Page images

munity as may be disposed to avail themselves of your proposal certain facilities for self-help. All that is requisite in such a case is to show that what the Government proposes to do it can do safely, and likewise that what it proposes to do, it can do justly.'

It must, however, be remembered that any collision with the Friendly Societies of the working-classes was distinctly guarded against by the introduction of a clause into the Act of 1864, providing that insurances under the Act should not be effected for a less sum than 201., the result of this limitation and of the neglect of the Post Office to make known in any public manner the boons which it was enabled by law to grant being that Post Office insurance has as yet made little way. But it has gradually been recognised that if the State undertakes insurance at death at all, it should undoubtedly extend the advantage to the particular class who are least able to look after themselves, and suffer most from the failure and fraud of their Burial Clubs. We are glad to find that this view has been adopted by the Commissioners, and one of their most important recommendations is that these forms of insurance should be offered through the medium of the Post Office. Recognising the fact that Friendly Societies exist for the benefit of the people, and not the people for the benefit of managers of societies, they do not shrink from advising that the State should take the bold course of entering into competition with the existing Burial Societies. Mr. Scudamore, in his evidence, undertakes that for the future active measures shall be taken to make the advantages of Post Office insurance known to the public. For some years past a small society, called the Provident Knowledge Society, has been working with this object by sending lecturers round the country. This will now become the business of the Post Office.

We must make arrangements,' says Mr. Scudamore, for lecturers to go about the country to impress upon the poor the advantages of life insurance, and to get them to insure in the first instance; and then we must have a system of collectors who should keep them up to their payments from week to week, or month to month, as the case may be.'-Q. 27,775.

Not only will the security be absolute, but there is some reason to hope that it may be attained at a cheaper rate than is asked by the existing societies. Mr. Tidd Pratt pointed out in 1868 that the monthly payments usually required by Burial Societies would give to parties insuring with the Post Office a larger sum (with Government security), than such societies promise to pay. For 1d. per week, or 4s. 4d. per year, the following Vol. 138.—No. 275.



sums are stated to be payable at death, according to the tables of premiums published by the

[blocks in formation]

We are persuaded that this change, which has received the approval of Government, will be of the greatest advantage.

This concession, however, will not by any means satisfy those who think that all forms of insurance for the working-classes ought to rest on the same footing, and to be undertaken by the State. It is urged, and with great force, that insurance in time of sickness is, after all, the greatest need for the poor, and that if in this respect they are still left to the mercy of their rotten village clubs, or unsound large societies, little will have been done for them. The State will have absorbed all the more easily managed and calculated forms of insurance, and left that about which information is most deficient to the care of the most ignorant class. It would not be difficult, it is said, to find in every large village postmasters able, and (if adequately remunerated) willing to undertake it. Every man would have the place for payment of his monthly contributions close at hand. “And if he wished to move from one part of England to another, his insurance could simply be transferred from one post-office to the other. If he belonged to the class most free from sickness—the agricultural labouring class—he would be able to insure upon a table based upon the experience gathered from that class only. And lastly, he would be encouraged to make the effort from the knowledge that the security was indisputable, and unlikely to be affected by anything short of a great national convulsion.

The above considerations, but especially (as we fancy) the guarantee of soundness which is given to the insurance, have induced a very large number of influential gentlemen, especially those connected with country districts, to affix their names to a memorial, praying the Commissioners to take Post Office insurance for sickness into their favourable consideration. No more powerful testimony to the bad working of the present system could possibly have been given.


To this proposal, however, the great weight of authority appears to be at present opposed. Mr. Scudamore says that postmasters could not undertake it. They are stationary, they must be at their offices; they could not go round to see whether a man who said that he was sick, was so or not. . . . That objection seemed to me to be so very strong, and weighed with me so much, that I did not look about for any others at all. I myself think that the objection is insuperable.'—Q. 27,893.

Much might, in our opinion, be said in answer to this objection, but it is clearly impossible for the State to undertake such a responsibility in the face of such opposition from the department which would be charged with carrying out the work; and public opinion will undoubtedly go with the Royal Commissioners in wishing to see Government insurance limited for the present in the manner which they have recommended :

'It would be difficult, if not impossible, they say, 'at present to organise any system of government sick insurance which would not carry with it something of the appearance of a relief system; and we believe that, while this would render it distasteful to many most deserving classes, it would rather tend to familiarise another class with the idea of looking to the State for support in time of need, and thus to break down the barrier of honourable pride which now deters many from claiming assistance from the poor rates. The objection does not apply to the case of insurance against death, or even for old age. Here the insurer pays his price, and as soon as the simple fact of death, or of the attainment of a certain age is proved, the Government officers have only to pay what they have contracted to pay.'— Fourth Report, p. 848.

