A recent query from Japan reminded me how little I know about the history of co-operative and community benefit society legislation.
The query from Yoko Matsuura, a doctoral student at Meiji University in Japan was about the detail of the relationship between the 1852 Industrial and Provident Societies Act and the 1846 Friendly Societies Act. Yoko asked whether people thought the Friendly Societies Act was effectively a partnership act at that time and whether both industrial and provident and friendly societies were partnerships? If that was the case, she asked, why did Industrial and provident societies have corporate personality under 1852 Act? What was the difference of the legal concept between an industrial and provident society and a friendly society as applied by the registrar in those days?
I explained my lack of expertise in this field and referred Yoko to David Lambourne’s excellent pamphlet which dealt thoroughly with the 1852 Act. I recommend that to anyone who wants to understand the rationale for that Act. Since I cannot find an accessible copy online, I have uploaded my own (badly scanned) copy here. You should be able to download the PDF from there.
I recommend Chapters I and V as the best response to Yoko’s questions. They outline the problems faced by societies both before and after the 1852 Act was passed – the most important ones being the unlimited liability of members for the society’s debts, the limitation of trading to the society’s own members and the inability to create “groups” or federations of societies. It was only the Industrial and Provident Societies Act 1862 that conferred limited liability on society members for business debts.