§ The Marquess of Lansdowne
had a question to put to the noble Duke (the Duke of Wellington) on a subject which he considered of high importance as relating to the state of education in Ireland. Their Lordships were aware that since they met in the present Session, there had been laid before them an important report emanating from the Board of Education, and the more important as it entered more fully and more satisfactorily into the state of education in Ireland and its progress, than had been done in any previous report. From that report it appeared that since the previous report there had been added 400 schools to those already in connexion with the board, making the whole number of schools at the present time 2,000. In the 400 schools thus added there were not less than 60,000 scholars, and, notwithstanding the objections and misconceptions which had long created obstacles to the connexion, there were not less than 290 of those schools in connexion with the general synod of the Presbyterians of Ulster, who now showed their willingness to come forward and partake of the great advantages held out to them by the Board of Education. It also appeared from the report to which he had referred that considerable progress had been made by the board in one most important matter—namely, the proper training of teachers, and thus opening out a much wider prospect of improvement than even many of the most sanguine of the supporters of the system had at first contemplated. Notwithstanding those very cheering prospects, rumours had gone abroad importing that Her Majesty's Government intended either to withdraw some of the grants, or in other respects greatly to alter the present system. For his own part, he did not believe those reports; but, as they had gone abroad, whether well or ill-founded, it was most important to the state of education in Ireland that the exact intentions of Government should, as far as possible, he known on this matter. As estimates for the current year were now, he presumed, in a forward state of preparation, he did not think that it required any apology to their Lordships or to the noble 412 Duke, if he asked whether it were the intention of the Government to continue the grants for education to their present amount, or in any way to alter the constitution or proceedings of the Board of Education. If anything were wrong in either of them, no doubt the alteration necessary to remedy the defect, if any, would be made; but still, he repeated, it was of the utmost importance to education in Ireland to have it known what were the precise intentions of Government as to those points. He himself felt much interest in the question of education, having established several schools on the system founded by the National Board; but he made the enquiry on public grounds, having no stronger feeling on the subject than must be entertained by every one of their Lordships in a matter of such vital importance to the interests and well-being of a people.
§ The Duke of Wellington
said, as the noble Marquess had given him notice of his intention to put the question to him, he was prepared to give the noble Marquess an answer. With respect to the report to which the noble Marquess had referred, he did not feel it necessary to enter into any observations upon it at that time. With respect to the noble Marquess's question as to the intentions of the Government with respect to a change in the grants or in any other matter connected with the Board of Education in Ireland, he would say that if the Government intended any alteration it would be after the most mature and deliberate consideration of all the bearings of that alteration on the institution itself, or the general improvement of Ireland as connected with it, For his own part, he had always had his own opinion on the subject of this system of education, and though there were some points of it of which he did not approve, yet he had never opposed any grant for the purpose, and certainly he would never be the person to make any alteration except upon due consideration and his firm conviction that it would be for the improvement of the institution itself, and that it would not deprive the people of Ireland of any of the benefits which they now derived from it.
§ The Marquess of Lansdowne
thanked the noble Duke for the information he had given him. As he understood the noble Duke, he took it that there was to be no 413 alteration in the amount of the grants made for education in Ireland, and he trusted he might assume that no alteration of any kind—at least, no important alteration—would be made in the present system until the fullest consideration of the Government had been given to the subject, and until the Government should have availed itself of the opinions of Parliament on the subject.