HL Deb 15 February 1856 vol 140 cc814-29

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


, in moving the second reading of the Bill, said that the arrangement proposed in it would carry out the pledge given first by Lord J. Russell, and subsequently by Sir George Grey, in compliance with a suggestion made by Sir John Pakington, a right hon. Gentleman who had done so much for education last year, not only by the knowledge and ability which he has shown in dealing with the question, but also by the example which he has set of treating these great social questions apart from any party feeling. Last year the right hon. Gentleman suggested, in another place, that, considering the large grants of money now made for the purpose of promoting education, it would be desirable that some Minister should be appointed who should be responsible to the House of Commons for the proper distribution of those grants, and who could answer any question that might be put upon the subject. The Vice President would have a seat in the other House, unless the President were a Member of the House of Commons, in which case the Vice President might have a scat in their Lordships' House; and thus the Department of Education would be able to give to Parliament any explanations that might be required of it. The new Department of Education in the Council Office would also take charge of the department of science and art, now administered by the Board of Trade; and in the same way it would have the inspection of the army and navy schools, leaving their superintendence to their respective departments. It was also intended that the Board should give counsel and advice to the Charity Commissioners, and should offer them any assistance in its power with respect to education.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.


said, he entirely agreed with the noble Earl that the time had arrived when there should be a separate department established, especially charged with the education of the country, presided over by a Minister immediately responsible to Parliament. Probably the mode proposed by his noble Friend of carrying out the proposition was the best that could be adopted; that was to say, the appointment of a subordinate Minister in the other House, or in their Lordships' House, if the President of the Council happened to be in the House of Commons, to represent the department, on the same principle as the Board of Trade was represented. But if the time had arrived for charging a responsible Minister with the duties of instruction, it appeared to him well worthy of consideration, whether it would not be well to supersede the Privy Council altogether in this matter, and to have a Minister as the head of a Department who should have no other duties to perform, and who should be, in fact, responsible for the education of the people. The President of the Council had various other duties to perform; and he was not sure, although heavy duties no doubt devolved upon the Prime Minister, that that high functionary might not very effectually and very satisfactorily discharge the duties which fell upon the President of the Council, provided that the matter of education were withdrawn from the Council. He had a strong feeling that the institution of a Minister of Instruction at the present moment was desirable; that the subject should be altogether separated from the Privy Council; and that the duties of the President of the Council might be attached to those of the Minister now called the First Lord of the Treasury, who might be relieved from the nominal duties connected with the Treasury. This, however, would open a very large question, into which he was not at present prepared to enter. He had no objection to the Bill, the second reading of which had just been proposed, understanding that its object was to render the Department of Education a substantial office presided over by a responsible Minister: and he said upon this, as upon most other questions, that a single responsible Minister was much more efficient than a Board, however respectable and able the Members constituting that Board might be.


