HC Deb 11 July 1820 vol 2 cc365-7
Mr. Brougham

brought in his bill, "for better providing the means of Education for his Majesty's Subjects," which was read a first time.

Mr. Brougham,

in rising to move, that it be read a second time to-morrow, said, he wished to notice, and to allay an alarm which, he understood, his bill had excited amongst two very numerous and highly respectable classes of his majesty's subjects—the Protestant Dissenters and the Roman Catholics. The House would hardly believe the extent to which this alarm had gone, especially when they recollected the observations with which he had introduced the plan. It was supposed, in consequence of the system being connected with the Protestant ecclesiastical establishment, that it was intended to compel children of various denominations to attend Protestant worship. This feeling had operated so powerfully, that some members of these two respectable bodies had addressed queries to him on the subject. It was asked by one party, whether it was not true (a point, he begged leave to observe, directly contradicted by the report) that it was intended to compel Roman Catholics to send their children to Protestant schools and Protestant worship? and certain dissenters seemed to consider this as a bill introduced for the purpose of "rooting out the last remains of religious liberty in this country." With respect to the Test act, as it affected dissenters, he would offer no observations on this occasion. But he thought the expression "to root out the last remains of religious liberty in this country," was exceedingly strong, when the dissenters were allowed, by an annual indemnity act, to get rid of the sacramental test. He would, however, tell those individuals, and if any of them happened to be present, he hoped they would recollect the declaration, that there was not a man in the House, nor in the country, more decidedly adverse to any thing harsh or intolerant than he was. Nor was there an individual who had a stronger dislike to tests, except where their abrogation might interfere with the existence of the government. He was the last man to keep up tests, unless they were absolutely necessary; and much less would he assist in extending them.—He would now state, that he had omitted in the present bill the sacramental test to schoolmasters, which he had originally contemplated. The bill still provided that the schoolmaster should be a member of the established church; but it dispensed with the ceremony of his receiving the sacrament a month before his election. He made this alteration, as he knew persons who were averse from taking the sacrament (not from any objection to it, but, on the contrary, from a reverence for the ceremony), because they did not think it was fitting to receive it as the passport to a civil office. Making every allowance for the conscientious scruples of those individuals, on the point he had stated, he had consented to give up that part of the bill. He could assure those most worthy and respectable, and infinitely-respected friends to religious liberty, the Protestant Dissenters of England—whose regard for civil and religious liberty was only equalled by their loyalty to the Crown, and their good disposition towards the constitution as by law established—that he had neither done nor said any thing that could form a just ground for such an alarm. He had deemed it necessary to observe thus much, in order to prevent the possibility of misrepresentation.

Mr. W. Smith

said, he had no doubt that what his learned friend had stated with respect to the feeling of the Roman Catholics was true. But, if it were not for his learned friend's declaration, he should have conceived it impossible, looking to the feeling which pervaded the House, that the Roman Catholics could have adopted such a monstrous idea as that Protestant schools were to be established, and that they would be obliged to send their children to those schools. His learned friend had neither said nor insinuated any such thing, but the very reverse. With respect, however, to the Protestant dissenters, he was well aware that much alarm prevailed amongst them as to the general structure and bearing of the bill. But that alarm had not, as far as he knew, induced them to go so far as to use the expression which his learned friend had quoted, or any thing like it. He knew of no Protestant dissenters who spoke of this bill as introduced for the purpose of "rooting out the last remains of religious liberey in this country." He was connected with the most respectable and largest portion of that body, from whom in a day or two, he should present a petition, but not against this bill. They certainly looked at the structure of the bill with considerable alarm. The part of the measure which excited their alarm was that which imposed on the schoolmaster the necessity of taking the sacramental test, which was now abandoned. That their feelings were excited on this point was undoubtedly true. At such a moment it was natural that they should look with considerable alarm at any step taken by the House that was at all connected with the sacramental test.

The motion was then agreed to.