HC Deb 29 April 1970 vol 800 cc1405-24

10.30 a.m.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin (Wanstead and Woodford)

On a point of order, Mr. Robertson. I wish to raise a small technical point with you. There have been a number of changes in the membership of the Committee in the last few days and it is apparently impossible to get an up-to-date copy of the list of the membership. The Clerk has kindly let me have a list. The Vote Office says that a form will appear this morning, but by that time I expect that we shall have finished our business. Can you tell us how we can have an indication of who the members of the Committee are?

The Chairman

That is not a point of order for the Chair, but I sympathise with the hon. Member. I am afraid that we can do nothing about it this morning but I will convey his sentiments to the powers that be.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

I am most grateful.

10.32 a.m.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Dick Taverne)

I beg to move,

That the Chairman do now report to the House that the Committee recommend that the Friendly Societies Bill [Lords] be read a Second time.

I hope that the Bill will be regarded as useful. It has been welcomed in another place and by the bodies most intimately concerned. Its main purpose is to simplify procedures for the merger of registered societies which may take place either on amalgamation or by transfer of engagements of one society to another. The other purpose is to simplify the procedures for the dissolution of registered societies. It also makes a number of other amendments to the Friendly Societies Act, 1896.

There has been a falling off in the number of members of the societies and an increase in management costs. This has led many smaller societies to be no longer economically viable units. As a result, some have found it difficult to continue operating, and it is expected that this tendency will increase. The obvious solution is for societies to amalgamate to form larger units.

Under the present procedure, contained in the 1896 Act, amalgamation, and transfer of engagements, involve a cumbersome process and disproportionate expense. The main obstacle is that a society at the moment has to get a positive expression of support for a merger proposal from at least five-sixths in value of its members and from everyone, whether a member or not, who is receiving or is entitled to receive any benefit from the society's funds. The term " value " in effect gives to each member a number of votes depending on the length of membership, which is an additional complication. The difficulties are greatly increased with the spread of membership of societies. In earlier days, they were usually confined to fairly small geographical areas or formed part of the life of fairly close-knit communities.

The requirements of the Act are obligatory, and a society which wants to merge with another has to go through the motions when, in practice, it knows perfectly well that it will not obtain the necessary consents. It will not fail to obtain the necessary consents because of active opposition, but because of the indifference of what need only be a small proportion of the total membership. Having gone through the process and failed to get the necessary consents the society can then apply to the Registrar to dispense with the consents, and this he may do with the approval of the Treasury. Thus, a society has to go through a time consuming, expensive and cumber- some procedure which cannot be justified in present circumstances.

The Bill substitutes a simpler, less costly and speedier procedure. The main feature is that it requires that merger proposals should receive the support of three-quarters of the members who vote upon that proposal.

The Bill contains provisions to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to know what the proposals are and to express his view, and it safeguards the rights of any minority groups within a society. In addition, the procedures followed in every case will be controlled by the Registrar, and there are express rights of appeal to him.

The procedure for dissolution of a society, which is similar to that for mergers, is equally cumbersome and onerous. This also is made easier by the Bill, which substitutes in the case of friendly societies a three-quarters majority of members for the five-sixths which is now required. In this case, however, it still provides that three-quarters of the total membership must consent and the distinction from the case of mergers is justified on the ground that, in the case of an amalgamation or transfer of engagements, the obligations to the members carry on, whereas in the case of a dissolution the contract between the member and the society is in effect being broken, and this is considered to be something which should have clear and positive expression of support from a substantial majority of members.

The representative bodies of the friendly societies approve the proposals. They have been pressing for amendment of the law to bring it up to date. They submitted a memorandum some time ago to the Treasury, and at its annual meeting in September last year the National Conference of Friendly Societies passed a resolution calling on the Government to implement the remainder of the proposals contained in the 1964 memorandum which had not yet been implemented. The main proposals of the Bill arise from the memorandum. They have been discussed in detail by a working party made up of representatives of the movement and the Registry, and in addition the Bill contains a considerable number of minor amendments which are proposed to deal with practical difficulties brought to our notice by representatives of the movement.

