A History of Friendly Society Law in the British Islands.

[extract pp379/384 R Cambell Rechabite History: A Record of the Origin, Rise and Progress of the Independent Order of Rechabites Manchester IOR 1911]

In 1793 an Act (33, Geo. III., c. 54) was passed "for the encouragement and Relief of Friendly Societies," and authorised them to make proper and wholesome Rules not repugnant to the laws of the Realm. Such Rules were to be exhibited in writing to the justices in quarter sessions, and when confirmed by them were to be signed by the Clerk of the Peace, and a duplicate in parchment was to be filed with the rolls of the sessions.

This Act recited " That the protection and encouragement of Friendly Societies in this Kingdom for securing by voluntary subscriptions of the members thereof separate Funds for the mutual relief and maintenance of the members in sickness, old age, and infirmity, is likely to be attended with very beneficial effects by promoting the happiness of individuals and at the same time diminishing the public burdens."

This last sentence shows clearly that the promoters of this Act were endeavouring to save themselves the cost of maintaining the sick and aged poor by means of the Poor Law by allowing the said poor to raise the cost themselves.

This Act provided for the exemption from fees on enrolment and from stamp duty. It provided power to recover funds from defaulting officers and priority of claim for moneys of the society on the assets of any deceased or bankrupt officer, also power to take proceedings in the names of the officers, power to determine disputes without appeal, and exemption of members from removal under the Poor Law until they become actually chargeable to the parish.

In 1795 the aforementioned Act was amended to include benevolent and charitable institutions (35, Geo. III., c. 111).

In 1809 another amendment (49, Geo. III., c. 125) gave power to justices to enforce the observance of the Rules and to compel payment of arrears due to a society.

In 1819 another amendment (59, C-co. III., c. 128) was passed, and this Act recited "the habitual reliance of poor persons upon parochial relief rather than upon their own industry tends to the moral deterioration of the people and to the accumulation of heavy burdens upon parishes, and it is desirable, with a view as well to the reduction of the assessment made for the relief of the poor as to the improvement of the habits of the people, that encouragement should be afforded to persons desirous of making provision for themselves or their families out of the fruits of their own industry."

In 1829 the Act was reconstructed (10, C-co. IV., c. 56) which repealed all the previous Acts, but still the matters were largely in the hands ‘of the local justices. A registration fee of one guinea was to be charged, and as a preliminary to such confirmation and enrolment by the justices the certificate of a barrister, appointed for the purpose, "that the Rules were in conformity to law and to the provisions of this Act." The barrister appointed was Mr. John Tidd Pratt, who held that office for many years.

In 1834, at Tolpiddle, near Warehem, in the County of Dorset, six labouring men were arrested for being connected with the "Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers." They were charged with illegally administering oaths, because in the initiation of new members some form of ceremony was gone through. These men were charged at the Dorchester Assizes on March 18th, 1834, convicted and condemned to seven years’ transportation. By the 15th of the next month they were well on their way to Botany Bay. These men were respectable and well-conducted. Two of them were local preachers among the Methodists, and the others were reputed to belong to that same body. The whole country was roused in favour of these men. A huge demonstration attended by 30,000 people was held in London, and as the Government did not give way the agitation was kept alive by the London-Dorchester Committee. In 1836, however, the remainder of their sentences were remitted, they were brought home at the expense of the Government, had a triumphal progress through the streets of London, and were finally settled on small farms in Essex by means of subscriptions raised by the working classes.

In 1834 the provision requiring the justices to be satisfied that the tables proposed to be used were safe before they allowed and confirmed the Rules were repealed by the Act (4 and 5, Will. IV., c. 40). Thenceforth societies were to be free to establish themselves upon what conditions and with what rates they choose provided only they could satisfy the barrister that the Rules were "calculated to carry into effect the intention of the parties framing them" and were "in conformity to law."

In 1840 an Act (3 and 4, Vict., c. 73) was considered necessary to restrict the privileges of exemption from stamp duty and of investment with the National Debt Commissioners to such societies only as did not grant assurances exceeding £200.

From the foregoing it will easily be seen that there was no law suitable for the registration of any national Friendly Society with branches that would permit the central body of such a society to have control over the actions of its branches. The law as it stood at this period was drawn solely for local societies such as were usually controlled by the village Parson and the Squire, and operated for their benefit as much as for the members themselves.

In 1842 the Rechabite Order at the Movable Conference held at Edinburgh appointed a committee for the purpose of eadeavouring to obtain an Act of Parliament for the incorporation of the Order. The committee held their first meeting in Edinburgh on July 26th, 1842, when it was resolved that the preparation of the Bill should be confided to Messrs. Bolton, Merriman, and Dunning, solicitors, of Austin Friars, London, and that Mr. John Robertson, solicitor, St. Andrew Square, Edinburgh be consulted on those parts of the Bill relating to the Scottish Courts of Judicature, and soon thereafter a revised copy of the General Rules was prepared and forwarded to the London solicitors as the basis on which the proposed Bill was to be constructed.

