HC Deb 05 July 1832 vol 14 cc88-95
Mr. James E. Gordon

rose to present a Petition against the Government Plan of Education in Ireland, signed by 14 Peers, 50 Members of Parliament, 157 Clergymen of the Establishment, and of Dissenters, and 3,500 persons of the highest respectability. This petition was agreed to at a public meeting at Exeter Hall, and, if the influence of the names appended to it had been used to procure other signatures, sixty, or seventy, or a hundred thousand might have been obtained.

Petition to lie on the Table.

Mr. James E. Gordon

said, that in bringing forward his present Motion, he had two objects in view; the first was, to amend the Returns which had been laid on the Table, and which he found to be indistinct and inaccurate; and his second object was, to show from the result of experience, what was the effect of the new system of education. Hitherto they had been discussing theories, and investigating abstract principles, upon which differences of opinion might prevail, but they had at last arrived at the firm ground of experiments, the results of which could not be well disputed. The Government system of education had ceased to be a theory, and he would adduce conclusive evidence to show that it was, what was unjustly attributed by Ministers to the old societies, a completely exclusive system. The House would recollect how often it had been stated by Ministers and their supporters, that the greatest objection to the old plans of education was, that they were too exclusive; but that assertion he would deny; and it was clear to all who had inquired into the subject, that, whatever differences of opinion existed among the various societies having schools in Ireland, they all agreed in one thing, namely, the necessity of founding education upon the broad basis of Protestant scriptural truth. Now, he believed that could not be called an exclusive or narrow principle, and the real fact was, that that system afforded education to all denominations, without distinction. But what was the operation of the present plan? Nothing less than he had anticipated; as it was exclusive in principle, it became of necessity exclusive in practice, for it only afforded education to one sect. Formerly, literary and moral education were combined with scriptural knowledge, and a perfect harmony was produced, which could never emanate from the new-fangled system. He did not make these assertions lightly, or without sufficient authority. He had inquired attentively. He had written to Ireland, and he had received several communications, which he would not trouble the House by reading, but he had them before him, and he should have no objection to show any or all of them to the right hon. Secretary for Ireland. They were from most rcspectable persons, who had stated nothing privately which they were not prepared to state publicly, and to defy contradiction. It appeared by the Returns before the House, that the gross number of applications to the new board was 452, which, by the by, was an error. The real number of applications was 318, some of which contained applications for more than one school, and thus it was probable that the number 452 was made out. Of these, 209 were from Roman Catholic priests, combined with some Protestants. There were twenty-three from persons styled Protestant Clergymen, but he could show that out of this number there were only fourteen who were even nominally connected with the Established Church. There were eighty from the Roman Catholic laity.

Mr. Stanley

said, no such applications would be entertained.

Mr. James E. Gordon

was well aware of that fact. He was not stating the number of grants which had been made, but the gross number of applications. What had become of them was another question, to which he should, at the proper time, advert. There were next, thirty applications from Protestant clergymen and Roman Catholic priests. The hon. Member then proceeded to detail, with great minuteness, the particulars of those and the other applications, and contended, that to every impartial mind it must appear clear at a glance, that the schools, like the system itself, were exclusively Roman Catholic: for it was idle to say, that the few Protestants, liberal Protestants as they were called, who had joined the Catholics, had in the least deprived the schools of their character of exclusiveness. What was become of the 1,400 Protestant clergymen of Ireland? was their exclusion a proof of the universality of the system? Of the twenty-nine Protestant clergymen who were stated to have joined the priests in applications to the Board, there were three Presbyterians, one Dissenter, four Seceders, four Arians, and one or two names which had been put down, he would not say fraudulently, but perhaps by mistake. One of the latter gentlemen, the Rev. Mr. Colquhoun, upon seeing his name made use of in one of these applications, wrote in indignant terms to the Editor of the Belfast Guardian, and publicly denied the libellous aspersion. Having thus stated the nature of these applications, he should proceed to investigate the character of the schools to which Goveinnient had so liberally dealt out its bounty. The observations which he had to make, would be directed to the two or three dioceses where the new system had taken most root. It was from these that he had received his communications, in all fifty-three. In Carlow there was one of those schools, in which there was not a single Protestant. In a town in the county of Cork, called Clonakilty, there had been an exclusive Catholic school, under the superintendence of a Catholic lady, who had, as he witnessed, introduced the Douay version of the Bible; but that school had lately got under the patronage of the Board, and even that Bible was excluded. Such was the operation of the system, that the Bible, in all shapes, was expelled from schools. The statements which he had received from a variety of places in the south of Ireland, showed that the schools were exclusively Catholic, and that most of the Protestant signatures which had been used, had been obtained surreptitiously. In his opinion, the Government had no right to give public money to educate Catholics upon Catholic principles. He said this advisedly, and from a full consideration of the principles of the British Constitution. The hon. Member read several communications from persons in Ireland, illustrating their views, and concluded by moving for an amended return of all applications made to the Board of Education in Dublin, for new schools under their system, or for aid in behalf of existing schools.

