HC Deb 25 June 1823 vol 9 cc1241-4
Sir J. Newport

rose to submit the motion, of which he had given notice, relative to the accounts of diocesan and parish schools in Ireland, and the reports of the commissioners of education there, with the view of more detailed inquiry at the commencement of the ensuing session, into the means of imparting most efficaciously to the whole body of the: people, without religious distinction, its essential benefits, and rendering the funds available, which were destined for that great national object. His object, he observed, was to pledge parliament that they would, at an early period next year, enter into a full investigation of this interesting question, in order that they might deliberately consider what had been done for the general education of the people of Ireland. Parliament ought to exercise its inquisitorial power, and to see that funds which were left for the education of the people, without regard to difference of religion were applied, through the proper channels, to that most important purpose. He had, at the commencement of the session, moved for various papers, which threw great light on this subject. However gentlemen knight differ on other points, he believed they all agreed on this—that general education was the most certain mode by which the situation of Ireland could be ameli- orated. Many years ago, education was looked upon as the only effectual cure for the evils by which Ireland was borne down. In 1787, the subject was deeply considered, and a plan of general education was about to be set on foot; but the death of the duke of Rutland prevented the project from being carried into effect. In March 1788, a bill was brought in, appointing commissioners to inquire into the disposition of all revenues which had been intended for charitable institutions. The commissioners discovered that, in the province of Ulster, the public grants which were voted for the support of the Protestant free schools had been diverted from that object. The commissioners under that act of parliament, which was continued by a subsequent act down to June, 1796, detected numerous abuses of the grossest nature. They found that, in many instances, the money which should have been devoted to the education of the people, had made its way into the pockets of private individuals. In 1796, it being discovered that persons of weight and consideration had participated in these abuses, the act was suffered to expire, and no report was made to parliament. In 1806, a magistrate's book, containing a statement of the conduct of those who had abused certain charities, happened to fall into his (sir J. N's) hands, which he immediately communicated to the lord lieutenant, the duke of Bedford, and also to an old friend of his, who was then in office. With their assent and approbation, he subsequently brought forward a motion for the appointment of commissioners of education, who were nominated under the act of the 46th of the late king. A number of most useful reports emanated from those commissioners. In consequence of their representations, beneficial measures were adopted, with respect both to royal and private scholastic foundations, and they afterwards entered on the subject of parochial schools. These schools were ordered to be founded in the time of Henry 8th, immediately after the Reformation. It was then enacted, that every parochial clergyman, on entering on his benefice, should contract a solemn engagement to keep, or cause to be kept, a school for teaching the English language. Annexed to these schools were to be various lands, the profits of which were to be applied to the extension of the benefits of education to the people in general. At a very early period, the anxiety of the people for those benefits was remarkable. Generally speaking, the legislature was too much in a hurry, however, to reap the fruits before the soil had been properly cultured; and he could not help expressing his wish, that before any particular tenets were endeavoured to be taught the poor, their minds should be first properly prepared to receive and understand them. The right hon. baronet then alluded to the establishment of diocesan schools in Ireland, as projected by a statute passed the 10th of July 1813, in conformity with the report of some commissioners who had been appointed to inquire into all matters connected with this subject. To prove how necessary inquiry into the matter was, he would refer the House to the returns of diocesan schools lately laid before them. From the dioceses of Killaloe, Meath, and others, and the archbishoprics of Armagh and Tuam, no return at all had been forwarded. These returns, however, were in fact, almost entirely unintelligible. In the archbishoprick of Tuam, where there were twenty-four benefices, only six had schools; and of these, three were entirely supported by the clergy. In the diocese of Cloyne, fifty-eight benefices were returned; and of these, only twenty had schools. In an account lately published, it appeared that the value of the benefices in the diocese of Cloyne was 40,000l. a-year; and this was confirmed by the statement of Mr. Bates, in the first volume of his parochial survey. In the diocese of Elphin there was a considerable number of diocesan schools; but those were maintained by the London Hibernian Society. There was one case, however, in which a Protestant school had been kept up in a manner so disinterested and honourable, that the House would willingly pardon him, if he mentioned one or two particulars. In the parish of Archol, in the diocese of Ferns, a return had been made, highly creditable to the clergyman of the place, Mr. Mahon, who bad built one of two school-houses at his sole and entire expense. The right hon. baronet concluded by stating, that he thought the only proper system of education to be pursued there, was one which, by the exclusion of any set formula or catechism, should induce the children of Roman Catholic and of Protestant parents, indifferently, to participate in the advantages of religious instruction. The bible might there be put into the hands of children with such a commentary as he had lately seen; going solely to elucidate particular passages requiring explanation, but which were explained without any view to the establishment of this or that particular dogma or tenet. His object was, to extend to Ireland, in the best and most useful way, a system of general education for the people. He should therefore take the liberty of moving, "That this House, deeply impressed with the serious responsibility imposed on parliament of promoting, by every possible means, the general instruction of the people, will, at the commencement of the ensuing session, enter upon a detailed and accurate inquiry into the state of education in Ireland, and into the means of extending its essential blessings to the whole body of the community, without religious distinction, as well as of rendering those funds available which are or may be destined to this great object by public or private munificence, or secured to it by statutory or other provision, subject to no other restriction or limitation than such as the will of the donors, or the wisdom of parliament, may specially direct."

Mr. Goulburn

thought it was an inexpedient thing in general, and particularly in the present case, for parliament to enter into pledges in one session, as to what it would do in another. He objected also to this species of parliamentary interference with the management of the parochial establishments. As little could he concur in the proposition of educating Roman Catholic and Protestant children on one and the same system, without making them, sensible, as suggested by the right hon. baronet, of the distinctions between their respective creeds. But, while he was opposed to-the motion, he was friendly to inquiry next session.

Mr. S. Rice

contended, that inquiry was clearly called for, and expressed his satisfaction at the promise of the right hon. gentleman, to give every information on these topics in his power.

Sir J. Newport

said, he willingly withdrew his resolution; his object, which was to ascertain the disposition of the right hon. gentleman upon the subject, being completely obtained.

The motion was withdrawn.