HC Deb 01 February 1856 vol 140 cc101-5

The Report of the Committee upon the Address was brought up by Mr. BYNG.

On the Question that the Address, as reported, be agreed to,


said, that he did not rise with any intention to revive the discussion which took place yesterday on the subject of the Address, or to depart in any degree from the tone which marked the discussion on that occasion. On the contrary, for himself he most cordially concurred in the tone then adopted, though he could not help remarking that the tone seemed to imply that the two Houses had changed their characteristics, and that solemn dignity had become the characteristic of the House of Commons, and vivacity of debate the characteristic of the other House. His object in now addressing the House was to remark on one of those omissions in the Speech from the Throne which was adverted to in the course of the debates on the previous evening. There were several rather remarkable omissions, but his present object was to comment on one only of them. He found in the Speech from the Throne the following sentence—"There are many subjects connected with internal improvements which I recommend to your attentive consideration." Now, he quite understood that the Ministers, in advising the Speech from the Throne, might have considered that the question of peace or war was, at the present moment, a question of such transcendent and paramount interest that that circumstance justified the passing over that reference which the Speech from the Throne usually made to many topics of domestic policy. Still, as the Government advised Her Majesty to advert to questions of internal improvement, he did not understand why it was that they omitted altogether any reference to a subject which, in his humble opinion, was, beyond all comparison, the most important of all internal questions at the present day, and that which excited the greatest interest in the country—he meant the question of National Education. He felt very great disappointment that the Government had altogether omitted such an important subject from Her Majesty's Speech, and he felt the disappointment the more strongly on account of what had occurred in that House last Session. When he then ventured to submit to the House proposals on that great subject, he had expressed a very strong opinion that, among other things, the present constitution of the Committee of Council was not satisfactory, and that the time had come when the large grant annually made by Parliament for the encouragement of education, ought to be under the management of some educational department responsible to Parliament and duly represented in the House of Commons. He had pressed that matter very strongly on the Government, and at a late period of the Session, when he withdrew the Bill he had introduced on the subject, he again adverted to the point, and he now wished to call the attention of the noble Lord at the head of the Government and of the House to the language used by the noble Lord the Member for London (Lord J. Russell), then a Minister of the Crown, and speaking on behalf of the Government of the present Prime Minister, with which the noble Lord was then connected. The noble Lord the Member for London, in the course of his speech, when he withdrew his Bill, after stating the reason why he had thought it desirable in the first instance to constitute the Committee of Privy Council in the shape in which it existed, proceeded to use the following words— 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."—[3 Hansard, cxxxix. 386.] He thought that language, spoken with the authority of a Minister of the Crown, was perfectly satisfactory, and he heard it with the greatest pleasure. Not long afterwards the noble Lord the Member for London resigned office, and ceased to be a Minister, and, consequently, when the annual Vote for Education came under the consideration of the House, he (Sir J. Pakington) made an appeal to the noble Lord the Prime Minister, and, adverting to what had fallen from the Member for London, expressed a hope that he had spoken in the name of the Government, and not merely in his own name; and that, though that noble Lord had ceased to be a member of the Government, the Prime Minister would consider himself bound by what the noble Lord had said. The noble Lord at the head of the Government met that appeal in the same tone and spirit in which the Member for London had spoken, and, though not formally addressing the House, intimated across the table that the observations of the noble Member for London were concurred in by him, and that he intended to act on them. Considering, then, that the Government last year concurred in those views, and had expressed an announcement of their intention on the subject, it was disappointing that so important a matter had been altogether passed over in silence in the Queen's Speech. While on the subject he could not help adverting to the notice given by the noble Member for London yesterday. He (Sir J. Pakington) stated last year, on more than one occasion, that, having thought it his duty to make some efforts on that great question, the last idea that ever entered his mind was, that of any feeling of rivalry with reference to the noble Member for London, who had so long paid attention to the subject with so much honour to himself and benefit to the country. Indeed, he should be well satisfied in any way to co-operate with the noble Lord if their views should be identical on the question. But he was much disappointed when he heard so high an authority as the noble Member for London give notice for March—the Ides of March—that he would then bring forward, not another measure, but only a series of Resolutions on the subject. Of course he (Sir J. Pakington) could not tell what the nature of those Resolutions might be, but he must express his fear that no Resolutions the noble Lord could move would educate the people of this country. The Resolutions, however skilfully framed, would stand on the Journals of the House, while darkness and ignorance pervaded the mass of the population. What the country wanted on the subject was something more tangible. Increased means and increased money for so great an object were wanted in the first place, and, in the second, a better and more effective supervision and control. He feared these objects could only be attained by legislation, and legislation there must be ere long, though it might not be in the present or even in the next year. Of the noble Lord's intentions he wished to speak with the greatest respect. The noble Lord was, doubtless, influenced by the dread of the difficulties of the subject, and might think some other moment more opportune than the present for legislation; but what the country desired was legislation, and a fair but comprehensive measure to supply the great deficiencies now existing. In the meantime, while the question of legislation was pending, it was most important that the management of the grants given by the House and the superintendence of the system, such as it was at present, should be under the management of a responsible Minister, and that the distribution of the grants now given should be controlled by such a Minister. And as the Government, notwithstanding what had passed last year, and notwithstanding the declarations which had been made, had passed over the subject in utter silence, he appealed to the Government in the hope that they would not recede from those declarations, and that they would be prepared to express their opinions and announce their intentions on the subject.


said, he could assure the right hon. Gentleman that the omission of the subject of the education of the people from the Royal Speech was not caused in the least degree by the Government undervaluing its importance. They had frequently recognised it, but it was unusual to insert any topic in the Speech from the Throne unless the Government were prepared to lay before Parliament a measure of some importance with regard to it. The right hon. Gentleman himself, however, seemed scarcely to anticipate the passing of a large and comprehensive measure on the subject during the present Session, and, as the Government had no measure relating to it which could properly be so described, they had not thought it necessary to introduce the topic into the Royal Speech. Still it would be found, from the notices which would be given, and by the Estimates which would be brought forward, that the subject had not been neglected by the Government. A Bill would be introduced in the other House of Parliament by the Lord President of the Council, which, if acceded to by Parliament, would have the effect of greatly increasing the present means of education in the country. That measure, however, could not be called "large and comprehensive," and the Government had not thought it of sufficient importance to be mentioned in the Royal Speech. With reference to the better supervision of the distribution of the funds granted by Parliament for educational purposes, if the right hon. Gentleman had simply asked whether the Government meant to carry into effect the promise made by them last year, he would have received an answer in the affirmative. He had rightly understood the intimation of the noble Lord at the head of the Government, last year, of his concurrence with the opinion before expressed on this subject by the noble Lord the Member for the City of London. It was thought desirable that the distribution of those funds, as well as other duties connected with education, in its largest sense, including matters referring to science and art, which were now under the charge of the Board of Trade, should be placed under the supervision of an individual minister as the head of a department responsible to Parliament, and represented in that House by a Minister, who would be able to answer all questions and give any explanations that might be required. To that intention Her Majesty's Government adhered, and a Bill would be introduced for the purpose of carrying it into effect.