This Amendment is out of place. It speaks of what is to happen if a company or society should fail to do something. It really anticipates a new proposed Amendment. The next three Amendments on the Paper in the name of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Sir B. Peto), and the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Miss Wilkinson) really cover the same point, and I think should be discussed together. It will be rather difficult to do otherwise.
I beg to move, in page 3, line 20, at the end, to insert the words:
(3) Every collecting society and industrial assurance company shad cause every collector of the society or company to deliver, at least once within three months after the commencement of this Act, at every house or other place at which he makes a visit for the purpose of receiving a premium payable on a policy of insurance on human life, a notice, in a form approved by the Commissioner, setting forth the effect of the provisions of this section and of the
Schedule to this Act, and if any collector fails to deliver any notice in accordance with the requirements of this sub-section he and the society or company of which he is a collector shall he guilty of an offence under the Industrial Assurance Act, 1923.
I suggest to the Committee that this effects the purpose desired by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnstaple (Sir B. Peto) and the hon. Member for East Middlesbrough (Miss Wilkinson), who have put other Amendments on the Paper. The object is to bring in the most effective way to the notice of persons concerned their rights under this Bill. The Amendment proposes that once at least within the first three months after the commencement of this Act, at every house at which a call is made for the purpose of collecting a premium, a notice shall be left in a form approved by the Commissioner. The form, I think, will be found to be perfectly satisfactory. It will be clearly drawn, and the society or agent will incur a penalty on failure to comply with this provision. This Amendment is to supplement the provisions of Sub-section (3) of this Clause, which provides that every policy which is issued in future and every premium receipt-book shall set out the provisions of the Section and of the Schedule, printed in distinctive type. The Amendment will ensure that people shall be informed at the earliest moment of the new rights conferred on them by the Bill in respect of lapsed and existing policies.
This deals with all policies issued after the commencement of the Act, but is there to be a notice issued with regard to the position of those who have been insured before 1923? It may be said that it is the duty of everyone to know what is his position under an Act of Parliament, but I am afraid that that is sometimes not known even to Members of this House. How you are to expect these people, who are all their time engaged in trying to make a livelihood, to know their position under these complicated insurance Acts, I do not know. Will the notice to be tendered under this Amendment cover the rights and the position of those who have been insured up to 1923?
The hon. Member will see, if he looks at Subsection (3) of the Clause, that it deals with policies issued after the commencement of this Act. Those policies are to bear a statement, on the back, of the provisions of this Act. The Amendment deals with all the policies to which the Clause applies. The hon. Member will also see that Sub-section (2) applies to any policy issued, or deemed to have been issued in accordance with the provisions of Sub-section (1) of this Act and to any other endowment policy issued on the life of a child under 10 years of age, in force at some time after 31st December, 1923. So that it does not apply only to policies issued under this Act, but to those before this Act in respect of which the Act creates new benefits. We have therefore gone further even than the hon. Member supposed.
It is covered so far as the lapsed policies to which Sub-section (2) of the Clause applies, are concerned. Perhaps I may deal with a point raised in an Amendment on the Paper in the name of the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy). It really would be impossible to issue a notice to a holder or former holder of an endowment policy, including lapsed policies. Registers are not kept of all the holders who at some time have had these lapsed policies. It was because the proposal of the hon. and gallant Member was impracticable that we thought it much more desirable that there should be issued in plain terms, not in legal terms but in language designed to enable humble people to appreciate the nature of the rights to which they will become entitled.
There is a hiatus in the words of the Amendment. In an Amendment which I put on the Paper I sought to have the attention of policy holders called in every case where policies have been taken out since 1st January, 1924. The Amendment of the learned Attorney-General limits the obligation upon the insurance companies to any house at which a collector pays a visit for the purpose of receiving a premium. Considering that more than five years have passed since 1st January, 1924, is it not quite possible that some of these policies may have lapsed from non-payment of premium, and that therefore the insurance agent will have no reason to call at the house? Under the Bill all policies on which a certain number of premiums have been paid have a surrender value. There may be a considerable number of lapsed policies, the holders of which will never have their attention called to the fact that under this Bill they have rights and can get other policies in the place of those that have lapsed, even if it is only a question perhaps of a year's or two years' premiums. How will the Amendment cover the case of policies that have already lapsed?
The answer is that our Amendment is intended to convey as effectively as possible the publicity that everyone desires. We thought that this publicity would be ensured in the circles where policies are held, by leaving at the houses which the agent visits notices within three months after the passing of the Act. That would mean a distribution of several hundreds of thousands of these notices.
Millions of notices; I have understated it. We are asked now to ensure that a house in which there lived a person who once had a policy shall receive one of these notices. I am informed that the societies do not in all cases keep a record of the policies which have lapsed and that it would be impracticable to carry out the proposal. I think that our proposal will ensure the greatest possible publicity in the districts in which any of these policies have ever been held.
