HL Deb 18 February 1859 vol 152 cc501-7

in rising to put a Question to the Government on the subject of Education in Scotland, said he was desirous of stating briefly, in the first instance, the reasons why he took that course. His question had reference principally to the state of the parochial schools of Scotland. He thought that the best proof that it was the general opinion that some legislative action on the subject of those schools was required was to be found in the circumstance that since 1853, and under successive Governments, no less than three Bills had been introduced for the purpose of making better provision for the education of the people in Scotland. One main object of each of those Bills was to pro- vide such salaries for the parochial schoolmasters as might insure a supply of persons competent to fill that office. Those of their Lordships who were ccnnected with Scotland were well aware that the salaries of the parochial school-masters were levied by assessment on the landed proprietors in each parish, and that the amount of those salaries was determined by the average prices of oatmeal, which were subject to revision at periods of twenty-five years. In 1857 an Act was passed to the effect that in July of the present year an average should be struck of the prices of oatmeal throughout Scotland during the twenty-five years from 1833 to 1858 inclusive, which average was to determine the amount of assessment for schoolmasters' salaries for the twenty-five years beginning in 1859. Now, it was known that the average prices of oatmeal for the twenty-five years from 1833 to 1858 would not be so low as those for the twenty-five years from 1828 to 1t53, and that, consequently, the school-masters' salaries would not be so much reduced es they would have been if the averages had been struck in 1853. He believed, indeed, that the salaries of the schoolmasters would not be very much lower than they were at present; still they would be somewhat reduced. Now, he could confidently state that it was the general opinion in Scotland that the salaries of the parochial schoolmasters, so far from being on too high a scale, were below the standard at which it would be desirable to fix them—they varied from a maximum of £35 a-year to a minimum of £29;—and that it was the opinion of the Government which had held office from 1853 to the present date that these salaries were too low was clear from the fact that every one of the three Government Bills which had been introduced on the subject since 1853 contained a provision for their augmentation. In no single instance, of which he was aware, had exception been taken by any Member of Parliament to those provisions; on the contrary, men of all parties and of every shade of opinion On other matters connected with education, had repeatedly declared that they thought the salaries of the schoolmasters in Scotland ought to be raised. On that point, therefore, there was a concurrence of opinion on the part of the people of Scotland, on the part of the Legislature, and on the part of every Government which had held office since 1853; and he could not believe that the present Government entertained a different opinion on the point. He felt under those circumstances justified in asserting that the Government were bound to take care that the salaries of the parochial schoolmasters should, at least, suffer no diminution by the Act which would come into operation this year. He said that it was expected that the reduction in the amount of salaries consequent upon that Act would not be large. He knew not what the amount of that reduction might be; but let them suppose that it was small, that it was but £1 a year on the maximum. Let their Lordships consider what a reduction that sum would be from an income of £35. Why, a deduction of a year from £35 a year amounted to nearly 3 per cent—that was to say, it bore about the same proportion to the schoolmaster's salary as the income tax paid last year by their Lordships bore to their incomes. A great deal had been said about the hardship of taxing incomes of £100 a year; but a deduction of nearly 3 per cent made from salaries which were not much more than one-third of the lowest incomes which were rated to the income tax was a still greater grievance. It was not, however, only for the purpose of raising the salaries of the schoolmasters that the action of the Legislature was required. There was a general concurrence of opinion on many other points, and that opinion had been expressed whenever the opportunity of giving utterance to it had presented itself. All those who had given any attention to the subject were agreed that some provision ought to be made for schoolmasters who, from age or other causes, were incapacitated for further work; that greater facilities than at present existed ought to be given for dismissing schoolmasters who were inefficient; and that the schools required a greater amount of and more effective supervision and inspection than they now received. Provisions having in view the objects which he had named had been embodied in each of the three Bills which had been introduced since 1853: so that on those points, also, there was a concurrence of opinion on the part of the Government, of the Legislature, and of the people of Scotland. It was very generally felt, too, that the system of parochial schools, though it was one' of which all Scotchmen were justly proud, and though it had worked admirably for a long series of years, yet required, like other institutions, to be expanded and to be adapted to the wants of the time. It was felt that the country had outgrown the existing system. There were, for example, many large and populous boroughs, for the education of whose inhabitants there was no national provision. Indeed, speaking generally, he might say that such was the case of all the boroughs in Scotland. It was generally admitted, too, that the public money might be more economically administered, and might be made to go much further under a comprehensive system of national education than under the present system of Privy Council grants. And a want was beginning to be experienced of a class of schools holding a rank intermediate between the parish school and the Universities. That was a growing want, and one which the recent legislation would cause to be felt more strongly than had hitherto been the case; for, whatever opinion might be entertained in other respects of the merits of the Universities Act which had passed last year, it was beyond a doubt that one effect of the provisions of that Act would be to render a University education less accessible to persons of limited means than it had previously been. It therefore seemed to him that the Government, which had passed an Act of which the undoubted tendency was to render a University education more expensive, was bound to provide a substitute for these persons who would, for the future, be deprived of the benefits of an education which was in times past accessible to their class. He had been speaking hitherto, for the most part, of the elementary branches of education; but if their Lordships turned to the higher branches they would find, he asserted with confidence, that Scotland was far in arrear both of England and of Ireland in that respect. That which he stated was no gratuitous assumption. It was supported by facts and by figures. Let any one look over the lists of the candidates at competitive examinations either for Indian or for other Government appointments, and he would find that the proportion of successful to unsuccessful competitors was much smaller among persons educated in Scotland than among persons educated either in England or in Ireland. He would find, also, that the ratio of successful competitors to the population was smaller than in England or in Ireland. If, then, looking to the considerations to which he had adverted, he had succeeded in showing that there existed a necessity for a measure to improve the system of education in Scotland, it would not, he thought, be difficult to prove that any such measure ought to be introduced by the Government. There were, as their Lordships well knew, in Scotland two great parties, who, though they agreed upon many points, were yet at variance upon one. Now, any measure upon the subject of education brought forward by a Member of one of those parties must be almost of necessity a measure of a sectarian and party character. The success or the defeat of such a measure would be hailed as a triumph by the one party, and deplored as a disaster by the other. It was currently reported that it was the intention of one of the parties to which he had alluded, to introduce and to endeavour to carry through Parliament, a one-sided measure of that description, and he was of opinion that it would be an event deeply to be deplored that either party should have it in their power to claim a victory in such a matter over the other. It seemed to him that it was the duty of the Government to endeavour to impose moderation upon the two factions, and to attempt, at least, to make such an arrangement as might be satisfactory to reasonable persons, though it might not satisfy those of extreme opinions on either side. He hoped he did not look in vain to the Government for such an arrangement. He saw in the noble Earl opposite the parent of a system of education which in Ireland—and in no country were sectarian differences more fierce—had been attended with the happiest results. He gratefully acknowledged, too, the many merits of the Scotch Universities Act of last year, whatever exceptions he might have taken or might be prepared to take to some of its details. Under those circumstances, he should say nothing further upon the subject of his question, but would content himself with asking the noble Earl, in conclusion, Whether it was the intention of Her Majesty's Government to introduce, during the present Session, a Measure for the Improvement of the System of Education in Scotland?


