3 AUGUST 1850, Page 14


IT is a remarkable and humiliating troth, that our legislation, so far from being usually the result of a sound induction, is scarcely ever beneficially influenced by historical or even by contempora- neous and parallel experience. Under circumstances exactly ana- logous to those for which they have legislated ignorantly and mis- chievously a century before, men will enact like blunders each day : nay, they not seldom simultaneously abolish and reenact statutes the evils or the inefficacy of which the passing hour de- monstrates. Their eyes, too, may be all the time open to the mis- chief they are about to do : their consciences they quiet by those words of power—" Something must be done." Under the influence of this phrase, unlimited "out-door relief," a monster "labour- rate," and a national "rate in aid," were imposed upon Ireland by politicians who had recognized the operation of those contri- vances in beggaring and demoralizing the labouring population of England, and who had themselves laboured for years in efforts to abolish them, or to mitigate the unmixed evil of their results. The deed was done, too, not more in contravention of the past and passing experience of -England, than in opposition to the expecta- tion of its probable effects upon Ireland entertained by those who did it and by all in whom they trusted. "We cannot," Sala Arch- bishop Whately and his fellow Commissioners, in 1836, "we can- not recommend. 'parochial employment,' or out-door relief,' for the labourers of Ireland: we cannot recommend a system which offers bounties on filth and improvidence, the pressing evils of the country, and which discourages that cleanliness, neatness, and comfort, of which Ireland stands in such crying need !" `This sentiment was echoed by Mr. Nicholls in all his Reports. "To introduce out-door relief into Ireland," said Mr. Senior, "would be to inflict on the country a greater injury than any that she has. yet suffered from us. The disease which required two centuries of-gra- dual increase before it became intolerable in England, would in less than ten years become unbearable, perhaps incurable, in Ireland.' So late as the session of 1846, Lord John Russell expressed his con- currence in these opinions ; and statements were then made both by his Lordship and by Sir lames Graham to the effect "that there had been experience in Rngland of the danger, even under tempo- rary pressure, of giving out-door relief to the ablebodied. It con- stituted, in fact, a payment out of the rate in aid of wages, and led to a system of relief now called in England "a labour-rate," which, of all the noxious offshoots of the Poor-law in this country, proved to be the most dangerous and the most in- jurious. Among all great bodies of ratepayers, there are per- Song sustaining themselves with great difficulty by their in- dustry. If a claim of this description were let in, it was appre- hended that the inevitable effect would be to swamp that indus- trious class, and to spread pauperism indefinitely. A state of so- ciety would be created, so debased and so dependent, that, bad am! unhappy as the condition of the working population of Ireland might be then, yet, judging from the highest authorities who have treated the subject, and relying on experience, it was feared that but a very short time would elapse before the future condition of Ireland would be rendered infinitely worse than the present. Nevertheless, "out-door relief," " labour-rate " and "rate maid," were inflicted upon Ireland, in the teeth of all this experience,,ap- prehension, and foresight; and two of the three are still in opera- tion, though the first has been unanimously condemned by a Cloud of witnesses, who detailed their official and independent experience of its actual effects before Committees of both Houses of Parlia- ment, in the past year.

But while the spell, "Something must be done," has thus urged the rulers of the Legislature on their course of mischief, the same influence has acted unpropitiously upon their opponents. They too exclaim that "something must be done"; and, with nearly a common voice, the more respectable leaders of opinion in Ireland call for "a strict application of in-door relief to all classes of paupers," as the counter-charm all-sufficient for the occasion. In their haste, they even very generally concur in the admission made by the Lords' Committee of last year, "that to effect this, additional workhouse accommodation must be provided, and that a considerable number of new unions should be formed-and workhouses attached to them." It seems to us, however, that

