HC Deb 22 July 1856 vol 143 cc1209-18

Order for Third reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."


said, he must enter his protest against the Bill, for no reason had been adduced by the Secretary of State to satisfy him that it was necessary to bring another paid officer into that House. It would require strong reasons to make that course necessary. He, therefore, wished, at all events, to record his own opinion against passing the Bill, and thereby saddling an additional charge upon the public. Notice of an Amendment had been given that this new officer should overlook Irish education as well as English. That opened up a large question. He understood also, that this new officer was to undertake the charge of the various scientific societies that were now in vogue. But the House having negatived by a large majority the scheme for a general system of education proposed by the noble Lord the Member for the City of London (Lord J. Russell), he could not but think that the object of having an officer of this description had reference to a desire to set up some large scheme of national education, to be conducted by the Government. That being the case, he could well understand why the Government should press the measure. But being of opinion that there was no necessity for it, he should move that it should be read a second time that day three months.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words" upon this day three months."


said, he concurred in the general views of the right hon. Gentleman with respect to the Bill now under consideration. He saw, with some regret, a relaxation of that jealousy which that House formerly evinced with reference to the multiplication of paid officers of the Crown in that House. The House was not now so rigid in requiring a case to be made out for such a measure as he could wish it was. Nay, individual Members of the House sometimes rather officiously pressed upon the Government the multiplication of paid Members; and, moreover, a practice appeared to be growing up of creating offices before they had created duties which the persons filling those offices were to perform, instead of first ascertaining what duties were to be done, and then providing officers for the discharge of those duties. Such a course of proceeding was both irregular and objectionable. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Henley) had said, with great justice, that there was a connection between this Bill, when it was first introduced, and of certain schemes which were entertained, and which at one time were thought probable might be adopted in regard to national education. There was strong evidence, in his opinion, in favour of that view. The Bill was introduced in the House of Lords at an early period of the Session, and notice was at the same time given by the noble Lord the Member for London (Lord J. Russell) of his Resolutions on the subject of education. The further proceedings with the Bill were delayed by the Government, in order to ascertain what were the views of Parliament with reference to those Resolutions. The views of Parliament were declared in a most emphatic manner, and those Resolutions were now numbered with the things that were. But the Bill now before them, notwithstanding, was still proceeded with. He could wish that the proceedings taken upon the matter of education were such as might not involve a chance at a future period of their retrograding from what they had already done. He was hound to admit that generally their proceedings had been of that kind; and that they had not taken a backward course, but that the measures which had been adopted had been taken after full discussion, and that they had received in general the mature approbation of the country. But with respect to the present measure, he could not regard it as at all settling the question which it raised. Fortunately, in one sense, as it affords opportunity for future discussion, the Bill did not sanction any payment out of the Consolidated Fund. Therefore, in order to provide a salary for the new officer, it would be necessary that the name of the Minister should appear on the Votes from time to time. Thus, the matter would be truly tested. But, as regarded the judgment to be formed upon it at present, he should say that, proposed, as it was, with reference to two objects—namely, one, upon the supposition of establishing the office as a great and extended agency in the matter of education, which, for the present, had entirely disappeared; and the other, that there might always be a person in that House to answer for the Government in regard to all proceedings affecting education, he thought that the latter object alone, was hardly a sufficient cause for introducing a newly-paid official personage into that House. The convenience of having a Minister of Education in the House ought not to be alone considered; but they ought, in some degree, to know what duties the hon. Gentleman who might be appointed to that office would have to discharge when he was not attending in his place in Parliament. He said, with considerable confidence, that they were going to give a bad constitution to this educational department. The Minister of Education would be an officer very little worked, and would only be partially occupied. Privy Councillors in offices of that kind were merely superintending persons. They could not carry on a business department, their functions were of a Ministerial character. Questions requiring the intervention of such persons would occur but rarely. There was no standing business which would justify the appointment of such an official. He did not mean to say that the business of the office itself was either slight or unimportant. On the contrary, it was very extensive and of great importance but the great mass ran in grooves and consisted of questions which were disposed of by officers as the department was now constituted, and whose duties did not admit of being transacted by a Privy Councillor with a salary of £2,000 a year. They had some analogous institutions to which they might refer. The Board of Trade was one of them. He did not, however, hesitate to say, that the constitution of that department was a bad constitution. Instead of being a department with a regular organisation and with one responsible head, and the other Members bearing a defined relation in subordination to him, they had two parties, cheek by jowl—a President and a Vice President, of equal official rank, the Vice President being, in fact, the more important man of the two. especially if he happened to sit in that House, while the President sat in the House of Lords. It very rarely happened that both were thoroughly hardworking Members of the Government; but the country ought to have none but thoroughly hard-working men. That constitution, therefore, as he had just said, was a bad constitution. On the other hand, they had got an example in another department which it would be more desirable to follow. If the time had arisen when it was necessary that a Parliamentary officer should be appointed to answer questions in that House upon educational subjects—though he, for himself, thought that no better plan could be devised than to require that duty to be discharged by the Home Secretary of State, who in the present case was a man of the greatest ability, and holding the highest and most responsible post—yet, if the time had arrived when it was necessary to have in the House some gentleman to answer for the department of education, then let him be placed upon a footing of equality with the head of those who were now the working officers of that department. Why not have a joint-secretary of the Committee of Education, as there was a joint-secretary in the Board of Trade? both secretaries ought to be working officers. Certainly, at the time he (Mr. Gladstone) was in that, department, the joint-secretaries were charged with highly responsible and important official duties. The constitution of the Board of Control also was somewhat of an analogous case. Then there was the Poor-Law Board. That was a most recent authority. There were joint-secretaries in that department; neither of them were Privy Councillors. In his opinion, the Government would have done much better, and would have much more securely preserved the influence and dignity which appertained to the important office of Lord President, if, instead of appointing a Vice President, they had followed the example of the Board of Trade, and had appointed a joint-secretary to be an assistant with Mr. Lingen. He would have conducted the business quite as well, and have answered questions quite as readily as any Vice President or Privy Councillor could do. He did not think the measure had been sufficiently considered by Government or by Parliament, and he therefore believed that the wiser course would be that, instead of giving the sanction of Parliament to an immature scheme, it should be postponed until a definite idea was formed of the nature of the duties to be discharged by this new officer. In the meantime, all the duties appertaining to the function of a Minister of Education, could continue to be discharged, as they hitherto had been, by the Secretary of State for the Home Department.


