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COPY

OF A

LETTER

NO. XXII.

TO THE

RT. HON. WILLIAM STURGES BOURNE,

CHAIRMAN OF THE SELECT COMMITTEE OF THE HOUSE OF COMMONS APPOINTED FOR THE CONSIDERATION

OF THE

POOR LAWS;

FROM

T. P. COURTENAY, ESQ. M. P.

A MEMBER OF THAT COMMITTEE.

NEVER PUBLISHED.

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THE following letter was written and printed, but not published, during the sitting of the Committee of the House of Commons on the Poor Laws. It was introductory to certain propositions for making use of Friendly Societies in reforming, and perhaps eventually abrogating the system of Poor Laws; undertakings for which, as appeared to the writer, the Committee were not at that time prepared to attempt by more decisive and direct methods. Notwithstanding many practical objections, of the force of which no man is more sensible than the writer, the Committee included these suggestions, with some modification, among those which they thought fit to be reported for the consideration of the House.

PREFACE.

One view, then, with which the letter is now published is, to illustrate those passages of the Committee's Report, [p. 12-13] which relate to Friendly Societies; but a stronger motive to the publication arises from the wish to give a more extensive circulation to the observations upon the general subject, which in a limited circle have attracted some notice.,

The author is fully aware, that these observations tend to no very precise or satisfactory conclusion; but all that has been said and written, even within the last year, satisfies him that this uncertainty belongs to the subject, by whomsoever handled; and that although the particular scheme of half measures here detailed will not be found extensively practicable, it will be only upon a principle of compromise, arising out of the doubts and difficulties herein displayed, that parliament will finally deem it politic to legislate.

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MY DEAR SIR,

ACCORDING to the intimation which I gave before the recess to the Committee on the Poor Laws, I proceed to submit, through you, to the consideration of its members, what has occurred to me upon that subject, and particularly the ideas, which I have already explained imperfectly, in regard to the use that may be made of Friendly or Benefit Societies.

My suggestions for forming these Institutions upon a new principle, and affording to them a parochial guaranty, being perhaps the only part of what I have to offer which is in any degree new or peculiar ; it is on that point only that I have hitherto ventured to state my sentiments: but I should greatly misrepresent my own views on the larger ques ion, and very inadequately explain my ideas even on the particular branch of it to which my suggestions refer, if, in using the indulgence afforded to me by the Committee, I were to confine myself to the consideration of Friendly Societies.

Reflection has confirmed me in the opinion, that a guaranty, supported by the parochial assessments, of the benefits of such Societies, may be made one of the means by which the great evil of the Poor Laws is to be checked; but I should attribute to that proposition a very disproportionate importance, if I were to state that it would of itself be an effectual or even an useful measure. It is only as accompanying and facilitating a system of administration of the Laws of Relief, very different from the present, that I can venture to recommend my proposal.

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Of the measures necessary in my humble opinion, for effecting this alteration of system, most have, in principle, been recommended to the Committee by other members; some have been specifically stated: but I shall take the liberty of embodying into my scheme the valuable suggestions which we have received; believing, that even though my own peculiar part of the scheme may fail, I may usefully endeavour to give a practical and connected shape to propositions which have as yet been only generally discussed :--and I trust that the Committee will not consider me as guilty of piracy, though I should recommend, without specific acknowledgment, what has been offered by others.

Diffident as I sincerely feel, in touching, however slightly, upon general principles, I find it impossible to make myself intelligible without some explanation of those by which I am influenced.

It is perhaps admitted by all that we are now in a situation from which we cannot easily or suddenly pass to a wholesome state, and it may perhaps be thought unnecessary to describe systems or lay down principles, the application of which, if not wholly impracticable, is at least very remote. Yet I conceive that unless we are in some measure agreed as to the desired end of our deliberations, we shall hardly understand one another as to the means: nor shall we duly appreciate the suggestions which we discuss, unless we explain to each other the principles upon which they are founded, and their ultimate operation, as well as their immediate effect.

Now, although I have endeavoured to preserve in my scheme a facility of adaptation hereafter to more than one view of political economy, yet I own, that it appears difficult to come to a decision either upon the suggestions which I am about to offer, or upon some of the points at this moment before the Committee, without determining how far we are affected by the opinions and conclusions of modern writers on population and subsistence.

Or, to speak perhaps more practically, it seems at least necessary, that in proceeding to reform the system of English Poor Laws, each of us should make up his own mind, whether he adopts, as many do, the act of the 43d of Elizabeth as the point of perfection, or whether he considers that Law as the foundation and commencement of a vicious system.

I fear that some gentlemen, who are averse from a discussion of the subject upon general principles, are disposed to take that act as a standard, without a sufficient consideration of the principles which it involves.

When we are desired to "tread back our steps to the 43d of Elizabeth," it is meant, no doubt, that we should destroy some material branches of the existing system-particularly, the practice of giving pecuniary relief to able-bodied men: but it is meant also, that we should retain other essential provisions, among the most

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