Letters to Lord John Russell on the Further Measures for the Social Amelioration of Ireland/Letter 1
TO THE RIGHT HON. LORD JOHN RUSSELL,
Auxiliary Measures should have accompanied the Poor-law—Waste Lands Reclamation the first—Requires Legislative Interference—Voluntary Exertions of Landlords not to be depended on.
Once more I take the liberty of addressing you on the condition of Ireland, and the legislative measures which appear to be imperatively necessary for its safety.
I am emboldened to do so, partly by the sanction which the course of events, and the policy recently pursued by your Lordship and the Legislature, with the almost unanimous assent of the public, have afforded to the views on this subject which I have for many years past put forward through every available channel (with a pertinacity which procured me for a time not a little opprobrium); partly by the conviction that much of the dreadful amount of calamity which has afflicted unhappy Ireland during the past year might have been avoided by an earlier adoption of the policy so recommended,—that, namely, of directing our Legislation to the cure of her physical and economical maladies rather than to those more fanciful grievances of an ecclesiastical or political character, to which the attention of Parliament was up to last year almost exclusively confined.
The remedies as yet applied—valuable as they are to the extent to which they go—cannot he supposed sufficient of themselves to overcome the enormous amount of social evils to he contended with. Further efforts must be made. And few days pass without threatening indications of the danger that must attend their longer postponement.
With the exception of the Vagrant Act, the Landed Property Act for sanctioning loans to a limited amount to landlords, and one or two others of minor importance, the Poor-law comprised the total of the measures passed in the last session of Parliament for the improvement of that horrible state of society which has long existed in Ireland; which Parliamentary Reports and Royal Commissions have more or less disclosed from time to time to the few who chose to attend to them, but which would have remained still unheeded by the directors of public affairs had not the potato blight at once raised its horrors to. an intolerable climax, and forced their consideration upon the Legislature.
Urgently as I have always pressed for a completion of the Poor-law, as the necessary foundation and commencement of social reform in Ireland, I have never failed to express the opinion that it would require other supplementary measures to be adopted at the same time, to enable it to be successfully put into operation, as well as to assist in bringing about the great object in view, of securing to the bulk of the people of Ireland the means of living in that decent condition which civilization requires and ought to afford to them. If I held this opinion before the loss of the potato occurred, how much more strongly must I entertain it now, when the ordinary resources of the country have been so greatly lessened.? I say this, because my name having been often publicly coupled with the suggestion of such an amended Poor-law as was passed last session, it is due to myself that I should as publicly repeat the declaration that I have never put forward such a law as in itself a panacea for Ireland's ill, or even as capable of being effectually worked, without the accompaniment of other large and vigorous measures. Above all, at such a critical period as the present, with the awful prospect opening before us for the ensuing winter, it is impossible not to perceive that to leave Ireland to right herself by the bare unaided influence of the new Poor-law, would be to risk the failure of that law altogether; indeed, to play into the hands of its opponents, who will no doubt do all in their power to hamper and resist its operation; and thus, by discrediting it, to compromise its duration, and the realization of the vast benefits which, fairly carried out, it is calculated to produce.
Your Lordship yourself, in your opening speech on the state of Ireland last session, shewed that 4 you shared this opinion, by declaring your intention to submit to Parliament a series of other measures to accompany the Poor-law. Most of these, however, were either never introduced at all, or fell to the ground through the pressure of other business, and the necessity of an early dissolution of Parliament. Other prominent Members of the Legislature likewise proposed supplementary measures on a large scale-such as assistance to railroads and colonization—which met with much favour from portions of the public; all shewing the general concurrence of feeling that something else is required besides a Poor-law to tide Ireland over her present unexampled embarrassments, and elevate her people to that condition which her abundant natural resources give them a right to expect.
That aid might be usefully afforded in moderation to the development of a system of railways in Ireland I fully admit. The expediency of a permanent national system of colonization for the benefit of the three kingdoms I have always advocated. But, nevertheless, I cannot agree with those who put forward either or both of these schemes as in themselves capable of acting with sufficiently immediate, direct, and powerful effect upon the present circumstances of Ireland to warrant their being so prominently advocated as they have been, to the exclusion of other measures more appropriate, and more immediately applicable to the crisis we have to deal with.
The great object to be had in view is to create: employment and food for the people. Employment in the production of food, if possible. Surely, if ibis can be created at home, it is much better (for a thousand reasons, which I need not dwell on) than attempting to find it for them in America. Now the universal testimony of all who have studied the natural resources of Ireland assures us that there exist ample means within her own limits for employing and feeding her entire population—nay, several multiples of that number—of employing them in the production as well of the food they require as of other objects of home consumption or commercial demand.
Then, clearly, the first and most obvious of all measures, for the attainment of the great end I have mentioned, should be the removal of all obstructions that may exist to the development of these natural resources, and its direct encouragement by every legitimate means within the power of the Government or Legislature.
Several measures have been, suggested for this purpose. Some have been partly recommended to Parliament by yourself. Some minor measures of the kind have been, to a moderate extent, already enacted in the Drainage and Fisheries Acts.
The more important measures, however, to which I allude are,
1. A bill for facilitating the sale of. encumbered estates.
2. An improved landlord and tenant law.
3. A measure for commencing the immediate reclamation of the waste lands.
These three measures are almost inseparable, all are fitted to work well together, and it would be difficult to say which is most urgently required.