There still remains, however, the very important question of what is to be the future action of the State towards existing Friendly Societies, for the purpose of their regulation. Is it really possible for the State to stand aloof altogether from the friendly societies of the poor, while it exercises supervision over the insurance offices of the rich? Suppose that some one in the upper classes wishes to insure his life. He, who has much better means of information than a poor man can have, is not left to choose at random among the societies which come under his notice. For his security the Government compels all insurance offices to publish their accounts annually in a particular form, so that he can without much difficulty judge of their comparative state, and decide between them. Hardly any one ventures to say that the State ought not to do at least as much as this for Friendly Societies. Even Mr. Lowe, with his peculiar hatred of paternal government, does not venture to go this length. Indeed, he believes it possible for Parliament to lay down a legal minimum

of payments for insurance, to which all registered societies should be compelled to conform ; a suggestion which the extraordinary variation in the rates of sickness and mortality in different towns and in different occupations seems to us to render it quite impossible to carry out.

The great danger to be guarded against in imposing restrictions upon existing societies is, that if they are too severe (or thought to be so by a class which is specially distrustful of Government interference), the societies may be induced to cut themselves off altogether from registration, and to remain outside the law. No such objection can, we think, be urged against the very moderate proposals of the Government, which were embodied in the Friendly Societies Bill of the past session. Hitherto it has been absolutely impossible for one Registrar even to attempt to enforce the law in the 23,000 societies scattered throughout England. The returns even now required by law are in most instances never made at all, and in almost all are irregular, incomplete, and incorrect. The first step, therefore, which is imperatively required is the establishment of an adequate machinery to work out the system. For this purpose the system of registration is to be simplified (the present certificate being abolished), the central office is to be strengthened, and the duties of local registration are to be imposed upon the Clerks of the Peace in the different counties. Accurate tables of sickness and mortality, and suitable forms of accounts, will be prepared, but societies will not be compelled to adopt them. They will

, however, be bound to have their accounts regularly audited, to publish them to their members, and to submit their affairs to valuation every five years. Many other provisions of great value are contained in the Bill, of which perhaps the most important is the appointment of public auditors and valuers, and the power given to the Registrar to direct a special examination into the affairs of any society on the application of a certain proportion of its members.

The most important difference of opinion among the Commissioners arose upon the question whether the State should attempt to draw a line between some societies and others, according as they do or do not come up to a certain standard of excellence. We ourselves lean to the opinion that such responsibility should be in every way repudiated, and that by the addition of distinct words to the certificate of the Registrar, and possibly even by printing a similar statement on the back of every policy or card of membership, it should be explained to the members, beyond any possibility of doubt, that they, and not the Government, are responsible for the soundness of their society. The Government may advise, may even enforce adherence to such rules as experience may dictate to be necessary; but to go further would be to make the Government give a guarantee (which the poor and ignorant will certainly regard as an absolute one) to societies of whose actual condition it really does not and cannot know enough to enable it to say that they are reliable. And how is it possible to act, without complaints of injustice, towards cases on the border line' between soundness and unsoundness, unless the State is prepared also to overlook the management, and to insist on the adherence of the society in every particular to a thoroughly satisfactory system? Far more wise will it be to recognise that local energy which has been the parent of these institutions, to guide it in the right direction, and to develop further the spirit of independence and self-reliance which has been the chief characteristic of the English people.



ART. VII.—1. Reports of the Judicature Commission. 2. The Supreme Court of Judicature Act, 1873. 3. Rules of Court under the Supreme Court of Judicature Act,

1873. THE saying that people concern themselves least about what

concerns them most, is too paradoxical to be of universal application ; but there is a class of subjects as to which it is unfortunately only too true. The three traditional faculties of Divinity, Medicine, and Law, were long ago regarded as including in themselves almost the whole range of serviceable knowledge. All studies that lay outside of these specialised departments came under the category of general culture, and were counted among the ornaments rather than among the utilities of life. Almost as a necessary consequence each of the three faculties became relegated to a professional class, and, as a further consequence, the unprofessional laity ceased in great measure to think on topics upon which they had professional experts to think for them. There is a mixture of good sense in this tendency. Every man his own lawyer, is a maxim repudiated by proverbial wisdom. Every man his own quack, would be generally acknowledged as a still more fatal absurdity. Every man his own priest, is a doctrine which to the minds of one school savours of destruction, while many of those who have accepted it in theory are continually drifting back into the opposite belief, and, consciously or unconsciously, setting up priests and popes of their own selection. The explanation of this temper


« PreviousContinue »