said, that he rejoiced the Government had at last dealt with this important question; he could not, however, approve of the proposed plan, however favourable he was to the appointment of a Vice President sitting in the House of Commons. A Board, or Committee of Education, as appointed under the old system, was in constitution and principle one of the worst modes of administration. [Earl GRANVILLE: It was founded on the analogy of the Board of Trade.] That was the main ground of his objection. Neither the Board of Trade nor the Board of Control was governed on principles that could be defended in a case like that under consideration. Both consisted of two classes of Members; the one, the parties to whom was attached the real responsibility; the other, the ex officio Members who had but a nominal responsibility, being encumbered with opposing duties and with conflicting functions. He would ask those who had been Members of either of these Boards, which was his case, whether they consider the annexation to any particular office of a separate class of Members belonging to other departments of the Government, and charged with distinct functions, to be other than prejudicial to the office with which they were united ex officio? The Board to be named under this Bill is founded on the principle of appointing Members ex officio in conjunction with the President and Vice President, the Members especially entrusted with the duties of the office. He doubted whether any real good resulted from any such Boards. As far as he could discover, these Boards were liable to be really represented by subordinate persons, all true responsibility being lost; and, however desirous the Board might be of discharging its duty, wrong measures would be adopted and carried into effect, from the nature of which it would be apparent that the Board was not represented by the nominal head of the Department, but by its subordinate officers. The system of Boards of this description was an unfortunate one; the official Members were ill assorted—some could not attend for want of time—others had not the knowledge or the opportunity of understanding the functions that nominally devolved upon them, and the whole system resolved itself into an entire delusion. It was otherwise where the duties of a Board—like the duties of the Treasury, the Admiralty, and the Boards of Revenue—were distributed in different classes. He rejoiced that in this Bill at least some approach was to be made to a better system, by the appointment of a paid and responsible head. It was only twenty years since the first direct step had been taken in support of education by the Government of Lord Grey, when the House of Commons voted for that purpose the small sum of £30,000. The progress of the question had been so rapid, that in his opinion the time had fully arrived when Parliament were called on to take a decided step, to assume the responsibility of the education of the people, and to hold that responsibility in direct connection with Parliament. He had another reason for rejoicing in the introduction of this Bill—on account of the intention expressed by the Lord President to connect with the Department of Education another modern Establishment, of late formation, but of unusually rapid growth—he meant the institution for the Encouragement of Art. These great objects had been at first pursued with discretion, and on the principle of resting on the basis of successful experiment; the experiment he hoped had been successful, but it required careful superintendence; and he rejoiced that these two branches of knowledge, popular literary instruction and the Arts, had been brought into the same system. Their Lordships were not in the habit of meddling with financial questions; but he recollected a noble Friend of his taking up the Estimates a few years ago, and showing the multiplication of offices, and the growth of expenditure, which were extending year by year under the title of schools for the encouragement of science and art. Thousands and tens of thousands were thus expended, while a controversy was raging as to whether the miserable sum of £1,000 per annum, given to the Royal Society for the undeniable encouragement of science, should be continued or not. At the same time, they were creating a new department, which promised to be more costly than all the Cabinet offices in Downing Street taken together. He was glad that the Bill provided for the appointment of a responsible Minister to control this department, because that appointment would insure a closer inspection of the Estimates, for which he knew not who was responsible at present. There was another point to which he would be most anxious to call the attention of the House, if it were included in the Bill, which he sincerely hoped would not be the case. He alluded to the system of Irish National Education. He understood the Bill did not meddle with the question of Irish education at all, and on that suggestion he would not say one word with respect to the general principles of that admirable system; but he would remind the House in reference to the present Bill, that if there was one lesson they might learn from the administration of education in Ireland, it was this—that to charge a large number of persons as Commissioners, or as Members of a Committee, with the administration of education, persons who had other duties to perform, some of them being Bishops and Judges, was not the way to provide for the effective performance of their duties, as directors of public education. As for the two responsible Ministers charged under this Bill with the superintendence of education, they ought to be able men—men with their hearts in their business, men who considered their duties not only as they applied to politics, but for the sake of the duty itself. They ought to be competent with an intelligent staff to conduct the whole business, and that business would thus be infinitely better done than by the agency of an unpaid Board—more especially when the Members of that Board were entrusted with other and inconsistent duties.


