangerous provision. It says:Where, on the application of the committee of management of any society within 12 months after the passing of this Act, the Chief Registrar is satisfied that before the passing of this Act there has been, by reason of circumstances attributable to the emergency, failure to comply with the rules of the society or any statutory requirement….It goes on to say that this will be agreed to. I think that that is hardly in accordance with the democratic principles upon which friendly societies and trade unions have been founded. The hon. Member for Ilkeston (Mr. Oliver) struck, I think, a correct note when he said that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman had endeavoured to link together organisations which had dissimilar tendencies. I think the effect of joining trade unions and friendly societies who generally conduct their business in a certain form, with certain organisations who act differently is altogether wrong. I feel sure that if this 2068 legislation had been submitted to the trade unions, or friendly societies they would certainly, on the point I have mentioned, have decided to vote against it.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Shinwell (Seaham)
We can all recall the memorable Parliament when the right hon. and gallant Gentleman was a member of the Opposition and set himself, almost every night, to throw discord into the ranks of the Labour party. He is up to his old tricks again. I suppose that my task which is not a very enviable one is to pour a little oil on the troubled waters. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman accepted paternity for this Measure, although I am bound to say he hardly said a kind word about the child. Nevertheless there are, I shall not say valuable features in the Bill, but features which have been rendered necessary, and, indeed, inevitable, by the war emergency. Whatever may be said by way of adverse criticism on certain Clauses, there is ample justification for a Measure of this kind. No one can tell what is to happen in the next few months, or, it may be, in the next few years. There may be heavy casualties and in consequence the funds of societies affected by this Measure may be seriously depleted. Some of these organisations are under contractual obligation to their members, and some provision, therefore, is necessary for the relaxation of rules in that emergency so that they may keep faith, as far as may be, with their membership.
It must be confessed that if this were a normal occasion we should be justified in taking very strong exception to Clause 1, because, undoubtedly, it places very wide powers in the hands of the committee of management or executive of the organisations concerned. It may be, indeed I think it is necessary that there should be some Amendment of this Clause on the Committee stage. For example, in Sub-section (2) of Clause 1, it will be observed that the committee of management may exercise functions which, ordinarily, are vested in the whole membership. That is a provision of a very sweeping character. What are the functions of the membership as represented by a delegate conference? They are very varied, but they include the right of dissolution, and I should like the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to say 2069 whether, if the Clause is passed in its present form, a committee of management or an executive of any of the organisations affected, would have the right without appeal to the membership to dissolve the organisation. Some protection is necessary in that respect. Moreover, I take it that if the Clause is passed in its present form it will enable an executive body to increase the salaries of officials, without considering the views of the members, and while that might be highly satisfactory from the standpoint of the executive, it would be regarded as highly detrimental to the interests of the members.
Over and above that, the Clause provides that a sub-committee may exercise the functions ordinarily vested in the committee or the general body of members, so that we may find ourselves in a position in which two or three members may decide the conduct, and determine the administration of an organisation affecting several thousands of people. That, I think, is highly unsatisfactory. At the same time, I welcome the first part of the Clause. It is permissive in character and enables an organisation, whatever it may be, a trade union, friendly society, industrial insurance society, or building society—although it may not occur in the latter case—to approach the Chief Registrar and seek for a relaxation of rules. I am content. I think that places all the power which is necessary in war time in the hands of an executive body for the purpose of carrying on the administration of an organisation. As I hope to show in a moment or two, it may be, subject to what the right hon. and gallant Gentleman may say later, that this makes it unnecessary to proceed with Clause 9 in its present form.
May I say now a word about the Chief Registrar? Frequently that gentleman comes in for considerable criticism, but I do not join in that criticism, because my view is that, generally speaking, he holds the balance fairly as between an organisation and its members. From my knowledge of industrial insurance societies, and having read the annual reports of the Industrial Insurance Commissioner, which is another name for the Chief Registrar, I can say that, almost invariably, any partiality he displays is in the direction of the members. So it appears to me that if in a particular emergency one of the 2070 organisations affected seeks the direction of the Chief Registrar, it is almost inevitable, having regard to his knowledge of the situation, that he will give such a direction as will safeguard the members, while leaving sufficient power in the hands of the executive to enable the administration of an organisation to be satisfactorily conducted.
