HC Deb 24 April 1807 vol 9 cc538-51
Mr. Whitbread

moved the order of the day for the recommitment of the first of the four bills, into which, at the suggestion of the house, he had divided his general bill. The bill now to be committed, was that for establishing a Plan for the Education of the Poor. The order of the day being read, and the question being put that the Speaker do now leave the chair, Mr. Whitbread rose to state the nature and object of this bill. It was not meant, he said, to supersede any parish schools for the education of the poor, already established; it was not meant to increase unnecessarily the, charge upon any district, where parish schools were already instituted for the education of the poor, by establishing therein additional schools; his object was, that in every parish where there was a number of poor who could not afford to pay for the education of their children, there should be a school established for their instruction. But, as he proposed the education of the poor to be the incipient principle and grand foundation of all the benefits to be derived in future from the measures of reform in the Poor Laws, he thought this bill, which went peculiarly to that object, should be first established. If, therefore any hon. member had any objections to the principle of the bill, this was the proper time to state them.

Mr. Ellison

said, that, upon the first introduction of these bills, he had, in compliance with the hon. gent.'s injunction, forborne to enter into any discussion on the merits of the plan, understanding that it was first to go forth in the shape of a proposition to the country at large, and that time would be given to gentlemen throughout the kingdom fully to consider and digest, the subject, before it was finally passed into law. He hoped still this would be the case; for it was impossible that a measure, which required so much mature consideration, and so materially interested the country at large, could, on so short a notice as the house had received, be so fully communicated to the whole kingdom, as it could be in a printed form. He therefore hoped that this bill, and the others, would not now be pushed forward into the shape of a law; but that, after such amendments as the committee should think proper to introduce, the bills should be printed, and time given till next session for gentlemen to turn the subject in their minds, to consult their constituents, and to come forward fully prepared to discuss the merits of the bills, and render them as complete as possible.

Mr. Rose

was of the same opinion; but although he thought the hon. member who brought forward this subject entitled to the thanks of the country, yet he had his doubts, whether educating the lower orders of the people, upon the principle laid down in this bill, would have the effect either of ameliorating their condition in the degree which seemed to be hoped, or of alleviating the burthens of the poor's rates, by that means, within such a period as should in any degree convince the country of any benefit to be derived from a measure which, for a considerable time, must go to increase those burthens. The bill proposed, that the poor children of each parish should be entitled to two years education between the age of 7 and 14: the consequences naturally would be, that the earlier part of this period would be chosen by the parents, as that in their children's labour would be the least profitable to them. Now, the advantages to be derived to the minds and morals of children in that class of life, from two years of education at that early part of life, did not appear to him so very considerable as the hon. gent. professed to expect; and to carry the system of education to the labouring poor still higher, would, he feared, tend rather to raise their minds above their lot in life, and by no means strengthen their attachments to those laborious pursuits, by which they were to earn a livelihood; pursuits to which, at present, there existed; throughout the poor of this country, a very strong reluctance. If, therefore, care was not taken to blend with their education early habits of industry, he feared that schooling would rather injure than serve them, in the result. The subject of the Poor Laws had occupied, for a series of years, much of his own earnest attention; and of all the plans that occurred to him on the subject of education, the most feasible was, that of establishing schools in the maritime counties of this kingdom, and to which parents from the interior parts might send their children. At those schools, in addition to other instruction, they might be initiated in a naval education, and practised in fishing. They might thus draw, from the surrounding ocean, a great part of the means for their own maintenance. All British shipping, employed coast-ways, or sailing outward from the several ports in each district, might be obliged to take four, five, or more of those boys, at a proper age, and initiate them in naval service. At all events, they might be maintained and educated at one halt the expence of £14, now the usual average expence of each boy at charity schools. Eighty thousand boys might be thus kept in the continual progress of useful instruction, and acquire the opportunity of gaining a livelihood by maritime pursuits, affording thus an inexhaustible source of supply to the British navy. Nor was there ever a time when such a resource was more necessary than the present to the public security. But to prove the truth of the adage, that "there was nothing new under the sun," after he had for years considered this plan, he accidentally met with a tract, printed some years before, which exactly proposed the plan he had been considering as originally his own, and of the utility and importance of which he felt the fullest conviction.