said, he not only agreed with the noble Lord who had just addressed their Lordships in his condemnation of Boards for the management of public business; but he further thought that if they wished to have a department well conducted, they should rather place it in the hands of one than of two ministers, however able; and he certainly did hope that this Bill was intended to delegate all the duties connected with education substantially to the one officer who was to represent the Board in the House of Commons. It was quite enough work for one man, and that work would never be well done until it was confided to one man only. He thought that the more, because it appeared to him most desirable, if it were possible, and as far as it could be possible, to separate the department of Education from the political changes which affected the Government. That being his impression, he should look with the greatest anxiety at the selection Her Majesty's Ministers might make of the gentleman who was to preside over the educational system of the nation. It was a matter of the greatest importance that that gentleman should not be a person of extreme opinions either in politics, in religion, or even in the cause of education itself. If he were a man of extreme opinions in politics or in religion he would not receive the co-operation of the resident gentry and clergy of the country, and without that co-operation it would be quite impossible for him to carry on successfully the business of his department. And if he should entertain exaggerated and extravagant views with respect to education itself, he might be hurried into doing a great deal of evil instead of a great deal of good. He might be so enthusiastic on the subject of education that for the sake of having a literary peasantry he would sacrifice the useful labour of the country. He (the Earl of Ellenborough) had seen a great deal of practical working of those schools, and he was persuaded that for the welfare, for the respectability, for the very existence of the labouring classes, it was absolutely essential that their sons should be permitted to obtain employment at the earliest moment at which, employment would be profitable to them, and at which they could, by earning wages, relieve the wants of their families. The period of greatest difficulty in the life of a labouring man was that which occurred between the period of his marriage and the period at which his eldest son attained an age at which it was possible for him to earn money for his own support. That was the real period of agony to the labourer. If they prolonged it by saying that two, three, or four years more should be taken from the useful labour of his sons for the purpose of making them persons of more literary knowledge, they would inflict the greatest possible injury upon every labouring man in the country; they would force his family into the workhouse, where his sons would receive their education, and they would destroy that sentiment of independence and self-respect which they ought to uphold. Continuous labour was of infinitely more value to a poor man than literary instruction, which fitted him neither for one thing nor another; and it was earnestly to be hoped that those who were to conduct the education of the country would bear in mind that it was essential to the respectability, the happiness, even the existence of the labouring classes that they should be enabled, at the earliest moment, to avail themselves of the services of all the members of their families.


said, he thought the concluding observations of the noble Earl who had just addressed the House were of the highest importance, and he for one concurred very much in the opinions the noble Earl had expressed. He could not help thinking that the great fault of the existing educational department had been, that they had required too high a literary standard in schoolmasters and schoolmistresses, and that they had not at the same time required in them, what was far more essential, a sufficient acquaintance with the useful arts and employments in which the labouring classes could be trained. With respect to the schoolmistresses in particular, he was persuaded that it was of the utmost consequence to the happiness of the poor that those mistresses should be able to make the children under their charge acquainted with those details of good house-wifeship, on which the comfort of their future families must mainly depend; and that was a portion of education which highly accomplished schoolmasters and schoolmistresses, who could recite the list of Popes from the earliest period to the present, and knew the latitude and longitude of every town in the world, were often extremely ignorant of. He entirely concurred in the opinion expressed by noble Lords who had preceded him, that a public department was best managed when it had one responsible Minister at its head. But the authority of such a Minister was not incompatible with the existence of a Board; and he confessed it appeared to him that for certain descriptions of business a Board formed a very useful system of organisation, provided it was understood that its members were in all eases to defer to the judgment of their superior. There was another point to which he wished to advert, and that was the opinion expressed by the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Derby)—that it would be better to dissociate the Presidency of the Council from the superintendence of the Educational Department. In that opinion he concurred with the noble Earl. Looking upon the extent to which Parliamentary business had within late years increased, and hearing in mind the duties which Her Majesty's Ministers had to perform, and considering how necessary it was that there should be in each House of Parliament one Member of the Government fully acquainted with the general business of the Administration, and competent to answer any questions upon that business which might be proposed, he thought that the leader of the Government in each House ought to be exempted from the labours attendant upon the administration of any department, the duties of which were at once important and heavy. He should also add, that he deemed it expedient that the President of the Council, as being one of the chief Members of the Government, should be in the one House, while the First Lord of the Treasury should have a scat in the other; and if that arrangement were adopted, he considered that the salary of the President of the Council, who stood already nearly highest in point of dignity, should be put upon an equality with that of a Secretary of State. It was perfectly clear that at present he could not devote his whole time to the subject of education. Although, therefore, he agreed with the noble Lord opposite in not objecting to the Bill before their Lordships, he could not help feeling desirous that the revision of the various Parliamentary offices should, as soon as possible, be carried into effect. Within the last few years there had been brought, he did not know how many, persons holding official situations into Parliament, while very many offices of ancient date—such, for instance, as the Chancellorship of the Duchy of Lancaster, to which no particular duties attached, had been left unaltered; and he must certainly say that he could not regard it as wise, under those circumstances, to create new offices for the discharge of new and important duties, or to impose those duties upon men who had already quite a sufficient amount of business to transact. The best way of dealing with the subject would, perhaps, be, to appoint a Committee to consider its details, and he trusted that the Government would seriously turn their attention to the adoption of some such course.


