HC Deb 03 June 1834 vol 24 cc126-39
Mr. Roebuck

rose to move the appointment of a Select Committee to inquire into the means of establishing a system of National Education. Having determined to resume the subject which he had before undertaken, and to bring it on now in a different form from that originally adopted by him, he now requested the House to grant him a Committee of Inquiry, with a view to investigate this important subject, and prepare the public mind for such steps as it might eventually be deemed expedient to adopt. He did not wish to tie the House down to any fixed or favourite principle of his own—he merely asked for inquiry. It might be said that, by determining to inquire into the subject the House did pledge itself to a certain opinion on the point; that was true; but then the opinion was such as he believed nobody would contest—namely, "that the Legislature considered the moral and intellectual improvement of the people so important as to justify an inquiry, in order to ascertain how far that moral and mental culture could be affected, influenced, or promoted by the government of the country." He asked whether the House, which had appointed so many Committees to investigate a variety of subjects—drunkenness, for instance—would refuse to go into an inquiry which involved not a single consideration, but many of the most vital importance to every individual in the country? With regard to the instructions to the Committee of which he had given notice, he merely wished to place his own opinions on record; but if the House had the least objection to those Resolutions, he was willing to have them negatived or withdrawn, and should not press them. All he cared for was, that the inquiry should be granted. He would proceed then to argue the question on the ground of the expediency of inquiry and upon that alone. In every country which enjoyed security for person and property, that security was increased by a high state of moral and intellectual culture prevailing among the people; and the only question was, how far that condition could be improved by the care and diligence of the Government. At all times, but more especially at a period of excitement like the present, it was the duty of Government to watch narrowly and endeavour to direct the culture of the people. He wished to see the mass of the people accustomed to good habits, equally acquainted with their rights and duties, prepared to act as good men and citizens, and possessed of strength of mind and heart to follow the path of duty. These results he expected from education and from the interference of the Government to raise the mental and moral culture of the people. Consider the state of the labouring population of this country, born to toil and surrounded by temptation; did they not require a strong controlling principle to enable them to resist the improper gratification of their desires? Steps ought to be taken so to surround the people by the influence of good feelings and high principles and ennobling motives, as to enable them to resist temptations to which in a state of society like ours, they must necessarily be exposed. The people should not be left to the government of chance. His desire was, by affording education to the people, not so much to raise them from their proper situation as to make them happy and contented in it. By increasing their knowledge you increased their means of consulting and promoting their real welfare. The most important class of the people, and for whom the diffusion of education would produce the greatest benefits, was the labouring classes of the community. Educate them properly and soundly, teach them upon what the wages of industry depend, and you afford them the means of at once better providing for their subsistence and their happiness. The supplying the mere means of subsistence did not suffice to constitute happiness. It was necessary to accompany it with knowledge, so that the people should derive their pleasures, not from mere sensual, but from intellectual sources. It might perhaps be said that it was but a dream of the imagination to look for such results. It was, at all events, no dream of the imagination, but a stubborn fact, that the people had of late eagerly sought for knowledge. Much certainly had been done in the way of supplying them with intelligence, and those who were instrumental in doing so merited the highest honour; but though much had been done, they should not lay time flattering unction to their souls that much was not still required. The hon. Member here read the concluding paragraph of the Report of the Poor-law Commissioners, in which they recommend that means should be provided for affording education to the people, the diffusion of knowledge amongst the lower classes being, in their opinion, one of the best instruments for correcting the evils produced by the mal-administration of the Poor-laws; and he also read an extract from a report made by M. Guidroz to the government of the Canton de Vaud, in which he recommended the utmost attention to education. The hon. Member then proceeded to maintain, that it was the business of every well-regulated Government to provide for the education of the people. Education afforded one grand means for the prevention of crime, and it was the duty of a government that was justified in promulgating laws, and punishing their infraction, to supply the people with that knowledge which would induce them to obey them. He was not one of those that entertained any fear that the consequence of the Government taking into its hands the education of the people would be the inculcation of slavish principles amongst the mass of the community. There always existed sufficient checks upon the conduct of Government to render any such apprehension perfectly groundless. But, at the present moment, the most slavish and bigoted principles were inculcated, especially in the national schools. If a Dissenters' school happened to be started in the neighbourhood, immediately the Protestants of the Established Church took the alarm, a rival school was started to it, and that too upon the most intolerant and exclusive principles. He knew, himself, of an instance of a national school, where a notification was publicly stuck up in the school-room, that no children could receive instruction there who did not attend at Church, and it came to his knowledge that a boy was expelled from the same school because he was a monitor in a Dissenting school in the neighbourhood. That was a sample of the slavish bigotry and intolerance that prevailed at present in the national schools. He now came to the means for providing education for the people, which means, as he had already stated, he would contend should be supplied by the Government of the country. It had been said, in reference to that point, that so much had been done in the last ten years by private benevolence for promoting the education of the people, that the Government might content itself with proposing from time to time small grants for that purpose, and that, in doing so, it would amply discharge its duty. That, he regretted to find, was one of the arguments put forward by the present Lord Chancellor, who had, during the best years of his life, been an advocate for the public education of the people, but who bad latterly gone back from his former principles on that subject, and had endeavoured to justify the assertion, that so much had been done of late years by private benevolence, that it was not necessary for the Government of the country to interfere. The hon. Member controverted at some length the data upon which the Lord Chancellor had founded that assertion, and he then proceeded to dwell upon the faults incidental to the existing system of education for the lower classes in this country, and to observe, that the present was the third session that he had submitted this subject to the consideration of the House. The subject had already undergone the fullest investigation before a Select Committee, and he would entreat the Legislature, for God's sake, to take the first step towards the accomplishment of so desirable and imperative an object as that which he had in view. He reminded the House, that this was no party question, and he would entreat them to adopt his proposition, which would be the harbinger of that happiness which it was the duty of every man to endeavour to spread around him. The hon. and learned Gentleman concluded by moving, "That a Select Committee be appointed, to inquire into the means of establishing a system of National Education."

