HC Deb 13 June 1807 vol 9 cc798-806
Mr. Whitbread

moved the second reading of the Parochial Schools bill. The question being put,

Mr. Davies Giddy

rose and said, that while he was willing to allow the hon. gent. who brought forward this every degree of credit for the goodness,of his intentions, as well as for his ability and assiduity; still, upon the best consideration he was able to give the bill, he must totally object to its principle, as conceiving it to be more pregnant with mischief than advantage to those for Whose advantage it was intended, and for the country in general. For, however specious in theory the project might be, of giving education to the labouring classes of the poor, it would, in effect, be found to be prejudicial to their morals and happiness; it would teach them to despise their lot in life, instead of making them good servants in agriculture, and other laborious employments to which their rank in society had destined them; instead of teaching then subordination, it would render them factious and refractory, as was evident the in the manufacturing counties it would enable them to read seditious pamphlets, vicious books, and publications against Christianity; it would render them insolent to their superiors and, in a few years, the result would be, that the legislature would find it necessary to direct the strong arm of power towards them, and to furnish the executive magistrates with much more vigorous laws than were now in force. Besides, if the bill were to pass into a law, it would go to bur-then the country with a most enormous and incalculable expence, and to load the industrious orders of society with still heavier imposts. It might be asked of him, would he abolish the Poor-Laws altogether? He had no hesitation to declare he would; for, although they relieved many persons, who were certainly objects of compassion, they were also abused by contributing to the support of idleness and profligacy; and he never could admit it to be just or reasonable that the labour of the industrious man should be taxed to support the idle vagrant. This was taxing virtue for the maintenance of vice. He concluded by moving, that the bill be read a second time this day three months.

Mr. Morris

concurred in opinion with the hon. gent., though he was not prepared to go the full length of all his objections. He agreed, that the establishment of a system so universal, must entail upon the country an incalculable expence, at least 2s. in the pound upon the poor's rates; and he thought, that as a national system of education, the expence should rather be paid out of the Consolidated Fund, than by a local assessment upon Parishes. In Scotland, he said, the public charge upon the country was but 6000l. a year for allowances to schoolmasters for the poor, while the remainder was made up by charges upon the landlord and tenant, or by voluntary subscription; while in England, a single charitable society for propagating Gospel knowledge, expended 4000l. a year, being two thirds of the whole public charge in Scotland.

Mr. Ellison

gave great credit to the hon. gent. who brought in this bill, as well for his good intention in bringing it forward, as for his care in circulating it for the consideration of the magistrates throughout the kingdom. It had been fully considered; but every magistrate with whom he had conversed, was decidedly averse to it and instructed their representatives to oppose it. He was convinced the operation of the poor-laws and the public charitable schools, already in existence, were fully adequate to ameliorate the situation of the poor. But if there were schools to be built, provided under this bill, and schoolmasters and mistresses employed in 14,000 parishes, the expence must be enormous.

Mr. S. Bourne

wished the bill should stand over to the next session. And he begged, in the mean time, to suggest to the hon. gent, who brought it forward, that it would perhaps be better not to make the bill compulsory upon all parishes, but merely to enable the overseers, with the consent of the vestry in any parish, to raise, by way of rate, a sum for the support of schools, which they were not enabled to do as the law now stood; voluntary education Was at all times preferable to compulsory; and some measure of this kind, he conceived, would prove more effectual than the present. He must add, also, that the situation of parish apprentices demanded the attention of the house. Almost every magistrate must have heard of cases of atrocity, with regard to their treatment, that ought, if possible, to be prevented. They were to be imputed principally to the compulsory nature of the obligation to take them.

Sir Samuel Romilly

lamented the very different reception this bill net with now, Compared with what it had experienced in the last parliament. He thought the bill ought to be allowed to go into a committee, where it might receive full consideration, and such amendments as might give it a fair chance of going forth to the country in a form less liable to objections. An hon. gent. complained that the poor-laws were abused for the maintenance of profligates; but it was the very object of this bill to render the poor less profligate, and less in need of eleemosynary support. He agreed with the last speaker as to the importance of attending to the condition of parish apprentices. It was the practice to send them to as great a distance as possible, where they had no friends who could attend to their situation. In some parishes in London they were accustomed to send them to the distance of some hundreds of miles, and to contract with the proprietors of the cotton mills of Lancashire, &c. for so many of them, who were sent off in carts like so many negro slaves.

Mr. Rose

would be sorry to oppose the Bill going into a committee , provided it was. understood it should not pass this session. He had no doubt that the poor ought to be taught to read; as to writing, he had some doubt, because those who had learnt to write well, were not willing to abide at the plough, but looked to a situation in some counting house. With respect to the poor-rates, it they did not now exist, he would propose them, because he thought that the relief of the poor ought inn to. be left with the generous to the exemption of the miser.