said, he must at once express to his noble Friend the President of the Council the satisfaction he experienced at hearing the present measure announced, and at the prospect we now had of having a real Education department. It was now, he thought, eight-teen years since he introduced a Bill having for its main object the establishment of such a department. His plan had been a Board, but under a responsible Minister. Though aware of the importance of securing individual, and therefore effectual responsibility, yet he did not entirely agree with his noble Friend behind him (the Earl of Ellenborough) in holding that that could not be obtained where there was a Board. They might place responsibility in the chief of the department, the head of the Board. His noble Friend opposite (Lord Monteagle) referred to the measure which was brought in by Lord Grey's Government in 1832, which was the origin, in fact, of all that had since been done by Government in this matter. His noble Friend was kind enough to say, that he (Lord Brougham) had a hand in that measure, as no doubt he had; but it was fit that he should do justice to those who, fourteen or fifteen years before, laid the foundation for it. He would remind his noble Friend of the labours of the Education Committee of the House of Commons, so much attacked at the time for their most useful inquiries and recommendations. He had the honour of presiding over that Committee, and it was their recommendations, the Resolutions reported from them to the House of Commons, though not adopted by the House of Com- mons, which were acted upon by Lord Grey's Government, and which became the foundation of all the educational measures that had since been adopted. The only point on which he thought there was any difficulty was that alluded to by his noble Friend (the Earl of Ellenborough), and a very difficult question it was; he meant, whether the department should be under an individual removable with the Government, making it what was commonly called a political office, or whether it ought to be, as his noble Friend was inclined to think, a non political office, the holder of which should not be removable with the Ministry. There were many reasons to be adduced on both sides of this question—for himself, he was not prepared to adopt the suggestion that the office should be unconnected with Government. That plan bad, no doubt, great advantages, and some inconveniences might arise from the office being subject to change; but he thought that the inconveniences of his being irremovable would be greater than those which would result from his going out with the Government. He could not allow the opportunity to pass without expressing his thanks to the Government for bringing in this measure for the immediate formation of a Board of Education, and which he trusted would be the foundation for much future improvement.


