The EARL of CLANCARTY
rose, pursuant to notice, to inquire of the noble Earl at the head of Her Majesty's Government at what time the Report of the Commissioners of National Education in Ireland, for 1852, would be laid before Parliament; also, at what time the following Returns may be expected to be laid upon the table of the House, namely—Returns respecting Education in Ireland, moved for on the 7th of March and the 18th of April respectively; and Returns moved for on the 3rd of June last respecting Crime in England, Scotland, and Ireland respectively? The return of the state of crime had been moved for for the purpose of illustrating the comparative condition of Ireland as regarded education, and to show that education had retrograded, instead of progressed, through the increase in the 1248 amount of crime. He had frequently had occasion to complain of the great delay and irregularity which had taken place in laying before their Lordships the annual reports of the Commissioners of National Education in Ireland. The object of these reports was to give that information to Parliament which the Government and the Commissioners owed to their Lordships; but they were made with such extreme irregularity, and they were laid on the table at so late a period of the Session, that it was quite impossible they could be made available for the purpose of enabling Parliament to judge as to the faithful and effectual administration of the public grants for the promotion of education in Ireland before the supplies for the year were Voted. The correspondence which he (the Earl of Clancarty) moved for was one of a peculiarly interesting character at this moment, as not only the opponents of the system, the great body of the Irish clergy, the whole Protestant population of Ireland, and a large number of the Roman Catholic population, were awaiting with the greatest possible anxiety the final issue of the question to which it referred. It had, moreover, been stated, even by those who were friendly to the system of national education, that it had failed in its main features, that it had failed as a system of united education, and that it had failed as affording any foundation for religious instruction. In addition to this he must remind their Lordships of the present dismemberment of the Board. And yet, in the face of all this, the noble Earl on the other side of the House (the Earl of Aberdeen) had come forward and stated, and reiterated his statement, that this system of education was one of the greatest blessings that had been conferred upon Ireland. Under these circumstances it was right that the House should be informed of the grounds on which the statements of the noble Earl could be supported, and that the fact should not go forth upon his mere assertion, when the contrary could be proved from the returns he (the Earl of Clancarty) had moved for. It was impossible to overlook the fact, that at the present moment the Board of National Education was at issue with respect to a particular and important principle, as to whether the objection of a single child should be sufficient to exclude a particular book from the school. This, he conceived, afforded sufficient ground on which the division had taken place in that body, and 1249 some of its most respectable and influential members had withdrawn. It was, consequently, necessary that their Lordships should be accurately informed in what manner this system, as described by the noble Earl, had been the greatest blessing ever conferred upon Ireland. If it was such a blessing to Ireland, why did not the noble Earl extend it to England and Scotland? To such an extent did the system receive the approval of the Government, that in Ireland it was almost made a penal offence for a clergyman to open a Scriptural school. By doing so he was debarred from promotion in the Church, and all encouragement was withheld from schools whose instruction was based on the Sacred Volume. With regard to the operation of the system of National education, so far as he (the Earl of Clancarty) could get at the facts, its results had not been to improve the moral character or the intelligence of the people. Though he granted there was not a falling-off in Ireland in the number of these who were capable of reading and writing, yet the increase in districts which had come under his observation was very small indeed. He held in his hand a return which he had that day received from Clare, in which county education was carried out almost exclusively by the National Board. According to that return he found that the number of persons in the county of Clare who were unable to read and write was 54 per cent of the whole population in the year 1841, and that in the year 1851 that proportion was reduced to 53 per cent. Thus in ten years there had been a gain of one per cent in the number of persons who, in that county, were able to read and write. On the other hand, it was a remarkable fact that in the civic districts of that county there was an absolute increase of ignorance, for whereas in the year 1841 the number of persons in those districts who were incapable of reading or writing was 34 per cent, in the year 1851 it had increased to 44 per cent. But in the rural districts it appeared that whilst the number was 56 per cent in 1841, it had decreased to 53 per cent in 1851. From the county of Cavan, however, he was bound to say the report was rather more favourable; but it should be borne in mind that there were many schools existing in that county which were connected with the Church Education and other Protestant institutions. It was the circumstances which had attended the National system of 1250 education that had induced him, for truth's sake, to speak with such strong reprehension of the manner in which the question had been treated by Her Majesty's Government; for he confessed that he at first looked to them with considerable hope and confidence that they would have endeavoured to place the system on a more satisfactory footing. The noble Earl concluded by putting the questions of which he had given notice.
§ The EARL of ABERDEEN
The noble Earl would forgive him if he did not on that occasion deem it necessary to enter into a discussion of the existing National system of education in Ireland, but confined himself simply to replying to the questions of which the noble Earl had given him notice. He should be quite ready, at any time when the noble Earl should think proper to introduce that subject substantially before the House, to enter upon a discussion of it; but at present he must be permitted merely to repeat that, in his opinion, that system—he would not say was the greatest blessing ever conferred upon Ireland, because the blessings conferred upon Ireland had been so numerous that he did not know how to estimate them—but he could certainly say that it was one of the greatest blessings that had been conferred upon that country. And more: he would also say that he thought it one of the most beneficial acts ever performed by the noble, Earl (the Earl of Derby), whose absence from this House at his moment they had occasion to regret. Postponing, then, any discussion upon the merits of that subject to a future and more suitable occasion, he would proceed to answer the question of the noble Earl. It was unnecessary for him to say that Her Majesty's Government could have no possible object in delaying or evading any return of the description which the noble Earl had referred to. The time certainly seemed to be great that had been occupied in complying with the order of the House, and the delay appearing to him to require explanation, he wrote to the Secretary of the Educational Board on the subject, In reply, that gentleman stated that the most important portion of the information called for could not be furnished from the official records; that, therefore, it became necessary to communicate with the managers of all the National schools in Ireland; that it had taken very considerable time to obtain replies, to examine the various documents 1251 received, and to abstract and classify the information they contained; that the return generally was of so complicated and voluminous a nature, that the Commissioners had been obliged to employ a number of clerks, at extra hours, in its preparation; and that besides this return, four others had been called for by Parliament, and that the forthcoming nineteenth report of the Commissioners was also in progress. In consequence the official staff had for some months past been employed in these duties from half-past six until half-past nine, in addition to the usual office hours; that it would be utterly impossible to have the entire returns ready before the end of the Session, but that every exertion should be made to produce them with as little delay as possible. The noble Earl would thus perceive that the delay arose really from mechanical difficulties. He (the Earl of Aberdeen) had, however, been furnished with one portion of the returns for which the noble Earl had moved, and although it formed part of the appendix to the forthcoming nineteenth report, and it might be considered somewhat irregular to lay a portion of the appendix on the table when the report itself might be expected to be shortly produced, yet, in order to allay the impatience of the noble Earl, he should be happy to show that portion to him. He hoped to lay the nineteenth report on the table before the end of the Session. But with regard to the return moved for by the noble Earl, it was so voluminous, and required so much time in its preparation, that he must be content to wait. He could assure him, however, that no improper or unnecessary delay should take place.
The EARL of CLANCARTY
said, the noble Earl was perfectly aware that, five months ago, he readily complied with the application for the production of those papers; and before he (the Earl of Clancarty) brought the Motion forward, the noble Earl the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs stated the Government were ready to produce them. He declined to accept the appendix to the forthcoming report offered him by the noble Earl (the Earl of Aberdeen) inasmuch as it did not contain the information he wanted.
§ The EARL of ABERDEEN
thought he had given a reasonable explanation of the delay which had taken place by reading the letter of the Secretary of the Board.
§ House adjourned till To-morrow.