Mr. Fuller

observed, that as the hon. gent. had thought fit to divide his original bill into four bills, this shewed that he had not at first fully considered the subject of the poor laws in all its bearings; he could therefore wish that the subject should be deferred to another session, when the bill might be introduced de novo, with the benefit of all the improvements which might in the meanwhile be suggested. As far as the principle of the bill went to increase the comforts of the poor, he sincerely wished that object might be obtained; but it behoved parliament to endeavour to give the poor virtue and morals, as well as instruction; and he also wished, that some general principle should be adopted, that rewards as well as punishments might follow; nor did he approve of taxing parishes, in addition to the heavy poor's rates, for the education of their children.

Mr. Buller

supported the bill, and instanced the happy effects of parochial education upon the population of Scotland.

Mr. Roscoe

thought the improvement of the lower classes an object highly desirable as nothing could be more disgraceful than to leave them in a state of ignorance. The only distinction between this country and a savage nation arose out of knowledge, and of course the diffusion of that blessing must operate to advance our superiority. He contended that the alleviation of the poor s-rates must follow as a natural consequence of the measure before the house. For the uneducated man, having nothing but his bodily strength to depend upon, became of necessity a burthen upon the parish when that strength was gone; whereas the man of education, in consequence of the wider range which his mind naturally took, could find other resources to maintain himself when he could derive no support from his mere animal powers. Thus he conceived that education must tend to diminish the amount of the poor's-rate. In support of this opinion, the hon. member quoted the good effects of national education in Scotland which had progressively improved for a series of years, and in which, before the system proposed by this bill was introduced, these were no less than 200,000 beggars, who not only formed a burthen upon the public, but a most mischievous example with regard to morality, industry and law. But the most important end of national education, the hon. member conceived to be that which appeared in a Letter from Mr. Malthus to the hon mover of the bill, namely, as the learned writer stated, that "as the first object was to elevate the general character of the poor, this or any measure which tended to it was entitled to support." After such an opinion, from such a quarter, he thought that no Sound objection could be made to this measure.

Mr. Calcraft

was friendly to the principle of the bill, and was for carrying it into effect as speedily as possible. He thought also, that industry ought to be combined with knowledge. It was the advantage of the plan which was called Mr. Lancaster's, but Which was really discovered by Dr. Bell, rector of Swanage, that it afforded, in the rapidity With which it conveyed learning, full time for industry. But though he was Most anxious to have this part of the plan carried into effect, he feared it would hardly be received with satisfaction in the country, unless it should be accompanied with a relief from some part of the burthens of the poor's rates. The execution of this measure was, besides, to lie not in the best hands. He allowed the clergymen of the parishes were the fittest men to superintend the execution of measures of this kind. But the parish officers were associated with the clergymen; and, from the little time these men could devote to their public functions, abuses would, attend the execution of this plan, as well as the other duties intrusted to these officers. On these grounds, he wished this part of the plan to be postponed, till the whole system should have been passed in the form that parliament should think proper to give it.