It is hoped that, in the near future, a consolidating Measure may be introduced to consolidate the Friendly Societies Acts from 1896 onwards. There are in the Bill a number of amendments designed to tidy up some of the imperfections which exist in the wording of these Acts, and there are also provisions to remove some dead wood. This will mean that the consolidating Bill, which is rather badly needed, can be more easily prepared when the time comes.

Clause 1 provides a new and simpler procedure for amalgamation of two or more societies or transfer of engagements and abolishes the present requirement for individual assents or consents from five-sixths of all the members. It substitutes a special resolution after full information about terms and proposals has been given. Clause 2 gives a right of appeal to the Registrar by persons affected.

Clause 3 repeals various provisions of the 1896 Act and also deals with the question of a dissolution. Clause 4 says in effect that the majority required for passing a special resolution is to be three-quarters of the members voting.

Clause 5 removes certain anomalies in the procedure in connection with the cancellation and suspension of registration of a society.

Clause 6 gives power to make regulations for the charging of fees, and Clause 7 contains, amongst other things, some provisions about group insurance which were pressed for by the annual conference last September.

I do not think that there is any special reason for mentioning the contents of the other Clauses and the Schedules. They are tidying up provisions. I hope I have explained the purpose and background of the Bill and that it commends itself to the Committee. If there are points to be answered I shall do my best, if I have permission to reply, to deal with them even if they may be somewhat intricate legal points, which seem to be threatened.

10.40 a.m.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

The Committee will be grateful to the Financial Secretary for the clear way in which he has explained the provisions. At the same time, it would be right that we should not part with this Measure too hastily; it would be right to spend a few moments considering the nature of the bodies for which we are legislating.

We are legislating for a large number of societies which have a long and honourable history in the provision of a large variety of welfare benefits by a wide range of mutual subscription arrangements. These societies, one can rightly say, are woven into the skein of our social history. They had their origins in the local sick and burial clubs to provide the very poor with the resources to meet these inevitable hazards of life. They developed as mutual insurance societies to which millions of poor people subscribed for themselves and their families to cover, particularly, sickness, accident and death, and also to provide endowments and pensions for their old age. It has often been pointed out that the original Lloyd George national health insurance scheme was based on the experience of the friendly societies as they had developed throughout the nineteenth century. Indeed, the 1946 Act scheme itself can be traced back, in many of its features, to the workings of the friendly societies.

Inevitably, the nineteenth century, which saw a great growth in these societies, equally drew attention to the need for some measure of supervision to safeguard the rights of members and their interests, and to prevent scandals and abuses which, however small they may have been in number, nevertheless cast doubts on the validity of schemes of this sort. We therefore had a long succession of Acts, culminating in the Friendly Societies Act, 1896—and I can comfort the Financial Secretary by assuring him that one of the books I have with me is no more than a table of Statutes containing that Act. The 1896 Act is amended by the Bill in a way which, as the hon. and learned Gentleman pointed out, has long been sought by the bodies representing the different kinds of friendly society.

In parenthesis, I would add that perhaps the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson) will detect an echo of another piece of Victorian legislation on which he and I have recently been engaged, the Merchant Shipping Bill, It seems my fate to have to assist in the task of exchanging nineteenth century crinolines for twentieth century miniskirts.

However, long and honourable as the history of the friendly societies may be, there is no dispute, as the Financial Secretary says, that they are now facing increasing problems. Indeed, only a few years after the 1896 Act itself was placed on the Statute Book the biggest challenge of all came when the foundations of the Welfare State began to be laid in the Lloyd George Act for national insurance. Since then, of course, competition has come from many quarters and has steadily eroded the rôle which the friendly societies have to play in our society. The development of National Insurance is only one element. The National Health Service has been another. The rapid growth of occupational pension schemes is increasingly providing for old age and retirement. The development of a large variety of savings media is another challenge. There has been a huge growth of home service insurance, known to lawyers as industrial insurance, and also life insurance, together, more recently, with unit trusts, investment trusts and all manner of savings media. These have all spread into the area which in the nineteenth century was almost the monopoly stamping ground of the friendly societies. Yet they survive, and continue to provide valuable benefits and services for their members.

