HC Deb 05 March 1818 vol 37 cc815-20
Mr. Brougham

said, he rose to move the renewal of a committee which had already in two former sessions been engaged in a great and laborious investigation, and from which a large body of evidence had already been reported to the House; he alluded to the committee appointed to inquire into the Education of the Lower Orders. The committee had not been enabled to complete its labours before the close of last session; but he pledged himself last session that he should move the renewal of the committee at an early period in the present session, that it might lay the result of its labours before the House in sufficient time to admit of some measures being adopted before the close of the session. He had already stated to the House some proceedings which the committee were of opinion ought to be taken to remedy the want of education in different parts of the country. They were of opinion that assistance ought to be given by the public towards the erection of schools in different places where it might be deemed advisable to have them, but that the principle of granting a permanent income either to government or to any society, for the support of schools, ought not to be sanctioned—that where there was a want of the accommodation of school houses and houses for teachers, means for supplying that want ought to be furnished by the public, either by way of loan or otherwise, according to circumstances. It was the opinion of the committee, that a moderate sum of money was all that would be wanted for this purpose. When they considered the great sums which had been distributed in a sister kingdom for education, and that a very large annual grant was given by parliament for this purpose, he hoped they would see the propriety of bestowing some money for a similar purpose in England. Seldom had less than 40,000l. been annually granted, ever since the union, to the Irish charter schools. How far this money, which was given with so laudable an intention, was beneficially employed, was very doubtful. Indeed, all the inquiries which he had made into the condition of the Irish charter schools, led him to believe, that some way or other, either from carelessness or misapplication, these schools were productive of very little good. They received 40,000l. from the public and from the bequests of individuals they had an income of nearly 20,000l. more. Their whole revenue might therefore be taken at nearly 60,000l. a year. The House would be very much surprised to learn, that from this income of between 50 and 60,000l. a year, not more than 2,500 children were educated. When he said 2,500 children, he rather thought he stated the outside of the number educated by these schools. By a report made to the Irish House of Commons, before the Union, the number of children educated was stated at 2,500, and the bishop of Raphoe, in a charity sermon, stated them at that number. But when Mr. Howard instituted an inquiry into the subject, he found the number of children educated in the charter schools of Ireland not one-third of that number.—He believed that some reform had taken place since that time, and that these schools were now in a better condition; but he believed he was stating the outside when he stated the number of children educated by them at 2,500. To show the difference between the application of the funds of the charter schools of Ireland, and the application of a small fund raised by several praise-worthy individuals, he would state, that with an income of between 5 and 6,000l. the Hibernian school society in London had instituted and now kept up 340 schools, while the charter schools with an income of 60,000l, only kept up 33 schools. The Hibernian school society educated 27,000 children, while the charter schools educated only 2,500 children with nearly six times their income. Again, nothing could exceed the order and the cleanliness of the children educated by the Hibernian school society, whereas it appeared from Mr. Howard's account, though he believed considerable improvement in that respect had since taken place, that the children educated in the charter schools were in a most wretched state. It would be painful to himself and disgusting to the House, to repeat the language which Mr. Howard was compelled to use on this subject. He trusted, that whatever assistance parliament might think proper to give for the promotion of education in this country, would be given with great temperance, and with the utmost precaution. This was a subject to which the committee, after their renewal, would probably first turn their attention. They would next have to consider the expense which might be requisite in the first instance, and what part of it might ultimately fall on the country. A very small part of the expense would ultimately rest with the public. There existed throughout the country large funds which had been bequeathed by individuals for all purposes of charity—and particularly for the education of the poor. Those funds bad, in many cases, been grossly misapplied; often; no doubt, from ignorance of the best method of employing them, in cases beyond the scope of the committee it had come to their knowledge, that schools richly endowed in many parts of the country, had fallen into entire disuse. For the purpose of investigating the subject another tribunal ought to be instituted, besides a committee of the House of Commons. A committee of the House could hot transport itself from place to place; its powers were limited; and to bring witnesses from different places throughout the country to London, would be attended with great inconvenience and expense. If commissioners or agents were appointed for this business, one journey to the different places would do, instead of bringing witnesses from all the different parts to London. In many places abuses existed, of which no knowledge could be obtained till persons went to the spot. It was now two years since tin's matter had attracted the public attention, and hardly a day had passed during that time in which he had not received, from one place or other, an account of some misapplication—of some schools founded, or meant to be founded, two hundred years ago perhaps, for which purpose lands yielding a considerable revenue were bequeathed,—while in one place only a few children were taught, and in another none. These abuses ex- isted very generally throughout the country. It was highly honourable to the character of the people of this country, that great funds had been settled by charitable persons for the purpose of educating the poor. It was not generally known, that the income of the funds bequeathed for this purpose, amounted to between 2 and 300,000l. A sum like this, if fairly employed, would go a great great way indeed. Funds had also been bequeathed for various other purposes besides schools. The House would find that they were but entering on their task; for they ought to inquire generally into the misapplication of all charitable funds; this was a matter of absolute necessity. He therefore anticipated a recommendation to parliament to adopt a plan of education for the poor throughout the country; and, secondly, the appointment of a parliamentary commission to investigate into the misapplication of the charitable funds destined for the education of the poor; and it would be extremely desirable that a similar measure should be adopted for inquiring into the general misapplication of all charitable funds. He had two years ago stated, that in a neighbouring county a school had been established, and richly endowed, to the amount of 1,500l. or 2,000l. a year, which sum had been grossly misapplied; that the clergyman of the parish, who was appointed to the school, did not teach himself, but employed a mechanic to teach a few poor children; and that grudging this small sum, he had thrown the duty on the vicar, who was obliged to do it gratuitously. This account had been given to him in writing by a gentleman, in appearance a clergyman, and he had first communicated it to the committee, and afterwards to the House, without naming any person. However, the member for Essex had since informed him, that a respectable clergyman in Essex considered himself greatly aggrieved by this statement;—that instead of his place being a sinecure, he taught a great number of scholars, and employed more than one assistant, who, instead of being mechanics, were members of universities. He understood, however, that before the time of the present incumbent such a misapplication had taken place.—The hon. and learned gentleman concluded with moving, "That a Select Committee be appointed, to inquire into the Education of the Lower Orders, and to report their observations there- upon, together with the Minutes of the Evidence taken before them, from time to time to the House."