Sir William Molesworth

seconded the Motion. He considered the education of the lower classes in this country was as deficient in its quantity as in its quality, and that it left the minds of the people in that state of indifference which could not but be condemned by every wellthinking individual in the community. The present system was most incomplete; the children of the lower ranks of life were taught, it was true, a certain number of words conveying no ideas, or ideas so indistinct that no beneficial effects could result from such a course of instruction. It was, in his opinion, the bounden duty of the Government to provide for every child born within the realm such an education as was fitting and suitable for the station which Providence had allotted to it; and he was of opinion, that the Motion of the hon. and learned member for Bath was one which deserved the adoption of the House. While he admitted, that the experience of past years had shown the difficulties which met all attempts to secure such an attendance by children of the humble ranks upon the schools, in order to obtain those good effects which might anxiously be desired, yet he still conceived it was the duty of Government to endeavour to obviate and surmount those difficulties by the introduction of a system of National Education. The interference of the State was best calculated to attain this object, and the intervention of the Legislature would stamp a new character and dignity upon a most useful class of individuals, he meant schoolmasters, who, instead of being as now the mere servants of, and subject to, the whims and caprice of individuals, would, by such a course, be regarded as public functionaries. Again, by giving this body such an importance, a competent supply (the want of which had so long pressed upon the public) would be afforded. The hon. Member also contended that the education of the people ought not to be placed under the exclusive control of the clergy of the Established Church, nor would he support any system of education which did not extend its blessings to every child born in the realm; any departure from this principle would, in his judgment, be a dereliction from the duty owing by the Legislature to the country at large; but, at the same time, everything should be done to conciliate the good offices of the clergy of the Establishment. In the hope that this country would emulate the example of other neighbouring states in respect to education, he cordially supported the Motion of the hon. and learned member for Bath.

