NEWS OF THE WEEK.
THE week opened in both Houses of Parliament with the pro- mulgation of the measures for Ireland devised by the present Mi- nistry; Lord John Russell being the spokesman to the Commons, Lord Lansdowne to the Peers. Both speeches were ample, but the most ample was that of the Premier. Ministers propound some dozen measures, with more in the background; not given out as forming one connected scheme, but classed into three sets. The first class consists of temporary measures,—namely, incor- poration of the Relief Committees, with powers to administer funds arising from rates, Government donations, and charitable con- tributions, and to give food to those who need it without exacting work in return ; the promise that half the advances made by Go- vernment to landlords for "presentments" in the present emer- gency shall be remitted as the instalments are paid in ; extension of time for repayment of certain advances; and a new advance of 50,0001. to landlords, towards seed for the next crop. The second class consists of permanent measures,—loans like those under•the Drainage Act, repayable in twenty-two years, for other improve- ments on estates besides drainage; grand drainage, by forming water-courses, improving natural streams and °Walls, and the like, at the State's expense ,• expenditure of a million sterling in reclamation of waste lands, the lands so reclaimed to be pur- chased from proprietors, (with compulsory powers of appropria- tion in certain cases,) and resold or let to tenants in allotments of twenty-five or fifty acres each; and a poor-law, giving out-door relief for the infirm and helpless, relief to the able-bodied in the workhouse, or, when the house is full, out of it, but in food only. The third class consists of measures not yet matured, but to be introduced,—a bill to facilitate the sale of encumbered estates; a law to convert leaseholds renewable for ever into freeholds for- mation of fisheries about the coast ;;and some further facilities for emigrants on their arrival in the British North American Colo- nies. There is a fourth crass of measures, very slightly and ob- scurely hinted at; and among them appears to be something that concerns political institutions. It will be seen that this scheme, in its heads, closely resembles the " programme " of Ministerial intentions announced five or six weeks ago,* though it scarcely fulfils the expectations which that was calculated to excite. Now that we have the authoritative description, the scheme appears not less vast than that was, but more indefinite and hazy, less connected into a whole than it appeared in the brief draft, and at the same time not so vigorous and thoroughgoing. That was in some degree anticipatory account of results which were to be achieved by the Ministerial plans ; the plans themselves suggest grave doubts whether the results will be achieved. They lack the important element of compulsory action: there is no hint, for instance, that if the land- lords do not pay up the instalments due on Government advances, their lands will be seized in satisfaction of the claim. Probably no new law would be required for.the purpose ; but an announce- ment to such an effect would have been more than a form. Irish landowners have been accustomed to be defaulters in repaying ad- vances from Government, and to be forgiven ; and there is a strong impression, both in Ireland and England, that repayment of the present advances is equally a figment. Now, under such an im- pression, it is possible that some of the most improvident may really not make sufficient exertions in preparing to fulfil their engagements, and that reliance on a renewal of past leniency may entrap them into a default which will obli,ge Government—act- ing in these days under a more vigilant public opinion—to seize their property.
What important boon may lurk in the fourth class of unde- scribed measures, it is impossible to conjecture. To guess from
• See Spectator, 19th December 1846;age 1208. AMBIT EDITION.] certain vague expressions that fell from Lord John Russell, it might be supposed that, imputing the better progress of England and Scotland to their political institutions, he was going, to im-
port some of those institutions into Ireland, and to introduce po- litical reforms as remedies for distress. It is to be hoped that what he does contemplate is something more practical. There are, indeed, reforms which may be called political, which would
materially tend to tranquillize and therefore to enrich Ireland. Perfect tranquillity can never be realized while the great influence and engine of social government in Ireland remains an institu-
tion, like Ribandism, dependent on the voluntary zeal of the
populace—of the needy and the turbulent, whose favour it must propitiate : perfect tranquillity will never be attained until the Roman Catholic clergy cease to be, instead of a recognized and mutually-supporting ally of the State, an enemy, sometimes open
sometimes insidious, but ever at work.
The reception of the scheme in Parliament was upon the whole favourable. Lord John Russell's tact in preparing and manner in
delivering his speech were eminently calculated to conciliate sup- port and avoid opposition for the night : the economists of the Whig benches were faint in their objections, loud in their, approval ; the Irish Members grasped at the " boons," and offered no serious struction even to the Poor-law ; the Protectionist Members were ostentatious of indulgent forbearance and of professions to make sacrifices for Ireland ; Mr. Goulburn " cordially concurred," Lord Lincoln asked two practical questions, and Sir Robert Peel was silent. The same description would apply to the Upper House ; where Lord Stanley's small carping criticism and cutting questions seemed meant to humiliate rather than impede Minis- ters ; and the late colleagues of Sir Robert Peel were as silent as their chief.
Out of doors the'reception has been somewhat different. The unconnected nature of the scheme does not invite any distinct ludgment of it al „a whole ; and we do not observe, even in Ire7 and, any such a session of admiration, or even of excitedinte- rest, as any defined scheme endowed with an aspecl of unity
and determin igour, would have extorted.' In the press, the, approval is not so distinctly enunciated as the objections are. One Whig journal, distinguished by its close adhesion to the tenets of political economy, defends the scheme in an apologetic tone, not highly indicative of admiration. The great Whig ad- ;Neste of a peasant proprietary " is not disarmed by the modi- cum of such a measure inserted in the scheme but fiercely assails the Poor-law as a dangerous experiment in Ireland. The Lead- ing Jonrnal assails the Poor-law for not going far enough. And both the papers last alluded to denounce the advances promised to landlords without avowed limitation ; the great City paper asking what it will all cost ? The City has been asking the same
Suestion, in the significant language of falling "quotations" at the tock Exchange. Ministers are promising to Irish landlords loans of indefinite amount, at a low rate of interest, in the face of a rising market-rate, and declining prices for Government securi- ties. Here is a new element of increased taxation for England. On a subsequent evening, Mr. Roebuck tried to extort some further explanation on this important point ,• but he proved too little of a lawyer in dealing with Lord Jobn Russell : he had :'named the notice of his question so that it might be taken to apply only-to present measures, and Lord John Russell insisted on framing his answer accordingly, giving but scanty informa- tion about the future. It seems that the temporary measures are estimated to cost about seven millions sterling; As to the future, two sums of a million each are fixed : the probable expense of the rest, Lord John says, Mr. Roebuck will be better able to tell when he sees the "bills"—ominous equivocation !