I spent a little time yesterday looking through the annual reports of the Registrar. They make fascinating, if somewhat melancholy, reading: fascinating because of the huge variety of schemes, societies and benefits which exist to meet the needs of the people; and melancholy because year by year the Registrar has to report a slow, inexorable decline in their membership.

Let us take first the category of friendly societies classified by the Registrar as orders and branches. I am fascinated by the names of these societies which are now well known—the Independent Order of Rechabites, Salford Unity Friendly Society, the Ancient Order of Foresters Friendly Society, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows Manchester Unity Friendly Society, and so on. There were 34 of these societies with 6,986 branches in 1968. Since 1959 membership of this group has declined by more than 30 per cent. The Registrar, in his report covering 1967, which is the latest year for which detailed figures are available, reported that the situation was that for every two memberships which ceased, one new member joined. Thus adult members declined from 1,236,000 in 1958 to 914,000 in 1967, whereas juveniles showed an even bigger decrease, 193,000 in 1958 to only 113,000 in 1967.

The same story does not necessarily apply to the societies' funds, which showed a modest increase in this 10-year period, from £67.7 million to £75.3 million, but it will not have escaped the attention of Members of the Committee that that increase will hardly, if at all, have kept pace with the declining value of money in that period.

There are 765 centralised friendly societies, of which the best known is the Hearts of Oak Benefit Society, and which include what is now called the Original Holloway Society, following the amalgamation of the Gloucester and West of England Holloway Society and the Stroud Holloway Original Society. Mr. Richard Holloway in the nineteenth century established the scheme whereby contributions increased annually from the age of 30 onwards so that the increasing demands made on the society by the elderly could be met year by year from the subscriptions which came in. In this group the membership in 1958 was 4.4 million adults. In 1967 it had fallen to 3.9 million. Juveniles declined from 284,000 to 154,000.

Yet, if we take the whole of the group for which we are legislating—the orders and branches, the centralised societies, and the other groups which cover working men's clubs, and so on—the total assets are still very substantial by any standard. The total assets of the collecting societies, perhaps the biggest group of all. at the end of 1968 amounted to £451 million; of the orders and branches and the centralised friendly societies, £312 million; and, of the registered working men's clubs, £25 million.

The Committee will appreciate that here we are dealing with a significant sector of the savings and insurance market, and it is, therefore, important that the regulating legislation should fit the conditions of the 1970s. Yet in recent years voices have been raised questioning the continuing value of the friendly society movement. Four years ago the City Editor of the Sunday Telegraph wrote an article in the Sunday Telegraph under the title, " Should the Friendly Societies survive? " I will quote only one paragraph from what Mr. Kenneth Fleet said: The friendly society movement is being strangled, slowly but surely. The question is whether any useful purpose is served not merely by saving its life but by giving it new zest and enabling it to grow. I answer Mr. Fleet's question with a resounding " Yes ". It seems to me that not only should they survive but that they should be given every possible encouragement to survive.

Yet the only occasion when we have considered the friendly societies in any detail in the House of Commons for the last four years—the Financial Secretary may remember this, although he was at the Home Office at the time—was when the Government introduced legislation, in the Finance Act, 1966, to curb what seemed to be a promising new channel of growth for the friendly societies. They regarded the incursion of such bodies as M. arid G. Family Bonds as a tax avoidance device. One is bound to compare the swiftness with which Ministers stepped in to block what they regarded as an abuse of privileges, with the six years it has taken, from the time when the societies put their memoradum to the Treasury in 1964, to respond to the plea for changes in the law to make it easier for the societies to survive, to rationalise, to merge, to amalgamate or even to dissolve. It took six weeks to block a tax loophole; it has taken six years to provide the means of survival, and that is not a very happy record.

If I were asked to justify my resounding " Yes " in reply to Mr. Kenneth's Fleet's question I would give four reasons.