I come now to Clause 8which has given rise to considerable variation of opinions. First of all I wish to ask a question, and perhaps the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will oblige me by giving an answer, if he can, at this stage. The purpose of Clause 8 is to give power to an organisation to reduce benefits, not as regards all its members, but as regards one section, namely, those who suffer from war casualties and who, in consequence, receive benefit at the hands of the State. Suppose a society declines to avail itself of this provision. The Clause saysthe society or union shall, unless the rules of the society or union expressly provide to the contrary.I fail to see how the latter provision is to operate, but if an organisation is, under its rules, expected to reduce benefits in a certain contingency but declines to reduce them, what happens? There is no penalty Clause in the Bill. If you say to a trade union, "You have refused to reduce benefits in a particular case where someone has received £1 from the Ministry of Pensions," you cannot take the union to court or summon any member of the executive. If you did, what charge would lie against them and what penalty could be imposed under this Measure? It would appear that, in spite of the obligatory provision making it incumbent upon the organisation to reduce benefits, the matter remains where it was if the organisation declines to do so. I do not know who drafted the Bill, but I am certain it was not the right hon. and gallant Gentleman. Whoever drafted it left out this method of imposing the obligation on the organisation affected. Perhaps the Financial Secretary will advance his opinions on that point.
There are, on the whole, excellent reasons why in certain circumstances benefits should be reduced. I agree with the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) in one respect. If there is to be a reduction in benefits on the ground 2071 of financial stringency because funds are depleted owing to war casualties, it ought to apply to everyone alike. There ought to be no discrimination. On the other hand, it may be impracticable to adopt such a proposal and that may be the reason why the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has suggested that this Clause might be abandoned. That view has been supported to some extent by hon. Members on this side. I express no opinion about it. It is a matter for consideration. The hon. Member for Gorbals seemed to speak somewhat illogically with regard to Clause 8. He said that, after all, the trade unions can do this if they like, and obviously, apart from the present situation before the Bill passes, they could, if Clause I passed, have vested in them special powers. That is to say, the committee of management could do what is ordinarily done by the whole membership at a delegate conference. To that extent my hon. Friend is right, but if that is so, if they can do all this and if the Clause passed even in its present form, they would still have the power, because they have vested in them certain rights under the protection of the Chief Registrar, not to put Clause 8 into operation. That being so, I do not see any serious objection to the passing of Clause 8.
§ Mr. Buchanan
Other than this, that they all clamour to get on the executive, and for goodness sake do not let them get away from their responsibilities and make Parliament do their dirty work. If the executive wants to reduce benefits let them do so, but do not let them run away from the responsibility of doing it.
§ Mr. Shinwell
There is a great deal to be said for that point of view. Not being a member of any executive, except the executive on this bench, an unpaid executive with no funds to dispense and, therefore, with very little power—
§ Mr. Shinwell
I am bound to say that hopes for the future are not confined to those who sit on the Front Bench. It would be a very sad thought if that were so. I agree with my hon. Friend that Parliament ought not to be asked to undertake a task which properly resides in the organisation itself. Frequently, 2072 however, we are called upon to undertake tasks which other people are not prepared to undertake. That is the purpose of Parliament and its main function. That being so, I should not make too much fuss about it. I venture to say to my hon. Friends that, while there are certain features of the Bill which must be closely examined on the Committee stage and seriously amended, we ought to accept the Bill and appeal to the Financial Secretary to respond to the wishes that have been expressed so that we may make this a useful Measure which will assist the organisations concerned in a time of national emergency.
§ 6.53 p.m.
