HC Deb 02 July 1855 vol 139 cc383-8

said, that he stated last week that he would on an early day declare the course he should take with regard to the Education Bill under his charge, and he should now move that the Order of the Day for the adjourned debate on the second reading be discharged. He had two reasons for taking that course—firstly, on any business with which he was connected he was always desirous of meeting the wishes of the House, and he believed that it was the wish of the House that they should not spend any more nights at that period of the Session in debating measures which were not to be passed into law. Another reason was, that in his belief any division which might be taken on the Bill would be taken now under serious disadvantages. The noble Lord at the head of the Government had offered Friday night for the resumption of the adjourned debate, but assuming that the House came to a decision then, which was by no means certain, it would be taken after debates which had taken place on three different occasions, the first in the month of May, the second in the month of June, and the third in the month of July. A subject of such great importance ought certainly not to be settled except after full, close, and consecutive discussion. Looking then to the magnitude of the question, he thought that he should best discharge his duty by not proceeding with the Bill during the present Session. He might, however, be allowed to say that he had devoted much thought and labour to the measure, and he could not part with it without expressing an earnest hope that the House would not let such an important subject rest where it was, and that in an early Session, he hoped the next Session, the question would be brought to a settlement on the principles laid down in his Bill. He believed the question could not be settled on any other principles. Those principles were these—First, that there should be no unnecessary interference with existing agencies, which had done and were doing much good. Secondly, that the deficiencies of existing agencies should be supplied by means of a public fund, ad- ministered by the local authorities; and thirdly, that the religious element should be retained in our system of education, but that it should be combined with the most perfect respect and toleration for all denominations of dissent from the Established Church. He believed that when the question came to be settled, it must be settled on those main principles, and which could not be applied to education without legislation. Much had been said of the efficacy of the voluntary system, but he was glad to hear the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) say that although that system had done much—and he (Sir J. Pakington) admitted it had done much—it could not overtake or meet the ignorance prevailing in the country. In bringing forward his Bill, he made statements with regard to the condition of education, and he was accused of exaggeration in his statements, and he was much pained by hearing that accusation repeated by the noble Lord the Member for London. Now that was a grave charge against a Member of long experience in that House dealing with such a subject. He would now emphatically say that he had studiously avoided exaggeration. The statements he had made were substantially true. He had said that in the quality of the teaching and in the numbers taught the majority of the states of Europe and America were in advance of this country. He had obtained that information from the best sources, and he adhered to the statement. He believed it to be strictly true, and if it was true, he could not as an Englishman regard it without deep shame. With regard to the condition of education in England, every statement he had made had been founded on official documents and obtained from official authorities, and in some instances he was informed that he had understated the facts. He had arrived at the conclusion that the children of the educated classes were divisable into three portions. The first was, that in which many children were well educated, and all of them fairly educated. The second portion were those who were sent to schools where they received some education, but in inferior schools, or their attendance was for so short a time that the training they received was worth little or nothing; while the third class were those who went to no schools, and received no systematic educational training. The last class was the smallest, but the second was much the largest. If this approximated to the truth, it was a state of things which Parliament ought not to permit to continue, and he hoped and believed that the people of this country would not be content unless Parliament addressed itself to this important social question. The people would say that Members of Parliament could find time for party struggles, while great social questions were made matters of minor interest, and he believed they would call on Parliament to battle with the question in an earnest and serious manner, and soon to settle it on sound and benevolent principles,


said, that whenever the measure was brought forward again, he should feel it his duty to give it his strenuous opposition.


