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Friendly Societies

Volume 202: debated on Friday 8 July 1870

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, who had given Notice of an Amendment on the Motion for going into Committee—

"That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that She will be graciously pleased to issue a Royal Commission to inquire into the existing state of the Law relating to Friendly Societies,"
said, that as under the vote just come to be should not be in Order in making his Motion, he would, to put himself in Order, conclude what he had to say with a Motion for the adjournment of the House. Last Session, when he had asked the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government whether Her Majesty's Government were prepared to legislate upon the subject, the right hon. Gentleman had offered to agree to the appointment of a Select Committee if he would move for it. It was, however, felt by those interested in this subject that nothing short of a Royal Commission would answer the purpose. He need scarcely remind the House that the interests concerned were very large. About a fourth of the whole population of the country were interested directly or indirectly in the question. The Odd Fellows and Foresters alone numbered somewhere about 800,000 members, and had surplus funds amounting to something like £4,000,000; the whole of the friendly societies in this country possessing a capital of from £15,000,000 to £20,000,000. They had been informed by the responsible officer of the Government, the late Mr. Tidd Pratt, that legislation would be most desirable to enable such societies to be properly conducted, and it was also admitted by the Secretary of State for the Home Department. The only objection of any weight that had yet been urged against the appointment of a Royal Commission was one of expense; but that objection was more than counterbalanced by the magnitude of the interests involved, and the importance of the inquiry to those concerned. Irrespective of the lavish expenditure of these societies, there were allegations that the receipts were not expended for the purposes which were mentioned to the members at the time they entered, and it was not unusual on a death occurring, when £1 or £1 5s. ought to be paid, for the claimants to be put off with. 10s. or 15s., on the ground that the member was out' of benefit at the time of his decease. In addition to the societies he had enumerated there were certain clerical societies, which were managed to a great extent by clergymen, and he was happy to bear testimony to the fairness and liberality with which many of them were conducted. Indeed, the managers acted on the only sound principle which could be adopted, and insisted upon periodical valuations, which was an operation similar to stock-taking by a tradesman. An inquiry was necessary not only for the sake of the societies; but in order to ascertain whether the Government itself had done its duty towards them. It was well known, for instance that under 18 & 19 Vict. it was obligatory on the Registrar of Friendly Societies to tabulate the returns of mortality and sickness every five years; but since 1850 no such tabulation had been made, and the friendly societies complained of it as a grievance that the Returns which they were at great expense to obtain remained altogether untabulated. One large society—the Liver Society of Liverpool—thought legislation necessary, and they even prepared a Bill last Session, which, however, was not brought forward. The directors of that society would prefer an inquiry by a Select Committee, but they said that so many remarks had been made on friendly societies in general, and burial societies in particular, that they would offer no opposition to the appointment of a Royal Commission. As, however, it was not unlikely that a great many discharged servants might make statements injurious to the society, they wished to be represented by counsel in order that the evidence might be thoroughly sifted. The hon. Member, having made the Motion for the adjournment of the House, said, that having done so to place himself formally in Order he would now withdraw it.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

said, in order to afford the hon. Member an opportunity of bringing forward the Motion he had placed on the Paper, he would move that the House should immediately resolve itself into Committee of Supply.

Resolved, That this House will immediately resolve itself into the Committee of Supply.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."

MR. E. M. RICHARDS moved—

"That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that She will be graciously pleased to issue a Royal Commission to inquire into the existing state of the Law relating to Friendly Societies."

said, the Registrar of Friendly Societies had stated that out of some 23,000 or 25,000 of them hardly 20 were solvent. After such a statement everyone must admit that the Legislature ought to interfere. He might also mention that out of the 32,000 in-door paupers upwards of 4,000 had been members of friendly societies, which ought to have provided for them instead of allowing them to go on the parish. They had established the Post Office Savings Banks in order to give a Government guarantee to the industrial classes that their savings would be secure, and why, then, should not the State incur the trouble and expense of a Royal Commission with a view to show the poorer classes how they might invest their earnings and obtain a certain amount of independence in their old age? He had great pleasure in seconding the Motion.

Amendment proposed,

To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that She will be graciously pleased to issue a Royal Commission to inquire into the existing state of the Law relating to Friendly Societies,"—(Mr. Evan Richards,)

—instead thereof.

said, on the part of the Government, he assented to the Motion. It was impossible, after reading what had been written on this subject by those who had looked very closely into it, not to admit that it required consideration, while there was a general concurrence of opinion that inquiry must precede legislation.

said, though friendly societies had done a great deal of good, he thought it was high time the law, on the subject—was amended. It was matter for congratulation that the Odd Fellows and the Foresters were both advocating inquiry.

said, he desired to express his satisfaction at the assent of the Home Secretary to the Motion.

said, he would suggest that benefit building societies should be embraced in any inquiry.

said, he presumed the inquiry would extend to all registered benefit societies, as they were included in the Friendly Societies Act.

said, he thought that was a mistake; but as such a vast number of the working classes belonged to building societies, it was well worthy of consideration, whether they should not be included.

Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," put, and negatived.

Words added.

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Resolved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that She will be graciously pleased to issue a Royal Commission to o inquire into the existing state of the Law relating to Friendly Societies.—(Mr. Evan Richards?)

Drainage Of Lands (Ireland) Provisional Order Confirmation Bill

On Motion of Mr. WILLIAM HENRY GLADSTONE, Bill to confirm a Provisional Order under "The Drainage of Lands (Ireland) Act, 1863," and the Acts amending the same, ordered to be brought in by Mr. WILLIAM HENRY GLADSTONE and Mr. STANSFELD.

Bill presented, and read the first time. [Bill 205.]

Inclosure Bill

On Motion of Mr. KNATCHBULL-HUGESSEN, Bill to authorise the Inclosure of certain Lands, in pursuance of a Report of the Inclosure Commissioners for England and Wales, ordered to be brought in by Mr. KNATCHBULL-HUGESSEN and Mr. Secretary BRUCE.

Bill presented, and read the first time. [Bill 206.]

House adjourned at a quarter after One o'clock, till Monday next.