HC Deb 15 June 1843 vol 69 cc1567-70
Sir J. Graham:

In consequence of a question which was yesterday, in my absence, put to my right hon. Friend at the head of the Government, I will take this opportunity of stating the course which it is intended to pursue with respect to the Factories Bill. The House will do me the justice to recollect that when I brought forward the educational clauses of the Factories Bill, I stated that the proposition I then made was defensible on account of special circumstances connected with the compulsory education of a portion of the people under the Factories Act as it now stands upon the statute book. The House will also, I am sure, not fail to remember that I stated that the proposition which I submitted on the part of the Government was framed in no sectarian spirit, that we did not regard it as a measure connected with party feelings, and that I hoped and believed it would not be discussed in a party spirit in this House, or be so received and considered in the country. I am bound to say that, as far as this House is concerned, the proposition was received, if not with favour, at all events with forbearance on the part of those opposed to the Government for which I beg to tender my most cordial acknowledgments. It was received in a manner worthy of the vast importance of the subject which far exceeds all the transient considerations of party. It would be impertinent in me, the sense of the House never having been ascertained by any division, to speculate on what might be the opinion of the House with respect to the educational clauses as they now stand, in their modified form. I stated distinctly that, in my estimation, the success of the measure must mainly depend upon it being received generally throughout the country as a measure of concord. I hoped it would be so received; I endeavoured to frame it so as to impart to it that character and, in that light, after the best deliberation I can bestow upon the subject, I still continue to regard it. It was evident, however, that the great body of the dissenters of this country entertained insuperable objections to the bill in its original form; and, by the permission of the House I was allowed to propose extensive modifications which I hoped would have obviated the objections urged by the dissenting body. I am bound to say that in that, hope I have been entirely disappointed; the objections to the measure have not been removed or even mitigated by the modifications and the opposition to my plan continues unabated. On the part of the church there has been exhibited, in the hope of obtaining concord and peace, a willingness to make a considerable sacrifice of preconceived opinions, but I cannot say that the measure itself has been regarded by the Church with peculiar favour, or that it has met with very cordial support. What, then, is the duty of the Government under such circumstances? I cannot conceal from myself that the great, the undoubted evil which this measure was intended to counteract if not to overcome still exists to an alarming extent. The statement made by my noble Friend, the Member for Dorsetshire, with respect to the unhappy ignorance in which a large portion of the rising generation in the manufacturing districts is involved, remains undisputed. The measure was intended to meet and overcome that national evil with which individual exertions, unaided by Legislative and public support have hitherto been found insufficient to cope. The Government was anxious to bring Legislative powers and public funds to the aid of local exertion, but I am satisfied, as I stated when I first brought the question forward, that unless we should obtain general assent and willing co-operation in our mode of effecting this object, though we might carry the measure through Parliament, practically it would be inoperative; whilst, at the same time, it would embitter the religious discord now prevailing, and increase rather than diminish the evil we are anxious to remedy. Having given to the subject the best consideration in my power, I have to announce to the House, on the part of the Government, that we have come to the decision that it will be most consistent with our public duty not to press the educational clauses of the Factories Bill. If I might, for one moment, be allowed to speak of myself, and to express my own feelings, I am bound to say that I feel great disappointment at this result. I have bestowed much time and anxious care upon the consideration of the sub- ject. I thought it my duty, from my peculiar position, if possible to grapple with its well-known difficulties. 1 have been accused, I beg the House to believe that I allude to the circumstances without one particle of angry feeling—of framing the educational clauses in a partial and sectarian spirit. I can assure the House that these clauses were framed by me in a spirit entirely opposite to this imputation. I hoped that it might be possible to obtain concurrence in a scheme of national education based on the principle of teaching the holy scriptures without an attempt to inculcate peculiar tenets. In that hope I have been wholly disappointed; I looked for peace, and I have encountered the most angry opposition, therefore I withdraw the educational clauses, although I take that step with deep regret, and with melancholy forebodings with regard to the progress of education, and I hope that the House will do me the justice to believe that I framed these clauses honestly and sincerely, and in a tolerant spirit, conscious that I had to deal with a state of things in which, whilst on the one hand, we have a religion favoured by the state, on the other, perfect liberty of conscience is not only tolerated, but established by law. These were the feelings, which guided me, when the clauses were framed. This is the spirit in which I now withdraw them. I never discharged a public duty with greater pain, but I hope that my present decision will conduce to religious peace, and to the public good. I do not regret this effort I have made with reference to the important subject, and I will add that, notwithstanding all the obloquy which has been cast upon my motives, and all the misrepresentations to which I have been exposed, I do not feel, towards any portion of my fellow-countrymen, the slightest particle of resentment or of danger. It only remains for me to say, that as many of the most important of the other clauses of the bill were framed with reference to the educational clauses, it will require consideration on the part of the Government whether we shall proceed with the remaining clauses, and if so, in what shape they shall be proposed. Upon Monday I will state definitively what are the intentions of Government upon that point.

Lord J. Russell

wished to ask a question of the right hon. Gentleman, Perhaps he might be permitted to say that he thought the Government had exercised a wise discretion in withdrawing the measure. At the same time, without at all saying that he thought they had succeeded in framing the clauses in the most unobjectionable shape, he must again repeat what he had before said, that he was ready to give them credit for a desire to frame the bill in such a manner as to conciliate at once the fair claims of the Church and of religious liberty. The right hon. Gentleman would recollect the proposal made by one very important body—the Wesleyans—that the clauses should be withdrawn for the present year, and that Government, during the recess, should endeavour to frame some plan which might meet with more general concurrence. Now, he thought it would be of great importance that the right hon. Gentleman should state to-day, or on Monday, whether those clauses were withdrawn definitively on the part of the Government, deeming their plan impracticable, or whether it would be their endeavour to modify that plan, or frame another, with a view to the introduction of a measure next Session. The right hon. Gentleman would allow him to say that he did not put the question from any indiscreet curiosity, but he thought, if Government abandoned the scheme, then some other Member, who would not otherwise think himself entitled, might frame some plan and submit it to the House, as an independent Member of Parliament.

Sir James Graham

said, if he were called upon at that moment to say whether her Majesty's Government had another measure to propose, having only very recently adopted the decision he had just announced to the House, he must give for answer that their attention had been confined exclusively to the measure he introduced on behalf of his colleagues, and therefore that they were not prepared to bring forward any other measure. But as he had stated to the House, that on Monday he would declare the intentions of Government with respect to the remaining clauses of the bill, it would be more convenient if the noble Lord would allow him to take till that day to consider.

Subject at an end.

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