HC Deb 03 March 1835 vol 26 cc495-500
Mr. Roebuck,

in pursuance of the notice he had given, moved for the appointment of a select Committee "to inquire into the present state of the Education of the people in England and Wales, and into the application and effects of the grant made in the last Session of Parliament for the erection of school-houses, and to consider the expediency of further grants in aid of education, and to report their observations thereupon to the House."

Mr. Harvey

felt assured that the House and Government would concur with him in the opinion, that it was important to give to every inquiry presented to the Committee every possible facility. He did not rise, however, with any intention of opposing the re-appointment of this Committee, but it did appear to him that the inquiry to which it was to direct its attention was far too limited in its objects. The assumption the Motion proceeded on he must dispute, which was, that the resources already existing in the country as applicable to the education of the people were not sufficient for that purpose, and therefore the Committee was directed to inquire into the expediency of making further grants to effect that object. Now, his (Mr. Harvey's) inquiry and experience led him to pronounce without hesitation, that they had already a fund strictly belonging to the purposes of national education, amply sufficient, if directed to its proper purposes, for providing education for every child in the country. Though a commission of inquiry had been sitting for seventeen years, at an expense to the country of not less than 250,000l. sterling, its inquiry was not more than one-half finished, and what was done was not well accomplished. This was a subject of the greatest possible importance to the House and the country. He would venture to say, that if the actual amount of money arising out of real and funded property, were honestly and strictly applied to those exclusive purposes to which it was intended by its benevolent and pious donors it should be appropriated, there was no child in England that need go without education for lack of means. Now, the terms in which the present Motion was worded went to negative that impression, as they implied that further advances out of the general funds of the country would be required for the purposes of education. Before they sanctioned that impression, the House and the country should be satisfied that all means and resources applicable to that purpose had been exhausted. From the information supplied to him by a laborious investigation of the twenty-six folio Reports of the Commissioners, he would state that not a farthing less than 1,000,000l. was applicable to that object, and the same source of information told him that not one quarter of that sum was so applied. With a view, therefore, to add to the efficiency of the Committee, he hoped his hon. Friend would see the expediency of allowing him to add the following words by way of Amendment to the Motion: "That this Committee shall not only inquire into the present state of education, but into the nature and amount of property applicable to the purpose of education, together with the mode in which the grants already made for that purpose have been expended."

Mr. Roebuck

wished to explain why the inquiry of the Committee was not proposed to extend further. Last Session just such a paragraph as that now brought forward by the hon. Member for Southwark was introduced into the Motion, but it then appeared to be the unanimous feeling of the House that such an inquiry being of a distinct nature, should be prosecuted by a distinct Committee, and he (Mr. Roebuck) accordingly modelled his Motion to its present form. He hoped the hon. Member for Southwark would bring forward his Motion at some other period for a separate and distinct inquiry.

Mr. Brotherton

said, that there was a school in Manchester, to the maintenance of which 5,000l. a-year was applicable, and yet it educated only 200 children; at the national schools in the same town 12,000 children were educated at an expense of 6s. 8d. each child. Now, if the whole of this 5,000l., by which only 200 children were educated, was expended in the way that the money of the national schools was laid out, it would educate 15,000 children.

Mr. Warburton

hoped that the hon. Member for Southwark would not persevere in proposing such an addition to the labours of the Committee. The effect of it would be to entirely swamp the inquiry, remembering the length of time which the inquiries of the Commissioners of public charities had occupied, and the sum of money they had cost the country, he thought the hon. Member must see that if such duties should be superadded to those already devolving on this Committee, they could not possibly terminate their labours this Session; that, in fact, several Sessions must be devoted to them, and that they would cost the country a very large sum of money.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

certainly thought the course of inquiry which the hon. Member for Southwark proposed would paralyze the efforts of the Committee. He did not deny that the subjects to which the hon. Member referred might be fit subjects for an inquiry, but that inquiry should be conducted by a separate Committee. That Committee had made a Report last Session, in which they stated that they were not able to conclude their labours. Now, to superadd to those labours, the inquiry upon which a Commission had been employed for the last twenty years, would be only to withdraw the attention of the Committee from the proper objects of its inquiry. He would suggest, that if any Committee should he appointed for the purpose the hon. Member for Southwark had in view, it should be one to report to the House the progress made by those Commissioners, the steps which they had taken, and the sums which had been expended in their inquiries. Such a Committee would have no power to direct the appropriation of any funds, it could only suggest how they might be appropriated, and it would be then in the power of the House to deal with them as it thought fit. He hoped, with respect to the constitution of the Committee proposed by the hon. Gentleman, that the members composing it would be fairly and indifferently selected, for the true way to gain the confidence of the House was to constitute Committees fairly. If Committees were appointed of certain men with certain opinions, though their names might be of the highest respectability, it was impossible that the House should view any decision to which they might come other than with prejudice. He would have the Committee so constructed, that it would be a fair representation of opposite opinions; but in the present Committee there was, as the hon. Gentleman must admit, a great preponderanee of opinion all on one side. [Mr. Roebuck had nothing to do with the selection of the Committee.] He could only say, that eighteen Members of the Committee were from the opposite side of the House, while there were only four hon. Gentlemen upon it, who had been selected from the Ministerial side. There were, it was true, no political or party feelings mixed up with the matter, but at the same time there should be a fair balance of opinions represented in the Committee. He claimed, therefore, the power to himself, of adding members to the Committee. There were many new Members of Parliament whom it would be well to initiate in their proceedings. He claimed the power of adding some of them, while he would not ask to exclude any of the old Members from the Committee. If the hon. Gentleman would postpone the naming of the Committee until to-morrow, they might be able, in the meanwhile, to arrange as to the names of the members of it.

Mr. Roebuck

had no objection to postpone the naming of the Committee until to-morrow, and to communicate with the right hon. Baronet in the meanwhile as to the names of the Members to be put upon it. He would just observe, as regarded the persons at present on the Committee, that there were many Gentlemen on it sitting now on that side (the Opposition side) of the House, who when the Committee was formed sat on the other side. Though he had moved for the Committee, it had been formed by the Government then in existence, in accordance with his wishes.

Mr. Harvey

was cheered by the intimation given by the right hon. Baronet that he might feel inclined to sanction the appointment of a Committee to ascertain the real amount of property fairly applicable to the purposes of education, and to give effect to the labours of a Commission that had been sitting for seventeen or eighteen years. Though he would not assume that this intimation on the part of the right hon. Baronet was a pledge to that effect, he trusted that when he should move for a Committee for that purpose, it would have the right hon. Baronet's sanction. Without meaning to divide the House upon the subject, he would throw out a hint as to whether there was not something in the terms in which the Motion was couched that would render it inoperative. Amongst other words were the following as part of the Motion:— "And to consider the expediency of further grants in aid of education." He could not understand how they could Report upon the expediency of further grants in ignorance of the amount of property now applicable to that purpose. In order that the inquiry might not be rendered inoperative, he would bring the subject of his Amendment at no distant period before the House. For the present he begged to withdraw it.

Lord John Russell

quite agreed with the right hon. Baronet, that in the constitution of Committees there ought to be the utmost fairness exhibited. He begged to say that he had nothing to do with the original construction of this Committee further than this—that when his noble Friend (Lord Althorp) proposed to add the late Member for South Lancashire (Mr. George Wood) to it, he proposed to acid to it a noble Lord, who now sat on the other side of the House.

The Committee to be appointed, but the nomination deferred until the following day.