Mr. Henry Erskine

found it impossible for him to give a silent vote upon the subject. He could not help hailing this bill as a measure auspicious in the highest degree to the industry, the morality, the happiness, and good order of the people of this country. He was happy to give an example of the practical effect of education in the country from which he came (Scotland). It was to that that he attributed the total exemption of Scotland from the heavy burden of the poor laws, which oppress so much the middling classes of society in this country. It was education which gave the poor of Scotland too much pride and spirit to apply for parochial relief in their own country; and it was education which enabled them to distinguish themselves so much in every line when they left it. As to the emigrations from Scotland, they were generally supposed to proceed from the barrenness of the country, and from the principle of the proverb, "need makes the old wife trot;" but he considered that it rather proceeded from their talents being cultivated by education, and their having, in this respect, an advantage over the people of most nations to which they emigrated. Scotland was, to be sure, a barren country, and yet there were no people on earth more distinguished in horticulture. Scotch gardeners were to be found every where through England and Wales, and it was not only in this art that his countrymen excelled, but in such a variety of arts and sciences, that unless the house were to attribute it entirely to the ingenium Scotorum, they must allow that those advantages had been derived by the diffusion of education, and therefore they might expect the same results from an equal diffusion of it in this country. The Scotch had also learnt the virtue of frugality from education, as it gave thorn all that pride that was necessary to maintain themselves in independence.

Mr. Davies Giddy

mentioned, that in the part of England that he lived in, (Cornwall), education was pretty generally diffused; at least so much of it, that almost every person there had learned reading, writing, and something of arithmetic. He thought it was easy to persuade parents, that it was to their advantage that their children should be brought up in the habits of industry. He thought that education would not be the better for being made compulsory; it Was better that it should be voluntarily, and not be forced; that "it should descend like the gentle dew of Heaven," and be received as a general blessing. He did not think it Would be easy to induce parents to consent to any forced system of education for their children.

Mr. Spencer Stanhope

did not think the opinion of the Country yet fully collected on this measure. His opinion was, shortly, that the expence of the plan was certain, and the benefit very uncertain. Schoolmasters. and schoolmistresses were very difficult to be got. The value of learning had risen less than any thing else, in proportion to the depreciation of money; and, therefore, the number of persons competent to be schoolmasters and schoolmistresses was much diminished. He thought that if the schoolmasters could be got, it was doubtful whether the scholars could. The poor were anxious to make profit of the labour of their children as soon as possible. He gave the hon. gent. every credit for his praiseworthy exertions, though he saw these impediments in the way of his plan.

Mr. Sharpe

did not see how any of the objections that had been made affected the principle of the bill. All of them went to delay, though no good reason was assigned for this delay. He wished to shew the country, that the house could suspend its political and party contests, in order to join with common accord in matters of avowed public utility. The poor children would at all events be educated. The only question was, whether they should be well or ill educated? It was not in the school, nor under public or private masters alone, that education could be had. Children, if left alone, would educate themselves. But he who educated himself generally had a fool for his master. He did not think it possible that education could give sentiments above the condition of the individuals. Education would give habits of industry and attention. He wished for more than two years of instruction; but even in this short period the children, though they should forget all their learning, would have collected many beneficial habits of an indelible nature; habits of submission and respect for their superiors; habits of cleanliness and exertion, and the fear of punishment. He thought the measure should be carried into effect without delay.

Lord Porchester

adverted to the reference that had been made to the difference between the education of the people in the northern and those in the southern part of Great Britain; and declared it to be his belief that, if it were not for the introduction of the Scots into England, there would be a great vacuum in many stations of society in this part of the island. That their steady, industrious, and thinking habit was attributable to their different mode of education, he thought was extremely probable. But, as to the idea of engrafting a system of national industry on a system of national education, that was in his opinion extremely chimerical. Instead of doing any thing of that sort, which might tend to render the bill intricate and oppressive, he should give his vote for the house now resolving itself into the committee on the bill which was now before them.