Mr. Lushington

supported the principle of the bill, and argued for going into a committee. In every country where the poor were well instructed, they formed. the better subjects in every point of view. This measure would rather diminish than increase the poor-rates.

Mr. R. Dundas

felt the strongest predilection for parochial schools, and certainly agreed in the principle of extending information as much as possible among the lower ranks. The object however, which he rose, was to state in answer to the hon. and learned gent. over the way (Mr. Morris), that the expence was greater Scotland, than what he supposed it to be. The rates for the schools there, were levied on the landlords, who resorted to their tenants for one half; they besides settled a rate of fees from such of the landlords as could pay them.

Mr. Simeon

was decidedly against the bill, as going to inflict a compulsory education on the country at a most incalculable expence. At all events he thought that a bill of so much importance, to every part of the country, ought not to be discussed in so thin a house, and in the absence of the magistrates ant country gentlemen, who were the persons competent to throw the most light on the subject.

Lord Milton

expressed his surprise that any objection should be thrown in the way a the bill in this stage of it. He replied to the argument, that those who had got some,education would look higher, because they were above the generality. This would not be the case if the generality of the lower orders were well educated. There must be a lower order of people who must perform the manual labour of country; and the better informed they were, the better they would be in every respect.

Mr Wharton ,

in answer to the last speaker, begged leave to ask, whether the noble lord would have the ministers and churchwardens hold a critical examination in order to ascertain who were fit to be exalted to the counting-house, and who were only fit for the plough?

Mr. Whitbread

replied, that the hon. gent., with his examinations, had chosen to attach a meaning to his noble friend's words that had never entered his head. His noble friend had intimated that there must be a lower order, and the better informed they were, the better they would be. There would be no need of the hon. gent.'s examination. The thing would settle self. With respect to the arguments about the absence of country gentlemen, and the. thinness of the attendance, they had no weight whatever with him. There were questions which interested the passions of men, on which there would be a great attendance; there were others of the last importance, of which he considered the present as one, on which the attendance would always be thin. He meant to persevere, in order to have a decision on the grand principle, and he. would not put off the matter when there were occurrences arising day after day fully sufficient to occupy the time that could be spared on any future occasion. If the matter was not considered when it was fresh in the mind, it would not be considered at all. All the arguments for postponing it were therefore futile in the highest degree. If the matter were to lie over for ten years, it would not be considered till it was pressed forward. What he wanted at present was to have this grand question decided, "whether it was proper that education should be diffused among the lower classes, or not ?" That the principle was sound, he was convinced; whether the country was ripe for it, was another question. That it would be adopted some time or other, he had no doubt; if it was rejected at present, he could only conclude that the country was not yet ripe for it. As to the abolition of the poor-rates, that was at present out of the question. As to the expence of education, it was stated by many at a great deal more than it would actually amount to. All the lower orders had an education of some sort, good or bad. It had been said that it might be as well to teach them to play on the fiddle, or to be skilful boxers. This practice of boxing, by-the-bye, as a mode of settling differences,he thought ought not to be discouraged, because it was much better than the stiletto. But a fiddler or boxer would not be the worse for being able to write and read. At St. Giles's there was an education; children were taught to pick pockets, and to go on from one degree of dexterity in wickedness to another, till they came to the gallows; and most of the unhappy creatures who perished there, were such as were unable to read or write. He adverted to the too great severity of our criminal code, which he was convinced had not the effect of diminishing the number of crimes. Among the-society called Quakers, crime was almost unknown, and this was accounted for by their being education in their earliest years. The expence here would be greater, it was said, than in Scotland. But Scotland was not so large nor so opulent. He denied that the people, if generally educated, would be averse to continue at the plough. On the contrary, the ground would be better tilled, masters better served, &c. The hon. gent. then replied to the argument about their reading political pamphlets. When a riotous mob was assembled, it was called an illiterate mob. If one man had knowledge, he would have a much better chance of leading a thousand ignorant creatures to mischief, than if they were all so far in formed as to read what might appear on both sides of the question. He then begged the house to look at the situation of Ireland. There the combinations were formed by the ignorant, where their ignorance made them the dupes of the wicked. In the three kingdoms, the excellence of the population would appear to be in proportion to the degrees of information among the lower classes. As to the vices of the lower orders, which had been mentioned by an hon. gent., vices certainly did prevail more or less every where; but in those places where the lower orders were most remarkable for their vices the example was set them by their superiors, who were generally more vicious than they. It was said that the effect of the bill would he to impose an additional rate of a shilling in the pound. He answered, no. It was said, it would do away charities. It would do no such thing. His aim was, to provide schools and school-masters where they were wanted; where they were not, the magistrates would have the power to suspend the operation of the law. The business was committed to the magistrates, who were the most proper persons to carry the act into execution. The system of magistracy had defects; but in what other country was there a body so excellent? As to the suggestion of the hon. gent. (Mr. S. Bourne), he thought that his own was the best plan; but, however, he would rather adopt his voluntary mode than none at all. He had done his duty in bringing this bill forward; and he should persevere until the house should divide upon it; and if they were to reject it, he should nevertheless go away, convinced of its utility, and conscious that it was rejected only because the house was not ripe for its adoption.

