HL Deb 14 March 1833 vol 16 cc632-9
The Lord Chancellor

rose to move that a message be sent to the Commons, requesting them to communicate to that House certain documents, which had been presented annually for some years to the other House of Parliament; but as they were very voluminous, it was not his intention to move that the whole should be printed, but only that such parts of them might be extracted from the mass as might serve to elucidate that particular part of the subject to which he was about shortly to draw their Lordships' attention. The Returns in question resulted from the Report of a very valuable and important Committee of the other House of Parliament, which sat for two Sessions, including part of the third, to inquire into the state of the education of the people of this country. In submitting this Motion to their Lordships, he wished to avail himself of the opportunity of stating why it was not his intention to ground upon those documents any immediate measure for the accomplishment of that most desirable object, the improvement of the moral condition of the people, by affording them the means of popular education. And as great misapprehension had gone abroad as to the reasons which had induced him to abandon the idea of bringing forward measures similar to those which, at a former period, he introduced into the other House of Parliament, he trusted their Lordships would bear with him while he stated why he had come to the resolution of not proposing, now that he was a member of the Government, any such measures as those which he felt it his duty to introduce into the other House when he sat there. It was not yesterday that he came to the resolution of not bringing forward, at least for the present, any such measure; for it was nearly six years since he had stated in another place the reasons why he abstained from again introducing the Education Bills, which eight years before (in 820) he had submitted to the consideration of Parliament. In 1820 he framed the Bills in question, and presented them to the House of commons; and the grounds on which he arrived at a change of opinion, in respect of them, were substantially these: These Bills were not proceeded with, in consequence of the very great diversity of opinion which existed respecting the provision comprised in them, among a certain class of his Majesty's subjects, the Dissenters of the different denominations. They were founded on returns which had been made by the parochial clergy throughout England, who had been called upon to do so, for the purpose of showing what was the then existing state of education in their respective parishes. Those Returns established one important fact, namely, that there existed at that period of time, by means of endowed schools and of unendowed schools, and, in some instances, of Sunday schools, very considerable means for affording education to the people; but that those means were inadequate was admitted; for it resulted that, in no less a number than 1,000 parishes, no schools whatever existed; and even in various parishes where schools did exist, they were wholly insufficient to supply the wants of the people. Some measures were therefore considered necessary to remedy these deficiencies. He spoke the sense of the Education Committee when he stated, that the general opinion at that time was, that the means of popular education were extremely deficient. It appeared that, by the means of day schools partly endowed, and partly unendowed, education was afforded, to an extent that sufficed for 600,000 children, perhaps the amount was rather above that number; between 600,000 and 700,000, being a proportion of about one-fifteenth of the population of the country. It was thought that there ought to be means to educate one-tenth, or one-ninth—some thought a one-seventh of the population. The day schools unendowed were about 14,000, and from returns it appeared there were 478,000 children taught. In this return the Sunday schools were not included. It was then thought by some of the best friends of education who had investigated the subject that it was not advisable to establish a compulsory rate for the support of schools lest those benevolent persons who then by voluntary contributions maintained 14,000 unendowed day schools, at which 478,000 children were educated, should withdraw their support from those establishments. Nevertheless, he, in common with many persons, was of opinion that a compulsory rate should be established for the purposes of education and for this reason—that the support which schools received from voluntary subscriptions was of a temporary fluctuating, and fleeting nature; so that not only might it vary in one year as compared with another, bat it might utterly pass away. In 1826 he again brought forward his Bill; but in consequence of the serious objections which the great body of Dissenters entertained to many of its details he withdrew it. In 1828 a new era opened with respect to the Dissenters. In that year the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts, removed the distinction which had principally divided his Majesty's subjects into Churchmen and Dissenters; and it then appeared to him, that the objections which the latter body had formerly entertained to his Bill would be removed. But it also occurred to him that it would be most material to endeavour to ascertain whether the voluntary support which was given to schools in this country was of so fluctuating and fleeting a nature as he had supposed. In order to satisfy his mind upon this point he addressed in his individual capacity about 500 letters to clergymen in every county in the kingdom, requesting information on the subject of the schools in their respective parishes. To these letters, which were addressed quite at random, he received nearly as many answers, and the information which they contained was highly gratifying. The result showed that whereas in 1818 there were in the whole kingdom, as he had already stated 14,000 unendowed day schools, educating 478,000 children, in 1828 there were in the particular places to which he had addressed his letters alone no less than 3,200 schools of this description, educating 103,000 children. Taking these places as affording a fair sample of the rest of the kingdom, as he had a right to do from the manner in which he had addressed his circulars, the result would be, that there were 230,000 