If I begin, therefore, by enforcing upon your Lordship's attention the last as the most pressing in urgency, it will be chiefly because I have been led myself to pay the greater consideration to it of late; having introduced, as you are aware, a bill for the purpose in 1846; and because the subject is involved, I believe, in fewer difficulties, and is capable of a more immediate and simple adjustment than either of the others. It has the great advantage, moreover, of having been already recommended to Parliament by yourself, as one of the leading measures required for the improvement of Ireland.
On this latter ground I hope I shall not be considered, in the arguments I may address to you in its favour, as presuming to indoctrinate you on the subject, but rather as endeavouring to draw the attention of the public to the facts and reasonings on which rest the views your Lordship has already declared, but which you have hitherto had no opportunity of supporting by argument. In the pressure of. other public business last session, I vainly attempted, more than once, to obtain a Parliamentary discussion of the question. Of this I have no reason to complain. The subject was naturally considered of too great moment to be effectively debated on the motion of an uninfluential un-official member. I trust I may be more successful in the attempt I am now making to bespeak the attention due to it.
Though anxious to avoid all appearance of overestimating the merits of the particular measure I am recommending, yet I cannot refrain from expressing astonishment at the degree to which the almost inexhaustible resources offered by the waste lands of Ireland for the productive employment of the wretched and unwillingly idle labourers of that country have been overlooked and neglected, no less by statesmen than individual proprietors.
They would seem to offer the most obvious and natural resource. It is not that attention has not been constantly called to them. For, not to mention the Irish Bog Commission Reports from 1809 to 1814, and the frequent and strong recommendations on the subject by successive Committees and Commissions since that date, it is scarcely possible to open a work upon Ireland, or a petition or memorial from any part of the country, complaining of distress and asking for relief, without finding mention made in it of the immense extent of waste and unproductive but improveable land that lies in the vicinity of the district whose inhabitants are idle for want of work, and starving for want of food I As one example amid hundreds, I take a report, dated the 6th instant, from the Chairman of the Relief Committee of the Monaminey Electoral Division, in the Union of Mallow, made to the Relief Commissioners. In it I find the following passage:—
"The non-resident proprietors possess the most valuable interest in nearly nine-tenths of the soil of our district. Their estates are capable of great improvement; and for the most part, indeed four-fifths of them, are wilderness, waste and unproductive; but which, if reclaimed and improved, as they might he by drainage, &c., would give ample employment and subsistence to the whole surplus population, and change this district from a region of distress and calamity into one of comparative wealth and prosperity."
And this is a district in which "the majority of the labouring population" have been during the last twelve months, or more, either fed in complete idleness at the expense of the community, or but nominally employed on useless roadworks, and must continue to be so uselessly fed or wastefully employed, during the next and ensuing years (unless they are to be allowed to starve), as the Report of the Relief Committee asserts, "without legislative interference"!
Yes! "without legislative interference—because the resident farmers are utterly unable to give employment on a large scale, and the proprietors, or nine-tenths of them, are absentees."
It is indeed hopeless to expect from the voluntary exertions of the landlords, whether absentee or resident, even under the stimulus of the threatened poor-rate, any adequate action in bringing to bear this shamefully wasted labour upon the wasted land in its proximity.
The landlords generally cannot be expected to possess the energy, if they even possessed the power, or could obtain the means, for effecting this to anything like the extent or with the promptitude that is required. In some cases, no doubt, the effort will be made; and by help of the Drainage and the Landed Property Improvement Acts, something will be accomplished. But in the great majority of cases, the same inertness, from whatever source arising, that has hitherto prevented their bringing into productive use the improveable portions of their estates, will continue still to operate, and the state of things described above in the division of Monaminey, and which is a fair sample of numerous other districts in the west and south of Ireland, will continue unabated.
Even of those landlords who are roused, by the pressure of the times and the impending poor-rate, to action, the majority look for salvation to other means—to the eviction of their numerous tenantry, the clearing of their estates from the seemingly superfluous population by emigration or ejectment. Such landlords are utterly incredulous when they are told that the population on their estates is not really redundant, and that by a re-arrangement of their farms—by an active reclamation of their waste land—by encouraging their tenants by liberal arrangements as to tenure or aid, to bring forth their little hoards of hidden capital, or to set to work with their own strong sinews to drain and otherwise improve the lands they occupy, or the surrounding waste—by acting, in short, as several enterprising landlords, such as Lord George Hill, Captain Kennedy, and others have acted, they might enable all to live decently off the produce of the land, and improve their own rental at the same time. They wholly refuse their belief in this; and that they will act upon the recommendation is entirely out of the question.
And yet nothing can be more true, or more capable of demonstration, than the assertion that there is no real redundancy of population generally in Ireland. Nay, that even in the most distressed and apparently overcrowded districts a wise and prudent management of their natural resources night find profitable employment for all, to the great advantage of the proprietors themselves, and the still greater benefit of the people and the public which is so deeply interested in this result. But I am exceeding all due limits, and must reserve my proofs of this assertion to another occasion. Meantime, I remain, my Lord,
Your Lordship's very obedient servant,
G. Poulett Scrope.
London, Sept. 23.