HL Deb 24 July 1849 vol 107 cc878-80

The DUKE of WELLINGTON moved the Second Reading of the Regimental Benefit Societies Bill These societies were originally established in the Army under the authority of the Benefit Societies Act of the 33rd of George III., with the provisions of which their Lordships were doubtless acquainted. The inconvenience of them had long been felt. Their existence was found to be inconsistent with the usual discipline and the constitutional existence of the Army, because in each of the regiments meetings were held for the purpose of discussing the interests of each of their particular benefit clubs. Circumstances had occurred in almost every regiment which were very inconvenient, and also discussions and disputes over which no control could be exercised on the part of the authorities. Under these circumstances, to his personal knowledge, it had been the desire of the officers at the head of the Army for a long period to put an end to the existence of these societies. His respected predecessor in the office of Commander in Chief, His Royal Highness the Duke of York, made an effort to put an end to their existence in the year 1826. Efforts had also boon made by himself and his late valued friend. Lord Hill, but in vain. The Act to which he had already referred, and under which these societies were constituted, was so well drawn, and its provisions were so strong, that it was found impossible to extinguish any one of them. Under these circumstances, at a later period, about twenty years ago, when it was thought desirable and even necessary to extinguish one of these societies in the Royal Regiment of the Horse Guards Blue, it was found necessary to apply to prliament, and an Act was passed to put an end to a provident and benefit society in that regiment. The inconveience of the existence of such societies in many regiments of the Army had been admitted ever since; and it had now become absolutely necessary to apply to Parliament for power to extinguish them—an object which it was proposed to accomplish by the appointment of a commission by Bill to adjust the accounts of each—to ascertain the claims existing upon each society, whether in the form of pensions acquired on retirement from the service, or of claims not yet complete, but existing for the advantage of persons still serving in the Army, and becoming complete on their retirement from the Army—and to make provision first for those who were already entitled to pensions, and afterwards for the distribution of the funds according to the principle contained in the Act of William IV. for the extinction of the benefit society in the Royal Regiment of Horse Guards Blue. Such were the objects of the Bill in relation to the regimental benefit societies. But the Bill related not only to those societies but to large funds in possession of different regiments of the Army, accumulated for certain objects by the commanding officer or other officers of the regiment. The existence of all these funds gave rise to discussions over which there was no control; and it was thought desirable that they should be placed upon some known principle, in the exercise of which full knowledge could be obtained of the proceedings of those charities, so as to give satisfaction to all. He believed that the commanding officers of regiments had done their duty in the administration of those charities; but no doubt complaints had been made of the malversation and misapplication of their funds; and, therefore, it was desirable that the authorities should have a knowledge of what was going on, and should be enabled, so far as control was required, to decide upon all matters in dispute. The commission named in the Bill was to consist of one Secretary of the Treasury, to be named by the Lords of the Treasury, of the Secretary at War, and of the Military Secretary to the general officer filling the position of the Commander in Chief. These were all parties generally interested in the management of the Army. He entertained no doubt that, according to the principle of this Bill, all those affairs would be so managed as to be for the advantage and satisfaction of the Army, and for the better maintenance and preservation of discipline. He, therefore, again asked their Lordships to give the Bill a second reading, and to allow him to name an early day for the Committee, Bill road 2a.

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