HC Deb 04 August 1807 vol 9 cc1050-5
Mr. Whitbread

moved the order of the day for taking into farther consideration the report on the Parochial schools bill; which being read,

Mr. Davies Giddy

said, though he should not oppose the further progress of this bill, he must beg leave to say a few words or the present occasion. He then repeated some of his former objections against instructing the lower classes of the people, especially in writing and arithmetic, at the public expence. He thought also, that being enabled to read, they would waste their time in perusing inflammatory hand-bills, and other political productions; and that more mischief would be the result than good produced by it.

Mr. W. Smith

defended the principle of instructing all classes of society, and thought that those who opposed it must necessarily found their arguments upon mistake. Sedition, if it was at all to be propagated or encouraged by instruction or general knowledge, was much more likely to be so, by its being communicated by the ear, than it would be when communicated by the eye. It appeared to him that one ill-intentioned man, disposed to propagate sedition, might do infinitely more mischief, by inflaming the passions of the people by seditious harangues, than could be done by their reading the most inflammatory and seditious pamphlets; and it was surely much better to counteract seditious pamphlets, by their being able to read others of a contrary tendency, than to hire men to make speeches, in order to put down the effect of seditious harangues. If the government of a country were afraid of making the people enlightened and well informed, he really did not see how they could possibly stop short of wishing that they had no understandings at all.

Mr. Pole Carew

objected to the clause relative to the purchasing, hiring, or erecting buildings for the purpose of giving the requisite instruction. He had been told that the poor's rates were ultimately to be lowered, by enlightening the lower orders of the people; but he was convinced it would have quite a contrary effect, and tend to nothing more than raising the poor's rates, and affording them an education beyond what their situations in life required. That education was certainly best which was nearest adapted to the particular sphere of each individual. Institutions for education were increasing daily, and he saw no occasion for increasing their number; the more especially as he thought small schools were more desirable than large ones; because, in the latter, immorality was more likely to be imbibed than morality and virtue. For these, and other reasons, he proposed to leave out the words, "empowering magistrates to purchase or hire any buildings or lands whereupon to erect buildings for the purpose of schools."

Mr. Whitbread

combated the arguments used in support of this amendment, as being totally destitute of foundation, and such as had already been refuted by every argument used upon the subject, either in that house or in any work that had been written upon it. It was an amendment which went absolutely to render the whole bill ineffectual. While the dangers of a refined education were talked of, gentlemen did not seem to recollect, that the education proposed by this bill was only the simple education of reading and writing. Whatever might be the sense of the house upon this amendment, he should own he was anxious such a bill should pass under legislative authority, to shew that parliament had decided that education was a good thing to be given, a proper thing to be obtained. It was a mistake for some members to suppose that this was a compulsory measure. Would the hon. gent. who recommended small schools in preference to large ones, propose to have 20 small schools instead of one large school, by way of limiting the expenses of the undertaking? He had stated, and he would still state, that it was his opinion it would be better to exalt the character of the labourer so as to make him independent of his fellow-creatures for his livelihood, and this was the mode ultimately to reduce the poor's rates. But whether there were poor's rates or not, he should ever contend that the instruction of the poor would be good, and would be one of the greatest boons their country could bestow upon them. When this subject was talked of, he could not help having Scotland always in his mind. What he had read of that country, and the inhabitants thereof, tended strongly to confirm him in the truth of what he had heard stated in that house concerning them.—After some further conversation, this amendment was rejected without a division.

Mr, Pole Carew

said, there were some passages in the preamble which he wished to be altered. He by no means approved the wording as it stood: "whereas, the instruction of youth tends most materially to the promoting of morality and virtue;' and the following passage we did not understand: "whereof we had a most convincing proof, by long experience, in that part of the united kingdom called Scotland." He though there was no proof of this before the house, and therefore moved, that the said preamble be amended by striking out those passages.

Mr. Windham

said, he differed with his hon. friend, as to the advantages to be derived to the public from this bill. The preamble mentioned instruction; but what sort of instruction? He by no means thought, that teaching the lower orders to read and write, would prove beneficial to the community at large. Scotland had been referred to as a proof of the great advantages resulting from ins ruction, but he did not think that prove any thing with regard to this country. He thought the character of the Scotch contributed more to obtain reading and wilting, than reading and writing to form the character of the Scotch. He should, therefore, approve of amending the preamble.

Mr. Whitbread

would not consent to alter the preamble, which was the foundation of the bill. He had not expected that his right hon. friend would have been in the house, and he was altogether unprepared for his opposition. He was surprized and grieved that he should lend his great talents to those who seemed to think education an improper thing for the lower orders; but even against his great abilities he would engage to maintain, that education contributed to morality and virtue. He was astonished, that in a mind so enlightened, there should be a speck so dark. if he had not known that his right hon. friend was one of the most enlightened men of the age, he should really have supposed that he had heard another Jack Cade, who had accused lord Say and Sele of corrupting the minds of the people by introducing grammar-schools and printing, and verbs and nouns. When one opposed that for which he himself was remarkable, it was called "the Devil rebuking sin." We heard of mathematicians who thought mathematics the only desirable education—of navigators who preferred navigation to every thing, and so forth; but here was a most remarkable thing—a man of the greatest knowledge himself opposing the communication of knowledge. It was with pain and regret that he heard his right hon. friend, session after session, talking against the diffusion of knowledge. If he did not know him to be a man of most liberal mind, he should suppose he wished to be a monopolizer—a regrater and forestaller of all talents and genius in his own person. For his part, he differed with him most widely on this head, and was for doing every thing in his power in aid of that vital spark, which could not be taken away. He would wish to have men the dignified characters for which they were formed by nature, and for which they only wanted the assistance of education. He would wish them to know their duties, and to understand and value, as they ought, their rights. If the house rejected the preamble, they rejected the base, on which the whole stood, and if they rejected the base, they might as well reject the superstructure altogether.