unendowed day schools educating 1,030,000 children, ail supported by voluntary subscriptions, independently of the endowed schools, which educated 165,000 children, and of the Sunday schools, which furnished very useful and salutary education, though necessarily of inferior importance to that which could be obtained from day schools. Under these circumstances, he became a convert to the opinion of those who thought it would be unwise to disturb a state of things which produced such admirable results; and therefore he abandoned his plan for establishing a compulsory rate for the purposes of education. Ten years' experience had shown that perfect reliance might be placed on these voluntary contributions and that it was rather to be expected that they would increase than decrease. Trusting to these voluntary supplies, he did not think it would be advisable to turn legislative attention to the subject; and, therefore, he had abstained from bringing it forward. He must, however, state, that the means of education were still defective, but not generally, and throughout the country, which was the case in the year 1818. These defects applied to two particulars, and, as he had intimated, they were still in existence. The first defect had reference to very small parishes. He believed that there were in the country not fewer than 1,500 parishes at that moment without any day school. But then it would be found, on inquiry, that these parishes were exceedingly small, in some cases not extending to more than twenty or thirty families, and in others not containing more than thirty, forty, or fifty individuals. Now, it would always be difficult to keep up a school in such parishes; because the number to instruct was so limited. In parishes so circumstanced the mode of education, unless the children were sent to the next school, would much depend upon private instruction. The other, and more important defect of education, to which he wished shortly to call the attention of the House, was one which could not be too much deplored, nor could it be too speedily dealt with, in order to remedy the evil—he meant the case of large towns, nay, the capital itself, and many of the large towns in the North of England, not having proper means for education. He would venture to say, that in no country in Europe, were so many persons circumstanced as in those large manufacturing towns, where the ordinary means of a common education were wanting. This would be found on inquiry to be the case, as many persons who had turned their attention to the subject could testify; and that defect ought to be supplied without delay. It was a very common observation made, that, notwithstanding the increase of education, there was also an increase of crime. There was, however, a great fallacy attached to this view of the subject. It was expecting too much from human nature that all vice and immorality were to disappear, because education was generally diffused: but this would be found to be true, that where the calendars were the heaviest, the parties charged were the most ignorant. Some alterations had lately been made in our law, which, taking away the capital offence, made prosecutors not averse from prosecuting, and made, accordingly, the number of prosecutions, and apparently of crimes, greater than formerly. Circumstances of that kind satisfactorily accounted for the increased number of convictions and commitments. But confirmed in the opinion which he had always held, that the more the people were enlightened, the less would be the amount of crime among them: by the great and notorious diminution of crime which took place where education was most in progress—and particularly of crimes connected with violence, especially where the population had been rapidly increasing. That circumstance demonstrated that persons who held the opinions to which he had just referred, must argue without a knowledge of facts, and without a due regard to the essential principles of the human mind. In Russia and Spain, where education could scarcely be said to exist, an ample illustration was afforded of the truth of his proposition. In the latter country, during a given period, in the course of which 5,800 persons were committed to prison, no less than 3,500 of those committals were for crimes connected with violence against the person; that was to say, more than one-half—indeed, about three-fifths of the whole. Contrast this result with what appeared on the face of returns from a part of the world distinguished for education, as much as Spain was for the want of it. In Pennsylvania, of 7,400 crimes committed, only 640 of them were attended with violence; a proportion not of three-fifths, as in the former case, but of one-twelfth. In the northern provinces of France, as contrasted with the southern, nearly the same disparity existed. If he were called upon to "give arithmetic" for the truth of his proposition, he could do so, readily, from authentic returns and papers. He could state a fact which occurred recently, in one of our own large gaols—the name he would not mention. Upon an inquiry being instituted into the condition of the prisoners, it was found that out of 400 persons who were confined for offences, 200 were utterly incapable of writing and reading; and fifty more knew their alphabet, but could not read. Thus, there were 250 individuals out of 400, who were totally uneducated. From a report, also, that he had seen, and which was made to the French minister, he found that the proportion of educated and uneducated was about the same in France as in England. Out of 7,400 cases of committal, the same disparity appeared, of about 110 who were educated, to 250 who were not. They ought, therefore, to lose no time in giving education a better chance; because in proportion, to instilling moral and religious feelings into the minds of the people—especially of the young, they had a better hope of improving their civil condition. He trusted their Lordships would excuse him for entering into these particulars, which he should not have done, had he not been apprehensive, on the one hand, that his reason for not bringing forward these measures might be misunderstood; and on the other, that it might be supposed that it was not the wish of Government to afford better assistance than was at present given to the great cause and vital interests of public education. The noble Lord concluded by putting his Motion.

