HC Deb 22 March 1826 vol 15 cc81-4

The House resolved itself into a Committee of Supply. On the resolution, "That 25,000l. be granted to defray the expense of the Society for promoting the Education of the Poor of Ireland for the year 1826,"

Mr. Hume

said, that the society for which the present vote was claimed was totally unworthy of the attention of the House, for it had made statements relative to its services which were altogether false. He must observe, moreover, that the rich bishops and wealthy clergy of the establishment of Ireland had contributed to this society only the paltry sums of 400l. and 200l. But the society had represented, that they educated 102,000 pupils, whereas it turned out that they educated only 52,000l. What confidence could be placed in the bishops and clergy who belonged to this society, when they could make such false returns? When the pupils were more numerous, the House had voted only 22,000l. On what pretence could they be now called upon to increase the vote by 3,000l.? The society had stated the number of their schools, and of their scholars, and it would be found that, in all the four districts of Ireland, they had fixed upon a round average of seventy pupils to each school. When the public money was voted on the basis of the number of these scholars, such a system of taking the averages was most scandalous. But the society had charged at the rate of 400l. a year for the salary of their registrar and his assistant, and 120l. per annum for the salary of a corresponding clerk, and there were charges for twelve additional clerks, making in all 1,174l. There was likewise a charge of 2,350l. for the travelling expenses of ten inspectors. What would they think of no less than 9,400l. being charged for gratuities to teachers; they being also paid their regular salaries? A committee was now sitting on the subject, and he should therefore move that 22,000l. should be substituted for the proposed vote of 25,000l.

Lord Milton

said, that his hon. friend might have gone much further than stating that the number of scholars in the four districts averaged at the rate of seventy for each school; for he would find that in every county in Ireland the comparison between the number of scholars and schools would produce precisely the same result. And yet, upon such a statement was the committee called upon to vote away the public money. Unless these returns of the society could be explained, he should consider them utterly disgraceful to those who published them.

Mr. Butterworth

said, that the Kildare-street schools had done more good for Ireland than the hon. member was likely to do in twenty years, should his life be spared so long. He could not readily explain how the returns had been made out to tally with a particular number of scholars. Perhaps some general average had been taken. At any rate, he was ready to repeat what he had said on a former evening, that it was not possible to conceive that so respectable a body would lend themselves to any fabrications, or that they would be parties to telling stories. They were men of the highest character; not clergymen of the church of England only, but of other Christian persuasions. There were several Quakers in it; there was a physician, Dr. Burroughs, a man of unimpeachable character and eminence in his profession; and Mr. Jackson, a respectable barrister, was secretary. Surely he might believe in the honour and integrity of these persons, at least as readily as he could trust to the representations of the hon. gentleman. Let the hon. member, however, put his allegations in black and white, and send them to Dublin, and no doubt they would be refuted. As to any sudden diminution of the numbers, that was readily accounted for by those who knew the state of the country. There were continual altercations arising between the Roman Catholic clergy and the managers of the schools, as to the propriety of using the bible as a school-book. A most respectable friend of his in Ireland had supported several schools for the education of the children of the Roman Catholic poor at his own expense. A disagreement took place upon the ordinary subject, and, through the influence of the Catholic priests, there were 500 children withdrawn from them in one week. It was quite possible that 50,000 children might be withdrawn from the Kildare-street schools almost all at one time; so great was Roman Catholic influence.

Mr. Goulburn

said, he wished to know whence the hon. member for Aberdeen derived his calculation relative to the average of seventy scholars.

Mr. Hume

said, he had taken it from the report of the society itself, for 1824.

Mr. Goulburn

said, he could not answer the statement, as he had not seen the document; but he was surprised that the hon. member should animadvert upon the conduct of the clergy and prelates, when he ought to have seen from the report, that not one of that profession had anything to do with the management of the society. The salary of the secretary was not 400l., as the hon. member had stated, but 184l. per annum.

Mr. Bright

said, that from the suspicious circumstances connected with the proceedings of the Kildare-street Society, he wished the vote should stand over until some gentleman connected with Ireland had explained those circumstances to the satisfaction of the House.

Mr. Frankland Lewis

expressed his regret that the committee of inquiry had not been able to lay their additional report before the House at an earlier period. It was however in preparation, and would shortly be produced, and the House would find, that it was a work of no small labour. The hon. member, adverting to what had been said as to the number of scholars, observed, that it was difficult to ascertain the number on the rolls, for three months together. The committee had taken the number at 61,000; and when it was stated at 70,000, it was not, perhaps, too high. When the parties more immediately concerned made their report amount to 100,000 children, they did it not with a view to deceive; for they candidly admitted that they had taken into account schools not at present in operation, but which were likely to be so in a short time. Although it might be wrong to make such a return, he begged to bear testimony to the high respectability of the managers of the Kildare-street Society. The honour and integrity of those gentlemen had been most unfairly attacked, and it was but justice to vindicate their characters from the stigma attempted to be fixed upon them.

Mr. Hume

did not wish to cast any reflection on those gentlemen individually; but, in their collective capacity, they had certainly committed errors. How were those errors attempted to be reconciled? According to the report of the society, the number of children educated by them was 100,000, while, in point of fact, it was little more than half that amount. The report of the managers was, therefore, at variance with truth. It was in fact an unfounded statement. With respect to the share which the Roman Catholics had in the management of the society, it appeared that there had been only two gentlemen of that persuasion who were connected with it, one of whom was since dead. Was it therefore to be expected that the Roman Catholic population of Ireland would suffer their children to attend those schools, the managers of which were, with one exception, Protestants? An alteration in the system was loudly called for, and he hoped it would take place at no distant day.