much more can be done, and ought to be done, than an indiscrimi- nate application of the workhouse test, or -a new plunge into a building-debt, and into a system in which six-and-eightpence out of every pound expended goes to the support of an official staff.* The truth is the original vice of the Irish Poor-law, and that which necessarily led to the monstrous evil of an indiscriminate and unchecked out-door relief, was the acknowledgment, under ordinary circumstances, of a claim for public alms on the part of the ablebodied poor. Whenever the healthy labouring population of a country, and especially of an agricultural country, fail in sup- porting themselves, the cause must be either the exceptional one of a failure of crops, or some social derangement too deep-seated for an alms-law to touch. In the former ease, which was that of Ireland, as the origin of the evil is exceptional, so ought the remedy te be. When, during: the last four years, the able- bodied poor needed relief, the union and workhouse systems, with their extensive districts and divided responsibility, were found utterly inadequate to supply it. Nor did the labour-rate, or the simple distribution of food at the public cost, answer better : during nine months ended in April of the present plentiful year, no fewer than 225 inquests were reported by the Constabu- lary, in which the verdicts alleged death from want. Now the whole system is at this moment operating to cause evictions, to prevent cultivation, and to direct a tide of pauper immigration into England, we have already seen. Now, taking into considera- tion that the origin of the evil in the potato-famine has not ceased to operate, or may again become active, can any rational man sup- pose that a remedy would be found merely in a strict application of in-door relief to all classes of paupers"? Under such excep- tional circumstances, an exceptional but orderly mode of remedial action should be rendered practicable. While the infirm and im- potent should be relieved in the workhouses and at the general cost of the unions, the electoral divisions might be permitted, or, if necessary, required, but only under circumstances of impe- rative necessity, to enter into local arrangements for the em- ployment or relief, in food, of those able and willing to -work. In these arrangements the voluntary association of neighbouring electoral divisions might be permitted, and individuals might be allowed to commute their proportion of the "famine-rate," in whole or in part, by the employment of an equivalent number of labourers in need of relief. H the actual incidence and real na- ture of the necessary taxation were in this way kept in full view of the ratepayers, and if no exemption or partition of the burden were permitted, there would probably be few impostors upon the relief-roll and but little uncultivated land in the divisions. Thus, the elastic force of capital and industry would be left at liberty to -work, and, in most instances, would be found equal to the occa- sion. If not, the cause of failure should be sought out and ob- viated: it certainly would not be removeable by a persistence in the bleeding and water cure—compulsory alms-giving and compulsory abstraction of capital from the channels of in- dustry. The plan we suggest would really be an occasional and extraordinary, complement of the workhouse system ; and as such, its adoption would justify the strict application, at all ordinary times and in all ordinary cases, of the in-door relief test. To that necessary general rule we have however, to hint another exception. On the 30th of March 1850, there were in the work- houses of Ireland 95,622 children under fifteen years of age : what is to become of these unfortunates ? To those familiar with the subject of education, whether through personal experience or his- torical inquiry, no fact is better assured than the impossibility, physical and moral, of rearing children congregated in masses, into useful members of society. There is absolutely no physical training that can manufacture a hardy peasant out of the prisoner of a pauper'boarding-school; no moral discipline practicable in such an institution can effect much of what is necessary to be done to fit an individual for even the humblest station in life, and which can only be done by "the family" relation. The unhappy children of the Irish workhouses will assuredly neither make good emigrants nor safe dwellers at home. They might generally be made either the one or the other by relieving their bodily destitution out of the workhouse, and by providing for the mental cultivation in the ythlio schools with which the country is now abundantly supplied. The -plan of placing destitute children in peasants' families was adopted successfully by the Irish Foundling Hospital, after a long and calamitous experience had satisfied its managers of the evils of the opposite system. The cost for out-door maintenance, clothing, and education, of each child under the control of that institution, was 3/. 108. a year; and the management was conducted by a staff of some half-dozen persons. The average cost of each pauper in the workhouses during the last year, for maintenance and clothing alone, was 3/. 15s. 10d. ; and the entire average expenditure upon each child was probably not less than 6/. or 71. But diminishing space warns us to draw our lucubrations to a close ; which we shall do by simply summing up our hints. We have hinted, that the Irish Poor-law might be assimilated to the model set by English practice and experience, and by common sense- 1. By the abolition of the exemption from rating of tenements valued at or under -4/. ; and so removing the penalty under which the landowner is forced to clear his lands :

* In the year ended 29th September 1849, the expenditure of poor-rates In Ireland w

In maintenance £797,294

Out relief 679,603 Establishment expenses 700,762

2. By fixing the incidence of the rate, at least so fax as relates to all future tenancies, upon the oecupier only ; and so, at once, awaking his responsibility for the proper working of the law, and bringing rent to a free market test :

3. By fixing the liability for arrears of rate upon the person who incurred them ; and so removing the penalty upon cultivation which the fixture of those arrears on the land now imposes :

4. By the abolition of the various and expensive legal remedies for the recovery of rates ; and so increasing the collection and diminishing its pressure on the ratepayer:

5. By restricting all ordinary relief, except in the case of des- titute children, to the workhouse: 6. By arranging a machinery, on the plan indicated shove, for the temporary and local relief of extraordinary occasional des- titution.

Some of these propositions will probably seem too small in the eyes of the Poor-law reformers, and others too large in those of the raging philanthropists. The men who are now- at the verge of ruin, brought on by a reckless attempt to hand-feed a nation, may think changes in the incidence of the rate to be trifling : those who merely ink of quieting popular clamour by daily expedients, will scarcely comprehend a broader plan of dealing with the dif- ficulty. Nevertheless, we hope that reasonable men both in Eng- land and Ireland will see that, as human nature is much the same in both kingdoms, it is not to be expected that causes which have produced infinite mischief in the former can be safely allowed to operate in the latter; or that laws which the common sense of the one nation repudiates are likely to be acceptable or beneficial in the other. Those who may take this view will recognize in all our hints nothing beyond a recommendation to be guided by English experience, and to reduce the practice of Irish poor-relief to that which has been found safe or least injurious in our own °country : such persons will, we trust, act accordingly.