said, that although it was impossible to contend with truth that some disadvantages would not be likely to result from the fact that the existence of the Minister of Education of the day depended upon that of the Government with which he was connected, yet in his opinion great inconveniences must result from a contrary state of things. Questions upon the subject of education must constantly arise, in which a permanent Minister of that department must take up views different from those of the Government for the time being, and such difference of opinion must, he maintained, greatly interfere with the efficiency of that Minister, and retard the progress of the very cause he was appointed to promote. He, therefore, thought that the Department of Education should be presided over by some individual in close connection with the Administration. The noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Ellenborough) had adverted to the measure before the House as connected with the labouring classes, and had observed that in the case of those classes it was absolutely necessary that their children should be employed at an early age in working for the support of their families, thus rendering it impossible and unadvisable that they should devote any considerable portion of their time to attendance at school for the purpose of acquiring a good education. Now, that was a part of the subject with respect to which he (the Marquess of Lansdowne) had always felt that it was extremely difficult to lay down any general rule, inasmuch as in some portions of the country children might, without detriment to their parents, devote less time to their labour, and more to attendance at school, than in other districts would be found to be the case. The question, indeed, must be one to be settled between the Minister of Education and the labouring classes themselves, whose position must always be considered, and who ought to be the best judges of the course which circumstances would permit them to take. With reference to the question of the standard of education which should be required in the case of schoolmasters and schoolmistresses, he must observe that he believed that standard had been very considerably improved, inasmuch as a system of inculcating useful practical knowledge had, particularly in the case of schoolmistresses, been carefully carried cut. Now, if their Lordships would call to mind the position of our soldiers in the Crimea, they could not fail to appreciate the advantages which in their case must have resulted from some acquaintance with the art of cookery; and it was with reference to useful knowledge of that character he spoke, in alluding to the circumstance that the standard of practical education had undergone considerable improvement. He thought the responsibility of those officers to whom it was proposed to commit the superintendence of the educational system would be in no measure diminished by their being enabled, when they deemed it necessary, to obtain the assistance of the Committee of Council. He could assure their Lordships that occasions arose when it was a great advantage to the President of the Council, in administering such a department, that he should be enabled, when information, with regard to particular localities or circumstances was required, to call upon the Committee for their advice and assistance, without devolving any portion of his responsibility upon them.


asked, whether it was intended to place under the control of the Minister of Education the whole department of science and art, which was now under the superintendence of the Board of Trade? He thought it was advisable that the department of Nautical Science, which was particularly connected with the Board of Trade, should still remain in connection with that Board.