The Marquis of Titchfield

thought much benefit might result from general education, but said that benefit might cost too dear. He wished therefore for some information as to the probable expence.

Mr. Whitbread

could not say how far the parishes might be provide with, or be destitute of buildings that might answer for schools. In many parishes it would not be necessary to expend a shilling on that account. School-masters could be provided at a very cheap rate.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

wished the bill to go into a committee, with a view to the utmost, fairness of consideration. It was the wish, unquestionably, of every one in the house to render the lower classes of the community better and happier. He feared however, that the kind of education here proposed, though it might give learning, would not contribute much to diffuse industry, religion, or morality. He feared a general legislative establishment would injure and destroy the voluntary establishments for public education now existing. He recommended a commission of enquiry to ascertain the state of charitable foundations for public education already established. A commission of that kind was is now prosecuting a similar investigation in Ireland without any salary to the commissioners, and with but very few clerks. When such a commission should have ascertained what had been already done, it would I be time enough to enquire what further might be done. He defended the principle of the poor-laws. However the system might be abused, as every large system must be liable to abuse, it was a proud characteristic of the nation, that charity was incorporated into the legislature. The poor of this country had consequently an interest in the maintenance of its constitution and independence, which the poor of no other country had. He said the education proposed would disqualify the persons possessing it from the most necessary, and useful description [...], labour. The Quakers were mentioned as a class universally educated. The example strengthened his argument; for he never knew of an Agricultural Quaker. He wished the bill to be made as perfect as possible, though he did not think it advisable ultimately to adopt it, and without a prospect of ultimate adoption it would perhaps be useless labour to improve the plan.

Mr. Shaw Lefevre

vindicated the criminal code by the many instances of the royal mercy that appeared on different occasions.

Mr. Whitbread

said, that the instances of the royal mercy were the best proof of what he had said.

Sir. John Newport

contended, that the code was sanguinary, and that experience had shewn that capital punishment could not annihilate the crime of forgery. He contended, that the commutation of death, the effect of which was momentary, to some other punishment, under a-prolonged life of labour and degradation, would be much more effectual than the gallows.—The gallery was then cleared; but it was agreed that the bill should be read a second time without a division. When strangers were admitted,

Sir T. Turton

spoke in favour of going into the committee, but he thought compulsory education unadviseable, when voluntary education was every-where establishing itself so extensively.

Mr. Simeon

saw no good that could arise from going into a committee, and therefore opposed the speaker's leaving the chair, on the same grounds that he had objected to the second reading.

Mr. Spencer Stanhope

informed the house, that he had been instructed by the magistrates of a very large and populous city to oppose the bill; in fact, he had reason to suppose that the majority of the magistrates and other principal inhabitants throughout the north of England were averse to the measure. The opposition which the hon. member made to the bill, he rested principally on the ground of the difficulty which existed as to our obtaining a sufficient number of schoolmasters, and on the impracticability of compulsory education.

Lord Henry Petty ,

expressed his difference in opinion from those gentlemen who apprehended that danger might result from carrying the education of the lower orders too far, as they expressed it. The measure which was then before the house went no farther than barely to furnish youth who were destitute of all other means, with a certain source of obtaining a very plain and limited education. The magistrates in the north objected to this measure, he understood, on an apprehension that they would be compelled to erect schools, and go to other expence, which would be in many parts unnecessary, as they already possessed within themselves sufficient means of education for the children of the poor in that part of the country. It was to be observed, however, that there was a clause in the bill expressly for the purpose of pre venting the extension of its operations to places in which there might be already establishments formed adequate to the purposes of the bill. If it should be [...], however, that the bill was not sufficiently strong in that respect, any emendation on that head would be best effected when the bill should be in a committee.—Mr. Whitbread and Mr. D. Giddy said a few words in explanation, after which, the house divided; when the numbers were,

For going into a committee 47
Against it 13
Majority 34
—The bill was then committed for the 21st instant.