The societies, undoubtedly, are still meeting a widely felt, if changing, need. It is interesting to compare the kind of provision for which subscriptions are increasing to those, the majority, for which they are decreasing. On page 7 of the Registrar's latest annual report there is an interesting table showing the loss or gain of membership of different classes of society. The sickness benefit societies all show a substantial decline over the nine years from 1959 to 1968. The deposit societies are down 23 per cent., the accumulating sickness benefit societies are down 25½ per cent., the death benefit societies are down 29 per cent., the pension societies are down 30 per cent., and so on. These are all matters which have been taken over by other forms of provision. But it is not unrelieved gloom. Institutional treatment societies are up 15 per cent. This means that people are recognising that there are still long queues to get into old people's homes, and that it is worth while to contribute a shilling or two a week during one's working life to a society which undertakes to look after one when one becomes old. The other group which has shown an increase is the endowment societies. Increasingly people feel that when they retire they should have behind them a cushion to protect them against the totally unforeseen disaster. My first argument is that there is a need which is still being met.

Secondly, from the national point of view, the societies perform a useful rôle in the support they give to the gilt-edged market, and make the Government's task of managing the market very much easier than it would be otherwise. The orders and branches invest almost 25 per cent. of their funds in Government, Government-guaranteed and local authority securities. The centralised societies, the Hearts of Oak and so on, invest 43 per cent. This, therefore, represents an important non-bank, long-term sector of the gilts market. This point was well made by Kenneth Fleet: I believe any organisation that encourages savings, let alone any organisation that has supported the gilt-edged market through thick and thin (mostly thin since 1945) ought not to be lightly abandoned. I heartily agree.

Thirdly, the societies represent a socially valuable element of self-help and of mutual help to supplement and enrich the provisions of the Welfare State. For the more sophisticated people in our society there are many ways of insuring against the hazards of life, many avenues of investment and savings, but for those who fight shy of direct investment, and who lack the know-how to explore the insurance market, the friendly societies represent a valuable manifestation of a wholly laudable ambition to make for the future provision over and above the basic level of provision in the State schemes, and, at the same time, they represent a uniquely worth-while form of mutual assistance in time of need.

I cannot do better than to quote a paragraph of a speech made by the Financial Secretary's predecessor, the hon. and learned Member for Derby, North (Mr. MacDermot), in the debate on the 1966 Finance Bill: … it still remains true in what I call genuine friendly societies and old-established societies that there still remains a relationship which enables the society to assist its members in cases of hardship and encourages members to look to it for advice, sympathy and practical help when they are in difficulties. Many of them still have distress funds and benevolent funds for cases of need or for the relief of widows or orphans."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st June, 1966; Vol. 730, c. 486.] I emphasise that this is not a charity; it is self-help within the community, an element of real compassion, which, if it were to wither away and die, would leave the nation infinitely the poorer.

Those are the reasons for which I support the continuance and encouragement of friendly societies and very much welcome the Bill. I am sure the Committee will agree that the case made for the Bill by the Financial Secretary was a strong one, especially his case about the growing expense ratios which the societies are having to meet by amalgamations and mergers.

The Financial Secretary was, perhaps, a little shy in telling the Committee 'that one of the major elements of the increase in the expenses of the societies has been selective employment tax. The figures of management expenses of the collecting societies are given on page 12 in the latest report of the Industrial Insurance Commissioner. They are expressed as a percentage of premium income, including S.E.T. and excluding S.E.T. One has to bear in mind that the figures given were after only one increase of S.E.T. The second increase made last year has not been included.

For a big society like the Liverpool Victoria in 1968 the increase in expenses ratio was from 37.7 to 39.1, taking in S.E.T., an increase of nearly 1½ percentage points. The City of Glasgow figure is from 43.4 to 45.3, nearly 2 percentage points. These increases are due entirely to the impact of S.E.T. on bodies whose only function is to channel people's savings into mutual and self-help benefit schemes.