Mr. Simeon

thought there was no need of going to the North for illustrations, nor to say much to that house upon the value of education. He thought it desirable that every one should be taught to read, but did not see the necessity of teaching every one to write: he disapproved of an addition of one shilling in the pound on the poor rates, which would be the effect of this bill, laid on for the prospect, at some years hence, afforded to some poor educated person of raising himself from his situation. He contended it was by no Means to be admitted that, because Scotland, in 1698, had received an establishment of schools, and had profited by it, that, therefore England, in her present civilized state, in 1807, should adopt similar regulations. He had taken great pains to examine the state of the poor, and should particularly speak of the town he represented (Reading), which contained 10,000 inhabitants, of whom 7,500 were poor; but hardly a child of ten years old was to be found who had not learned to read, at some of the threepenny schools which are kept by the poor old people. He saw no necessity for writing or arithmetic. He knew of no deficiency in the number of candidates for bankers clerks, and such situations, He condemned the mode in which the bill was to be carried into effect, but praised highly the Sunday schools, which he regretted he found great difficulty in prevailing upon the poor people to attend. He censured the Conduct of those in the higher classes of society, who thought the poor should receive no education, but felt his objections to the present plan to be radical and fundamental. His opinions resulted from experience, and not from speculation and theory.

Mr. George Vansittart

was of opinion, that the establishment of parochial schools in the manner proposed by the bill was much too expensive. He did not think at first, that the occupiers of lands and houses should be taxed, in order that all the children in the country should be taught to read and write, especially when it was doubtful, whether writing would be of any real use. However, However, he would vote for the bill going into the committee.

Mr. Bragge Bathurst ,

though he could not but admit that the principle of diffusing instruction among the lower classes was good, could not say that he approved of this bill. He had received a communication from the part of the country with which he was connected, that the whole of the bill of the hon. gent. was disapproved of at the quarter sessions, as extremely burthensome, without any adequate advantage. One of his objections to this bill was, that it tended to give an education to the lower classes above their condition, and comprehended objects too great for any one measure. The hon. mover of the bill had not yet made any statement of the present means of educating the lower classes. If his bill were to pass, there would be no compulsion to force attendance at the schools, and consequently the first menace of wholesome discipline, would put an end to the attendance of the individual threatened. He also objected to this bill, because it would do away Sunday schools, to which no person would subscribe, when the parochial schools should be established.

Mr. Wilberforce

said, that he thought the house and the country were under great obligations to the hon. gent. who had introduced this measure, as it must have required much exertion and attention to make out four such bills as those before them; but at the same time he could not help thinking, that parliament ought to proceed with great caution upon such a subject. They were now undertaking, for the first time, a great work, which had been too long delayed, the diffusion of the benefits of education; and therefore they ought to take care lest it might not prove prejudicial in some respects, while it was advantageous in others. He could easily conceive many modifications which such a bill might undergo, and amongst others, the combining of voluntary contributions, according to the different circumstances of places, and the means of instruction which each might possess; and, therefore, he approved of the house going into a committee. The encouraging a desire in the lower orders of the people to better their situation, did not appear to him an objectionable part of the bill; because, it was natural that hope should exist in the breast of every one, to push himself forward in the scale of human beings, As far, however, as he had been able to observe the disposition of the country, as to this bill, it had not been received so favourably as he could have wished. He himself had received various representations against it, principally on account of its having been precipitately introduced. Although he was for going into the committee, he was not for pressing it forward afterwards till such time as parliament could be informed more particularly of the real sentiments of the country regarding it. He agreed in regard to what had been said of Scotland, and ascribed a good deal of that order and moral conduct, industry, and rectitude, which prevailed in that part of the country, to their general system of education. It would be important that the system now to be adopted here, should be combined with all those advantages which made men valuable members of society, and accustomed them to be obedient under command and controul. He approved highly of the plan which had been suggested that night by a right. hon. gent. (Mr. Rose) as to combining it with the institution at maritime schools. He professed himself to be a friend to the bill in general, although he was convinced it was susceptible of various important improvements He trusted he should have to congratulate the hon. gent. who had introduced it, in having thus laid the foundation of a system which would yet be attended with the most beneficial effects upon society.