Mr. Cobbell

expressed himself satisfied, that the scheme suggested by the hon. and learned member for Bath would not be productive of any good, and this he thought he could show to the House. On the subject of education in this country, it was not philosophy or reasoning that could guide, but recourse ought rather to be had to experience. Everybody knew that, within the last thirty-five years, Lancasterian and other schools had been founded, and education had increased twenty-fold; but experience showed, that the morals of the people had not mended with the increase of education. It had even been admitted that night, that drunkenness had increased wonderfully within latter years, so that education did not even prevent drunkenness. He repeated, that all this increase of education had not been productive of any good; and he ventured to say, that there was not a single country gentleman who would not say, that the fathers of the last generation made better labourers, better servants, and better men, than their sons of the present generation. This proved, that the labouring classes were much better without that intellectual enjoyment, which the hon. and learned member for Bath was anxious to provide for them, than they were with it. What, also, was the state of crime in England and Wales now, as compared with its amount at the period the education of the lower orders of the people began? Why, the proportion was now at least four, if not seven, times as great as it was when education commenced. [An Hon. Member: The increase of crime was ninefold.] So much the better for his argument. Within the same period, too, the number of bastards had increased to a most prodigious extent; so that, in this respect, the morality of the people could not be said to have been advanced by education. The people, in fact, had the intellectual and bodily enjoyment at the same time. The hon. and learned member for Bath had contended, that the system of education in this country was wrong altogether, and had instanced, as an example worthy of imitation, the state of things in New York, in America, where he had said half a million of human beings were educated, and in the full tide of enjoyment of intellectual matter. He would tell the hon. and learned Member the state of things in the district on the condition of which he relied. He had written to New York for information since the subject was under consideration last year, and he had received an account, signed by the Recorder of New York, which, though he had it not now with him, he would produce to-morrow to the hon. and learned Gentleman. This account embraced a comparative statement of the number of educated criminals, and the number of uneducated criminals, and showed a very considerable majority of the former over the latter. So much for education preventing crime either in America or in England. It was a good people, and not a gabbling people, that was wanted in this country; and this smattering of education would only raise the labourers of this country above the situations best suited to their own interests, and those of their families. It would put into their heads that they were not born to labour, but to get their living without it. By the plan suggested by the hon. and learned member for Bath, the child of the labourer could not complete his education until he was at least fifteen or sixteen years of age: but in the mean time he should be glad to know who was to keep a great eating, and drinking, and guzzling boy?—who was to find him with provender all that time? Who was to satisfy his body, while his intellect was being filled. The hon. and learned Gentleman had said, that the labourer's boy was to receive instruction after the day's labour was over; but if the hon. and learned Member knew anything of labour, he would rather prefer going to sleep. In short, if all were to be scholars, it would be necessary for the whole population to shut up their months, and determine to eat no more. The interference with labour would be the very worst course which could be pursued by the Legislature. By useful employment the youth gained habits of obedience and industry; but send him to school to a drunken master, or to a sober conceited coxcomb of a schoolmaster, and he would only learn habits of idleness, and become too great in his own conceit to labour. Sufficient schools were already established for all useful and beneficial purposes, though he admitted that some abuses prevailed. He alluded in particular to a school in a place in the county of Hertford, which, though closed for fourteen years, the master, during the whole period, was paid his annual stipend of 600l. It was true, that the school had been since reopened, and now afforded education to about 150 scholars; but these were abuses which he would go with the hon. and learned Member any length to correct. The hon. Member concluded by repeating his opposition to the present Motion.