In answer to the question of the noble Lord, I beg to say that I quite agree with him in the opinion that the best course would be to leave the department of Nautical Science under the control of the Board of Trade. I can assure the noble Lord (Lord Monteagle) who has asked whether this Bill will interfere with the system of education in Ireland, that it will in no respect affect that system, and that we do not intend to assume any power whatever with regard to national education in that country. The noble Marquess (the Marquess of Lansdowne) has answered most of the objections which have been raised in the course of the debate; but one point has been mentioned upon which I feel that I did not give your Lordships, in the short statement I made, a sufficiently clear explanation. Several noble Lords have urged the importance of unity of direction with regard to this department. I did not mean to convey any other impression. It is intended that the President of the Council shall himself be responsible for the conduct of the department, and that the Vice President shall be appointed to act under the orders of the President, and for him in his absence, and that he shall be subordinate to the head of the department. With regard to those persons who hold seats at the Board ex officio, they will not share the responsibility more than other Members of the Government; but we thought that, retaining the entire responsibility in the head of the Board, it would be advisable to constitute such Ministers as the President of the Poor Law Board, and other heads of departments, ex officio Members, in order to facilitate any reference to them that might be necessary. An objection has been raised to the President of the Council being the person selected to act as Minister of Education. I feel some difficulty in defending this provision, owing to the fact that I am myself the President of the Council, and I feel very strongly how unequal I am to undertake the important duties attached to that office in connection with education; but I must confess I cannot see that any practical inconvenience can arise from the arrangement. I do not think the President of the Council is so fully employed by the duties of his office, that there can be any objection to his taking the Department of Education, supposing him to be a fitting person, under his own direction. It has been suggested that the Minister of Education should be a permanent Minister; but I rather agree with my noble Friends who I think it expedient that the head of that department should change with the Government. I have been in several departments of the public service, and I have found among my subordinates men who were infinitely more able than I am, and who possessed far more information with respect to the several departments than I could pretend to—and yet I think advantages are to be found in the system of change. The noble Earl (the Earl of Ellenborough) has said, there is danger that men of extreme opinions may have the control of education; but that is just as likely to happen if you have a permanent head of the department as if you make the Minister removable with the Government. If I did anything objectionable in the Committee of Council, my conduct would probably be canvassed by noble Lords in this House, and I might be succeeded by a colleague of the noble Earl opposite, who might come into office with different ideas, and who might pursue a very different course. If the department were not represented in Parliament, I think similar inconveniences would be felt to those which were experienced in the case of the old Poor Law Board; and, if the Board is to be represented in Parliament, it is almost impossible that you should have a permanent head of the department. Some other questions of importance have been introduced into this discussion. One of my noble Friends has referred to the department of Science and Art, and has raised some objections to the mode in which it has been conducted. I think it would not be convenient that I should go into that question now, but in two or three weeks hence I shall be prepared to enter fully into the subject, and to show what has been done by that department. With regard to the general subject of education. I cannot quite agree with the noble Earl opposite. There is, I think, a tendency on the part of highly- educated men in this country rather to discountenance the education of the poorer classes, and to express doubts as to the expediency of giving them any very general instruction. In that feeling I do not concur. I quite admit that it would be extremely difficult, by any compulsory enactment, to deprive parents of the benefit of their children's labour, in order that they might receive instruction; but if a child is taught an industrial art by a person exercising a particular branch of industry, and whose interest it is to make him work as hard as he can, the probability is, that any education the child has received up to the age of ten or eleven will be entirely thrown away. I think, however, that by the half-time system you may be enabled to afford education in a manner most convenient to the employers of labour, to the parents of children, and to the children themselves. I know that the noble I Earl entertains very strong feelings on the subject of over-educating children, and thereby incapacitating them for those employments which are suited to their station in life. I remember hearing that, on visiting the Greenwich schools, he expressed very natural surprise at finding the boys there so highly educated, and he might think that boys so educated would be unlikely to enter either the Royal navy or the mercantile marine. I have seen—and I regret that I have not it with me—a very interesting report made by Mr. Canon Mosely, in 1850, with reference to those schools, and which contains some curious statistical details. It appears that, before the education in those schools was as good as it now is, very few of the boys educated there went into either the navy or the mercantile marine, and those who did so turned out very badly on board ship; but now, out of a very large number of scholars, all, with the exception of about forty, have entered the navy or the mercantile marine, and the reports which have been received of their conduct show that they have almost universally proved the best sailors in the respective services. I think this fact shows that the apprehensions entertained of the effects of too high an education are unfounded. When it is considered that the young people, to whom the system of education of which we have been speaking applies, are seldom at school for more than four or five years, I do not think there is any great probability that they can be overeducated. I know it has been said that the certificated schoolmasters and mistresses are too highly trained. I think if you took a certain number of the most highly trained schoolmistresses you would find them, as regards a knowledge of common things, such as sewing and the elements of cookery, infinitely better teachers than the inferior class of dames who formerly taught those things. It is undoubtedly a great object to introduce a general knowledge of those common things which are so useful in after life, and the inspectors have been instructed to urge and stimulate the teaching of those things. That is now generally done, and I think there will be some utility in the proposed junction of the department of science with the department of Education in the Privy Council, as it will tend to introduce better teaching of the elementary parts of science in the common schools. I do not know that there is any other point to which it is necessary I should now refer, and have only to thank the House for the favourable manner in which it has received this measure.


said, the House ought to distinguish between the case of boys and that of girls. Boys were wanted at a very early period to work, both for their own benefit and that of their parents, whilst girls were not required to do so for three or four years after the period at which boys usually commenced to work; so that it was difficult for them to give that high education to boys which they could to girls, without they interfered with the right and authority of the parents. It was, therefore, of much greater importance that they should have good schoolmistresses than good schoolmasters, because they could continue the education of girls to a much longer period than they could boys; and he was convinced, from all that he had seen and heard, that the best way of promoting the moral improvement of the great body of the poorer classes of society was by improving the education of those who were to be the wives of our labourers and the mothers of their families. It was through them, if they were made what they should be, persons of good moral character, with that necessary knowledge in addition requisite for managing a family dependent on small means, that the best education would always be given, and which would be of infinite benefit, not only to their husbands and families, but to society also.

Motion agreed to.

Bill read 2a accordingly; and committed to a Committee of the whole House on Monday next.