Mr. Windham ,

after paying some very handsome compliments to the hon. mover for his good intentions in the formation of the bill then before the house, observed, that this was a subject which most particularly required deliberate consideration. It was impossible, of all others, that this subject could be decided uno flatu. It was an object that humanity and justice long required; but had the maturity of time now come to such a state of fulness that it was impossible for us to wait another session? That the diffusion of knowledge was proper might be supported by many good arguments; but he confessed that he was himself a sceptic on this point. It was said, look at the state of the savage when compared to ours. A savage among savages was very well, and the difference was only perceived when he came to be introduced into civilized society. That state of each society was known best by comparing one with another, and that was found to be the best which had the greatest variety of employments for its members. A knowledge of many of the fine arts, and of the mechanic arts, was very useful, but we were not all to be artists or mechanics; how awkward should we be situated if we were a nation of shoemakers, or carpenters, or taylors? If, on the other hand, all men were clerks, what should we do for labourers? This was a false idea; it was only giving the means of knowledge, without being certain that those means would be rightly made use of. His friend, Dr. Johnson, was of opinion that it was not right to teach reading beyond a certain extent in society. The danger was, that if the teachers of the good and the propagators of bad principles, were to be candidates for the controul of mankind, the latter would be likely to be too successful. He could not think it right to say, that every man who possessed intellect should administer to himself, because, if so, a patient who had intellect, and was of course most particularly interested in his own cure, would be the best doctor. The circulation of great truths would be of no advantage to mankind, unless you could increase the stature of their understanding, so as that it could reach those things. But great stress had been laid on the example of Scotland he admitted the full force of all the encomiums that had been paid to that country; but then it did not follow that he must consequently say, "all this comes of their writing and reading." He might as well say, like the old woman when she saw a man going to be hanged for forgery, "see what comes of your writing and reading." But there were particularities both in habit and appearance by which people of different countries might be distinguished from each other. If he was to see a man in a crowd, for instance, with red hair and high cheek bones, and by his appearance knew that he was a Scotchman, was he to say, this is all owing, to their writing and reading in that part of the country? Would it nut be more rational to say, that in this, as well as in many other cases, it was difficult for him to trace causes from effects, as it was also to trace effects from any given causes; might he not say, that he did not know whether the prudence, economy, &c. of the Scots was not the cause of their applying themselves more to learning than we did? A more substantial cause was, perhaps, found out by an hon. gent. opposite, who had attributed the economy of the Scots to the want of poor laws throughout the greater part of the country. But we should consider how far the measure itself was calculated to effect its own object; for instance, let us look to England, and see if learning had not increased rapidly for many years past, and yet, in the same proportion, we find that poverty had increased. The increase of this sort of introduction to knowledge would only tend to make the people study politics, and lay them open to the arts of designing men; it was impossible that a great quantity of reading in a country could banish poverty entirely out of the nation; we might as well say, that we could remove poverty from among a people by teaching them all to play the fiddle. A good deal, however, might be said to consist in the extent of the population and general habits of the people; and whilst people were found to lose sight of that honourable principle of independence that would not suffer them to rest their hopes of relief on the parish, it was impossible to prevent poverty among them. As long as men would marry, and get children, without ever thinking of what was to become of their offspring; as long as men would spend their gains as fast as they got them, living from hand to mouth, and not laying something by for a rainy day, according to their own emphatical expression, so long would it be impossible to hope that poverty should not creep in amongst us. The benefit societies contributed, indeed, as far as their general principle went, to remove the I danger of being overwhelmed with poverty more than any system which he had seen for many years; but even they might, in many instances, be liable to some objection, as to the detailed part of each particular society. The plan of his hon. friend, however, did not possess the least possible means of removing poverty from our door for an instant, except in some few individual cases. He must, therefore, however reluctantly, oppose the motion of his hon. friend, whose humane and patriotic intentions must be fairly acknowledged and sincerely felt by every Englishman.

