HC Deb 24 March 1836 vol 32 cc583-9
Mr. Wyse

rose to move for leave to bring in a Bill for the Establishment of a Board of National Education, and the advancement of elementary Education in Ireland. The Bill he proposed to submit to the Legislature he had for the first time introduced into that House in 1831. The general outline, with many of the details, had been adopted in the recess of the same year by the noble Lord (Lord Stanley) then at the head of the Irish Government; and the House and country were well acquainted with the results. He (Mr. Wyse) had, however, always thought that there were two great defects in the arrangement. It was put forward merely as an experiment, and was by no means constructed, as far as the financial administration was in question, on sound principles. He had never ceased urging on that House the necessity of placing the whole plan on a broad and permanent basis. The financial administration was complicated—it had greatly checked the efficiency and extension of the system; it might, with a few but still most important alterations, be brought into tenfold activity. The Bill of 1831 he had renewed last year (he had not been permitted to do so sooner, in consequence of absence from Parliament), with some additions intended to simplify the details, and on introducing it to the House had seized the occasion of going at great length into the principle of the measure, and the means by which he proposed to work it out in practice. He presumed the House to have then had sufficient opportunity afforded them of judging of his views, and he would not, in the present instance, trespass upon their patience further than by referring to them. The Bill was read a second time and committed, and finally referred to the Select Committee on Irish Education, which he had moved for, and which was then sitting above stairs. The Committee heard evidence in illustration of the principle and details of the Bill, but in consequence of the termination of the session were not enabled to report as to the conclusions to which such evidence would lead. This session the House had permitted the re-appointment of the Committee, and all that he desired was, that the Bill should be advanced to the same stage as last year, so as to allow the Committee to apply their evidence, and to report satisfactorily on its merits or demerits, its principles and practicability, to the House. He was quite conscious that that was not the place to impress upon hon. Members any clear ideas of so intricate a subject. Perusal in the closet, where each clause might calmly be weighed, its object and tendencies appreciated, and its clauses of practical efficiency understood, was worth all those explanations, however elaborate and comprehensive, which could possibly be conveyed through the medium of oral statement to that House. He should, therefore, abstain, as he had already stated, from going into any details. He would merely state the two leading principles of the Bill, He had no idea of superseding the existing Board—on the contrary, the establishment of such Board had been pressed and urged by him in every shape, long before it had been established; but he proposed to give a legislative sanction, and with that permanence and certainty to its existence. This was essential, if Government really intended that the public should look up to it as a system of national education. It was true that in the late change of parties the system had had the good fortune to win also at last, though late, the protecting smiles of the very men who hitherto had been active in their vituperation; but this homage to public opinion, from all that had since transpired, he could never be persuaded to consider a willing one, and sure he was, that if such was the case, and by any mischance that party had continued in power, means would not long be wanting, if not to prevent the destruction, at least the inefficiency of the body. He wished to place the whole beyond such risks—to rescue what he considered an instrument of national benefit from all contingencies of sect or minister. If it was to be dependent upon the rescript of a secretary alone, it was scarcely worth having. Every little change in property—every trifling amelioration in our system of justice, national defence, finance, &c. is considered important enough to demand the express sanction of a law, and this great basis of all amelioration—this, without which law itself cannot work out its true, civilizing effects—is still left in a state of precarious and permitted existence. A second principle was a better distribution of burthens and powers. He thought the central power or body should give the first stimulus—the local body should continue it. On this principle he was of opinion that the Board should purchase the land, (and there should be clauses giving them, as in cases of lunatic asylums, &c. powers to that effect)—that they should build and outfit the school, build the teachers' houses, and allot land in the country for agricul- tural instruction; and likewise in all schools for parochial instruction. The parish or district in return should pay the teacher, and see that the school was kept in repair. For this a School Committee would of course be requisite; and it was a matter of congratulation that the more the people were not only permitted, but required, to interest themselves about their own business, the more interest they were sure to take, the more knowledge they acquired of its workings, and the higher value they set on its results. This payment, in his mind, ought to be effected by assessment. From what he had seen, heard, and thought on the subject, he confessed he totally mistrusted the efficiency of the voluntary system, to say nothing of its palpable injustice, burdening the benevolent few for the apathy and penury of the selfish many. How these several duties were to be exercised and combined, was a matter of very delicate arrangement. He had given them all the attention, from a very early period, in his power, and he trusted on looking to the Bill itself, they would find that if all difficulties had not been overcome, none had been neglected, and some at least satisfactorily vanquished. In conclusion, he would impress upon the House the position in which this country stood to the great portion of the civilized world, the intellectual supremacy, and, he might add, the moral, without which he firmly held all other would be vain; and he would then ask them, as men anxious to raise their country in the scale of nations, would they any longer consent that education, from whence intellectual and moral power can alone flow, should be left as a secondary object, to the chance management of individuals, and not made the dearest and most sacred object of the attention and affection of the country. He begged to conclude by moving for leave to bring in a Bill for the establishment of a Board of National Education, and the advancement of Elementary Education in Ireland.