said, that as the right hon. Gentleman (Sir J. Pakington) had alluded to him, and the next Bill on the Orders was one which he had introduced, he wished to say a few words. He honoured the right hon. Gentleman for the efforts he had made to raise the standard of education, and he agreed with him in the three principles he had laid down. He agreed with the right hon. Gentleman that it was desirable that popular education should be extended and improved, and that in extending and improving it, due consideration should be shown to those existing modes of education by which so much instruction had been afforded. He agreed also with the right hon. Gentleman in thinking that any system of education should be founded on a religious basis. He thought they would injure rather than serve future generations if they infused amongst the people an education in which religious instruction should not be given. At the same time, he also agreed with the right hon. Gentleman in thinking that, in doing this, they ought to respect the rights of conscience, and ought not to interfere with the religious convictions of the parents. When he spoke of exaggerated statements, he referred to the conclusion at which the right hon. Gentleman had arrived, and not to his statistics, which he admitted to be accurate and well founded. But he believed there was a value given to the education given in this country which was not to be found in the education given in some continental countries, although the number of scholars in those countries might be larger; and for that reason, that the people of this country had full religious liberty, and had open to them stores of literary study which his right hon. Friend (Mr. Macaulay) declared to be equal to the classical writings of antiquity. When it was borne in mind that the people of this country had open to them works of the highest conception, works of fancy and poetry, as well as the highest works of philosophical and historical reasoning, that must be in itself an education vastly superior to the education of those countries where the Government was fearful to admit such works, particularly in the department of morals and politics. He was lately amused by reading, that Southey's ballad, The Old Woman of Berkeley, was prohibited in Russia, because they would be too much frightened at reading it. That was a specimen of what was called a paternal Government. What he should like to do was to extend, and if possible to make universal, that system of education which, they already possessed, rather than go into an entirely new system. Reference had been made in the course of the discussions to the schools of New England and other parts of the United States, but he certainly did not think that the schools in, those places were at all analogous to those with which the Bills before the House proposed to deal. He was convinced likewise that the system of the United States, however well adopted it might be to the social condition of that country, was not suited to this country. Men like Mr. Everett and Mr. Webster might send their sons to be educated in the common schools of the United States, but it was not likely that the gentry of this country would send their sons to be educated in the common schools here. We must follow our own ways, our own genius, and the disposition of our own people, rather than that of the despotic States of the continent or of the United States of America. With regard to the future, therefore, his view was limited rather to the extending and improving the system of education they had than of introducing an entirely new one. There was one subject upon which the right hon. Gentleman had touched when he moved for leave to introduce his Bill, with regard to which he wished to say a few words—he referred to the Committee of Council of Education. When that Committee was appointed he did not think that any better means could be adopted for managing the Educational Votes than by intrusting the control of them to a council of several Ministers, but circumstances had since changed, and he thought that it would be for the benefit of the public service if the President of the Committee of Council were to be acknowledged as the Minister of Education, and that the department of education should be represented in that House by a person who might, perhaps, hold the rank of a Privy Councillor, and who might be able to defend any measure that might be adopted, and who would be prepared at all times to explain the views of the Government with regard to the general question of education. As to the steps necessary to be taken to carry that view into effect, he could assure the House that the whole subject was under the earnest consideration of the Government, and they hoped in an early Session to be able to lay before Parliament a scheme for the regulation of an educational department.


said, that it now became his duty to explain what he intended to do with his Bill. He presented a petition, signed by 62,000 of the adult male population of Manchester and Salford, in favour of a secular system of education, supported by local rates and applied by local authority. No less than 170 public meetings, held in twenty-eight different counties, decided in favour of the same plan. Indeed, no other plan, if to be supported by rates, met with any acceptance at all. The people of this country would not sanction a general system of rating for the teaching in schools of all religions, because it would be absurd, nor for the teaching of any one form of religion, because it would be unjust. He believed that if the State were to interfere in education at all, it had better confine itself to giving secular education in the schools, leaving religion to the care of the parents and the ministers of religion. He should regret if those whom he represented felt disappointed at the course he should take, but, under the circumstances in which he was placed, he could do nothing else than follow the example which had been set him, and withdraw his Bill. He should, however, bring forward his plan next Session.


said, he must beg to express his gratification at the statement made by the noble Lord. The value of the existing system could not be overrated. Mr. Mann said, that within five or six years from the present time there would be, according to the past progress of the existing system, fully one in every six of the population receiving all the advantages of it.


said, he would beg to ask the noble Lord whether he would propose in the present Session the appointment of a Minister of Instruction.


said, the Government wished to take time to consider the whole subject; though at the same time he should state that they fully contemplated renewing a measure next Session based upon the rating principle.


said, he would then give notice that whenever such a measure was brought forward he should be prepared to meet it with a direct negative.

Order for resuming Adjourned Debate on Second Reading (May 2) read and discharged.

Bill withdrawn; as was also Education Bill and Free Schools Bill.