HL Deb 20 June 1867 vol 188 cc125-9

, in moving for Returns relating to members of Friendly Societies, said, there were four classes of these societies. The first were societies established for the purpose of providing assistance for the members in time of sickness, and payment of certain sums on their death. These societies were generally established for local purposes, were managed by persons living in the district, and, as a rule, were very well managed. But as, under the last Act relating to Friendly Societies, there was no legal obligation that the rules of these kinds of societies should be properly certified, he thought that an amendment wag required in that respect; and he also thought that some more practical arrangement for the settlement of disputes was required. The next class presented several of the advantages of the first class, but it contained a number of members who were merely depositors. This class of societies were not even obliged to keep their accounts separate—a state of things in which it was impossible for any society to be sound; but, upon merely depositing their rules, were entitled to claim the advantages of the 44th section, and were invested with the privilege of sueing and being sued. He did not object to their having this privilege, but he thought it most objectionable that any society should receive recognition from the Registrar of Friendly Societies unless its accounts were returned and kept in such a manner as afforded a guarantee for its soundness. There was a third class of societies which he thought the Legislature ought to do everything in its power to discourage—he meant the large burial societies established in the large towns such as Liverpool and Manchester, which sometimes consisted of 150,000 to 200,000 members. These societies conducted their business by means of collectors and agents employed to collect subscriptions in different localities throughout the country. In this way the expenses of management were swollen to 25 or 50 per cent, and members residing in the more distant localities frequently found themselves without any possibility of redress as against the central society. Collectors and agents, he thought, ought in such cases to be held responsible to those whom they induced to join; and, remembering the public statement made some years ago by Mr. Gladstone, calling attention to this subject, it was surprising that some legislation on the subject had not taken place. A fourth class, who, on depositing their rules, were entitled to the protection provided by the Act, were those trade societies which were connected with trades unions. Without going into the question of the legality or illegality of any of the rules of these societies, he thought it would be clear to their Lordships that the proper time to ascertain whether the rules were or were not legal was before they were deposited with the Registrar General. If before the rules of these societies received the recognition of the Registrar General they were certified by some competent authority as legal or illegal great advantage would result, and many cases, such as had been brought before the Law Courts, in which the rules were declared to be illegal, would have been prevented. The noble Earl, in conclusion, stated that he had given close attention to this subject, and that it was his full intention to lay a Bill on the table of the House. The Returns, however, for which he asked, in the first instance, would have the effect, when produced, of calling public attention to the subject, and rendering apparent the necessity for legislation.

Return of the Number of Paupers in each Union Workhouse who have been Members of Friendly Societies which have been dissolved or broken up: And also,

Return of the Number of Friendly Societies in each County in England and Whiles enrolled and certified since June 1793 (33 Geo. 3. c. 54.) to 31st May 1867; and also of the Number of such Societies which have been dissolved or broken up.—(The Earl of Lichfield.)


said, that having taken an active interest in the change which was made in 1827, he would venture to suggest that his noble Friend should not carry back the scope of his inquiry to 1793, but should begin with 1827, at which period the Registrars of Friendly Societies were first appointed. As to the contemplated inquiry in the union workhouses, he had no objection to offer, but he did not think his noble Friend was likely to gain in those establishments much useful information concerning the state of friendly societies. In 1827 the question was very carefully considered whether it was possible to have tables framed so accurately that the Registrar might certify the tables as well as the rules; but it was found that it would be most unsafe to give Parliamentary sanction to any tables of this description. The difference in the value of life in large towns and in the rural districts was immense, and calculations respecting friendly societies must be based on the minimum number of contributing members. It should be remembered that the Carlisle and the Northampton tables differed considerably, and both varied from tables constructed subsequently. In fact, no tables could be framed that would be applicable to friendly societies generally. The noble Earl desired to have rules so framed that no question upon them could afterwards arise in a Court of Law; but hitherto it had been found impossible to frame any rules or laws upon which litigation did not afterwards arise, and he feared that in aiming at too much the noble Earl might defeat his own object. It was impossible that any subject more important to the comfort and welfare of the lowest classes could be taken up; and if the noble Earl needed any assistance he should be happy to afford him the benefit of any information or experience which he himself had acquired with regard to this question during the last forty years.


said, he had understood that Mr. Tidd Pratt had said that out of 25,000 friendly societies that had come before him, he could not satisfy himself of the soundness of twenty.


said, there was no objection to furnishing the Returns referred to in the first part of the Motion, and he would endeavour to secure that the information was supplied as fully as possible. The latter part of the Motion referred to a department with which he was not connected.


believed there would be no difficulty in obtaining the Returns as far back as 1793, for although the whole of the Returns necessary were not in the hands of the Registrars, they were in existence. With regard to the proposal to frame tables, he did not believe any actuary in London would be able to frame a rate of payment for a place with which he was not well acquainted. The noble Lord (Lord Portman) had said that it would not be desirable to lay down rules for all cases indiscriminately; but it seemed to him (the Earl of Lichfield) that arbitration was so good a thing that a rule now in force in some societies, requiring that cases of dispute should be settled by the arbitration of certain persons neither directly nor indirectly interested in the funds of the society, might be insisted on as security for the members.


said, that under present circumstances there was nothing members of friendly societies objected to so much as arbitration, because, although arbitrators might be appointed, they could not be made to act. Courts of Law were open to all, and if arbitration were to be really serviceable some provision should be made compelling the arbitrators to act when required.

Motion agreed to: Returns ordered to be laid before the House.