Lord Morpeth

said, that to a certain extent, he concurred with the hon. and learned member for Bath in all that he had expressed in relation to the inestimable advantages of education, of its inadequate prevalence among the population of this country, and the expediency of giving it further encouragement; but he (Lord Morpeth) should suggest an amendment which, while it contemplated the same great end, the general education of the people, would more define and concentrate the purposes than was shown in the Motion as it at present stood. To a Motion for a Committee on the subject of general education he gave his assent; but he was bound to state some of the motives which induced him to object to the specific Motion of the hon. member for Bath. The hon. Member had indeed consented to waive the instructions of which he had given notice, and which had stood upon the paper for three months; but he was sure that the spirit of those instructions would guide the Committed for which the hon. Member had asked. He should, therefore, have to deal with the Motion of the hon. Member as if those instructions were now proposed to be given. To the first part of the instructions which went to embrace the whole of the population needing instruction, he decidedly objected. As for the education of the rich, he thought that whatever faults might be found in our great public seminaries, and whatever improvements might have been suggested by the increased enlightenment of the age, any alteration in their system of management ought to be left to the good sense and sound discretion of the parties who were interested, especially as interference on the part of the House would, so far from promoting the end they had in view, only be looked on as an impertinence. With respect to the poor, and the means of education which were open to them at present, he might appeal to many names of departed worth and living excellence, to prove that they were capable of availing themselves of those resources; but he could not agree that every handicraftsman and agriculturist should have the highest degree of instruction which we could bestow. Educated they would be, and educated they ought to be, in all appropriate employments, and for all appropriate uses; but he did not see, that they should therefore receive the education of a legislator or philosopher. The second instruction was much less objectionable to him (Lord Morpeth); but he did not feel prepared to go the whole length of the principle which it involved. He was, however, neither prepared nor anxious to deny that some gratuitous education might be necessary, but it was a point in dispute whether it was advisable to supersede all voluntary and independent contribution from the party to be benefited. There was always danger in removing the necessity for exertion, but the principle of gratuitous education might be reserved for inquiry and consideration. He now came to the third instruction, the meditated instruction of the hon. member for Bath. He admitted, that where funds designed for education had been misapplied or perverted from the purposes for which they were originally bestowed, they should be re-applied to the promotion of their intended ends; but he believed there was a commission now sitting which would exercise a vigilant inspection over these misapplications of trust funds; and he therefore, thought, that part of the hon. Member's notice, not of his motion, in this respect was unnecessary, and might prove prejudicial. His own scheme might seem more timid and compromising, but it was not their business to array against them, in the furtherance of their schemes of education, the apprehensions and prepossessions of others. The House would remember, that during the last and present session, a sum of 40,000l. in all had been granted for the purpose of erecting school-houses to the National School and the British and Foreign School Societies. Returns, for which he had called, showed how much good had been done by this moderate outlay, and the good had been effected not only by the application of the grant itself, but by the exertion and contribution it had called forth and put in action in other places. The Returns stated, that since the original grant of 20,000l. voted to the Societies last year, applications had been received for establishing 236 new schools, which were to provide for the education of 55,000 scholars, and that local charitable funds to the amount of 66,000l. had been already tendered in aid of the Parliamentary grant. In these circumstances he saw the reasonable hope of carrying into effect an efficient system of education, in which the exercise of the best public feelings should be encouraged, rather than checked, as they would be by a system altogether compulsory. These grants, he was perfectly ready to admit, could hardly be looked to in any but an experimental point of view, and they were totally inadequate to the ultimate purposes of a national education. But they afforded experience, upon a limited scale, of the operation of certain principles and rules; and he thought it would form the appropriate subject of inquiry for a Committee to ascertain how far such grants had been successful, and how far they might be beneficially extended. Still he had no wish to limit the inquiry of such a Committee to that point, if the House thought there were others deserving attention. He did not mean to contend for the exact maintenance of all the regulations or systems of these two Societies—because he could not but think, that there was something in their circumstances too stiff, and distinct, and separate, to permit of their system being made the groundwork of any fiscal arrangement deserving the description of a national system. At the same time, he thought there would be great evil in checking the display of public feeling which they had called forth; and he did not think the Lord Chancellor had justly exposed himself to the reproaches insinuated against him by the hon. member for Bath, of having abandoned his early principles upon this question, because he desired to see the display of that feeling continued. He thought, that all that was good in these Societies might be preserved under some superintending and more active agency, which might fill up the void now left, and fuse what were now their somewhat discordant elements into a more general and consistent operation, which should lead to a system of more harmony and order. He would preserve the best regulations of the two, and especially that which was the glory of both, the free use of the whole Bible. Whatever might be the case elsewhere, he was convinced, that it was indispensable to the success of any scheme of public education in this country, that the Scriptures, without mutilation or comment, should be its foundation. This was one of his chief objections to the plan of the hon. Member. In offering his opposition to it, he was aware that he was in some measure taking a course that might seem invidious to the hon. Member; but he assured him, that it was totally unaccompanied by anything like acrimony, and that he should entertain no feeling of disappointment if the House preferred the hon. Member's plan to his own. He felt it, however, to be his duty to give the House an opportunity of coming to a decision as to what auspices it would desire to confide so important a question. He moved, as an amendment, to substitute, after the words, "that a Select Committee be appointed," these words—"to inquire into the application of the grants for the erection of schools, to consider the expediency of making further grants upon the same principle, and to inquire into the general state of the education of the poor in England and Wales."

The Speaker having inquired who seconded the Amendment,

Mr. Hill

rose for the purpose, though he did not concur with the views taken by the noble Lord. He apprehended, that the course he was pursuing was not unusual. He seconded the Amendment, that it might receive discussion, not because he agreed with the principles it embodied.

The Speaker

intimated, that as the hon. Member had expressed himself opposed to the Amendment, he was not competent to second it.

Mr. Plumptre

then rose to second the Amendment. He did so with sincere pleasure, as the Christian religion might to be the foundation of every system of national education. The hon. member for Bath had spoken of the increase to the happiness and comfort of the people by their advance in intellectual improvement. He was no enemy, far from it, to the proper cultivation of the intellect; but as religion was the only guide to safety, and the hon. Member had not mentioned a word about religion in his system of education, he should oppose his Motion, and second the Amendment.