said, he must deny that this proposal was in any way connected with the educational scheme proposed by the noble Lord the Member for the City of London at an early period of the Session. On the contrary, in the Session of 1855, and long before any scheme was proposed by his noble Friend, it was strongly pressed upon the Government that the constitution of the Committee of the Privy Council of Education was defective, and that while Parliament was yearly increasing the amount of grants for the purpose of promoting education it was inexpedient that those grants should be placed in the hands of a Board where no member of it was responsible for its appropriation, and where, there being a divided responsibility, there was in effect no responsibility at all. The Government were urged by several Members, especially by the right hon. Member for Droitwich (Sir J. Pakington) to remedy the defective constitution of the Committee of Privy Council of Education, and to establish an individualised responsibility, and to place the administration of those funds under the superintendence of one Minister. It was also urged that the educational department ought to be represented in that House by a Minister who, in conjunction with the President of the Council, should take upon himself the administration of those funds granted by Parliament for educational purposes. It was also suggested that the same Board should take upon themselves the charge now intrusted to the Board of Trade connected with art and science. The First Lord of the Treasury said, in reply to those appeals, that the Government would not shrink from proposing to Parliament such a measure. Those were the reasons to be given for establishing this new officer of the Government which was really designed to meet what was understood to be the general wish of the House. The Bill did not involve the question of salary; that would come annually before Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) had drawn a distinction between a Privy Councillor and not a Privy Councillor, but that was quite beside the question raised by the right hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley). That right hon. Gentleman objected to any alteration of the present system, or to any paid officer sitting in that House who should be able to give that information which it would be his duty to give. If at any future period it should be thought better that public education should be represented by an executive officer instead of by a Vice President, and that his salary should be £1,500 a year instead of £2,000, it would be quite open for the House to adopt that course. It was quite true that all the proposed schemes of public education were rejected; but he understood that the grounds of their rejection were that the time had not arrived when it was practically expedient to attempt to establish one general system of education throughout the country. But it was, nevertheless, the general feeling of the House that means should be taken to extend education throughout the kingdom; and it was thought that the existing means used now were the best that could be devised. When the Committee of Privy Council of Education was first established, the grants of public money were small, and the duties were of a light character, so that the Committee possessed sufficient machinery to administer those funds. But now that the grants had largely increased, and the business connected with the department of education had likewise increased, it was felt desirable that the educational department should be enlarged, and that it should be represented by an influential Minister in the House of Commons.


said, he thought that it would be a great advantage to have in that House a Minister of Education for the whole of the United Kingdom. Two different systems existed—one in Ireland, and the other in this country—and it would certainly be desirable to have some one in that House responsible for the whole education of the United Kingdom. He did not think the salary proposed was too high. If, however, they passed the Bill in its present shape they would be widening the line of demarcation which at present existed between England and Ireland, with respect to education.


