HC Deb 15 February 1833 vol 15 cc758-61
Mr. Potter

presented a Petition from the Unitarian Congregation of Green-gate, Salford, praying the House to take measures to promote a National System of Education, The petitioners expressed their conviction that ample funds might be provided for this purpose from the numerous charitable bequests which had been left for the promotion of education, many of which were much mismanaged, to say the least. The petitioners stated—"That education, which by enlightening the mind, and forming the character, tends to prevent poverty and crime, was the principal means by which existing evils can be checked, and even worse evils averted." In that sentiment he agreed. The petitioners added—" That if for this object it be necessary to impose an educational tax, your petitioners will cheerfully bear their part of the burthen—while they feel assured that no such necessity can exist in a nation where there are many rich private charities shamefully mismanaged, if not misdirected, which, in equity, are available towards the education of the labouring classes; and especially where there is a large amount of ecclesiastical property, the bulk of which was given for the express purpose of instructing and succouring the poor, not of a sect but of the nation." In illustration of this remark, he would mention the case of the Manchester Free Grammar School, the income of which was upwards of 4,400l., and only 150 boys were educated, many of whom were not even on the foundation, but paid for their tuition. The salaries of the masters amounted to 1069l.; the remainder of the annual income was appropriated to repairs, and to a fund for rebuilding the school. If the bequest were properly managed, instead of 150 boys receiving-education, at least 3,000 might be taught. The bequest deed provided that education should not be confined to Latin and Greek.

Mr. Wilks

having been requested to support the prayer of this petition, did so most cheerfully, though he did not entertain similar religious opinions with the petitioners. The petitioners sought for national education on those tolerant principles which could alone render the experiment comprehensive, and beneficial. The hon. member for Wigan had quoted the case of the Manchester Free School, and had informed the House of the great abuses which existed in that institution. The subject was connected with another topic of public importance. In 1816, 1817, and 1818, Select Committees were appointed to inquire into the state of the education of the lower classes. These Committees sat for three years; much labour was devoted to that object—great evils were discovered—and great hopes excited—but what public benefit had been yet the result? In the year 1818, a bill passed for the appointment of Commissioners to inquire into education and charity estates. The Commissioners had made twenty-one voluminous Reports, but half the kingdom was yet unexplored. A great expense had been incurred, mountains of materials had been collected and piled up, but no advantage had yet been produced. Ample funds existed for national education, without imposing any additional charge upon the people; and they ought to petition till the object be attained.

Mr. Brotherton

expressed his concurrence in the sentiments contained in the petition. It was unnecessary for him to trespass on the time of the House, by enlarging on the advantages of a national system of education. No one could doubt that the better instructed the people were, the better chance there was of checking crime. Although he was disposed to admit, that an extensive system of education would be a powerful means of preventing crime, he was of opinion that education alone, without a reduction of the burthens of the people, would not be found a sufficient remedy. Taxes produced poverty, and poverty produced crime; for it was always found that in years of the greatest distress there was an increase of crime. If the burthens on the labouring classes were lightened, if the hours of labour were reduced in our manufactories, and a national system of education promoted, the country might expect to enjoy peace, if not great prosperity. The petitioners expressed their belief that much might be done in the promotion of education, without laying on any additional tax on the people for that purpose, and in that opinion he concurred. According to returns made to Parliament, the revenue of endowed schools in England amounted to upwards of three millions annually; and he had little doubt, if the funds of the different charities, which had been left for the purpose of educating the people, were judiciously appropriated, ample means of instruction might be pro-vided without additional taxation. If the unappropriated income of the Manchester Free School, which his hon. friend had alluded to, were judiciously managed, a sufficient provision might be made for the education of a considerable portion of the labouring population of Manchester.

Petition to lie on the Table.

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