Mr. Lefroy (D. U.)

was surprised that the Government had not given any opinion on this question, nor stated how far they were willing to support the views of the hon. Member. He wished to know whether, after the great anxiety they had manifested to support the system at present in, operation in Ireland—whether, after all the trouble they had given themselves to establish that system, they were now prepared to supersede it altogether? He asked, were they to have two Boards of Education in existence at the same time—two conflicting systems, one pulling one way, the other in a contrary direction? He (Mr. Lefroy) must admit the present Board had utterly failed—in fact it had produced nothing but the most injurious results—and he was, consequently, not prepared to give his support to the measure of the hon. Member.—The country had been long enough agitated and disturbed by these chimerical projects, and he must protest against being called on as a party to the increased confusion which the Bill was calculated to produce. For his own part he could readily suppose that his Majesty's Government was willing to indulge their followers, and that the Bill now before the House was one of these toys or playthings with which they found it necessary to purchase the support of the party to which the hon. Gentleman belonged. They had a regular succession of these new fangled projects. They had already three or lour Poor-law Bills before the House.—They had a County Board Bill which was to overturn the present Grand Jury system, and now they were called on to give their consent to a new-fangled scheme of education. He hoped Government would not continue to give their countenance to such projects, which, in his opinion, only tended to retard the public business, distract the attention of hon. Members, and prevent them from attending to more useful and practical measures.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that the right hon. Gentleman was not justified in casting these imputations on Government, of allowing motions to be brought on for party purposes which they did not mean afterwards to support. What right had he to judge of the feelings or acts of Government? The right hon. Gentleman was not now for the first time a bad prophet. He attached great importance to the question of national education, and he therefore should be sorry to withhold from any Member an opportunity of bringing forward his views on the subject. Was no Gentleman to introduce a motion to the House unless he could previously calculate on the predetermined support of the Government? This doctrine was not, he thought, in accordance with the feelings of the House, nor the principles of the Constitution. The plan of the hon. Member for Waterford had the approbation of the former Government, which the right hon. Gentleman had so cordially supported, He repudiated the charge that Government encouraged Members to bring forward motions from sectarian or party views.

Dr. Baldwin

complimented the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lefroy) on the chivalrous gallantry which induced him to fight the battle of his party against such odds. He congratulated him on being left without a single supporter of his opinions on his own side of the House. He knew the powers of the right hon. Gentleman. He knew they had a powerful and determined foe to contend against. He knew that, like another Ajax, the right hon. Gentleman could receive upon his shield the shafts and darts, if not the entire armoury, of that side of the House; but he thought it would be found that in such a struggle as the present question involved, invulnerable as the right hon. Gentleman might be, he would scarcely escape unscathed from the conflict. Powerful and courageous though he was, he thought even he was but a puny opponent against the cause of truth and justice. The right hon. Gentleman complained of Members on that side of the House being too ready to suggest measures for the moral and intellectual improvement of the country. He was not surprised at this; on the contrary, he should only be astonished at the right hon. Gentleman or his party consenting to any measure calculated to raise the people in the scale of moral excellence. To these errors of benevolence he and those with whom he acted were, he admitted, too liable. The Gentlemen on the opposite side, however had never sinned in such a manner. Their playthings and new fangled projects were of a different description, and of a totally opposite character, and, whether originating with individuals or their leaders, only contemplated the undue ascendancy of their own party, and the unfair depression of an opponent. In conclusion, he would only say that the proposition of his hon. Friend had his most hearty concurrence.

Mr. Wyse, in reply said, he should have supposed, from the observations—he could scarcelycall them such—of the right hon. the ex-sergeant (Mr. Lefroy) that he had just wakened from a sound-sleep, not a sleep of the last half hour, but of some months and years. He talks with great jocoseness of the novelty of this measure, and wished the House to understand that he had been taken by surprise. Why this very Bill he had the honour of defending from the right hon. Gentleman's attacks, so early as 1831. He thought, even if the right hon. Gentleman had forgotten that circumstance, as he had also, perhaps, his silence on the subject during the late Ministry, he had said enough a few moments ago to recal it to the recollection of the right hon. Gentleman. He asked were there to be two Boards? He (Mr. Wyse) would in turn ask, had he said one single syllable of the erection of a distinct Board? Had he not positively stated, that the Bill was meant to give a sanction, with some alterations, to the old? But the House would not endure he should waste their time with the refutation of these thrice-refuted assertions. It was a proud thing for the friends of education to see the bristling ranks of their enemies dwindled down to a weak arm, and a blunt weapon, like that. The right hon. Gentleman well knew of the existence of the Bill last year; at least his learned Colleague might easily have informed him —he was a Member of the Committee, and had heard evidence on its details. He begged pardon of the House for thus squandering its time on such an opposition as that of the right hon. Gentleman. He thanked him, however, for his negative—the country would e e he stood alone.

Leave was given to bring in the Bill.