In November, 1842, the usual notices required by the Standing Orders of the House of Commons of intended application for private Bills were published by our solicitors in the Government Gazettes of London, Edinburgh, and Dublin, and early in December a draft of the Bill was forwarded to the Conference Committee for their consideration, when a meeting was held at the Head Office in Manchester on December 14th, when the draft was discussed and approved of.

The Committee then directed their attention to the task of getting two M.P.’s to endorse the Bill and conduct it through the House of Commons and were fortunate in securing the zealous co-operation of Joseph Brotherton, Esq., M.P. for Salford (the first teetotaller in the House of Commons), and Viscount Duncan, M.P. for Bath, who did their very best for the promotion of the measure.

The petition for leave to bring in the Bill was presented to the House by Mr. Brotherton on February 23rd, 1843, and leave having been given, the measure was introduced and read a first time on March 3rd following. A printed copy of the Bill was then sent to every Tent in the Order and the favourable manner in which it was received determined the Committee to relax no efforts on their part to obtain for it the sanction of the legislature.

Soon afterwards, to their astonishment, they received intimation that Lord Shaftesbury, Chairman of Committees on Private Bills in the House of Lords, had expressed a determination to oppose the Bill should it ever reach that House, so that Lord Duncan and Mr. Brotherton desired the Committee to meet them in London to confer on the best means of promoting the success of the undertaking. They accordingly met on March 21st, those present being Lord Duncan, Mr. Brotherton, Mr. Hayward, Mr. Merriman, and the Committee, and after deliberation it was considered advisable to go on with the Bill without delay, hoping that Lord Shaftesbury would be induced to withdraw his opposition.

The Bill was read a second time on March 27th and ordered to be committed after the Easter recess. Shortly after this it came to the knowledge of the Committee, for the first time, that the Government intended to oppose the further progress of the measure. This intimation was sent to the Committee by Lord Duncan, who stated that he had been informed by Mr. Manners Sutton, M.P. for Cambridge and Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, that if he had been in the House during the second reading he should have opposed the Bill, and that the Government intended to oppose its further progress with all their force. The Committee, however, did not consider this notice of the Government’s opposition sufficiently formal to warrant them in abandoning the measure.

After the Easter recess Mr. Brotherton waited upon Mr. Manners Sutton, but was unable to find out the reason for the Government’s opposition, and the Bill was therefore sent into Committee so that their reasons for opposing it might be discovered. ‘The Bill accordingly passed through Committee on May 16th, 1843, several clauses having been struck out, and as altered the Bill was ordered to be reported to the House of Commons, which was done on the Monday following. The removal of the clauses referred to from the Bill deprived it of some of its most valuable features, and even then it had many opponents, including Mr. Green, M.P. for Lancashire, while Sir James Graham, Secretary of State for the Home Department, stated that in the opinion of the Government the existing Acts afforded sufficient protection for any benefit society.

In consequence of these expression of hostility it was resolved to have an interview with Mr. John Tidd Pratt, the barrister for certifying the rules of Friendly Societies, who gave his opinion in writing as follows : —"I am of opinion that the objects of the Society can be obtained under the Friendly Societies Acts, but the mode of management as contemplated cannot be in any other way than by a special Act of Parliament, but for the reasons stated by me at the Conference I cannot recommend that any further attempt should be made to pass the present Bill as I do not think it would succeed. I would recommend the promoters of the present Bill to bring in a public one, applicable to their own as well as any other society formed for legal purposes, in which provision should be made for the Movable Committee, and in the meantime to enrol their rules under the Friendly Societies Act.

London, June 1st, 1843. J. Trim PRATT.

Fully impressed with the responsibilities of the case, the Committee resolved to make an attempt to induce the Government to withdraw its opposition before passing to the third reading, knowing that the additional expenses would be from £60 to £80, and that in face of such opposition no hope could be entertained of success. After some delay Mr. Brotherton obtained an interview with the authorities, and, seeing that the case was apparently hopeless, he recommended that the Bill should for a time be withdrawn, and offered his services (as also did Lord Duncan) on any future occasion when the opposition might not be so strong.

Thus ended an attempt to place the Rechabite Order in a secure legal position and at a cost to the Order of over £600. The Government stated their intention to introduce a Bill that would cover all societies, as suggested to our committee by Mr. John Tidd Pratt. The Order’s action in this matter gained for it a degree of respect and consideration in high quarters, and won for us the friendship and confidence so long as he lived of Mr. John Tidd Pratt.

The loss of the Bill, however, caused a panic in the Order and in many cases it was put down to other causes than the actual one. Numbers of the branches met, divided their funds, and ceased to exist; the Illegal Assemblies Acts aimed at the Chartists, and other matters, helped to fan the flame, so that although the Order was advancing the best interests ‘of all Friendly Societies by its endeavour, its loss of membership was a most serious one and it took several years of careful action by, and on behalf of the Executive Council, to enable the Order to recover the position it had formerly occupied.

