HC Deb 19 June 1843 vol 70 cc94-101

Our the order for the committal of the Factories Bill being read,

Lord Ashley

said, although he deeply regretted the loss of the educational clauses, he, for the sake of the rest of the bill, approved of the resolution the Government had come to. Even had it been possible for the Government to have carried the measure in that House, he did not think it would have met with that cordial sympathy and co-operation front the different classes affected by it, without which it could not have been effectually carried out. It should be borne in mind, that the Church, with a view to conciliation, were ready to make the very largest concessions, larger certainly than it had ever made before, but concessions made in the hope of conciliation and peace. But when the Church found that the terms which it proposed, so far from leading to conciliation and peace, only led to greater disunion and almost to effectual war, it had no alternative but to stop, at all events, at the point to which it had already advanced. Somewhere or other, however, a very great and deep responsibility did he; it was not for him to point out who were the parties really responsible for the position at which they had now arrived. He certainly must say that the Government had shown their readiness to act. 'He saw the Church prepared to make concessions for the sake of conciliation and peace, and on the other hand he saw the great body of Dissenters rejoicing that they had been successful in their efforts to defeat the measure. Where ever the fault lay one thing was quite clear— that the really suffering parties were the vast body of neglected children, who, as present appearances went, were now consigned to an eternity of ignorance. While he deplored the result to which the measure had come, he must be allowed to express his satisfaction at the manner in which it had been received and entertained in the first instance, and at the absence of all violence with which it had been received by the Dissenters in that House. That reception did certainly afford some ground for hoping that hereafter something might effectually be done to arrest the further progress of vice, ignorance, and immorality in the country by means of some system of education. At present, however, it appeared that if united education were to become hereafter possible, the question was at present involved in the greatest difficulty, and it was one that had already produced the greatest agitation in the country. He for one, therefore, was prepared to say that unless a very mighty change should take place in the mutual temper of both parties, he would never be a party to any system, the object of which was, by mutual concession, to bring antagonist parties to act together in the same general plan. Once more, he desired to express his gratitude for the manner in which the proposition had been first received, and since entertained, and also to state his cordial hope and prayer that the time was not far distant when some means might be discovered whereby the men and women of this country in future generations might be put into that state which would fit them to be good subjects, and above all, Christians, and extend to them the fruits of a religious education, by preparing them to share in a blessed immortality.

Mr. M. Gibson

could not understand how it was that the noble Lord used the word "concession," as regarded the conduct of the Church with respect to the education clauses of the Factory Bill. He protested against the use of that word, "concession." He could tell the noble Lord that it was because the framers of that measure had proceeded on the doctrine that there was some recognised superiority in Churchmen— some sort of divine right in them to trample on the religious liberty of the Dissenters, and to take the money of the Dissenters to teach the tenets of the Church of England;—it was because they persisted in recognising this sort of superiority that they had failed in accomplishing the object of a general system of education. Proceed on the real principle of religious freedom; let men be treated not with reference to their theological opinions, but simply as citizens of a free country, having the right to worship their God in their own way, freely according to their own conscience —adopt this as the principle of legislation and it would not fail. But, in fact, the noble Lord's remark about the concessions, as he called them, of the Church having failed, only amounted to an admission that the Church had not conceded enough. Treat all sects in the spirit of justice, and there would be no fear for the accomplish- ment of the benevolent object in view. If the Ministerial plan had been carried, it must be admitted that it was a very partial and pitiful proposal, considering the great amount of destitution with regard to religious education that prevailed in the manufacturing districts. It was admitted by all parties that the measure now abandoned would not have led to the education of a single child in the large city of Glasgow, and of not many more in the manufacturing districts in England, than were educated now, for it was only intended to apply to cotton, flax, silk, and woollen factories; and it left the children in mines and collieries, and in many other employments, wholly unprovided with education. The small amount of education that would have been afforded by the measure was one reason for not so much regretting its rejection. It was a plan that could not have effected much good, but which was certain, to have done much harm.

