HC Deb 20 March 1826 vol 15 cc24-9

The House having resolved itself into a committee of supply, Mr. Goulburn moved, "That the sum of 19,500l. be granted for the support of the Protestant Charter schools of Ireland."

Mr. John Smith

objected to this vote. The system of corruption and mismanagement which prevailed ought to be cor- rected. Before he voted one farthing he must have some security against the recurrence of such cruel and barbarous outrages as had heretofore been practised in those schools. If he received the assurance from government, that all possible efforts would be made to prevent the repetition of such barbarities, he would not object to the vote.

Mr. Goulburn

said, that the present vote was reduced as compared with the former vote, and the object of such reduction was, to provide for the gradual abolition of these charter schools. Every effort had been made, and would continue to be made, to prevent the recurrence of such transactions as had been described, but the commissioners found it difficult to get rid of all these abuses at once. As to the cruelties of former periods, the cases had been referred to the law officers of the Crown, and by them proceedings had been instituted, which were now in progress at the several assizes. The conduct of the schoolmasters had been brought under the consideration of the commissioners of education, who had diligently investigated every case of cruelty, and he hoped, at no distant period, to be able to announce an effectual reformation. The vigilance of the committee of fifteen, and of the government would be exerted, to prevent a recurrence of the abuses complained of.

Sir John Newport

said, that the committee of fifteen were far from having used that diligence which the country had a right to expect from them. On looking at the estimate, he found a charge for the catechists, who were to report monthly to the committee, but who, as it appeared in evidence, had not for the space of nine months made a single report. Who were these catechists for whom this charge was made? They were the parochial clergy, and were therefore bound to catechise the children of their parishes without gratuity or remuneration. Were those who had already been found to neglect this important duty again to receive salaries for doing nothing? With regard to the duties of the committee of fifteen, how had those duties been performed? During the space of a whole month, their secretary had contrived to evade, by a series of subterfuges amounting to little short of perjury, the various interrogatories put to him, as to the progress of the com- mittee. At length it was elicited from him, that he did not believe that forty reports had been made by them; and he was ultimately brought to admit, that not a single report had been presented by them to the General Board. But he (sir J. Newport) was not satisfied with the rate of the proposed reduction. He contended, that it would be better, in the first instance, that the apprentice fees in these institutions should be augmented to a given amount; by which the public would be relieved from the perpetual maintenance of the establishments on the same scale of expense. The House had it before them in evidence, that young men who were of a fit age to be apprenticed, were retained in the institutions by the masters, for the sake of the profit which they derived from this contrivance. Now, the House would take into consideration, that the charter schools were not solely dependent upon parliamentary grants; but had, in addition, property of their own amounting to 10,000l. a-year. It was evident that a great proportion of the funds intended to be appropriated to the uses of the poor through these channels was grossly misapplied; and the mal-practices which were so justly reprobated, were continued under the very eye of the committee of fifteen. Nay, their own officers were known to carry on corrupt communications with the schoolmasters, by means of contracts for clothing and other necessaries. The right hon. gentleman had said, that an investigation into the conduct of the officers was in progress. Why, three days would be sufficient for such an examination; and yet the committee of fifteen took seven months, and had done nothing effectual as yet. It was more than seven months since a resolution had passed that House for the prosecution of those who had been engaged in malpractices; while a week, at the utmost, would have been abundantly sufficient either to establish the fact against them, or to prove their innocence. If, then, the business was left in the hands of the committee of fifteen, judging from their services hitherto, it might be protracted ad infinitum, and the officers, in the interim, be continued in an employment which they so much abused.

Mr. Goulburn

said, it could not be disputed, that great abuses had been practised, but measures bad been taken to correct them. He would repeat his pledge, that of the money now to be granted there should be no misapplication. Gentlemen who were acquainted with Ireland would be aware how many local difficulties there were in the way of arriving at the truth as to the conduct of the catechists.

