HC Deb 28 March 1862 vol 166 cc240-50

Order for Committee read.

House in Committee.


Sir, I have to solicit the indulgence of the House for a minute or two, in order to make a short statement on behalf of the Government. The Government have, since the House met last, taken into consideration the debate with which the House has been occupied during the earlier part of the week, and they have come to the conclusion that they ought, as far as is consistent with their duty to the public purse and the public service, to meet the views so gene rally expressed by hon. Members of all parties in the course of the recent discussion. I shall not trouble the House with any lengthened preliminary remarks. It is our wish, as I stated last night, to bring this controversy to a settlement—not a settlement which shall give a triumph to the advocates of any particular opinion, but one which shall be satisfactory to the country, and conducive to the great interests involved in the question of education. I have, therefore, Sir, to state to the House that the Government, having taken into consideration the opinion expressed by so man hon. Gentlemen that it is desirable some portion of the grant should rest on a footing of greater security than they think is afforded by the individual examination of children, are ready to consent to a relaxation of that proposition. They are ready to agree that a substantial portion on the grant should be given on the general report of the Inspector; and, with a view to carry out that purpose, they are willing to assent to the Motion, notice of which has been given by the noble Lord the Member for Middlesex (Viscount Enfield), with a slight Amendment relative to the payment of the grant, making it depend upon the report of the Inspector instead of upon the average attendance of scholars In order to remove an apprehension, which I do not think is well founded, but which might be entertained in some quarters, that it was intended to make the grant independent of the general report of the Inspector, which deals with religious instruction as well as other matters, I have also to state that Her Majesty's Government think it right, after the opinions I which have been expressed, to couple the concession I have mentioned with another, and I would beg the House to consider the two together, and not to isolate the one from the other, because the one has an important bearing on the other. We found during the recess, and we have I heard in the recent debate, a great number of opinions expressed adverse to the principle adopted by the Privy Council Committee, of grouping by age; and, without entering into the question of the abstract merits of that proposition, I have to announce that the Government are quite ready to concede that point also, and to give up the principle of grouping children by age. They will endeavour to adopt other measures, the best of which the circumstances may admit, for securing the object in view, and meanwhile I trust the House will accept this concession also in the spirit in which it is made. For the satisfaction of those hon. Gentlemen who may think that in giving up the principle of grouping by age we do not concede enough, I may state that the altera- tion I have announced involves on the part of the public a very considerable pecuniary sacrifice; and, taken in connection with the other change I have mentioned, makes a large concession to principles which have been much insisted on in this House. I have, likewise, to state that there is a third concession which the Government are willing to make. The subject of it is dealt with in the eighth Resolution proposed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Walpole). That Resolution relates to arrangements connected with the transition state between the abolition of the present system of annual grants and the full establishment of the new scheme of capitation grants. I have to inform the House that the Government are prepared to reconsider the manner in which the pupil-teachers who are now engaged have been provided for, and they are willing to propose, instead of the scheme contained in the Resolutions, a plan which, while it shall provide for holding pupil-teachers harmless from the change, so that they may not be prejudiced in their pecuniary interests, shall at the same time leave to the managers of schools any surplus that may accrue to them after payment of the pupil-teachers. What I mean is, that if the grant is not sufficient to pay the pupil-teachers, the Government will make it good; and if there should be a surplus, that surplus shall be the property of the managers. I have also to state, as indeed, has been already intimated by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, that the Government are willing to accept the 10th and 11th Resolutions, which require all modifications or material alterations of the Code to be submitted to Parliament before they are carried into execution. I can only, in conclusion, express the hope that the House will receive the concessions I have announced in the spirit in which they are made. We have done our best to obviate the objections which hon. Gentlemen honestly and sincerely entertain to some portions of the Revised Code; and I can assure the House that the conclusion to which we have come has not been arrived at without the sacrifice, in some cases, of individual convictions. I hope and trust we shall get credit for an honest endeavour to meet the views of the House, and for a desire to bring the controversy which has occupied us so recently to a satisfactory settlement