Sir T. Turton

said, he had heard the hon. gentleman with a considerable deal of astonishment, when he stated that if he deserted this part of the preamble, he should be deserting the whole superstructure of the bill. As to Scotland, he should ask him, had the house any proof to ascertain that such was the fact, as alleged in that preamble? Had there been any committee appointed, or was there any now to be appointed to investigate this matter, and to convince the house of the propriety of adopting such a clause? The right hon. gent. (Mr. Windham) did not appear to object so much to the principle of giving instruction to the people, as to the mode of doing so. Upon this subject he could say, that instruction was gaining ground by very rapid strides through the country, perhaps indeed too rapidly. Was the day labourer, he would ask, happier, for being instructed in reading and writing? Did the house not recollect the mutiny at the Nore? He might venture to state, from the information of an hon. admiral, that upon that occasion the mutineers had daily and nightly meetings on board of the ships; at which meetings they employed themselves in reading the newspapers and other publications; and that this tended much to the consequences which ensued. We are not, said sir Thomas, adverse to instructing the people, but there is a mode, and also an extent, to which their education ought to be carried. My humble opinion is, that this bill will lie as a dead letter upon the statute book, and not one parish out of fifty will ever act upon it. Certainly Scotland does form an exception, with respect to a system of education, but it can bear no analogy to the education of the people of England. The Scotch are a people that do not appear to be educates for remaining at home, they being in general inclined to move beyond their country. Then education would render them totally discontented, if they did not travel into other countries. If they re mained in their own country, they would become extremely dissatisfied with their situation.

Mr. Macleod

observed, that while he had heard one right hon. gent. (Mr. Windham)stating that he thought the good conduct of the people of Scotland proceeded entirely from their general character, and another hon. gent. ( Mr. Whitbread) arguing that it originated from their general good education, he was of opinion, that both of them might be said to be right. The schools in Scotland were like other schools, except that the masters had a salary fixed by the legislature. They had a maximum and a minimum of stipend, which was paid them by the farmers and the heritors. There were no parish rates in Scotland; but religion, he might venture to say, was the very foundation of the Scotch instruction. Before they were taught to write, they were completely taught to read their Bible. It was not, however, every person who was educated, that succeeded in life; but he never could conceive, after they were so grounded in religious ideas, as even to be able to repeat their bibles, that their reading and writing could be prejudicial to them. The schools were, in general, examined every year by the ministers of the church, or by the heritors. He thought that in England the bishop of the diocese should appoint a certain number of clergymen to examine the schools, and to watch that religion be the first and the last thing that is taught there.

Mr. Wilberforce

opposed, the arguments of the hon. baronet, and was sure, that when he examined his premises more accurately, he would find that they led to conclusions, to which he would by no means be willing to assent. What! was it to be an argument against the cultivation of our faculties, that those faculties might be abused? He contended strongly, against leaving out either the former or the latter part of the preamble, particularly the former, which contained a proposition, namely, "that the instruction of youth tended to morality and virtue," the omission of which, in his opinion, would be disgraceful, as after such repeated discussions it would appear, as if the house of commons had discovered its fallacy. Nor would he be willing to give up the latter part of the preamble, which referred to a country (Scotland) in which the multiplied advantages of education in the improvement of the character of a people, were most apparent. In his eagerness to pre vent other people from learning to read the hon. baronet seemed to have abstained from reading himself: for if he had read the bill, he would have perceived that complete option was given to the poor whether they would allow their children to be instructed or not.

Mr. Grattan

supported the bill, and declared that he did not think knowledge too general, even among the higher orders. He dwelt with great praise on the plans of education in Scotland, but contended that Ireland was by no means an illiterate country, especially the south of it; he wished, however, that the benefits of instruction might be more generally diffused.

Mr. P. Carew

then moved an amendment that the allusion in the preamble to Scotland be omitted. A division ensued: For the amendment 28; against it 33; majority 5.—On the motion for the third reading of e bill on Thursday,

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

submitted to the hon. gent. (Mr. Whitbread), as there was little prospect of the bill's getting through the other house during the present session, if it would not be better to have it re-printed as amended, so that it might be resumed on the commencement of the next session, as a measure which had been approved of in that house, rather than as one which had been thrown out in another place.

Mr. Whitbread

wished the bill to take its chance in the other house. If its progress was stopped in consequence of his majesty thinking it proper to prorogue parliament, that could not be regarded as a rejection, but as an unavoidable delay of the measure, which would again come forward with no worse grace than that which had formerly attended it.—The third reading was accordingly fixed for Thursday.