In 1846, after the Rechabite Incorporation Bill had been defeated, the Government, according to their promise, brought in a Bill and made some alterations in the law by this Act (9 and 10, Vict., c. 27). The Barrister for certifying rules was constituted the "Registrar of Friendly Societies," and the rules which had previously been filed with the Clerk of the Peace in each county, were to be collected together and taken charge of by the new Registrar. By this Act he was authorised to transfer property from an incapable or absent trustee, to settle disputes, to require the production of documents, and to administer oaths. Every Society was required to send to him with its quinquennial return a report of its assets and liabilities. An actuarial certificate was to be obtained before any society could he registered "for the purpose of securing any benefit dependent on the laws ‘of sickness and mortality." No insurances were to be effected on the lives of children under six years of age. In 1850 the Friendly Society Acts of 1829, 1834, 1840, and 1846 were repealed, and a new Act passed (13 and 14, Vict., c. 115) before the Quinquennial Returns of Assets and Liabilities, under the Act of 1846 became enforcible, and this important provision was omitted from the new Act.

In 1852, 1853, and 1854 further amendments became law, but none of these enabled a Society with branches and with control over its branches to register Rules covering these points.

In 1854, on March 27th, the General Rules of our Order were registered under the existing Friendly Societies Act.

In 1855 the Friendly Society Acts were again consolidated with material amendments by the 18 and 19 Vict., c. 63, which continued to be the principal Act down to 1875.

In 1858 the Act was amended by the 21 and 22 Vict.. c. 101.

In 1860 again by the 23 and 24 Vict., c. 58.

In 1866 by the 29 Vict., c. 34.

On January 2nd, 1870, Mr. John Tidd Pratt, the first Registrar, died at the age ‘of 72. He was from the period of the Rechabite Incorporation Bill a good friend to the I.O.R. and was universally respected.

In 1870, on February 10th, a Bill was introduced by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer to the House of Commons (the death of Mr. Tidd Pratt having led up to it) to abolish the Certificate of the Registrar and transfer the whole business from the Registrar’s Department to the Board of Trade. Meetings of the representatives of Friendly Societies were held in many places against this Bill, and at a Conference of Friendly Society men and Members of Parliament, held at the London residence of the Earl of Lichfleld, a recommendation was carried that a Royal Commission should be appointed to investigate the matter and report.

This Bill did not become law, but on October 29th, 1870, the Government, seeing the feeling in the country, appointed a Commission, "To enquire into the existing state of the law relating to Friendly Societies, and to enquire into and report upon the operations of the Acts relating to Friendly Societies and Benefit Building Societies, and the organisation or general condition of societies established under such Acts respectively, and upon the office and duties of the Registrar of Friendly Societies, with power to suggest any improvements to be made in the law with respect to the matters aforesaid."

This Royal Commission got to work on November 29th and 30th, 1870, by taking evidence from the Registrar of Friendly Societies, the members of his staff, and deputations from the Manchester Unity and the Ancient Order of Foresters.

On Tuesday, August 28th, 1871, the Hon. E. Lyulph Stanley, Assistant Commissioner, on behalf of the Royal Commission, attended a- meeting at the Head Office of the I.O.R. at Manchester, and was received by Bros. Thomas Lewis Green, H.D.R., Henry Sharples, M.B.D., -and Bro. H. J. Jones, who was acting as secretary, when a long and interesting interview took place, the Commission being very anxious to gain information on many points, especially in regard to Quinquennial Returns and Valuations.

On Tuesday, October 10th, 1871, Sir Sydney H. Waterlow, Mr. C. S. Roundell, and the Hon. E. Lyulph Stanley opened their enquiry in the Town Hall, Manchester. Representatives of the Druids -and several other Orders having given evidence, Bros. Thomas Lewis Green, H.D.R., Christopher Hodgson, H.T.. H. J. Jones, and Thomas Sharples, were examined regarding the working the Independent Order of Rechabites, and showed the Order to be in a very good position. They fully explained our system of working our Consolidated District Funeral Funds, the graduated scale of contributions and benefits, the assistance derived from our juvenile branches, and explained that all our meetings were held apart entirely from places where liquors were sold. The deputation also explained that they were in favour of the continuance of the Friendly Societies Act and of the office of Registrar.

The Commissioners made their final report in 1874, and in that year a Bill was introduced to carry out the recommendations of the Commissioners, and after considerable modification at the instance of the Societies it was withdrawn for the session.

In 1875 this new Act was passed (38 and 39, Vict., c. 60), and for the first time permitted the registration of societies with branches, and at the same time gave the central bodies of the Order control over their branches. This was what the I.O.R. had sought to obtain in 1843 and 1844; it was the beginning of a new era in the Friendly Society world, and brought about a great advance in the solvency and management generally of the societies. The Rechabite Order were proud of their early action, and this Act proved to a demonstration that their contentions had been correct in every particular from the early times.

This Act came into force on January 1st, 1876, and was amended in 1876, 1879, 1882, 1883, 1885, 1887, 1894, and 1895, and was finally again revised and consolidated in 1896, all the previous Acts having been cancelled.

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