Sir, I must congratulate the Committee on the frank and gene- rous manner in which the Government have endeavoured to obviate the objections which have been raised to certain portions of the Revised Code; and I should ill discharge my duty, and should be doing scant justice to my own feelings, were I not to endeavour to the utmost of my power to meet them in the spirit in which their concessions have been made. The concessions offered to the House are concessions in respect of principles for which I have long and stoutly contended. The right hon. Gentleman has alluded to a sacrifice of individual convictions, but I sincerely hope that when these concessions are carried into effect, he will find that almost all the main objects which he has in view will be attained. I do not intend to trouble the Committee with any lengthened observations on the particular points to which the right hon. Gentleman has adverted: perhaps, however, I may be permitted to say with regard to the first concession—namely, that a portion of the grant is hereafter to depend upon the report of the Inspector, and not upon the average attendance of scholars—that I think the change now proposed by the Government is preferable to the one embodied in the Resolution of which the noble Lord the Member for Middlesex has given notice. I am persuaded, moreover, that the abandonment of the principle of grouping children by age will be productive of great benefit to the community. Upon the question of the pupil teachers I certainly felt very strongly, and I am glad, both for their sakes and for the credit of this House, to hear that justice will be done. I think the Government have acted wisely in agreeing to accept the Resolutions, the object of which, as admitted by the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for the Home Department the other night, is to maintain the authority of Parliament. There is only one other observation I wish to make. I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman that on a matter of so much importance it is well that, to use the right hon. Gentleman's own words, there should be no party triumph either one way or another, and that we should all unite in doing that which we really think best for the public service. I only hope that the Government will not think that I make an unreasonable proposition when I suggest that, in stead of going on with the Committee now, the House and the country should have a little time to consider whether they will accept the propositions which have just been submitted on the part of the Government. I believe the course I now venture to suggest will eventually very much conduce to the satisfactory settlement of the question.


said, he was sure every one must have heard with pleasure the very conciliatory speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Committee of Council on Education, and the House would do well to agree to the proposal made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Walpole), in order that the propositions of the Government might go forth to the public and be fairly considered by the country. As the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lowe) had alluded to an Amendment which he had ventured to place on the table yesterday evening, he might be allowed to say, that if it met with the approval of the Committee of Council on Education, and received the general support of the House, he should wish that whatever credit was due to it should be ascribed to the proper quarter. He had no right to allude to a debate that had taken place elsewhere; but if he might put the case hypothetically, he should say, that if a right rev. prelate for whom he entertained deep respect, and who had been himself no mean worker in the cause of education, had suggested a mode by which conflicting interests might be reconciled, it was to that quarter that the credit of his Amendment should be given. He felt thankful that so humble an individual as himself had been in any way instrumental in bringing about such an arrangement. From the tone and temper of the debate, to which he had listened throughout with the deepest interest, he anticipated the most admirable results; and he had only to add, that if his Amendment were accepted, he should have great pleasure in agreeing to the verbal alterations suggested by the right hon. Gentleman.