said, the noble Earl's Question had regard to two separate matters—the improvement of the system of education in Scotland and the increase of the salaries of the schoolmasters. With regard to the latter part of the question—the salaries of the schoolmasters—the noble Earl was right in stating that on all occasions when this question was discussed it was recognized on all sides of the House and by all parties, that it would be most expedient and desirable to raise the salaries of the schoolmasters to a more adequate amount. But whenever that question was raised it was immediately seized upon by the different religious parties in Scotland and was mixed up with controverted questions in such a way as to render a satisfactory settlement of the question impossible. The noble Earl said—and he (the Earl of Derby) was much obliged to him for the compliment—that he looked with great confidence to the present Government, and to the ability of the Government to introduce a measure of such a moderate and reasonable nature as would satisfy all the contendiner parties. He could only say that he wished he could entertain for himself the same confidence; but their Lordships had been told how unreasonable were both the parties in the Scotch Church, and he must confess he did not feel sanguine that the Government would be able to bring in a measure which would give general satisfaction. But though the Government were not yet prepared with any measure upon this subject, yet the Lord Advocate was in constant communication with those Members that were immediately connected with Scotland; and nothing would give him (the Earl of Derby) greater satisfaction than to find that his learned Friend (the Lord Advocate) would in this way be able to bring in a moderate and reasonable measure, which though it might satisfy neither party completely, might nevertheless obtain general concurrence. He could not give any pledge that such a measure would be introduced, but he could assure the noble Earl that the attention of the Government was directed to the subject, and that it would afford them the greatest satisfaction if they could discover any mode of settling the question.


said, he quite agreed with the noble Earl at the head of the Government that there was the greatest difficulty in introducing a measure that would be satisfactory to all parties. But he wanted to impress upon the noble Earl the importance of considering whether he could not introduce a measure upon the subject of the salaries, detached from other questions. He believed that that could be done; and if it were it would remove a great injustice of which the schoolmasters had a right to complain. The status of the schoolmasters he believed was not what it ought to be, and he earnestly implored the noble Earl to do them justice, without going into other questions, for he believed the inadequacy of the schoolmasters' salaries was a point on which both Churchmen and Dissenters were agreed.


quite agreed with his noble and learned Friend, and hoped that steps would be taken without further delay to remove the great scandal under which Scotland at present lay from the insufficient salaries of the parochial schoolmasters. On this point it was impossible to abstain from expressing his admiration of the liberal and disinterested conduct of the landowners of Scotland. The salaries of the schoolmasters depended upon the average prices of grain, which were taken every twenty-five years. That average had recently been taken, and as the price of corn had fallen, in consequence of a succession of cheap years, the salaries of the schoolmasters had been reduced in a very considerable degree. There had been, as their Lordships knew, almost insuperable difficulties in persuading the different parties to agree to a new measure for the last Session or two, and but for the kind and generous proceedings of the landowners of Scotland the salaries of the schoolmasters would have been reduced to this lower level; but they had all agreed that, pending these discussions, and until a general measure could be passed, they the heritors, would allow the salaries to be continued upon the old and higher standard.

House adjourned at a quarter past Six o'clock, to Monday next, Eleven o'clock.