HL Deb 19 March 1858 vol 149 cc401-4

rose to ask the noble Earl opposite, the head of Her Majesty's Government, the question of which he had given him notice, with respect to the course intended to be pursued by the Government in reference to the National System of Education in Ireland. In making this inquiry, nothing could be further from his views than to take any step that might have the effect of embarrassing the Government. It was with great regret he felt himself called upon, in the performance of a public duty, to allude to a subject which, he thought, had been set at rest. Unfortunately, there had recently fallen from a right hon. Gentleman in another place—a Minister of high influence—observations relating to the National System of Education in Ireland. Those observations, which were made on Monday last, had occasioned considerable alarm. As no announcement whatever had since been made, by the Government on the subject, he hoped that those words had fallen | in the heat of debate, without consideration or any intention of announcing any fixed determination of the Government. But, at the same time, it was undoubtedly supposed by the people of Ireland, from what had been uttered by the Minister to whom he was alluding, that it was the intention of Her Majesty's Government so far to alter the system of education of the poor in Ireland as to extend the grants to the Church schools in that country not in connection with the National System. He thought that nothing could be more injurious than such a proposition at the present time. he would not then go into a description of the system of National Education, nor did he think it necessary to describe its effects; suffice it to say, it had been established for a considerable number of years, and under it upwards of 500,000 children were receiving a sound and efficient education. That system was working well. In his opinion it was one of the elements by which they might hope for the permanent prosperity and tranquillity of Ireland. He thought it would be a great misfortune, on many accounts, if such a system were at all disturbed by the Government; and it was impossible that any such change as was supposed to be in contemplation could be made without most seriously affecting the present established system. If schools other than those connected with the National System were to receive Parliamentary grants, the two classes of schools must either be in rivalry with each other, or the National System must be essentially modified to make it correspond with the Church Schools. He would not discuss the question whether the separate was or was not preferable to the united system; but the united system had been long established, and no change could be made without seriously affecting the social peace of Ireland. He sincerely hoped that the noble Earl at the head of Her Majesty's Government would state that they had not come to any determination of the kind. He could not believe that there was any intention on the part of the Government to disturb the National System. At any rate, he hoped that if they had any such question under consideration, that no actual decision upon the point had as yet been come to. He therefore begged leave to ask Her Majesty's Government what course they intended to pursue with respect to education in Ireland!


My Lords, I have listened with much attention to the observations of the noble Marquess, and I think that he has misunderstood the remarks made by my right hon. Friend the Vice President of the Council of Education in another place; because undoubtedly no such determination as that supposed to have been announced has been come to on the part of the Government. I believe that whatever differences of opinion there may be in regard to the merits or defects of the present system of national education in Ireland, which has been now about a quarter of a century in existence, there is no one, not even amongst the most eager opponents of it, who does not admit that in its practical working it has very materially increased the extent, and moreover has greatly improved the character of the education given to the people of Ireland. I admit, on my own part, I much regret first of all that as a system of united education, which was intended to he national, it has to a considerable extent failed in realizing our anticipations; and, in the next place, in consequence of religious scruples, (which I respect, though I cannot share them) the clergymen of the Church of England in Ireland have abstained from giving that support to the system which I think they might have done to the great advantage of those under their spiritual care. I regret also that in a portion of the schools themselves there should be an encouragement and support given to those who are opposed to the system on which they wore established, in the fact, that, contrary to the original intent, in the great bulk of the schools, not only is no religious education given, but no facilities even are given for separate religious instruction by ministers of different persuasions out of school hours. I think in the non-vested schools, as they are termed, the absence of any such facilities for religious instruction as was intended by the original scheme of the vested schools, has furnished a great handle to the opponents of the system. Nevertheless, with all those defects, I think it is most important that this system of Irish education should be maintained. Her Majesty's Government will not therefore be a party to anything which in their judgment would have the effect of impairing or altering that system. At the same time I must be permitted to say I do not concur in the opinion expressed by the noble Marquess, that this determination on the part of the Government wholly excludes us from considering the question whether there may not be consistent with the maintenance of this system, that means should be furnished of affording encouragement on the part of the State to those schools that are founded upon a different principle, even though to a certain extent that support may be in violation of the principle of the existing system. I say distinctly—and the principle was discussed in a Committee of this House some few years ago—and I regret that that Committee did not make any report—I think that the principle of giving some assistance to schools of a different character, and founded upon a dif- ferent principle—a proposition which was not unfavourably entertained by the noble Earl opposite, the late President of the Council—I say, I think that such a principle may be consistently recognised. But I am prepared distinctly to say this—that Her Majesty's Government have come to no decision on that subject. Her Majesty's Government have, however, come to the decision not to imperil the existing system; and further, they have determined that no alteration shall be made in the distribution of the grant without first obtaining the assent and concurrence of Parliament.