§ Captain Crookshank
The hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) accused me of throwing discord into the party opposite. I should put it rather that he has exposed what we have always suspected to be latent. When he says that there is ample justification for the Bill, I agree with him. I am sorry if he did not think I was very enthusiastic in propounding its provisions, but the Bill is not one that lends itself to wild enthusiasm. It is a purely businesslike Measure and tries to facilitate certain things which the times make it necessary to have speeded up or dealt with in other than the usual way. I admit that to that extent Parliament is giving attention to matters which, in ordinary times, are the proper business of these societies. That is because Parliament can, in a large way, help them along and save them a great deal of unnecessary trouble in war-time.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that if this were an ordinary occasion strong exception would be taken to Clause 1. If it were an ordinary occasion there would be no Clause 1. Of course, one could never tell what would happen under a Labour Government, but I was speaking of normal times. In normal times it would not enter into the ideas of Parliament to deal with detailed matters of this kind affecting these societies—great, independent bodies which do so much good in their respective spheres. But we are not in ordinary times and the hon. Member for Central Hackney (Mr. Watkins), the hon. Member for Ilkeston (Mr. Oliver) as well as the hon. Member for Seaham took a realistic view of the situation. The hon. Member for Ilkeston said that one could not tell from day to day what will happen in war-time, and the 2073 hon. Member for Central Hackney welcomed the Clause because these were extraordinary times and the Clause would make it possible for trade unions to carry on, whatever happened. That applies to the other bodies as well, and it is the fundamental reason for most of the proposals in the Bill.
Some two hours ago, the Question was proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," but the Debate has really been mainly on whether Clause 8 should stand part of the Bill or not. I am not surprised, because I said in my opening remarks that I felt considerable doubt about the wisdom of the Clause and several hon. Gentlemen have asked me to say why it was in the Bill. I will answer that question in this way. As regards the financial problems which are raised by Clause 8, the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) is right in saying that societies can safeguard themselves by amending their rules; and he suggested that they should call for higher premiums if necessary because it is within their power to do that. The assumption, I think, was that in view of what is feared about whether there will be a great number of casualties or not—and whether there is likely to be a great financial strain none of us can say—it was likely that societies would probably want to do something of this kind.
If that assumption was correct the view was that this Clause was a reasonably workmanlike way of doing it. I admit that the Clause as it stands requires drafting Amendments. The general trend of the Debate however rather points the other way and the view of the House apparently is that the Clause should not be kept in the Bill. The hon. Member for Seaham did not come down on either side of the fence or say whether he wanted the Clause or not. The hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate thought it had better come out, and most of the other hon. Members who spoke took that view. It looks to me, therefore, that the feeling of the House this afternoon is that it is not quite right that Parliament in a matter of this kind should do the work of these societies, and the impression I got was that hon. Members would prefer societies to deal with this matter as they want to. I shall carefully weigh up what has been said to see whether or not it is necessary to leave the Clause in the Bill at all or whether it would not be wiser, 2074 as the hon. Member for Gorbals said, to leave it to the societies to deal with the problem as they want to and when they want to, rather than by way of a Clause like this, out of which it would be possible for them to contract.
I would only add a word to say how much I appreciate what has been said by the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner) and the hon. Member for Seaham—and the same note was running through some of the other speeches—in recognition of the very able and fair way in which these difficult problems were handled by the Chief Registrar and the confidence which hon. Members have shown in putting into his hands the powers sought for in this Bill. As to the building societies, I would say that it is true that the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds can claim some share in advancing the proposals which are in the Bill, and as to the point raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes (Rear-Admiral Beamish) we will see that under the Sub-section of Clause 5 to which he alluded, some of the worst standards which he brought to our notice can be, and presumably will be, dealt with. After the discussion we have had and on my assurance that I will carefully consider whether we should retain Clause 8 at all in view of the feeling of hon. Members opposite being against it, I hope the House will now let us have the Bill.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Tuesday, 2nd April.—[Lieut.-Colonel Kerr.]