The Registrar groups collecting societies into three groups: A includes the big ones, B the majority of the ones of substance, and C the large number of tiny collecting societies, where the expense ratio is the horrifying figure, excluding S.E.T., of 96.2, and including S.E.T., 96.4. S.E.T. does not press so hardly on the tiny ones, but these small societies cannot afford to go on with an expenses ratio amounting to more than 19s. in the pound of their premium income.

One interesting thing about the proposal which may well be made to exchange S.E.T. for value-added tax is that V.A.T. is not charged on any form of life insurance or mutual benefit scheme. All the experience on the Continent points to the desirability of eliminating life insurance from the tax. Insurance societies can, therefore, look forward to a change eliminating S.E.T. and substituting V.A.T. with a consequent reduction of their expenses in the form of taxation.

The Financial Secretary is right. The expense ratios are high, and the measures in the Bill will help small societies to merge and to overcome the disadvantages. The only pity is that they have had to wait so long for the changes which they have been seeking. Yet it would be churlish not to welcome the Bill now it is here. We welcome the provision for abolishing the procedural hurdles, for amending the law relating to special resolutions to ease the amalgamation of societies. We welcome the sensible arrangements to enable members and beneficiaries to complain if they feel that their interests are being prejudiced as a result of changes in the structure. We welcome the new provisions for group insurance business, in particular the amendment introduced in response to pressure from Lord Drumalbyn in another place to make the limits imposed by the Eighth Schedule to the Finance Act, 1966, apply separately to group insurance business, employers' pension schemes, and to other business. We also welcome the opportunity given by the Bill in its host of minor Amendments to provide for consolidation of the law on friendly societies.

I have a number of questions to put to the Financial Secretary. The first refers to Clause 6 in which there is a proposal to charge fees to certain categories of society which hitherto have been exempt. The societies are entitled to know what level of fees the Government have in mind. Will there be consultations with the representative bodies before an order is introduced fixing the level of fees? What is the policy of the Government about the fee-raising power of the Registrar? Is it intended that the Registrar should become self-supporting, as the Government have recently decided that the Comptroller-General of Patents and the Patent Office should become self-supporting?

I would draw attention to the latest Supply Estimates, in which the Friendly Societies Registry is dealt with in Class X. That shows at present an Estimate of £213,000, with appropriations-in-aid reducing the figure by only £13,000, leaving a net total of £200,000 for the current financial year. By the time they include all overheads charged to other Estimates, there is another £100,000 to be added. To what extent do the Government intend to reduce the net Estimate by the increase in the fees payable for registration, and so on?

I should like to refer to what was said in another place when my noble Friend Lord Drumalbyn on 5th March asked the Government: What is the purpose of the fees. Is it to cover expenses of the Registrar in toto, or partly; or what is the purpose? The noble Lord, Lord Bowles, in reply said: My Lords, I do not know their purpose. It may be a form of taxation; I do not know. Perhaps it is about time the Registrar's office obtained a little more money."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 5th March, 1970; Vol. 308, c. 518–9.] That was the only answer he received. I hope that the Financial Secretary, with his greater knowledge of Treasury matters than the noble Lord, Lord Bowles, will be able to give a clearer answer today.

My second question relates to the limits established by the Eighth Schedule to the Finance Act, 1966. That relates to £500 for tax exempt life and endowment business, £104 a year for annuity tax exempt business, £2,000 for life and endowment non-tax exempt business, £3,000 on mortgage protection, and £208 for tax exempt annuity business. These limits were fixed in 1966. Since then there have been four years of inflation, and money values have been substantially eroded. I am told that the equivalent today of £2,000 in purchasing power is £2,250, and the equivalent of £3,000 is £3,525. When one remembers that the latter is the mortgage protection figure and that the value of property has risen substantially faster than the cost of living, the figures are sadly out of date. The Registrar has power by that Schedule by order to increase the limit of non-tax exempt business, though it would need legislation to increase the tax exempt figure. Have the Government any proposals to increase these figures to help the societies to continue to do what they were intended to do in 1966?

My third question relates to Clause 11(6), by which the Bill is not to come into force on reaching the Statute Book but on a day appointed by the Treasury. The Treasury has taken power to appoint different dates for different purposes. What have the Government in mind on this matter?