Mr. F. Robinson

did not rise to oppose the motion, but merely to state, that he was intimately acquainted with the clergyman alluded to by the hon. and learned gentleman; and on his part he wished to state, that what had been said by the hon. and learned gentleman was quite correct. This was doing justice to the character and to the feelings of the clergyman, which were naturally hurt.

Mr. Peel

wished to notice briefly the observations which the hon. and learned gentleman had made with regard to the Protestant charter schools of Ireland. The observations of the hon. and learned gentleman were probably made in ignorance of the public documents respecting these schools of a later date than the inquiry of Mr. Howard. He knew not whether he was acquainted with the report of the commissioners of education in 1808. The members of the board of education and their secretary had examined personally into the state of the Protestant schools, which, up to the time of the rebellion, were in a very wretched state. The contrast which their present state afforded, was highly honourable to the masters. At the time of the report in question, these schools had not above 30,000l. a year from parliament, and 9,000l. a year from other sources. It was necessary to state also, when a contrast was made between the numbers taught in the charter schools and the schools of the Hibernian society, that the children in the charter schools were clothed and entirely supported, as well as educated, and the average expense of each child was calculated at 14l. a year. Thirty-nine establishments were kept up in different parts of Ireland.

Mr. Brougham

admitted that a great improvement had taken place in them since Mr. Howard's time, yet he apprehended great abuses still prevailed. Of course, the clothing must considerably add to the expense of these establishments.

Mr. W. Smith

remarked, that in many cases, from the great improvement the original bequest had received, the object for which the fund was bequeathed could not exhaust it. If the property bequeathed had been originally of the value of 100l.a year, and had since risen to 1,000l the number of children ought to be augmented.

Mr. Abercromby

was glad of the re-appointment of this committee, and also of the hint that it might be necessary to inquire generally into the state of charitable institutions in this country. He did not wish to embarrass the committee now moved for, by generalising the objects of its inquiry. But he was so convinced that this general inquiry should be made, that he gave notice that if no other member moved for it, he should think it his duty to do so.

General Thornton

observed, that in girls schools, something useful was for the most part taught, while he thought there was a deficiency in that respect in schools, instituted for boys. In these, too, he thought some works of industry, that might enable the boys to earn an honest livelihood in after life, ought to be taught.

The motion was agreed to, and a committee appointed, consisting of the following members; viz. Mr. Brougham, sir S. Romilly, sir. J. Mackintosh, Mr. Ben-net, Mr. R. Gordon, Mr. Babington, Mr. Butterworth, Mr. J. H. Smyth, Mr. J. Smith, Mr. Wilberforce, Mr. Lamb, sir W. Curtis, sir J. Shaw, sir F. Burdett, Mr. C. Calvert, Mr. Barclay, lord Ossulston, sir R. Fergusson, sir H. Parnell, Mr. Holford, the marquis of Tavistock, sir T. Ackland, Mr. Alderman Atkins, Mr. Wrottesley, Mr. Abel Smith, Mr. Abercromby, and Mr. Warre.