Mr. Whitbread

contended against the principle laid down by his right hon. friend. Was it to be believed, that one of the most erudite men of his day, that an enlightened statesman of the nineteenth century, could stand forward in that house to argue against the universal diffusion of knowledge? That a man who was himself the shining example of the great and good effects resulting from education, could now be an advocate for ignorance? That the representative of a free people could say, that the people were the more free when they were the less enlightened? His right hon. friend had said, that persons the most interested in any business were generally the least qualified for that business; and had instanced such a position by one of those illustrations with which his right hon. friend more frequently amused than convinced the house. A patient, it had been said, was of all others the least capable of assisting himself. But what formed the grand distinction between brutes and human beings so circumstanced? The latter could point out the seat of their disease, and thus direct the skill of the physician; so that, to carry on the illustration, information was in a high degree essential to the patient. Much had been said respecting the increased burthens of the poor rates; he contended for it that the proposed system of education would considerably reduce those burthens. In Scotland, the poor rates were almost nothing. In Westmoreland, and other English counties, where education in a greater proportion prevailed, the rates were in the same proportion lessened. As to the application to France, he thought it made for his argument; for though those who were at the head of the Revolution might have been enlightened, was notorious that the instruments in the hands of those men were the most ignorant and brutal of the Parisian mob; but it was singular, to hear such an argument from one, who, in introducing to that house the military plan that did him so much honour, had observed that the Scots made the best soldiers, and why? because the Scots were in general the best educated. His right hon. friend then said, "give me a soldiery of exalted character." He, (Mr. Whitbread) now said, give me a peasantry of exalted character. It was education only that gave such character to either. It had been said that the illiterate peasantry would see sufficiently by the lights of the community in which they lived. He, for his part, could not understand how a man would be enabled to see better by a candle held by others than by one held by himself. Education might be said to be the panacea, if any thing human could be a panacea, for the ills to which our state was naturally subjected. As to the red hair and high cheekbones of the Scots, these were but physical allusions, neither seriously introduced, nor to be seriously commented upon: but as to the moral distinctions; how were such to be ascertained? He believed by the frequency or scarcity of crime. In Westmoreland, the best educated county in England, executions were scarcely known. Search the Newgate calendar. The great majority of those executed in London every year were Irish; the next in order were English, and the last Scots. This was in exact proportion with their respective systems of education among the lower orders. Several gentlemen had objected to the great additional expense of which, it was apprehended, this plan of education might be productive. He contended that that expense had been considerably overrated. He had said that they would not in any case exceed one shilling in the pound, and then it was immediately concluded that the expenses were in all cases to be estimated at a shilling in the pound. The hon. gent. then took a view of the plan as affecting the metropolis. In the parish of St. Giles, no less than 5000 children, the offspring of the labouring Irish, were daily advancing in ignorance to maturity. Mr. Lancaster was likely to contribute still further to the service of his country, by assuming the management of a school in the Seven Dials for carrying on his approved system of mechanical education. He was willing to say, too, that he thought Dr. Bell's services in this way had been very important.—He bad been advised to postpone the bill for another year. Human existence was uncertain. He might not live for another year, and he was unwilling that the measure should fall into the hands of any one who might be less enthusiastic in the prosecution of it than himself. He concluded by trusting that the house would allow the bill to go into a committee.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

expressed his readiness to concur in the motion for the Speaker's leaving the chair, because he was convinced that the investigation of the subject in the committee would be productive of material advantage. He could not, however, agree with the hon. gent. in many of his positions; and he differed considerably from him in the hostility which he had expressed towards the whole code of the Poor Laws; a code which, in his opinion, contained a great deal of good, although, certainly, with some alloy of evil.—The house then resolved itself into a committee, in which a conversation arose. Mr. Whitbread was anxious that the bill should be immediately proceeded with, reminding the house that it had lain on the table ever since the 22d of February. Mr. Giddy and Mr. Carey objected to any further proceeding with the bill at that late hour as many objections must necessarily arise against the various clauses. It was agreed, therefore, that the proceedings in the committee should be postponed, and the house having resumed, the chairman reported progress, and obtained leave to sit again on Monday.

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