HC Deb 27 June 1839 vol 48 cc967-73
Lord J. Russell

said, he wished to hear from the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) whether he intended to take the sense of the House upon the Report of the Committee of Supply in regard to the education vote.

Sir R. Peel

said, he had attended in his place for the very purpose of answering that question; it was merely the accidental circumstance of a House not being made yesterday that prevented him from giving that public notification which he would have given at the earliest possible moment. It was his intention to state, that as the House seemed to consider that the subject had been exhausted in point of debate, he had no wish to resume it; and as the question upon the report would be identically the same with that which had been decided in committee, and as he had ascertained that every Member of the House had voted upon the subject except twenty-four, he deemed it unnecessary to trouble the House by a division on this second question. He did not, therefore, propose to take the sense of the House on the report, and he had no objection to its being received now, if the noble Lord wished it to be brought up.

Report brought up.

Sir Eardley Wilmot

wished not to enter into a discussion upon the subject, but to call the attention of the noble Lord to a subject intimately connected with it. The noble Lord was aware, from the report of the Charity Commissioners, that there was an immense fund applicable to the purpose of education which was almost wholly squandered away. There were grammar schools of extensive foundation in almost every town in England, which were perfectly useless and inoperative. In his own town there was a grammar school, of which he was a trustee, and in which there was a gentleman who had a house to live in, and emoluments amounting to 400l. a-year. But as, according to the decision of the Lord Chancellor, a grammar school was intended as a place in which Latin only was to be taught, there had been only one pupil in that school for many years, and he stuttered so abominably that nobody could understand him. For some time past there had not been more than four or five pupils in the school, and they were the sons of gentlemen in the neighbourhood. The House would recollect that an order had been issued by the Lord Chancellor to establish another scheme of education in the grammar school at Birmingham, and the funds were now so applied that more masters were engaged, and many children were instructed there in very branch of education. What he would suggest to the noble Lord was, that he would bring in a bill to enlarge the scheme of education in the grammar schools of this country, subject, if he pleased, to the fiat of the Lord Chancellor, or any visitors he might think proper to appoint; so that instead of the teachers receiving large emoluments and nothing to do, the sons of the trades people and others in the respective neighbourhoods might be instructed gratuitously, and instead of the schools being attended by only one or two children, hundreds might be admitted to the advantages of education. He thought this was a subject worthy of the attention of the noble Lord, and he hoped he would listen to the suggestion.

Lord J. Russell

said, he had had a good deal of conversation with the Lord Chancellor on the subject; and it would be remembered that in the course of last year a bill was brought in by Lord Brougham, who had turned his attention to the subject. It certainly deserved consideration, and the attention of the Lord Chancellor would naturally be directed to it, with a view to some measure.

Mr. C. Buller

thought the House was much indebted to the hon. Baronet for calling the attention of the House to funds which might suffice, if properly applied, for the education of the whole population of England, but which were now totally misapplied. He would state one fact as a specimen of their misapplication. A gentleman, who had been engaged in the duties of the Charity Commission, had informed him that in going over three parishes of Lincolnshire he found that what were called general charities were frittered away by giving away shillings and halfcrowns out of their respective funds, which, so far from being beneficial to the poor, only served to keep up a kind of pauperism among them. Now, the whole expense of education in those parishes might be defrayed out of the funds of those charities. If the Government really had at heart the education of the people of England, this was one of the first subjects to which they should direct their attention.

Mr. Brotherton

said, in order to show the importance of this subject, he would mention that there was a grammar school in Manchester, the revenue of which was 6,000l. a-year. Up to a late period there were not more than 200 children instructed out of those funds, and at the present moment there were not 300. If the funds were properly applied, all the children in Manchester could be educated gratuitously.

Mr. W. T. Egerton

begged to state, that the hon. Member was somewhat in error. The funds of the school in question, according to the original design, were not intended for the benefit of Manchester alone, but for all England. The trustees had for many years been acting under a decree of a Master in Chancery, according to a scheme approved of by the Lord Chancellor. Two schools were opened, and in accordance with the design of the original testator, in one of them a classical education was given; and the other was open to the whole population of the country, as well as to that of Manchester. He believed the hon. Member was in Chancery at that moment against the trustees, and he thought it rather unfair, while the trustees were in that situation, he should come forward and make statements which were not consistent with the facts.

