‘Peel responded to the challenges of his age “by adapting his policies in the light of reasoned argument and practical necessity”‘. Assess the validity of this view.(25)


  • Peel dealt with the challenges of his time as leader of the opposition and as Prime Minister.
  • These issues included the Irish question, government deficit, protection for workers and a fragile Conservative Party.
  • Overall, on the issues which he knew best, the economy, he successfully adapted his policy in the light of reasoned argument and practical necessity.
  • On the issues which he considered less important, he was less successful.

Arguments For…

  • Famine 1845 and the Repeal of the Corn Laws: In response to the potato famine in Ireland in 1845 and the sheer number of deaths that resulted, Peel controversially repealed the Corn Laws allowing cheaper grain into the country. Although in theory he acted in light of practical necessity, the reality was that it made very little difference to the struggle of the Irish people.
  • Maynooth Grant and strengthening the Union: In response to the growing popularity of the Repeal Association, Peel increased government funding to the Maynooth Catholic College (CONCESSION) in order to gain the support of Catholic leaders and peasants under their influence. It was hoped that this would reduce the influence of the Repeal Association.
  • Reintroduction of income tax addressed government deficit: Peel introduced a 3% income tax on all annual incomes in excess of £150. This was very successful as it moved the budget into surplus in 1845, having been in deficit from the Whig government by raising £3.7 million.
  • Protection for children in mines 1842 Mines Act: Following the Factory Act passed under the Whig government in 1833, no legislation  had been passed to address conditions for children working in the mines. Girls, Women and boys aged under 10 years were banned from working underground. The bill was passed within two months after ministers reviewed the shocking report by the Committee of Inquiry on the limitations of the Factory Act 1833.

Arguments Against…

  • Outdoor Relief Labour Test Order: This specifically forbade the provision of outdoor relief after parishes continued to offer it in the transition to the workhouse system. The workhouse was an unpopular measure among the working classes which didn’t address their needs. The conditions were revealed during the Andover Scandal of 1846. In banning outdoor relief, he was neglected the real needs of the country’s poorest.
  • Issue of land tenure in Ireland: Although Peel did set up to Devonshire Committee in 1843 to investigate the issue of land inequality in Ireland, it was ineffective, failing to report until 1845. This suggested that it was not an important issue for Peel and he was therefore not willing to adapt policy. By the time the committee had reported, the famine had broken out and it was too late for him to instigate sound measures.
  • A Conservative Party still scarred by the split over Catholic Emancipation: The Conservative Party were by no means a unified party during these years and Peel was never a truly popular leader, preferring to act upon his individual instincts. Rather than acting to appease the ultra faction, he went ahead with the Free Trade budget of 1842 and repealed the Corn Laws in 1846 because of his own instincts, thus splitting the party.


  • Overall, Peel did not adapt his policy in the light of reasoned argument or practical necessity, except upon those issues were favourable to his interests and experience.
  • On social welfare, especially for those in Ireland, he failed to respond to clear signs that policy should be changed and on leadership of the Conservative party he failed to act as the glue that held them together.
  • It could be argued that Peel simply didn’t understand many of the challenges of his age because he was a young politician whose background had been financial issues only.

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