Sir R. Inglis

would not follow so bad an example as to defend the clauses that had been withdrawn even from the rather violent attack of the hon. Member for Manchester. At the same time, he did claim on behalf of the great body of the uneducated people of England some such sympathy in act as the House manifested in feeling when his noble Friend (Lord Ashley), in that very remarkable speech of his at an early period of the Session, called on them to consider the destitute spiritual state of those who were Christians in name only—of those who were, as he had himself said, and he believed the statement was not an exaggeration, almost compelled to be heathens. He, therefore, urged her Majesty's Government not to abandon the general subject of education, and not to consider that they had discharged their duty in having submitted to the House, and circulated through the country that proposition, the fate of which was now sealed. Had the Government taken a more decided tone as to the nature of the education to be given, they would certainly have met with a more cordial support from one great class of the community— while they could not have experienced any more virulent opposition from others. Trusting, however, as he did, that the Government, even this Session, but at all events the next, would provide sonic means for the education of the people, he would abstain from saying one word that could provoke discussion as to those particular clauses of the bill that had now been abandoned.

Mr. Hindley

hoped the example of the hon. Baronet who had last spoken would be adopted, and that all points which could excite acrimony would be waved. He had presented 2,000 petitions against the bill, and he begged, personally, to tender his thanks to the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government for abandoning it, and for having acted up to the spirit of the declaration he made to a deputation that waited upon him, when he said that this was a question that could not and ought not to be decided by a mere majority of that House. On the part of those petitioners he tendered his respectful thanks to the Government for not having pushed the measure as they might have done. At the same time, he hoped that the objections that had been urged against this particular measure would not be supposed to be applied to any general plan of education. The Dissenters were as desirous as Churchmen could be to have a national education for the improvement of the minds of the people. Much had been said of the ignorance prevailing in the manufacturing districts, but the same kind of ignorance prevailed in the agricultural districts. It was only on Saturday that, having been up with a late debate the night before, he took a short excursion into the country, and went into an agricultural district. There he met two children. They had been two years at the national school, and he asked them to spell "Time." One of them deliberately answered "Smite." That was the way the child spelt the word "Time," after having been two years at the school. He asked the other whether he had learned his catechism. The child answered" Yes." On being asked, "What is your name?" the child gave its surname? and to the question, "Who gave you that name?" it answered, "My godfathers and godmothers at my baptism." Thus there were faults on both sides; and he did not think they ought to cast stones at each other. He did hope that next Session some scheme for national education, without any reference to the Established Church, would be really promoted. He quite agreed with his hon. Friend (Mr. Gibson) that the Ministers had abandoned nothing, but, on the contrary, had assumed a great deal, and he did hope the next Session they would take a course very different from that which they had adopted on the late occasion.

Sir G. Grey

was desirous of expressing his satisfaction at the withdrawal of the education clauses, at the same time he should regret if it went forth to the public that the Government were considered by the failure of this scheme absolved from further responsibility on the subject of national education. He should regret if they were to fall back upon the former system, and on the paltry suns of 30,000l. a-year, applied on the principle hitherto adopted. Combined education was evidently difficult to accomplish in the present temper of men's minds —nay, almost impossible; but that in his mind was only another reason why it wag incumbent on the House and the Government to extend the means voted by Parliament for the improvement of schools generally. He wished, therefore, that the right bon. Baronet the Home Secretary would notwithstanding that the noble Lord the Member for London was not present, answer the question of which the noble Lord had given notice on Friday as to whether it were the intention of the Government to propose any further measure for the promotion of national education? The immediate proposal of any system of combined education he should regret, because most probably that system would either be based on the principle always maintained by the hon. Baronet the Member for the University of Oxford, or on other principles; which, as excluding religious instruction altogether, would be most unsatisfactory to a very large and influential portion of the population of this country. In such a state of things as now existed the proper course would be to increase the amount of the Parliamentary grant for education, and to widen the channels of its distribution. After what had been said of the violence of the opposition offered by the Dissenters out of doors, he could not help remarking, that a great portion of the opposition which was so much deprecated had been owing to the exclusive opinions and principles of the clergy and the members of the Church of England which had excited alarm, suspicion, and jealousy, not only among the Dissenters, but also among many of the most faithful and attached friends of the Church of England.

Mr. Colquhoun

thought that amidst the general suspicion and jealousy that existed the best course was to increase the grant of Parliament for national education, because then a sound education would be provided according to the respective creeds of the parties, and there would then be some prospect of putting an end to the enormous evil of ignorance and consequent demoralization which now existed in different parts of the country.

