HC Deb 22 June 1855 vol 139 cc14-8

said, he wished to ask the noble Lord (Lord John Russell) whether it was his intention to fix an early day for resuming the adjourned debate on the Education Bills? He would accompany that question by a few observations upon the subject to which it related. He was well aware that a serious obstacle was offered to the progress of business in that House by the practice of introducing discussions on the Motion for the adjournment from the Friday to the Monday, and he had himself frequently protested against that practice; but as long as it should continue in force he did not see why he should not avail himself of it as well as other Members. He was asking no favour from the Government upon that occasion, and he was putting his question to the noble Lord entirely upon public grounds. He thought it could not be satisfactory to the Members of Her Majesty's Government that the Education Bill should be left in the condition in which they at present stood, and that that question, which had already advanced so far, should remain undecided. Notwithstanding certain opinions announced from that—the Opposition—side of the House, he believed there had never before been so fair a prospect of bringing that important subject to a satisfactory settlement as that which existed at the present moment. He believed that a considerable number of hon. Members on that side of the House were very desirous of seeing the question settled on principles of moderation and justice; and, he was also bound to add, that he believed a similar feeling prevailed on the other side of the House. He believed a strong desire existed in the country that this question should be settled. He had received innumerable applications, and, judging from these, as also from the unanimous tone of the provincial press, it was evident a strong desire prevailed throughout the country that the subject should be set at rest. Any hon. Gentleman who maintained that the present state of education was satisfactory, and that we could safely go on as we were, should be prepared also to maintain that the large body of official men acting on the subject in different parts of the country were leagued together in a conspiracy to mislead the public on the subject; but that was preposterous and out of the question. Now, what was the present condition of these Bills? One had been debated at considerable length, but under disadvantages. It had been considered on the 2nd of May, adjourned to last Monday week, and adjourned again to last Monday, when it was again postponed to make way for a debate on an abstract Resolution, which found only forty-six supporters, and, which, if carried, could not amount to anything more than a barren expression of opinion. He, therefore, feared if the question were allowed to remain as at present, and these intervals allowed to take place in its discussion, the impression of the country would amount to this—that the Government did not entertain that desire due to the importance of the question to have it finally settled. He (Sir J. Pakington) was not of the opinion that legislation could be of much avail in the present Session. But he thought the Bills might be read a second time, that they might be referred to a Select Committee, and a Bill prepared so as to be ready to be submitted to the House early next Session. The least the promoters and supporters of the Bill might expect was that Her Majesty's Government, after entertaining these measures, would pronounce on the principle of them; and he, therefore, begged to inquire when a day would be fixed for the second reading?


said, he thought the right hon. Baronet had just delivered the funeral sermon of his Bill. He was of opinion that the endeavours of the right hon. Baronet had done great mischief to the cause of education, and that this was much too vast a subject to be dealt with by the right hon. Baronet. The fact that there were now 318,000 teachers in England engaged in the work of instruction, who did not receive a shilling recompense for their labours, and who had 2,400,000 children under their care, had never been mentioned by the right hon. Baronet, an omission that betrayed either ignorance or disingenuousness. It would be a great evil to give Government the inspection of every school in the country; that course was not advocated by Lord Shaftesbury, and one of the greatest authorities on the subject, Mr. Baines, of Leeds, was opposed to all State interference.


Sir, it is certainly not the fault of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich that the great question of education, brought by the Bill under the consideration of the House, has not yet been decided by a division; but neither do I think that the Government are in fault, because there have been topics of overwhelming interest brought before the House, such as the proposition of the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Layard), upon a subject which has undoubtedly agitated and interested the country to a very great extent. With regard to the position of the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman, he says he only expects the second reading of that Bill, together with the Bill which I had the honour to propose, and, perhaps, another Bill, with the view to send them to a Select Committee. That being the ultimate object of the right hon. Gentleman, and I think he cannot expect more, it is natural that the Government, who have measures before the House which they think of pressing importance, and which they wish to send to the other House of Parliament in such time that due consideration may be given to them, should be anxious rather to press those measures than to appoint a very early day for the further considera- tion of the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman. At the same time, there should be a day, and I hope it will not be delayed to a time when there will be a less frequent attendance of hon. Members, and when the remainder of the discussion on this subject can be taken. I think it very important that hon. Members who are in favour of the voluntary principle, but who have not yet taken part in the debate, should state their sentiments, and that we should hear their objections to any interference on the part of Parliament and the Government, to any further extent with education. I think it is of great importance that we should hear their opinions, because I think they are the most powerful opponents, I will not say to the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman, but to any legislation whatever on this subject. I confess my impression is, that although voluntary efforts have done and can do a great deal, it cannot do sufficient for the education of the people of this country. I think, likewise, that although the measures of the Committee of education of the Privy Council have done much, and can do more, they will not be able completely to remove the ignorance which prevails among a large portion of the people of this country. But I cannot but think that the right hon. Gentleman has made an exaggerated statement. I am far from being convinced that these voluntary efforts and the assistance which grants of this House have given have not produced a very great impression upon the ignorance and pauperism that formerly prevailed in this country. And I likewise think that what education is doing now—that is to say, the best part of it—is of the most substantial and valuable character, because it is what I call a free education that is given by the Government on certain stated principles, and limited to certain branches of knowledge. I call that a free education where the parent can send his child to a school where he obtains what religious teaching the parent pleases. I think that the education given in this country is far superior in that respect to that given on the Continent, to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred. I think, however, that, preserving all that is valuable in our own system, that system ought to be extended, and that a system of rating ought to be introduced. At the same time, this is so large and great a question that I think it is quite sufficient for the House to come this year to a decision upon the principle, and wait until next year before we decide how the principle is to be carried out. I do not think my noble Friend at the head of the Government can appoint an early day; but I hope that a day will be appointed, while there is still a full attendance, when we can resume the adjourned debate.