I apprehend, Sir, after the statement that has been made by Her Majesty's Government, that it is not very probable that the Committee, at least to-night, will be called upon to pronounce any opinion on the Amendment of the noble Lord. I think myself that the Government have acted with great wisdom and propriety in deferring as they have to the unmistakable opinion expressed by both sides of this House; and I think it unnecessary to assure them that when an Administration, dealing with a question of so much nicety and such vast interest, feel it their duty to withdraw a very important portion of their proposition, necessarily a very complicated one, which they have submitted to Parliament, there can be no other feeling throughout this House than a desire to give the Government credit for being actuated by the most honourable motives. Now, Sir, I think that the suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Member for the University is one that well deserves the attention of the House. This is not one of those questions of which a satisfactory solution can be certainly arranged by a mere consideration of the opinions and feelings of Members of this House. There is without the walls of this House, on whichever side arrayed, a great mass of public opinion, very much excited and very much interested in this question; and therefore, Sir, I think no one can for a moment doubt, whatever may be the opinion of the House on the general proposition of the Government, the propriety of acting with due caution, and avoiding any appearance of coming to a precipitate decision. After the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, the proposition we have had to-night from the Government must be considered a new one, and likely to lead to consequences very different from those which might have resulted from the scheme first before the House. It is impossible for us, the moment our attention is turned to the subject, to conceive all the results to which it may possibly lead; but those who are deeply interested in this question in every part of the country, after a month has passed during which their attention has been necessarily absorbed in the consideration of the former proposition of the Government and its amendments, have a right to an opportunity of calm and full consideration of what must really be looked upon as a new project; and therefore I trust that the suggestion of my right hon. Friend will be acceded to by the Government, and ample and sufficient time be given, not only to the House, but to the country, to consider this modified proposal. I will take only one point—not that I am anxious to enter into any controversy upon the question tonight, but to show to the Committee the great importance of not coming to a precipitate conclusion which might occasion much disappointment and disquietude in the country—I mean the concession of the Government as to the principle of certainty; every hon. Member must feel that the satisfactory nature of that proposition depends a great deal on the amount at which the contribution is fixed, and the degree of certainty which consequently will accrue from that amount. As the Government have not made a formal proposition, I do not want to entrap them into any public or premature declaration as to that amount, but the Government must feel that upon this point the satisfactory nature of the proposition must greatly depend. There are other topics upon which I will not touch at present; the fourth Resolution of my right hon. Friend involves very important considerations; but, after the discussion which has taken place—after the great, I may say the salutary concessions which have been made, satisfactory, 1 believe, to the country, and honourable, I am sure, to the Government—I think that ample time ought to be given for its consideration—not a few days only, for there is no haste, now that we are so far agreed to decide mere questions of detail, but which nevertheless are of immense interest and importance in the estimation of the country. If, therefore, Her Majesty's Government do not object, it would, perhaps, be better not to come to any final conclusion as to the terms upon which the system of popular education in this country must permanently rest until after the Easter recess.


Sir, the Government must feel gratified at the manner in which their proposition has been received, and they can have no wish to press the Committee for a hasty decision; but I fear that the proposal I am about to make will scarcely meet the views expressed by the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. I do not think it desirable to keep up the agitation which exists on this question longer than may be absolutely necessary; and if the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge will accede to it, I beg to propose that the chairman now report progress, and ask leave to sit again on Monday week. I think it is important that the question should not be indefinitely postponed, but that, if possible, it should be settled before Easter, as the country ought not to be left in uncertainty about it. Let the matter now stand for Monday week, subject to any arrangement that may be made between the right hon. Gentleman and the Government.


observed, that Monday week would be a very inconvenient day to many hon. Members, as it was the commencement of quarter sessions.


said, he was about to make the same observation. Monday week would certainly not be convenient to many Members of the House. He must also say the subject to be considered was highly technical in its nature. The House had now for the first time heard the announcement that there was to be a change in the scheme of the Government; but the value of the concessions which had been made would very much depend on the language in which they were presented to the House; therefore, until hon. Members had the reprint of the measure before them, it would be very difficult to say how long a time ought fairly to be given. He quite agreed with the right hon. Baronet that it was desirable not to keep the matter longer under discussion than was absolutely necessary. But obviously the proposed change would most deeply affect two classes immediately interested—masters and pupil-teachers—as regarded the incidence, or rather the application, of the fund that might arise from the examination or capitation grant; and it would be very desirable that masters should have an opportunity of seeing how far that would affect the concession previously made to them in the Revised Code, because it did not at present exactly appear who was to have priority in this matter. It was very material, at all events, that the parties most interested should have the opportunity of seeing what their fate was likely to be. He quite agreed with his right hon. Friend (Mr. Walpole) that the language shadowed out as likely to be used with regard to the capitation paid on the inspector's reports would be satisfactory. The right hon. Gentleman had consented to relieve them from their difficulty in that respect. In his own justification he could only say, that if he were himself one of the "weak brethren" upon whom the right hon. Gentleman had deigned to have compassion, many of the religious bodies throughout the country laboured under the same misfortune. He thought the Government deserved great credit for the course they had adopted in dealing with this most difficult subject. It had long been evident that some change must be made in the existing system, and it would have been almost a sin for any hon. Member to have made the present a party question. The whole country had a deep interest in the issue of the present question, and generations yet unborn would in all probability be affected by the decision to which the House might come. He sincerely hoped that the result would be satisfactory to all parties.