Captain Pechell

said, there might be some difference of opinion between the two hon. Gentlemen as to the manner in which the school they referred to was managed, but he thought every one must agree that the system pursued at another school, that at Great Berkhamstead, was most monstrous, for there a positive prohibition against receiving scholars was in force.

Mr. Alston

mentioned the case of another school, at Willoughby, Lincolnshire, the master of which lived in a house rent free, his son was the usher, and the emoluments received were very great, while the public gained little or no advantage from the charity.

Sir E. Sugden

said, that nothing was more improper on such an occasion as the present, than to bring forward statements which bore, in some degree, the character of accusations against individuals, which could not be denied nor proved. He hoped, that no scheme for the establishment of an education commission would be set on foot; he hoped, that no tribunal for educational purposes would be set up in this country. There was too much disposition to fritter away the ancient practices and establishments of the land. The hon. and learned Member for Liskeard would have the money belonging to general charities taken away and applied to the purposes of national educa- tion; while the Poor-law Commissioners would have it applied in aid of the poor-rates—a proposition which he had strenuously opposed, and they being convinced that they were not entitled to seize upon those funds, gave up their claim. He ventured to say, that he should, on all occasions, object to gifts being taken away to be applied to general purposes. Let hon. Gentlemen not forget that the grammar schools of this country had been established solely for the purpose of classical education. The masters were appointed as classical masters, and to ask them to teach little boys reading and writing, was one of the most unreasonable things in the world. But he was one of those who thought, that the fulfilment of the design of the founders of those grammar schools was not incompatible with a plan of general education; but he would never consent to have these institutions broken into so far as not to leave sufficient means for classical instruction. He hoped, therefore, that, whatever might be done, the noble Lord would have a particular regard to the design of the founder as well as to what the new state of society demanded.

Sir Robert Inglis

said, he for one should most decidedly object to any attempts to divert the funds in the possession of the grammar schools of the country from the objects and purposes for which they were originally given by the testators, or others bequeathed or gave them, and he trusted no motives of expediency would induce the House to interfere with or violate the right of every person to dispose of while living, or to bequeath after his death, his own property as he thought fit.

Sir Eardley Wilmot

, in explanation, said, he did not wish to convert the funds of the grammar schools in the way the hon. Baronet seemed to suppose. The fact was, that in some instances the property which originally did not produce 50l., now realised 500l. per year, and therefore he thought, education might be given not only in classics, but in all the other branches. This was done now at Harrow, Rugby, and Birmingham.

Sir R. Peel

said, it was hardly fair to enter further into this important question until some measure was brought forward. There was, however, one point connected with, grammar schools to which he wished to call the attention of the Attorney-general. There were many cases in which the trusts, by deceases and other causes, had become vacant; and though there were many individuals who were willing to undertake the trusts, yet the vacancies were not filled up in consequence of the expense attending an application to the Court of Chancery in order to get a valid appointment. The expense, he believed, would amount to 70l. or 80l. Now, if it were possible, in cases where there was no dispute, to frame a summary form for the reconstruction of those trusts without incurring so great an expense, it would be very desirable. He knew schools where the trusts were vacant, the funds so small as to make it impossible they could bear the cost of an application to the Court of Chancery, and if means could be provided for the valid reconstruction of the trusts in a summary way, it would tend greatly to the advantage of those schools.

Lord J. Russell

said, the point to which the right hon. Baronet had called the attention of the House, was certainly one in which an improvement might be made, and he would consult his hon. and learned Friend, the Attorney-general, as to what could be done with respect to it. This subject was one of the largest, the most important, and he would add, one of the most difficult questions which could be brought forward; and he was glad to hear the opinion upon it of the right hon. and learned Member for Ripon, who, besides his general knowledge, had gone practically into it by having attended, at his request, on the commission on trust charities. It was very difficult to say in what authority the power of dealing with those trusts ought to be placed, and how far the will of the original founders, in conformity with the changes which by time had taken place, and the opinions of the present day, might be departed from. He could not, however, but think, that in the present day there might be most beneficial departures from the wills of original founders, and he could not, like the hon. Baronet, the Member for the University of Oxford, follow literally those intentions: if so, what would become of the gifts, the large sums of money and extent of lands given to the University of Oxford, with express directions that masses should be said for the souls of the donors and founders.

Sir R. H. Inglis

observed, that if his noble Friend was prepared to bring in a bill to repeal an act brought in by a certain Lord Russell three centuries ago, making it unlawful to leave money for the purposes of masses, he should be prepared to discuss the question with his noble Friend.

Report agreed to.

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