Lord Althorp

said, that the object of both the Motion of the hon. and learned member for Bath, and of the Amendment moved by his noble friend upon that Motion, was the appointment of a Committee of Inquiry into the means of establishing a system of national education; and, for his part, he was quite ready to concur in that object. He had always thought it desirable that the people should be educated, and he had always concurred with those who thought, that education should be as extensive and general as possible. He confessed that, to him, the difference between the Motion and the Amendment did not appear very great. The Motion of the hon. and learned member for Bath was to inquire into the means of establishing a system of national education; that of his noble friend was to inquire into the present state of education in England and Wales. Now, it certainly was necessary, that inquiry should be made into the present state of education, as a preliminary to any ultimate measures which might be adopted; and he did not think, that it was desirable that any such inquiry should be instituted, if there was no intention of going further, which, however, he knew not to be the object of the noble Lord. He had listened with attention, and a good deal of amusement, to the speech of the hon. member for Oldham. He had often differed from that hon. Member, but he did not differ now, for the speech of the hon. Member was directed against bad, not against good, education. He had always viewed the subject in the light in which the hon. Member regarded it. The noble Lord, after adverting to education in infant schools, and contending, that a person educated tinder that system would not be taught to be discontented with his situation, proceeded to state, that he considered the man who had learned his own business, as far as the knowledge of that business went, an educated man, while he should call a ploughman, who was able to read and write, and even capable of making himself acquainted with the highest mathematics, but who was unable to plough, not an educated man. He concurred with the hon. member for Kent in wishing that the Christian religion should be made the foundation of a national scheme of education; for it was impossible to suppose, that any education could be good for anything without it. But he did not perceive, in this respect, any difference between the Motion of the hon. member for Bath and that of his noble friend. The hon. Member had not, indeed, used the word "religion" when he spoke of education, but he believed, that the hon. Member did not intend to exclude it. Looking at these Motions, he certainly felt some difficulty in deciding for which he should vote; but he was satisfied, whichever the House agreed to, they would do a good act. Allusion had been made to the Lord Chancellor, and it had been asserted, that he had objected to a national plan of education, on the ground that it would exclude private assistance. But the Lord Chancellor had never said, that private assistance was sufficient. It was felt, that if the Government could assist without interfering with private benevolence, so far assistance ought to be given. On this principle the grant of money had been made for building schools, and the experiment, as far as it went, had succeeded. They found that, by building school-houses, they did not interfere with the duty which fell on individuals of supporting the establishment thus set on foot, and the greatest assistance was thus given by the outlay of a comparatively small sum, as the great difficulty consisted in the erection of the building and putting the school on foot. He believed, therefore, that it could not be applied more judiciously than in building schools. He should like to point out, to the attention of the House the effect of this grant, and, on that ground alone, he should feel inclined to prefer the Motion of his noble friend to that of the hon. Member. These circumstances should be inquired into, and that early, because it might be found, he did not say, that it would be found, the best mode of applying these funds, unless, perhaps, time education of schoolmasters was considered a still better. He saw the hon. member for Oldham laugh when be spoke of the education of schoolmasters, but he supposed he would admit, that no one was born a schoolmaster, and it would he necessary, therefore, to educate him. He agreed with the hon. Member, that a half-drunken schoolmaster was not a good thing, and that a coxcomb might be worse; proper education would form some barrier against the introduction of these evils. He would repeat, that he felt great difficulty in deciding which way he should vote, if the House was to be divided. But he hoped, the noble Lord and the hon. Member would not divide the House, but agree to an amicable arrangement on the question.

Mr. Roebuck

said, that all he wanted was a Committee to investigate the subject. He would, however, suggest to the noble Lord to insert the words "national education" in his Amendment.

Mr. Abercromby

suggested, that the word "national" should be omitted. He wished to have the inquiry directed to the state of education generally, and the effect of the grant made last Session.

Lord Althorp

expressed his willingness to accede to the recommendation of his right hon. friend (Mr. Abercromby), and begged to propose the following Motion, which differed but slightly from the Amendment of his noble friend (Lord Morpeth). He would move for a Select Committee to inquire into the state of the education of the people in England and Wales, and into the application and effect of the grant made last Session for the erection of school-houses, and to consider the expediency of further grants in aid of education.

The other Motions were withdrawn, and the Motion of Lord Althorp was agreed to. Committee appointed.