Mr. Hume

said, he was anxious to call the serious attention of the House to the situation in which they were placed with regard to the whole system of Irish expenditure. The country was forced to submit to the greatest extravagance in these disbursements; and he knew of no proceeding that placed the conduct of the Irish government in a more censurable point of view, than the subject now before the House. In the year 1821, he had cautioned the House in vain against the improvidence of this grant. The greater part of the sums allotted to that part of the empire for miscellaneous services, which amounted in the whole to 371,589l., was placed under the management of authorities, over whom the government had no control, and who perpetually indulged in the most profligate waste of the public money. It was too bad that England should be taxed to keep up these enormous mismanaged establishments. The House should not be told, that the government had been ignorant of the abuses practised. It was their duty to make themselves acquainted with the mode in which the grants of public money were dispensed. There was great reason to complain of the right hon. secretary for Ireland, who, from the moment he came into office, began to augment these votes, and still persevered in adding to them. The increase of the estimates within the last few years, was extravagant in the extreme. In 1822, the aggregate of the votes for Ireland was 322,000l.; last year it was increased to 365,000l.; and its amount for the present year was 371,589l.; although it had been proved, to the satisfaction of the House and the country, that not the slightest benefits was derived from the expenditure of any of the sums which had been so liberally granted. He wondered how the chancellor of the Exchequer, who would find himself not a little pressed upon the subject of ways and means by and by, could sit quietly and see so large a sum actually thrown away by the government of Ireland. He had been at the trouble of drawing out a paper containing a statement of the funds appro- priated to the Irish charter schools since the Union, and this calculation would, he thought, a little surprise the House. In the nine years preceding the year 1800, the aggregate of these grants was 13,000l. The articles of union provided, that no decrease should take place in the Irish grants for charitable objects for twenty years to come; but this stipulation was quite unnecessary, for instead of being diminished, they had since that period been nearly trebled. The hon. gentleman then read a statement of the grants for Irish charter schools, from 1801 down to the present year, and announced the aggregate sum since the Union to amount to 732,568l., voted for a purpose which was acknowledged by all sides of the House as useless, and he contended, absolutely injurious. But that was not all. These schools had incomes of their own, which incomes, notwithstanding the rise in the value of land and property, were absolutely no greater, in consequence of the mismanagement of the trustees, than they had been in 1796. They were then 7,067l., and he saw, by the paper on the table, that they were 7,067l. still: but take them at that sum, and there would be 183,000l. to be added to the sum granted by parliament; so that the whole sum expended was 916,000l. Could they, after that, be content with the snail's pace at which the government wished to proceed in effecting a reduction in this branch of unnecessary expenditure? He would suggest that, instead of continuing this waste of money, they should at once put an end to the whole system, and leave the money in the hands of the lord lieutenant, to be applied by him to apprenticing the children, and adopting such regulations as would relieve the country from any further burthen.

Mr. Goulburn

contended, that the whole sum was, in effect, less than it had been in former years. The hon. gentleman, in making his statements, seemed to forget altogether that the institution had been supported at one time by taxes which were levied from the people in Ireland and applied to this particular purpose; and that when these taxes were repealed, it became necessary for the government by grant, to supply the deficiency.

Mr. Monck

reprobated the practice of calling upon the people of England to support those institutions in Ireland, which should be maintained by a tax on their own gentry. No people could be more competent to pay such a contribution than the Irish landholders, for they paid neither poor-rates nor land-tax. He considered it shameful that they should require from the inhabitants of England and Scotland a sum of 371,000l. annually for the education of the children of their poor. The sum, if it must be raised at all, should be procured by a tax of six-pence or nine-pence in the pound on the income of the Irish gentry.

Mr. Grattan

defended the conduct of the Irish landholders. Some of the schools in Dublin were as ably conducted, and as beneficial in their operation, as any establishment in England. He condemned the doctrine of the hon. member for Reading, who would allow the absentee landlords to take all, and give nothing to Ireland in return.

Sir John Newport,

after repeating his sense of the uselessness of the schools, and the waste of the public money, moved, in compliance with the suggestion of the hon. member for Montrose, an amendment, "That the sum of 19,500l., for the support of the Protestant Charter Schools, be granted to the lord lieutenant of Ireland, in order that he may adopt such regulations as may be deemed advisable for the reduction of the number of children educated in those schools."

Mr. John Smith

said, that, from the acts of cruelty which had been proved against the masters of those schools, and from the gross misapplication of money brought home to the Secretary and others under the Commission, he should give his vote for the amendment, to fix a stigma upon their conduct, and mark the sense of parliament as to their proceedings.

Mr. Goulburn

could not consent to punish the commissioners for the impropriety or misconduct of a few of their servants. As the reduction would be effected as soon as possible, any such power to the lord lieutenant could be productive of no possible good.

Sir John Newport

then declared his intention to take the sense of the House upon the question.

Mr. F. Lewis

was of opinion, that the amendment would not accomplish the object it proposed to have in view.

The committee divided; for the original motion 42; for the amendment 19; majority 23.