Lord Ellenborough

thought it must be a source of gratification to the noble and learned Lord, after what he had slated, that ten years ago his measure was not carried into effect—for experience had proved, even to the noble and learned Lord, that the remedy needed not to be general, for the defect was not general. A compulsory rate upon such a point, would have been highly objectionable, as interfering with the voluntary efforts of individuals. Moreover, it would have done away with that power of conciliating the poor, which it was so desirable should be possessed—it would have taken away that gratitude from the poor man's mind which it was wholesome he should feel, and which he would feel when these necessary duties were not neglected by those whom he naturally looked up to. They had done much mischief already in this way, and he hoped they would not attempt to do any more. He should not support a proposition for supplying the means of education in large towns. He regretted to hear the statement of the noble and learned Lord—a statement which he did not expect—especially from such a quarter. It was only lately, on account of the boasted intelligence of these large towns, that they were called upon to make a most serious and dangerous change in the Constitution of the country—a change that was highly detrimental to the agricultural interest. For his own part, on this subject of education in large towns, he should look to the natural feelings of the parents, and to the charitable impulse of the great capitalists, whose duty—whose solemn duty, it was, to provide the means of instruction to the offspring of those who, by their labour, their talents, and ingenuity, furnished their subsistence, and opened the road to the accumulation of their vast wealth. As to the noble and learned Lord's remarks about the connection of crime with ignorance, he should merely observe, that in Ireland, where there was more reading and writing than in any country in the world, there was also more of crime and depravity.

The Lord Chancellor

said, that the noble Baron, with that refined ingenuity which he alone could evince, had dragged the Reform Bill into the discussion of a matter with which it was in no degree connected. If they (the Ministers) had given an increased influence to the population of the large towns, he believed they had not gone so far as some noble Lords once proposed to go. If his memory did not deceive him, he believed he had heard something from them like a proposition for universal suffrage. And certainly if they had adopted such a proposition as that, they would have communicated the elective franchise to the class of persons whom the noble Baron had described as uneducated, and ignorant, and who had been left in that state, either by the fault of the Government, or by that of the more opulent classes among whom they lived. And one word in behalf of that respectable class of individuals, the master-manufacturers of large country towns. He had reason to know, that they did a great deal towards the education of the children of the labouring classes; and that at least as much ignorance and want of education were to be found in many parts of the metropolis, as in manufacturing towns.

Motion agreed to.

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