Mr. Wyse

thought the country was obliged to the right hon. Baronet for attracting attention to the necessity for education, to the inadequacy of existing systems, and the responsibility on the Government and the Legislature to provide a remedy. More progress had in this way been made in one year than in ten years previously; but he trusted that the Government would not stop here, but would propose not such a measure as the recent one, which had offended the religious feelings of large parties, but a practical system more fitted than the lately proposed one to secure a good secular education. When they proposed another system, he trusted it would be more large and comprehensive. He hoped, too, that many of the restrictions that were now opposed to the general distribution of the Parliamentary grant— restrictions that operated to prevent the increase of demands for its aid— would be removed. If those restrictions were removed, the right hon. Gentleman would soon find increased demands, and then the condition would be fulfilled on which he promised to come down and move an augmentation of the grant. He would be glad to know whether there would be any modifications of the orders of the Privy Council in this respect? His remarks applied not merely to the Roman Catholic schools, but also to those of other sects.

Sir J. Graham,

in compliance with the wish of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Devonport, would answer the question that had been announced by the noble Lord the Member for London. As he understood the question, it was this:—the Government having, on Friday last, deliberately withdrawn a measure on which they had bestowed the greatest care and attention, which was intended, if possible, to introduce a general system of education, and having so withdrawn that measure in compliance with the general sense of the House—whether they were, on the Monday following, prepared to announce, that they were ready to endeavour to frame another scheme based upon the same principle as that which had been withdrawn? He would at once declare that he was not prepared on the part of the Government to make any such statement. The noble Lord also asked whether, in the event of the Government not taking up the subject, it would be open to any individual Member to do so? His answer was, that that course was quite open either to the noble Lord or to any other Member; he would not on the part of the Government offer any opposition to such an attempt. He agreed with the right hon. Baronet the Member for Devonport, that in the present state of public opinion on the subject, the attempt to renew the measure now withdrawn on a similar principle would, if not impracticable, at least be met with difficulties almost insuperable. He had also been asked whether the Government, despairing of success in the line they lately moved in, and which they had abandoned, would treat the question of educations as hopeless, and do nothing at all with reference to it? He was not prepared to do any such thing. He thought it would be most improper in the Government to do so; and he could state, that it was their intention to avail themselves of their experience of what had occurred already, and wait to see what would be the effect of individual exertions. Those individual exertions were aided from the sum voted by Parliament, and if the exertions increased it would be right that the sum should be increased also. He could assure the House that it would to the Government be a most pleasing duty to have to come down and make a proposition to that effect. The hon. Member for Waterford bad also called on the Government to extend the principle of distribution as laid down by the orders in Council. Those orders in Council had been framed with great care and caution, and certainly he was not prepared to announce on the part of the Government any hasty determination to alter them. There was one point which, in justice, he must state to the House—that in framing the education clauses it had been his duty to communicate with the heads of the Established Church, and he was happy to say that the result of that conference convinced Jim that there was a deep and sincere desire on the part of the prelates of that Church to do their very utmost in the shape of mutual accommodation to remove any obstacles that might obstruct the concurrence o Protestant Dissenters in the arrangement of the Government scheme. It was impossible to have met with a more anxious desire to promote the object which Government bad in view, and he felt he should have been wanting in his duty if he had not stated that this disposition on the part of the Church was most sincere, and marked in the strongest manner.

Mr. S. Wortley

suggested that it might be of considerable advantage if, instead of postponing a grant from the Committee of Privy Council until they received applications which rendered it necessary, the Government proposed to Parliament at once to make some addition to the vote (30,000l.); which in this great country was all they dedicated to the purposes of national education. He did not believe that the House would consider a proposal to increase the grant at all unreasonable; and if proper provision were made at once the Committee of the Privy Council would be enabled to act with greater liberality, and it would probably give rise to applications where assistance was greatly needed, but which were not now made, owing to the restricted amount of funds placed at their disposal. He would also venture to add the expression of his concurrence in the course which the Government had taken with respect to this bill.

Bill went through committee, and with amendments, was ordered to be reprinted.