HC Deb 06 February 1838 vol 40 cc820-3

The Chancellor of the Exchequer moved for leave to bring in a bill for the establishment of additional parochial Schools in certain parishes in the highlands of Scotland. The right hon. Gentleman stated that he had been induced to introduce this measure in consequence of a deputation having waited upon him on the subject. From the representations of that deputation he was convinced that further schools were required, but for the purpose of increasing them it was found necessary that the law should be altered, because as it at present stood schools could not be established in the different parishes in the Highlands of Scotland upon the same system as they at present existed. He, therefore, asked for leave to bring in the present bill to enable him to carry the engagements he had entered into with the deputation into effect. It was only right that he should say that he had been in communication with the committee of the General Assembly. They had made a proposition to him that those schools should not be in the nature of ordinary parochial schools, but that they should be under their direction. He intended to establish no new principle whatever; he meant that they should be established on the same principle as the ordinary parochial schools, and on those grounds he founded his motion.

Mr. Hume

did not deny, that there existed a necessity for such a measure as the present, but he thought that the House ought to be made acquainted with the engagement which the right hon. Gentleman had entered into in reference to this measure. He knew that many complaints were made of the manner in which the money voted by Parliament was applied—namely, to the salaries of masters, instead of building school-houses. But the greatest objection of all was that the means of diffusing education were afforded to one class of persons only in Scotland. He was for diffusing education as widely as possible, but he did not see why the schools should be under the control of any particular sect or class. He very much questioned the propriety of granting more money until the whole case was before the House; and he must say, that he had been much disappointed because the Government had not brought forward some plan of general education, not only with regard to Scotland, but to the whole kingdom. From returns which he held in his hand he found that in some of the parishes of the Highlands the most lamentable ignorance prevailed. In one of them, for instance, out of a population of 1,095 souls, only 172 children between the ages of five and fifteen were able to read, and ninety six only could write. He would not oppose any measure calculated to promote and extend education, but he hoped that some system would be adopted which should be unfettered by any exclusive principle, and that before the House agreed to any further grant of money, it would be put in possession of the whole of the facts of the case, both as to the plans to be adopted, and the persons in whose hands the money was to be placed.

Mr. Colquhoun

was favourable to the measure, and trusted that a similar enactment would be extended to other parts of Scotland. The money was not so much wanted for the building of schoolhouses, or the building of masters' houses, as for the salary of the masters.

Mr. Wyse

supported the Bill; for, notwithstanding all the energies of the Church, and the munificence of the people, it was quite clear that the aid of the Government was required for the establishment of a sufficient number of school-houses, to supply the wants of the country.

Mr. W. Campbell

was grateful for the introduction of the present measure, and hoped that it might be extended.

Mr. R. Steuart

was glad that the Bill was to be introduced, for he was sure it would lead to a general inquiry into and extension of the system of education in Scotland.

Mr. Wallace

could not altogether approve of the outlines of the Bill which the right hon. Gentleman wished to introduce. It would have been more agreeable to him if it had been not only a measure to extend education in Scotland, but also to alter and improve the system of education in that country. He spoke of the system of parochial education, which required great improvement. The chief evil of the existing system was the appointment of schoolmasters for life. The former system was to choose schoolmasters for a limited time, and he would endeavour to restore that system. There was a time when Scotland was justly noted for the excellence of its parochial system of education, but it now deserved a very different character. Schools that were not under the parochial system were a great deal better managed than parochial schools at present. They had better teachers, and the scholars were much sooner brought to that degree of knowledge derivable from elementary education than could be required at the parochial schools; and he believed it would be found that the system upon which the masters were chosen, and under which the parochial schools were managed and endowed, was the root of the evil of which he was speaking. His wish was, that a Bill should be introduced for the extension of education throughout Scotland; and he should be still more happy if it were a Bill for the general improvement of the minds of the people throughout the kingdom.

Mr. Gillon

did not think, that the present system of the parochial schools in Scotland had been characterised in too strong terms by the hon. Member for Greenock. It was of a most faulty nature; and in many places not only faulty but disgraceful. Many of the schoolmasters were incompetent to perform the duties of the responsible situations which they filled. It was not so much the want of money or of an improved system that was required, as of a better method of electing the masters. At present, men who were in every way qualified by their character, education, and religions principles, were rejected unless they belonged to the privileged sect of the Church of Scotland. He protested against an extension of the noxious principle of sectarianism which he apprehended would result from the present measure.

Captain Gordon

was sure that the people of Scotland would feel grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the proposition which he had now made, and particularly for the assurance that the public grants would be continued. With regard to the proposition made to alter the system of appointing schoolmasters for life, he trusted that the Government would consider well before they introduced any alterations in the system which now prevailed, which he believed gave great gratification to the people of Scotland.

Mr. Borthwick

could not hear the national Church of Scotland called a sectarian establishment without protesting against it. The Church of Scotland, like the Church of England, embraced the majority of the people within its pale, and he was sure that no Dissenter in Scotland would oppose the education of his children being conducted in the parochial schools, whatever they might do in England or in Ireland.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in reply, thanked those Gentlemen who on all sides had been kind enough to encourage him in proceeding with this Bill. He believed that when the Bill should be before them it would be found that the observations of the hon. Member for Greenock were wholly inapplicable to it. He regretted to hear Gentlemen from Scotland speak of the system of parochial education in that country, which had always been regarded as the great boast of Scotland, to be a sectarian system. He considered it to be national in its widest sense. He admitted, however, that improvement was practicable, and he agreed in opinion with those who thought that the first step ought to be the institution of normal schools for adequately qualifying the schoolmasters.

Leave given, Bill brought in and read a first time.