Finally, as I have said, the Bill is a precursor to consolidating legislation. When can we expect consolidation of the Statutes to be brought forward? There are a number of other detailed points I could raise, but, no doubt, they can be explored in detail in Committee, when, I hope, the Government will be prepared to accept reasonable Amendments. I have not had as long as I would have liked to have had to study the Bill, since my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page), who is in hospital on the other side of the river, and who has vastly greater knowledge of this matter than I, was appointed to this Committee to deal with the Bill. However, I hope that what I have said will satisfy the Committee that I have had long enough to study the Bill's contents to recommend hon. Members to give the Bill a Second Reading.

11.6 a.m.

Mr. Adam Hunter (Dunfermline Burghs)

I should like to say a few words about the Bill. I represent a Scottish constituency, and one of the largest Scottish friendly societies has written to me pointing out that it welcomes the Bill. It also provided an historical background to the friendly societies movement, but I will not go into it in detail since the hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Patrick Jenkin) has already given the Committee the historical picture.

It should be remembered that this movement stemmed from the working classes way back in the middle of the nineteenth century. It was originally set up to provide for burial and sickness benefits. These bodies were created by groups of working men to provide relief for members suffering hardship as a result of sickness, or to provide for dependants or widows. They were voluntary organisations, and the benefits, although small, assisted at a time when no provision was made by the State, and when paupers' funerals were quite common. As the Industrial Revolution proceeded the membership of these organisations increased. It then became necessary to establish a more elaborate organisation through which a man could travel from town to town in search of work without losing touch with the fund in which his contributions were deposited. Friendly societies became nationwide in their activities. Basically, they continued to cater principally for the artisan and labouring classes.

I have no experience of the administration of the friendly societies, but I have been a member of one in Scotland called the Rechabites, which was a temperance society. This society carried out an important function, and was a social organisation which provided entertainment and pastimes during a period when people did not have as much entertainment laid on as they do today. There were also youth sections in the society, and I am sure that many of the younger people were grateful for the work of the Rechabite movement at that time.

The hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford mentioned a number of friendly societies, but omitted two. We had one entitled the Loyal Order of Ancient Shepherds and another called The Ancient Order of Free Gardeners, which I believe still exists. I remember my chums going down to the collector of the Free Gardeners to pay their dues for the week. I was impressed by my visits, which are outstanding in my memory.

The friendly society movement has carried out an important function in the lives of working people over the past hundred years. I am sorry indeed to see a decline in their activities. The hon. Gentleman asked whether they should survive. I, personally, feel that they should survive.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin: Hear, hear.

Mr. Hunter

I feel that it will be difficult for them in future particularly because we have the National Superannuation and Social Insurance Bill whose provisions will be operative by 1972 and will make it more difficult for the friendly society movement.

I should like to ask my hon. and learned Friend a question on Clause 4, which requires three-quarters of the membership to agree to any amalgamation or merger. I feel that, owing to the present apathy among members of the friendly society movement, that figure of three-quarters is far too large. I fear that it would be difficult to advertise and to get in touch with enough members to produce that figure in relation to an amalgamation or merger. I should like to see it reduced.

Mr. R. W. Brown (Shoreditch and Finsbury)

If my hon. Friend looks at Clause 4(1)(b), he will see that it says …not less than three-quarters of the delegates who vote at the meeting. Therefore, the number of persons who attend are delegates for the whole number. It is three-quarters of those voting. If that is the case, it would appear that my hon. Friend's fears are not well founded—as though there had to be three-quarters of the poll of the whole membership.

Mr. Hunter

I thank my hon. Friend for drawing attention to that provision. I must have misread the Clause. I accept what he says, and I hope, therefore, that it will be possible to get three-quarters of the membership at the meeting.

I conclude by saying that Clause 7, which deals with group insurance, is an important provision for the friendly societies' movement and will give it added scope. I know that the assurance societies feel that this is an important matter for them and I wish them success in this matter.

I welcome the Bill, and sincerely hope that it will reach the Statute Book.

11.14 a.m.