said, he could not allow one observation of the Secretary for the Home Department to pass without remark. The right hon. Gentleman said it was quite beside the question to make any objections to the Bill on the ground of the position which the proposed officer was to occupy, or to object to his being a Privy Councillor. Now, the Bill consisted of one clause; and he conceived that the whole force and pith of the Bill was that the proposed Minister should be a highly salaried officer and one of great position. It appeared to him that by the Bill the President of the Committee of the Privy Council of Education would practically be made a nullity. He must confess that he looked with great jealousy at the appointment of such an officer as this. He could not possibly understand what those matters connected with art and science, and which were now associated with the Board of Trade, had to do with education in a practical sense. He was aware that persons talked about the education of the people being promoted by art and science in an indirect manner. That, no doubt, was true; but what he maintained was required in the present case was a hard-working officer. He willingly admitted that it would be of great advantage to have one Minister on the subject of education responsible to that House. Large sums of money were voted annually, and the House had not sufficient means to inquire into the details of the management and expenditure of that money. But the suggestion which had been made in the course of the discussion would, in his opinion, fully meet the case. A joint secretary might be employed in the day in the duties of his department, and at night he might attend in that House to answer the few questions that might be put. It might be desirable that some Minister should always be ready to answer such questions. No doubt that duty would ultimately become one of great importance. If responsibility were required he was sure that no one would be more unwilling to shrink from responsibility than the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for the Home Department. And if upon his responsibility the right hon. Gentleman was prepared to say that he was not able satisfactorily to his own conscience, and, as he believed, to the public and to that House, to answer those questions and make himself master of the points that might arise, then he (Mr. G. Vernon) would admit that a strong case had been made out for having some officer, but he should say an inferior officer, of the Government appointed to discharge that duty. It could not, however, be said, that it was of no importance whether that officer was a Privy Councillor or not. It was of great importance for this reason, that he must be strictly a Ministerial officer. His sole and entire business would be to carry out the views of Parliament, and the views of the President of the Committee of Privy Council of education. It assuredly would not do to have two equal authorities in the same department. He must be distinctly subordinate to the President of the Privy Council, and he must not go beyond the intentions of the Privy Council. If his right hon. Friend the Member for Oxfordshire should go to a division, he should certainly feel it his duty to vote with him.


said, he was sorry that a question of this kind should assume the character of a Government Bill, because hon. Members who were supporters of Government felt themselves in some manner constrained to support the measure, whether they approved it or not. But the measure now before the House did not originate with the Government; it was forced upon them; he, therefore, hoped that they would listen to the advice given to them against the principle of the Bill. The amount of grants for education, science, and art was £876,937. There were fifteen items on account of which grants were made, but this Educational Board would only have to deal with one of those items. He should certainly vote against the Bill.


said, he supposed that, notwithstanding the schemes proposed for a general system of public education had been rejected, they were not to give up education altogether, or to such a degree as would not involve the necessity of such a superintendence as was proposed by the Bill? Considering the many onerous duties imposed upon the Secretary of State for the Home Department, it was impossible that he could discharge those duties which would appertain to the office of a Minister of Education compatibly with those which attached to his own department. If Parliament appointed a Minister who was to be responsible for the educational department, he undoubtedly ought to be a person of importance and a Privy Councillor. The House would not be content with an answer from an Under Secretary, but would still require to be replied to by the Secretary of State for the Home Department.


said, he considered that it was the business of the House to get rid of the Bill. As the duties of the office were not as yet defined, they would find, if they agreed to the Bill, that every new duty imposed on this officer would be made an excuse for increasing his salary.


said, that the House having decided in favour of the present system of education he considered that the present measure was uncalled for, as it evidently had reference to a much more extended system. He deprecated the introduction of a political officer into the department of education, because he feared discussion and dissension would be the grievous results. The proposal was not only not asked for now by Parliament, but was evidently disliked both by Parliament and the country. It was the commencement of some system which they did not understand, and would introduce an official into that House whose presence would be a stimulus to discussions which would create inconvenience to the Government, and heart burnings in the country.


said, he considered the Bill to be a very excellent measure. Great benefit would have been derived to the community if during the discussion of the Oxford University Bill there had been a Minister of Education in the House. The country had a constitutional right to have a Minister of Education appointed. Large sums of money were granted for educational purposes every year, and the only person they could now refer to for information as to the appropriation of that money was the Secretary of State for the Home Department, whose various other duties were quite sufficient to occupy his time.


said, he wished to refresh the memory of his hon. Friend by stating that, when the Oxford University Bill was before the House, they had the advantage of the presence of the President of the Council himself, (Lord John Russell) and not only so, but he was the leader at that time in that House. A great deal had been said about the necessity for such an officer to answer questions, but if his memory did not mislead him, seldom more than three or four questions were asked on the subject in the course of the Session, and these the Home Secretary was always competent to answer. He observed a marked difference in the House between its present laxity and former jealousy with respect to the number of its Members sitting there holding paid offices during pleasure. He knew some of these offices had been abolished, but still on the balance of the last ten years a considerable addition to them had been made. He did not at the present moment see the necessity for this new Ministerial officer being appointed, and he should, therefore, vote against the third reading of the Bill.

Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the question."

The House divided:—Ayes 77; Noes 35: Majority 42.

Main Question put, and agreed to; Bill read 3° and passed.