HL Deb 09 May 1854 vol 133 cc1-5

presented a petition from a place in Scotland, on a very important subject. Although the Bill to which it had reference—the Scotch Education Bill—was not before their Lordships, but was still before the other House of Parliament, he was most strictly within the rule in presenting it, because it had no prayer except generally for a safe and beneficial measure upon that subject. The petitioners referred to the Government plan for improving the system of education in Scotland, and strongly recommended and approved of that plan in its main particulars; though they objected particularly to the provision respecting religious instruction, and prayed their Lordships to adopt a system of education which should be uniform, unsectarian, and popular. The mea- sure of the Lord Advocate had of course received the sanction of Government, and was about to undergo discussion in the other House of Parliament. It had occasioned very great discussion in Scotland, and he was aware of the opposition to it that had taken place at a meeting of the inhabitants of the county of Edinburgh, which was attended by one of his oldest and most valued friends, Lord Dunfermline. That noble and learned Lord expressed a very strong opinion against this measure, and it was also the opinion of the very great majority of the meeting; but it would be most unjust to say either that his noble and learned Friend, who thus objected to a part of this particular measure, or that the meeting, which by a large majority joined in his objection, was not most zealous in heart for the improvement of education. That most excellent and learned individual —the weight of whose opinion could not be denied, not only on account of the high station he for many years occupied as head of the other House of Parliament, but also from his inestimable personal qualities—joined with the others in the apprehension that this measure, if carried into effect, might interfere with the old-established system of parochial schools in Scotland. He (Lord Brougham) could not pretend to the same information on the subject that was possessed by his noble and learned Friend or to the information possessed by his noble Friend opposite (the Earl of Aberdeen), who belonged to that country; but he was inclined to think, so far as he had an opportunity of forming an opinion upon the plan about to be introduced, that it would not interfere with the parochial schools in Scotland, and that the parochial system, which, beyond all doubt, was of the utmost possible benefit, and had produced incalculable advantages to the people of Scotland, was more serviceable to the country districts than to the towns, and that, if increased means of education were given to the towns, the result would be beneficial, He could not help adverting to what he had so often occasion to lament, that the cause of education should have suffered so much, and should still suffer so much, from the conflicting feelings—he would venture to say, rather than conflicting interests—as well in England and Ireland as in Scotland, of the different sects which unhappily divide the people of all the three countries. How often had he failed, both in the other House of Parliament and in their Lordships' House, in the measures which he had propounded, which had received the greatest possible consideration, which had appeared to unite in their favour all interests, whether secular or spiritual, and which, nevertheless, were found impossible to be carried in Parliament, and to become law; because, on the one hand, the Established Church, though deeply interested in the duty of instructing the people, and strongly disposed, nay, actually contributing to encourage plans for improving popular education, seemed to regard one thing more than even teaching the people, and that was the power of successfully conflicting with the Dissenters; and, on the other hand, though the Dissenters had been among the most zealous advocates of education during the last fifty years, and had made great sacrifices for the encouragement of popular instruction, there was one thing they valued a little more than popular education, and that was a victory over the Established Church. Thus, between the two contending parties, education oftentimes fell to the ground. After the most mature consideration of his first measure, that of 1820, in all its details, after considering it with various bodies of those Dissenters themselves, and when he thought he had come to a full understanding with them, and that the measure might be carried, he was compelled to withdraw it out of deference to their objections, and from his sincere respect for them as fellow-labourers of many years in the cause of education, though he considered they were actuated by the most groundless jealousy. Years elapsed, and he again brought forward a measure on the subject, and then he had to meet, not the prejudices of the Dissenters, but the prejudices of a most rev. Friend (the Archbishop of Canterbury). On that occasion, which was in the year 1839, Lord Melbourne's Government supported his Bill; but a right rev. Prelate, who had a few days before voted with him and with the Government against the Archbishop, was the first to move that it should be read a second time that day three months; and he defeated the Government as well as himself (Lord Brougham) on that Bill. Then he found it was utterly and absolutely impossible to carry any educational measure without a compromise, and he addressed a letter to his most dear and inestimable Friend, unhappily now no more, the late Duke of Bedford, in concert with whom he had brought forward that Bill, and who plainly admitted after the result that without a compromise it was utterly impossible they could succeed in carrying any plan of education, and that the plan should be such as might, if possible, unite in its support the Church and the Dissenters. He hoped and trusted they were now on the eve of obtaining some such measure; and, thinking that the Bill now before the other House, so far as Scotland was concerned, was founded upon some such salutary compromise, he should endeavour to recommend the adoption of it, when it found its way into that House. There was one point in the petition which gave him great satisfaction, and that was, that the petitioners stated that they rejoiced in the proposal to establish reformatory and industrial schools, a most wise and salutary provision. It would be a most blessed measure if that Bill should be carried with such a provision, and such provision extended also to this country and to Ireland; and from what had passed elsewhere, he had reason to hope that an hon. Friend of his (Mr. Adderley), having propounded a Bill of that kind and with that view, would permit it to be superseded, provided a substitute for it were given, a measure of the same sort to be introduced by his noble Friend the Secretary of State for the home Department. He should take an opportunity of referring to this matter on a future occasion; it seemed to him to be an object of the greatest possible importance, and he could bear his testimony to the admirable working of an institution of the kind to which he had referred, which he had lately inspected while on a tour in France, and which was worthy of the highest commendation. He referred to the great institution at Mettray founded by Viscount Corbillieux and M. Demetz, upon the plan first adopted at Stretton upon Dunsmure in Warwickshire, which unhappily, after many years of successful action and rendering incalculable benefits to society, has within the last two months been given up for want of funds.

Petition ordered to lie on the table.

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