Mr. Taverne

I should like to thank the hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Patrick Jenkin) and my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline Burghs (Mr. Adam Hunter) for the welcome they have given to the Bill and the tributes they have paid the friendly societies. I was also grateful for the careful review given by the hon. Gentleman of the history of the friendly societies, which was appreciated by the Committee. We were also assisted by the background information provided by my hon. Friend.

There is one point about the history of recent legislation on which I should like to take the hon. Gentleman to task. I feel he was being a little unfair when he contrasted the six weeks it took to stop a loophole and the six years it took to implement the memorandum. This is not quite correct. Some tax avoidance was practised by a very small number of societies. This was corrected by the Finance Act, 1966, and that Act also extended the societies' powers of insurance. Again, there was the Friendly Societies Act, 1968, which modernised the provision about the keeping and auditing of accounts of societies. This was an important reform which was very much welcomed by the friendly societies. Therefore, while I do not wish to say that one would not have liked to have introduced this reform earlier, it is not true to say that nothing has been done to help them since the 1964 memorandum was first presented.

A number of questions have been put to me. I think that the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline Burghs was answered by my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. R. W. Brown). I am, therefore, left with a number of questions put by the hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford.

The hon. Gentleman's first question related to Clause 6. I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman exactly what fees we have in mind, but the aim is that the level of fees will be brought roughly into line with comparable fees paid by other societies, by which I mean the industrial and provident societies, building societies, and so on. The hon. Gentleman asked whether we would give a clear undertaking to consult the representative bodies before any regulations on fees are made. The answer is, " Yes, we certainly will ".

The hon. Gentleman asked whether it was intended that the Registry should be self-supporting. The answer is " No ". It has never been the intention that the Registry should be self-supporting, and it is not the intention now, either. There always has been, and there will continue to be, a major element of public service involved, and the part which fees play in this is very small—indeed, only about one-tenth of the total costs.

The hon. Gentleman then asked about the raising of the limits for the taxable business under Clause 7. So far no representations have been made to the Registrar or to the Government about an increase in these limits, but we shall consider any representations made by the societies, and when they make them the question of raising the limit will arise.

Lastly, the hon. Gentleman asked about Clause 11, and why it was that there are provisions for different dates to be appointed for implementation of different parts of the Bill. It is necessary to provide for the commencement of the Bill in this way because there is in the Bill a mixture of provisions, some of which require the promulgation of regulations. Most of them will, in varying degrees, require a revision of registration practice which will need to be published in advance to the societies affected, but it is hoped that the main provisions of the Bill will be brought into operation on 1st January, 1970. I hope that that meets the hon. Gentleman's point.

I cannot help the hon. Gentleman about the date of consolidating legislation.

I hope that I have answered the specific questions put to me, except the last one, and that the Committee will confirm the opinion which it has expressed by welcoming the Second Reading of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.


That the Chairman do now report to the House that the Committee recommend that the Friendly Societies Bill [Lords] be read a Second time.

Mr. Taverne

Mr. Robertson, may I thank you for presiding over a very amicable discussion? It has been a pleasure for you to have sat there, for us to have had the minimum of interference, and for you to have had no difficulty in controlling the rude deliberations of this body. We much appreciate your presiding over our Committee.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

Mr. Robertson, I endorse everything said by the Financial Secretary. In view of the point of order

Robertson, Mr. John (Chairman) Houghton, Mr.
Bagier, Mr. Hunter, Mr. Adam
Bell, Mr. Ronald Jenkin, Mr. Patrick
Brown, Sir E. Johnson, Mr. James
Brown, Mr. R. W. Lyons, Mr. Edward
Cooke, Mr. Robert MacColl, Mr.
Evans, Mr. Ioan L. Taverne, Mr.
Grieve, Mr.

which I raised at the beginning of our proceedings, I may now tell the Committee that within two minutes of my having raised it the list of Committee Members was put into my hand. I am most grateful. Thank you very much.

The Chairman

I should like to thank hon. Members for the way they have made very pleasant the performance of my duty this morning.

Committee rose at nineteen minutes past Eleven o'clock.