10 DECEMBER 1842, Page 12


IN a letter to Mr. WALLACE, M.P. for Greenock, which has ap- peared in the newspapers, Sir ROBERT PEEL says—" The state of the law in Scotland in respect to the relief of the destitute has attracted the serious attention of her Majesty's Government, and measures are, now in progress for instituting a full and comprehen- sive inquiry into that important subject, with a view to the amend- ment of the existing law." This important question, to which the publications of Dr. ALisoN and the inquiries of the Committee for the Relief of Dis- tress in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland were the means of attracting attention some time back, appears from this passage to be on the eve of a practical solution. The keenness with which it was at first discussed had been succeeded by an ominous silence ; but the repeated applications for relief from Paisley, Greenock, and other quarters, have obliged Ministers to take it up " with a view to the amendment of the existing law." Dr. Ausorr, we know, will not be idle, with such a prospect before him as this intimation opens ; and it is to be hoped that he will receive all the support from his countrymen he so well deserves. A good many months ago, the Spectator pointed out in consi- derable detail the unworkable state into which the Poor-law of Scotland had been allowed to get, and the ease with which it might be restored to efficacy. It is scarcely necessary at this time of day to argue now the broad question whether there ought to be a poor- law or not ; though one or two ingenious reasoners still maintain the negative opinion. In a densely-peopled country, spontaneous private benevolence is not adequate to the relief of the poverty which always must exist. " What is everybody's business," says the proverb, "is nobody's business." Men pass objects in the street, buttoning their pockets, and saying, " we cannot relieve all. The modest poor are not sought out—there are few HOWARDS in society. Leaving the provision for the poor to spontaneous charity, imposes an undue burden on the humane, and leaves many to perish. Passing from the question whether there ought to be a poor-law, to whether the Scotch poor-law needs mending, it would appear that when Scotland was a thinly-peopled country, the landlords all resident, and secession as yet unknown, this makeshift provision for the poor by voluntary contributions at the church-door did answer, but that now it cannot. The absentee landlords contribute nothing to this fund ; the Dissenters contribute nothing to this fund : some means must be devised, we will not say to compel, but to enable these classes to contribute their quotas to charitable purposes. The voluntary assessments now so common in rural parishes, and the rates imposed by " stent-masters within burgh," are necessarily un- equal in their operation. A few heritors, (we speak of no uncommon case,) by resisting an assessment for the poor, can establish a system by which paupers are forced habitually to emigrate into more humane parishes. This mode of procedure it is that has banished paupers from many rural districts, to swarm and create contagious diseases in the " wynds " and "closes" of over-crowded cities. For more than a century, the burden of rural pauperism has fallen exclu- sively on the farmers and cottiers, who duly deposite their pence and halfpence in "the elder's ladle" on Sunday, or give handfuls of meal to the wandering beggar at their own doors; while the proprietors, living at a distance for the greater part of the year, or attending a genteel Episcopalian chapel, escape without paying any thing. The poor-supporting classes in Scotland have an ur- gent interest in poor-law reform. And the revelations made by Dr. Amu's; and others respecting the state of the destitute poor in Edinburgh and Glasgow, show that no time ought to be wasted, if we would prevent the recurrence of scenes of a most painful and repulsive aspect. Sir Rosser PEEL is not in the habit of promising reforms which he does not mean to set about immediately ; and now that he speaks of " instituting a full and comprehensive inquiry, with a view to the amendment of the existing law," the friends of poor- law reform in Scotland will have themselves to blame if, by not

lending him fair support, his good intentions be allowed to fall to the ground.