§ On the Motion for reading the Order of the Day for a Committee of Supply,
§ Mr. Ewart
rose, pursuant to notice, to call the attention of the House to the expediency of a statement being made by the Government respecting the disposal and the results of the outlay of public money voted for the purposes of Education; and also to call the attention of the House to the expediency of promoting the formation of public libraries in the metropolis and provincial towns. It was customary, in voting money for the Navy or Army, for the Member of Government whose department was immediately connected with the destination of that money to make a statement as to how it was to be applied, and as to what were the prospects or exigencies of the department for the service of which it was voted. Now, he did think it would be highly advantageous if this practice were followed with respect to the education estimates. He thought they ought not only to have a statement as to the general application of the funds, but a statement of the prospects of each particular department. They had estimates proposed for various establishments; they had estimates for the schools of design, for the universities, for the National Gallery, and for other institutions of a similar nature. That was an additional reason why they should have a statement on the subject on the part of the Crown. Education had, of late years, been extended into the factory system, to the system of prison discipline, and it had formed portions, more or less, of bills for the amendment of the Poor Law. Now, the Government ought to give them an insight into the alterations which had taken place in the educational establishments during the past year, and into the prospect of their probable improvement. Among the votes for education, there was one for the School of Design. He rejoiced to observe that such schools were spreading through the manufacturing districts, and he hoped the time was not far distant, when the school in London would be a focus from which the other schools might radiate, so as to spread information through the country. The School of Design in London was gradually assuming a more central and normal character, and he trusted that all the schools in the manufacturing districts would become subordinate to it. These schools were of 1076 the utmost importance, not only to the arts, but to the commerce and manufactures of the country. The Government, he considered, were bound to lay before them some statement of the progress which had been made, or was intended to be made in improving and fostering these schools. Then there was the general vote for Education. It was an opprobrium to the country in general, that a vote of 30,000l. only had been devoted to that purpose, and he understood that this year there would be a reduction on preceding years. They should have an explanation from the Government as to how that sum had been divided—whether equally divided among all religious denominations, or confined to the British and Foreign, and National School Societies. They ought to have some explanation on this subject from some Member of the Government. There was another most important subject on which information was equally requisite. There had been vast sums left by the pious bequests of our ancestors, which had been at first appropriated and afterwards misappropriated, in the grammar schools of the country. That was a question which must eventually come under the consideration of the Government. They ought to state annually what steps had been taken to place those schools on a proper foundation. He knew not why education, the most important of all subjects, the preventive of crime, that which ought to receive the first consideration from every Government, should have hitherto received the last. They never had a statement made by a Minister of the Crown on the subject of Education; yet, in countries more despotically governed, an annual report on the state of education was made by a Minister of the Crown to the Government which he served. He knew that it would be impossible to make education in this country a strictly Governmental measure. He believed, however, that although Government could not control education, they could do much to promote and assist it, and they would be effecting that object by making such an annual report as he had described. There was another subject to which he wished to call the attention of Government, of the House, and of the country—it was the constitution of public libraries for the general use of the people. It was a most discreditable thing for this country that there was not such a thing as a public library in the 1077 sense in which the word was understood on the Continent, from one end of the land to the other. Any gentleman who had entered into a public library abroad—in France, Germany, or Italy—would remember with gratitude the facilities given and the ease with which he could obtain literary information. Here, however, with the exception of that of the British Museum, there was not an institution which could be called a national library. They had libraries connected with Mechanics' Institutes in many of the large towns; but as for libraries to which the poorest man might freely resort, there was no such thing known in the country. Let them contrast in this respect the condition of London with that of Paris. In Paris there were no less than five public libraries open to every class of society, from the highest to the lowest, and to the subject of every country. Libraries had lately been founded by the Emperor of Russia in his dominions, and the King of Saxony had opened a library to the public at Dresden. What would have been the astonishment of these monarchs on their recent visit to this country, had they known that England, so great in every department of art, science, and manufacture, was so deplorably deficient in this most important respect? He trusted that this subject would have the serious consideration of the Government. He hoped that the right hon. Baronet would not think it chimerical and impracticable, but would deem it a subject worthy of his immediate and earnest attention.