Surely it is the duty of the company, if they have profited by these lapsed policies of poor people, to have some record of the transaction? There is such a thing as the 1½d. post, or a cheaper post might be sufficient. I suggest that it is the duty of the insurance companies to go through their records and to see what money they owe to the poor people of this country. The Attorney-General understands that the insurance companies do not always keep a record of the lapsed policies which are their great source of revenue from the pockets of the working classes. That is no reason at all. The Amendment could certainly be strengthened, and poor people should have a right to get back something from the insurance companies.
I beg to move, in page 3, line 30, at the end, to add the words:
(5) Every society or industrial assurance company which has issued policies of the kind referred to in this Act shall, within one month of the passing of this Act, advise all the policy holders of their rights under the provisions of this Act.
This Amendment covers the point to which I have just referred. It would impose the obligation on the companies to advise every policy holder who has taken out a policy covered by this Bill, of his rights under the Bill. It would impose upon the insurance companies a small clerical expense in looking up the actual cases, and an additional small expense in postage, in order to send notices to the holders of policies, or to people who originally took out policies. I think the Bill will be quite incomplete without such an Amendment as this. I was anxious to raise this matter on Friday last and what has come to my knowledge since I spoke then convinces me of the necessity that we should take effective means to see that all people who are intended to benefit by the provisions of this Bill, receive due notice of their rights. The words of the Amendment are simple. They do not include abstruse terms such as "wedlock" or "insanity" and I think the Attorney-General might meet me by imposing this small obligation upon corporations which have made countless millions of money out of the working classes by lapsed policies.
I think I can convince my hon. Friend that this point has been covered by the Amendment already adopted. My hon. Friend's Amendment clearly only covers the cases of existing policies, because a person who has a policy which is not existing to-day cannot be included in the expression "all the policy holders." That expression must mean the people who hold policies to-day and who are paying premiums. The Amendment already accepted by the Committee requires that in the case of every house in which there is a person from whom premiums are being collected, notice shall be given framed in the language which was approved by the Industrial Assurance Commissioner. Therefore, the Amendment achieves, I think in a more satisfactory manner, the purpose which my hon. Friend desires by his Amendment and I hope he will not press his Amendment.
I beg to move, in page 3, line 30, at the end, to add the words:
(5) Every society or industrial assurance company which has issued policies of the kind referred to in this Act shall, within one month of the passing of this Act, advise all persons who have taken out policies of their rights under the provisions of this Act.
I quite accept what the Attorney-General has said to the effect that the term "policy holders" technically means the holders of policies which are alive. I desire to cover those people who took out policies which may have lapsed, owing to the payment of the premiums not having been kept up, and I think the Amendment in its present form will achieve that purpose.
I am afraid my answer must be that my hon. Friend's conditions would come into conflict with the more satsfactory conditions already accepted by the Committee. His proposal requires that something should be done within one month, and the proposal which the Committee has already accepted requires something to be done within three months. In addition to that, the words now suggested would cover the cases of persons who had taken out policies for I do not know how many years back. I suppose it would go back to the beginning of the legislation enabling things of this sort to be done. In view of the fact that the people who take out these policies are repeatedly changing their addresses it would be impossible to give effect to the proposal. My hon. Friend says that the societies ought to keep registers of the policies which have lapsed. I think there is a great deal of substance in that criticism of their methods, if those methods be such as I am informed they have been in some cases. But, by saying that they ought to have done something, you do not get over the fact that in some cases they have not done what they ought to have done. Even supposing they have such a register of addresses, how on earth are they to find out all those persons now by means of the addresses at which such persons once dwelt? I am sure my hon. Friend, on reflection, will see that the Amendment which the Committee has accepted really does in substance what he desires. I cannot agree to his Amendment.
Some of the reasons given by the Attorney-General against the Amendment may hold good, but, when he speaks of the insurance companies not being able to find out those people who have taken out policies, I am afraid he does not know the collectors and the machinery of these companies. As we know from experience in General Election periods, they have greater facilities for tracing removals than any election agent. If that were the only objection to the Amendment, I think the Amendment ought to be accepted, but I suggest to the hon. Baronet that there is another difficulty. It is only just that people should get their rights, no matter how long those rights have been withheld, but there is a difficulty in this matter in going back further than the year 1923. The insurance companies retain records of their policies over the past six years. I doubt very much if any insurance company destroys papers dealing with matters on which premiums have been received in the last six years, and, if the hon. Baronet were to fix the limit of 1923, I think the insurance companies would have little objection to this proposal.
I was under the impression, perhaps wrongly, that this Bill was limited to that period, and dealt only with lapsed policies since 31st December, 1923. Therefore, policies going back to the remote period suggested by the Attorney-General would not be covered by my Amendment. It only applies to policies coming "under the provisions of this Act".