said, he wished to express the very great pleasure with which he had heard the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Committee of Council, and also the hope it afforded him that the issue of the discussion in which the House had been engaged would be the real and permanent improvement of the system of popular education. The alteration suggested by the right hon. Gentleman in the Motion of which the noble Lord the Member for Middlesex (Viscount Enfield) had given notice was, in his opinion, an amendment upon that Motion; and if the right hon. Gentleman brought forward a measure founded on the principles he had shadowed forth, three important objects would be thereby secured—first, that a part of the grant would be paid on the report of the Inspectors, without which the managers could scarcely support the schools; and by securing payment to the masters, the managers would see that the work of the school was really done. The next point was that the concession made would give a part of the grant for individual examination, which would also be a great improvement; and lastly, these alterations would create a greater stimulus in the cause of education. If the right hon. Gentleman had any doubt as to whether, under the modified kind of examination that he had consented to propose, sufficient stimulus would be applied to elementary instruction, let him consult some of the most practical managers of schools on that head, and his misgivings would probably be set at rest. If the right hon. Gentleman carried out a scheme according to these principles, he would at some little, perhaps at no slight, sacrifice of his individual convictions, held with very great earnestness, and supported with very great courage, succeed in producing a great reform without injuring, or running the chance of destroying, a most important system.


said, he desired, on the part of his constituents, to express his deep satisfaction at the announcement of the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Committee of Council. At the same time he desired to direct the right hon. Gentleman's attention to one particular point, as to which a misunderstanding still existed. He alluded to the question as to whether credit was to be given to proficiency on religious subjects in the examinations to which reference had been made. He trusted that Her Majesty's Government, in any document they might lay on the table, would take care so to frame the language of it that the grave apprehensions which prevailed, he believed, amongst persons of all religious denominations, might be removed. He begged particularly to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to the fact, that in the documents before the House the construction of Articles 40 and 47 was so obscure, that although the attention of the most learned persons had been directed to their elucidation, they had been unable up to the last moment to come to a proper understanding as to their precise meaning. He trusted that the right hon. Gentleman would take care to frame the documents relating to this point in such a manner as to remove, as far as possible, all doubts upon the question.


said, that great anxiety existed to know on what day the Government would proceed with the further consideration of this question. His right hon. friend the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) had reminded the Committee that Quarter Sessions would take place on the day that had been proposed by the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for the Home Department; and it would be very hard if hon. Members, merely because they were absent performing unpaid services to the country, were thereby deprived of the opportunity of expressing their opinions and giving their votes in Parliament on a subject of such general interest as that of popular education. Then, again, the Thursday following would be the day before the House was to rise for the recess, and would scarcely be a fit occasion for the consideration of such an important question. He trusted, therefore, that the Government would entertain his suggestion for taking the discussion on an early day after Easter.


said, that her Majesty's Government would fix Monday next for the discussion of the question, with an understanding that it was not to come on then. The noble Lord at the head of the Government would probably then be in his place, and would state the day to which the further consideration of the matter should be adjourned the Government would then communicate with the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Walpole) as to the day upon which they would positively fix.


said, he understood that the Government merely named Monday next for the consideration of the question in order that the noble Lord at the head of the Government might be in his place, and be afforded the opportunity of stating his opinion as to the day on which the discussion ought to take place. The Government would then communicate with his (Mr. Walpole's) side of the House as to the precise day determined upon.

House resumed.

Committee report Progress; to sit again on Monday next.

House adjourned at a quarter before Six o'clock, till Monday next.

Back to