HL Deb 11 July 1859 vol 154 cc951-5

rose to ask, whether it was the intention of Her Majesty's Government to introduce a Bill this Session for the better management of endowed schools in Ireland. The noble Earl said, that that was a subject of considerable importance as the number of those schools amounted to not less than 2,300, and their endowments were considerable. Their Lordships knew that the Queen's Colleges in Ireland were instituted by the late Sir Robert Peel in 1845, with a view to the education of all classes of the people, and each of these colleges received a grant from the Consolidated Fund of £7,000 a year. But their Lordships would be surprised to learn that though ample testimony was borne by the Commissioners who had been appointed to inquire into the subject, to the learning of the professors, and to the quality of the education they afforded; yet since the time that the college system had come into play in 1845, not more than 1686 students, matriculated and non-matriculated, had taken advantage of them; and what their Lordships would be equally concerned to hear, with the single exception of the year 1852, the number of matriculated students was less last year than in any year preceding. The Commissioners assigned various reasons for this want of success, and it was too wide a subject to be introduced in the form of a question. He would not, there-lore, allude to more than one cause in which all parties were agreed, and that was the inefficiency of the intermediate schools in Ireland. He was aware that great difficulties beset this question, but he was sure that delay would only increase them. Several important meetings had been held in the south of Ireland, and although there was a difference of opinion as to the appropriation and allotment of the funds, he believed that both Catholics and Protestants were agreed on this point, that Government ought to step in and take some means of rendering available to the mass of the community those vast educational resources which the inquiries of the Commissioners proved to exist. In conclusion, he had only to express a hope that Her Majesty's Government would, by taking up this question, prove that they were guided by those liberal principles which they professed in Opposition, and that they would thus endeavour to regain some degree of that confidence which he was afraid the late elections showed they had lost in Ireland. The late Government had acted very liberally with Ireland, and he believed they had prepared a Bill on this very question. He hoped the present Government would not be behind their predecessors, but that they would next year propose a satisfactory settlement of this question. His question was, whether it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to introduce a Bill this Session for the better Management of the Funds of Endowed Schools in Ireland?


wished, before the noble Earl opposite (Earl Granville) replied, to make an observation or two upon the subject. The noble Lord who had just sat down was not quite correct in stating that the late Government had prepared a Bill upon this subject, though it was certainly true that they had given much attention to the subject, and the outlines of a measure were prepared; but the pressure of other business prevented its being properly matured. His noble Friend had stated that the Commissioners appointed to inquire into the Queen's Colleges in Ireland had reported that those colleges failed to command the confidence and support of the middle classes of Ireland, and they attributed part of that failure to the want of proper intermediate schools. He was not disposed to deny that; he quite agreed with his noble Friend that there was a want of those schools; but another and equally important cause of that failure was the continued and persistent hostility of the Roman Catholic clergy. They were determined that they never would support a system of mixed education, and all their efforts had been and would be directed to prevent the middle classes from making use of these colleges in the form in which they at present existed. He agreed with his noble Friend that something should be done for the regulation of those schools, for whose support large sums of money had been set apart from time to time, and lands devised for their use, while the amount of work got out of them was miserably small. But before anything was done by Parliament there was a preliminary question for the Government to settle, and till it was settled it was impossible that any measure could be satisfactorily introduced. The Endowed School Commissioners who made the Report of last year consisted of five persons, of whom the Marquess of Kildare, Dr. Trench, and Dr. Hamilton, were supposed to represent the united or neutral, or as it was sometimes called, the non-exclusive system of education; Mr. Stephens represented the feelings of the Established Church, and Mr. Hughes, who was then Solicitor General for Ireland, represented the opinions and feelings of the Roman Catholics. Now, it was extraordinary to remark that those three gentlemen who represented the non-exclusive system reported strongly in favour of taking all the Endowed Schools for which the least colour of an allegation could be set up that they could be consistently applied to the non-exclusive system and putting them under a system of rules and regulations with respect to religious teaching similar to those of the Irish National Board. On the other hand, the gentleman who represented what may be considered as the feelings of the Established Church, in a separate Report which he made, and with arguments which to him (the Earl of Donoughmore) appeared unanswerable, objected entirely to this course, and argued that the funds for those schools had been bequeathed for Protestant purposes, and that they could not, without a gross injustice, be applied either to Roman Catholic or to a neutral system of education. But what was the statement of the Roman Catholic representative, Mr. Hughes? Passing over altogether the question whether those endowments could be equitably taken, he said that whether they were taken by the Government or not did not matter; that the Roman Catholics would not accept of them; that they would not accept of a neutral system of education; that they were determined to have a system of education separate from Protestants, and that Catholics should be educated by Catholics. What the occasion really called for was that the question should be tried at law, to whom those endowments belonged. Take the diocesan schools, for instance—could they be equitably applied to such purposes as were pointed at by the majority of the Commissioners? Or was it consistent with the intentions of the Sovereign and Parliament to apply that principle to those schools which were raised under the authority of an Act passed in the reign of James I? he thanked their Lordships for having listened to these remarks, which he thought it right to add to the observations of his noble Friend, who, he was afraid, had not sufficiently considered the magnitude of the task he laid upon the Government.


said, he was much obliged to his noble Friend opposite for the observations he had made, pointing out the difficulties which attended the subject. The noble Lord had also pointed out the mistaken statement of the noble Earl (the Earl of Cork) that the late Government had prepared a Bill on the subject; and he thought his noble Friend would hardly expect any other answer than that he was about to give—that it was not the intention of the present Government to introduce any Bill this Session. At the same time he fully admitted the importance of the question and the obligation of the Government to consider what steps they could best take on this question.

House adjourned at a quarter past Six o'clock, till To-morrow half-past Ten o'clock.