§ Viscount Howick
expressed his concurrence with much of what had fallen from his hon. Friend. Enough had not been done for education; and looking to the state of the country—looking to the rapidly increasing density of the population—increasing without any adequate increase in the means of providing instruction, and thus also giving increased facilities to their being led away by designing men—he could not help regarding the prospect with great anxiety. He agreed with his hon. Friend, that it was not desirable to make education completely governmental. The experiment made last year proved that there was not among the different religious sects of this country sufficient toleration (and in this respect he thought Dissenters were as much to blame as Churchmen, and Churchmen as Dissenters)—there was not sufficient toleration 1078 among men of different religious opinions to render it possible that anything like a public system of education could be created with advantage. But although the experiment of last year could not be renewed with advantage, it was deserving of the consideration of Government, whether more might not be done in the direction of that which had been already attempted. He wished to see measures taken with a view to stimulating the people themselves to increased exertions in the cause of education. Moderate as the grants hitherto made for education had been, they had greatly stimulated private effort, and he wished to see the Government taking further steps in the same direction. It was possible to do a great deal at a very small expense in this way. Schools had been lately very generally established throughout the country, but much yet remained to be done. He would suggest that the all-important object might be attained—that at all events much might be done towards creating a general desire for the best education, if a partial examination were now and then instituted into the acquirements of the children brought up in different schools in a district. In each district, examiners appointed by Government might open examinations, which the children brought up in the various schools might voluntarily attend. He would propose in this matter strictly to carry out the voluntary system. At first, it was true, but very little effect might be produced by these examinations, but he thought that a change in that respect would very speedily take place. If the system were commenced, and certificates granted to those children who had made most progress, it would speedily be found that these certificates would be of much value to those who obtained them. They would have the preference in competing for employment in which education and intelligence was of value. But Government might also bring candidates to these examinations by holding out more substantial rewards to a few of the children. This could be done at no expense whatever. They all knew how earnestly situations in the lower ranks of the public service were looked for among the classes likely to send their children to these schools, and if a few such situations—as those of tide-waiters for example—were made prizes for perseverance, attention, and ability, the hope of winning them 1079 would attract great numbers of persons to these examinations. By a small sacrifice of patronage this important object might be attained by Government. Parents would then look out for the best schools to which to send their children, so as to give them the best chance of winning future employment and emolument. He was sure the Government would not allow the consideration of petty patronage to stand in the way of such a scheme as that which he contemplated and recommended. Indeed he thought it would be rather a relief to them than otherwise to have the means of introducing into the lower ranks of the public service persons selected on account of superior qualifications, and not, as at present, more in consequence of influence or favour. It was quite manifest, that men imperfectly educated (as, to the disgrace of the Legislature, too many of the working classes unfortunately were), had very inadequate means of judging of the qualifications of the different schools to which they might send their children. But such an examination as he proposed would give a plain and simple test of capability which no man could mistake. It would besides render schools as efficient as possible. The Government would have, also, the means of judging who were the parties deserving of reward; and he could not help thinking that some small proportion of the Government grant for education might be most usefully employed in giving rewards to those who were the best schoolmasters. It would be very easy to provide that, after a certain number of years' service (and he did not think it should be a small number), schoolmasters should be entitled to some small pension from the State. He believed that a comparatively small sum expended in this way would go further than any other plan to raise the general standard of qualification on the part of schoolmasters. He looked upon this as the most important object which they could now have in view with reference to education. He was perfectly aware this was not a time for entering into details; but feeling that it was a subject of intense importance, and that the Government and Parliament had not yet done as much as was desirable with respect to it, he thought this not an improper opportunity to suggest the carrying further an attempt already partially successful in stimulating the private efforts in favour of education. 1080 Believing that from the unfortunate feeling that prevailed amongst different parties on the subject of education that a Government measure was impossible, the only thing that remained was to stimulate the private efforts in favour of education.
§ Sir R. Peel
thought there would be great difficulties in the way of appointing a separate minister for Education. To multiply the responsible Ministers of the Crown was not desirable. He thought the object of the hon. Gentleman might be effected by leaving the control over this question to the Secretary for the Home Department, whose duty it was to attend to our internal concerns of which none was more important than Education. But the hon. Gentleman seemed to forget that the Government had already appointed a Committee on the subject, which, by clubbing the information and local information of each, was likely to answer every purpose that could be effected by the Executive. He held in his hand the Report of that Committee. He was very much afraid that Gentlemen made motions in that House, and called for reports, whilst they neglected the information already supplied. If hon. Gentlemen would only read the minutes of the Council for Education during 1842 and 1843, they would find that they contained a vast amount of information. The Government had put this information in a form somewhat more inviting than the usual Blue Book. They had already increased the vote for Education, and he was sure, if the occasion required it, that the House would respond to an additional demand for such an object. On one point he certainly concurred with the noble Lord. He thought if the patronage of the Government could be applied to promote the cause of education by giving situations to persons who had distinguished themselves at the public examination of the Government schools, it would be a most wise application of public patronage. Any loss of patronage sustained by a political party would be amply compensated by the advantages that must result from such a system. It was the duty of every administration, irrespective of party interests, to strengthen the foundations of good Government, and they could not do so more effectually than by stimulating the efforts of those who were anxious to distinguish themselves in point of education. He was afraid, however, there were some practical difficulties on 1081 account of the age at which the education at those schools was provided. If they were of an academical character, and the education there provided was for youths of seventeen or eighteen, he should not hesitate to accede to the proposal of the noble Lord. But he was afraid that the boys at the Government schools left them at a very early age—eleven or twelve—and that to hold out to them the prospect that they might then choose a profession, but that when they arrived at the age of eighteen they might depend on getting some Government situation, would be doing them anything but a service. But if it were found possible to apply some subordinate patronage of Government as a stimulus to education, he should not merely not object to such a proposal, but he thought it the most legitimate application of the public money. The jealousy manifested with respect to public education had its evils, in preventing a large number of persons from receiving the benefits of mental culture; but it showed an independent spirit which ought to be respected.
§ Viscount Howick
was perfectly satisfied with the pledge of the right hon. Gentleman, that he would consider his suggestion, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would not only consider the possibility of giving premiums, but of providing an impartial examination.
§ Sir R. Peel
He could not consider any moral obligation stronger than that on great manufacturers to provide libraries for those employed by them. When they gained thousands and tens of thousands through the labouring classes, he could not conceive a more fitting return than to do all in their power to elevate the mental character of those whom they employed. He believed that many such libraries were established.
§ Sir R. Peel
He thought the hon. Gentleman did the manufacturers injustice, for many of them had, he believed, provided, if not open libraries, at least libraries to which the price of admission was a very small sum. He should be sorry to see the Government interfering in a matter which had much better be left to private exertion.—Subject at an end.
§ Question again put, that the Order of the Day for a Committee of Supply be now read.