HC Deb 28 March 1832 vol 11 cc1013-6
Lord Morpeth

presented a Petition from the inhabitants of Dewsbury, in favour of the new Ministerial system of Education for Ireland. The Meeting at Which it was agreed to, was called by persons opposed to the scheme, but it was attended by persons who favoured that scheme; when a full discussion took place between the parties, and the result was, that the original resolutions were negatived, and the petition which he held in his hand was adopted. It stated in substance that the national education of Children in Ireland was a question highly deserving the attention of Government, and, that it was highly desirable such a plan of education should be adopted as would not interfere with the religious opinions of any class of his Majesty's subjects, and, therefore, the petitioners hoped the House would adopt the Bill introduced by Ministers, for providing for the education of children in Ireland. Having stated the nature of the petition, he would venture to mention what his own impressions were upon a subject of which he fully recognized the extreme difficulty as well as the immense importance. Whether the new scheme, considering the materials upon which it had to work, and the opposition which had been raised against it, would be found ultimately to be practicable, was a point of which he had not the means of judging. This he would say, that he wished well to the experiment. He did so upon two accounts—first, because he was sure that it had been set on foot by his right hon. friend, the Secretary for Ireland, with a sincere desire to give to all classes of the Irish people as useful, as moral, as religious, nay as scriptural an education as the circumstances would allow; next, because he believed that if it was once fairly adopted, the practical effect would be to bestow on the Irish nation, taken collectively a better education, and a larger acquaintance with the Bible itself, than they had yet enjoyed. For what, in fact, as matters stood, was the alternative? Why, a scheme founded upon some such basis as the present, or else the withdrawal of all grants of public money from the purposes of education in Ireland: this latter course the House might, perhaps, sooner or later be compelled to adopt; but, till that necessity arrived, surely upon principles strictly Protestant, desirous to give the widest possible diffusion to gospel truth, the House would answer that great and paramount end most effectually, not by refusing to do any thing because they could not do every thing they might think right, but by doing the utmost where they could not do all. If they were not able to give the whole bread of life, the next best thing was to throw such crumbs as they were able upon the waters, in the humble hope that they would find them after many days. He moved that the petition be read.

Mr. James E. Gordon

said, the nobble Lord had truly stated, that there was a difference of opinion at the meeting from whence this petition emanated, and he felt himself called upon to state the circumstances which occasioned the original petition to be negatived. The meeting originated with some clergymen and other respectable persons in Dewsbury, who advertised a meeting for persons opposed to the Ministerial measure, who were to be admitted by tickets to the place of meeting, but the opposite party consisting of a Reforming mob, headed by a Mr. Todd, the leader of a body of persons calling themselves Freethinking Christians gained admittance; in the first instance, by forged tickets for their associates, and then forced the door to obtain admittance for the remainder. By such means the petition was procured; on one side stood the Free-thinker and Radical, and all that was morally infected and degraded in society; on the other, the respectable and virtuous part of the inhabitants. He believed the noble Lord was favourable to scriptural education, but in making that admission he was bound to declare that, in his opinion, the noble Lord either did not undertand the system itself, or the influence it was likely to have upon society. He was, therefore, sorry that the noble Lord had presented such a petition, and advocated doctrines supported by such a party.

Mr. Strickland

could take upon himself to declare, that the persons who supported the petition were quite as respectable as those who opposed it, and with respect to Mr. Todd particularly he was not exceeded in respectability of character by any of the clergymen opposed to him on this occasion. If persons entertained more liberal views than the parties who wanted to get tip a little petition of their own with closed doors, they were right to express their opinions, for he was satisfied the more the plan was known the more it would be approved of.

Mr. Young

said, that the dissent which had been so universally expressed to the plan, by the Protestant clergy of all denominations in Ireland was a suspicious, and melancholy symptom. The most studious endeavours had been made to cast a slur upon the Kildare-street Society's plan, for the purpose of substituting this. He was ready to acknowledge that much difficulty existed in satisfying all parties, but the proposed system was calculated only for one, and nothing could justify the Government for allowing any portion of the authorised versions of the Scriptures to be dispensed with in education.

Mr. James Johnston

was afraid the right hon. Gentleman, the Secretary for Ireland, was legislating upon a false notion of expediency, without regard to principles. He agreed fully with the hon. Member who had last addressed the House, that the plan was by no means the best that could be formed; in his opinion the Kildare-street society's scheme was much better. At least he was sure, that in the part of the country with which he was connected it was preferred.

Lord Morpeth

said, he could take upon himself to assert, that the petition was signed by many of the most respectable inhabitants of Dewsbury. He had received no information of the alleged charge of the tickets being forged, by which some of the persons opposed to the measure gained admittance; and he denied altogether the allegation that the doors were forced—they were opened by a motion regularly carried for that purpose.

Mr. Shaw

said, if those individuals wished to express their sentiments it was quite competent for them to call a meeting to do so, but their only object appeared to be to overbear those opposed to them by clamour and violence. It was the misfortune of the times, that argument and reason were borne down by numbers.

Mr. Dawson

said, that this was the only petition hitherto presented in favour of the Ministerial plan of education, and, that petition was disgraceful to those who had got it up. It was the offspring of fraud and violence, for it evidently appeared that the meeting was intended to be select, and if persons obtruded themselves, and overpowered those who were assembled, under such circumstances they could have no claim to credit or respect. As to the plan uniting all parties in Ireland, that was a mere fallacy; all its effect would be to promote discord and hatred.

Mr. Stanley

said, he had that day re- ceived a letter from the Secretary of the Board of Education in Dublin, which he regretted he had not brought down to the House with him. He, however, was informed, in that letter, that no less than sixty-one schools, having 14,000 pupils attending them, had placed themselves under the auspices of the new Board; and that applications for assistance had been made by upwards of 150 other schools, containing the same, or a larger number of scholars than he had enumerated, as being already under the new Board. From this it appeared that, within the short space of three months, the number of the schools under the system which had been adopted by his Majesty's Government exceeded the number which appeared on the books of the Kildare-street Society during the first four years of its establishment. It was also important to mention, that out of the sixty-one schools already established, sixty had been so on the joint application of Roman Catholics and Protestants; and twenty schools on the joint application of the Protestant and Roman Catholic clergy.

Petition to be printed.

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