HC Deb 25 March 1819 vol 39 cc1159-61
Mr. Thomas Courtenay

, in rising to move for leave to bring in a bill for the further encouragement and protection of Friendly Societies, combated the arguments of those who had expressed opinions hostile to the principle on which those societies were formed. Of late years it had been said by high authority, by Mr. Malthus, Mr. Davison, and lastly by one of whom he was bound to speak with peculiar respect, Mr. Copleston, that to encourage poor people to lay by their earnings under an ensurance of this nature, was a bad thing; and that those whose property was very small should not enter into a mutual guarantee. He thought, that the smaller the property, the greater was the necessity of insuring; he would illustrate his opinion by what was familiar to him officially. The East India Company did not ensure, because the amount of the ensurance upon their great concerns, would be equal to the whole loss that could in any probability fall upon them; but he who had ventured his on a single brig, would be very unwise if he did not ensure it lest, as Mr. Davison had said, he might, if his voyage proved favourable, find that he had subscribed to the repair of another's fortune! In like manner, a rich landlord had no need to ensure against the expenses of sickness; but a labourer, although if he enjoyed uninterrupted health, might have made a bad speculation in subscribing his savings to a Friendly Society, would, on the other hand, if he should be disabled by sickness, lose, without this precaution, his whole means of subsistence at once. All though he was confident that Friendly Societies Were of the greatest use to the community, it was, nevertheless, well known that they were open to many abuses. In the first place, some of those societies had been Founded on erroneous calculation the result either of the want of accurate tables, or of the sanguineness or ignorance, or it might be in some cases the design of those by whom they were established. The remedy he proposed was, that the formation of those societies should be under the more vigilant and attentive superintendance of the magistrates at the quarter sessions, entertaining, as he did, no doubt that at every quarter sessions, two or three magistrates would be found who would be induced to give their attention to the subject. As to the calculations on which such societies were founded, he intended to propose, that two or three of the principal actuaries in London should be employed in framing them, and that without their previous opinion, the magistrates should interfere to prevent the formation of any new society. There were many persons who objected to the meeting of these societies at public houses. The superintendance of the magistrates at the quarter sessions might perhaps be exercised in abolishing this practice. But he owned that he could not see the necessity of prohibiting the poorer class from having those little convivial assemblies, without which, in this metropolis, no Lying-in-hospital or other public institution could be supported. It had been asserted, that these societies were frequently made the pretext for meetings, the purpose of which was the combination of workmen for illegal purposes. If such was really the fact, the measures which he proposed would at least make such abuses more difficult. These combinations could not be prevented, although Friendly Societies, innocent in their purposes, were to lose the protection of the law. He wished the House to understand, that all he contended for was, to allow those who chose to secure their earnings in this manner, as others did in savings banks. It was a great satisfaction for him to know, that he who was entitled to the greatest praise from his country for his exertions in the establishment of savings banks, and who had published a book on the subject, had declared his opinion of the total in-competency of savings banks alone; but had proposed to him, before the committee on the poor-laws, that they should be united to friendly societies. He alluded to Mr. Duncan, who had been called the father of savings banks. It might be convenient, that he should say a few words with respect to the other bill—for the establishment of Parochial Benefit societies—which he was about to ask leave to bring in. Many persons thought this mode of providing for the wants of the poor so desirables that its operation ought not to be left to the voluntary acts of individuals, but that the poor should be compelled to resort to it. It had been proposed to establish this compulsion by inviting persons to enter into such societies, and then by refusing parochial relief to those who had not done so. He had brought in a bill on the subject last year. He hoped to be permitted to do the same now. He would fairly say, however, that he saw so many difficulties in the way of framing an unexceptionable measure, that he would not anticipate that in the progress of the bill through the House it would be so rendered. After some farther details of the objects and provisions of this bill, the hon. gentleman moved for leave to bring in his first bill, that which related to the further encouragement of friendly societies.

Sir Gerard Noel

stated several inconveniences that arose in parishes in which friendly societies were established; and especially directed the notice of the hon. gentleman to this evil, namely, that in some parishes where there were these societies, parochial aid was frequently refused to a sick man if he belonged to them.

Mr. Courtenay

thought, that according to the only principle upon which the poor laws could be defended, relief ought to be withholden from any man to whom, from whatever cause, it was otherwise than absolutely necessary for his maintenance.

Leave was given to bring in the bills.