Colonel Perceval

wished to call the attention of the right hon. Secretary for Ireland, to some circumstances attendant upon the application of a grant for two parishes in the county of Sligo. An application, purporting to bear the signatures of the Protestant clergymen of each parish, was forwarded to Government, but, On inquiry, it appeared that such signatures were forgeries. This fact he had been earnestly requested to state to the House. So far from an inclination towards this system being entertained, he begged to inform the House, that he held in his hand petitions from both of the parishes, against the system which the Government had carried into operation.

Mr. Stanley

said, that as the subject of Irish Education had already been twice before the House, he would not trouble them with many words. He would only beg to remark, that he differed altogether from the hon. member for Dundalk. He denied that the Protestant children in Ireland were uninstructed in the Scriptures. He stated this of his personal knowledge; and could refer to schools in several parishes, where he had examined the children, and found their scriptural knowledge fully equal to that of children in any school he had ever visited in England. He was ready to admit, that unless the population was exclusively Catholic, a Catholic chapel was not the fittest place in a parish to be chosen for a school; and, if there were objections among any number of the parishioners, to the selection of such a place for the school, and yet it was selected for that purpose, that was a fraud upon the Board. As to the books that were to be sent to these schools, he begged to say, that the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin was responsible, in his public and personal character, for the nature of these books; and he could not, therefore, readily suppose that improper books were sent. He thought that, under the restraint which the Board afforded, the education given would be of advantage to the public, even though it should happen that that education was given by a priest or a monk; but, certainly, it was by no means necessary that such persons should be the teachers in all the schools, and they might be objected to by some persons. With regard to the various accusations made, of forging names, and such things, he should require information from the Board, which information he would lay before the House, As to the subject of the hon. Member's Motion, he (Mr. Stanley) should be ready to give him the fullest information that could be obtained: but there bad been a return made on this subject to another place, and he should wish the hon. Member would look at that return, and see how far it differed from what he wanted, and would then draw up his Motion so as to supply what he considered deficient in the first return. His reason for wishing this, was the great inconvenience of ordering several Returns, when one might be sufficient. If the hon. Member would withdraw his Motion for the present, and would do what he (Mr. Stanley) now suggested, he would undertake to move for the return himself, for he had no wish but to afford the fullest information.

Mr. Dominick Browne

wished to take that opportunity of saying, that he had received a letter from the clergyman alluded to on a former night by the hon. member for Dundalk, when that hon. Member accused him of having banished the use of the Scriptures from the school of Ballinrobe. The letter writer utterly denied the truth of the charge, and stated, that he had always been most anxious to use the Scriptures, and was most anxious that the earliest opportunity of contradicting the report should be taken. He trusted that the hon. member for Dundalk would, in future, take care to be well assured of the truth of such a charge before he made it publicly in that House. He begged leave to request, that the hon. Member would state to the House the names of the persons who had given him this information, which now turned out to be so utterly unfounded. In his opinion, the Kildare-street Society had done more harm than good in the county of Mayo, by their interference; and he knew an instance where, in the town of Wexford, their agent had given an unfavourable report of a school, which it afterwards turned out was most excellently conducted. A friend of his, who had heard that report, afterwards visited the school, and was surprised to find it the very contrary of what it had been represented. When he found that he had been thus deceived, he stated the matter to the Marquess of Downshire, who, on the representation thus made to him, felt it to be his duty to institute inquiries into the matter, and an excuse was then given for the report, which he (Mr. Browne) would not characterize nor repeat.

Sir Charles Coote

said, that he believed the instance referred to by the hon. Member who had just taken his seat, was not the only one in which the Kildare street Society had acted with partiality and injustice. There was a school supported partly by the Kildare street Society, and partly by Erasmus Smith's charity. That school was exceedingly well conducted, but a complaint was made by the Kildare street Society, that an usher there was a Catholic, and they intimated that they must withdraw their support if that usher was not dismissed. He was, in justice, also bound to state, that they intimated that, at all events, they should be compelled to with- draw their support if the Parliamentary Grant should not continue to be made to them,

Mr. Shaw

thought there must be some error in the statement of the hon. Baronet. The school, it appeared, was partly supported by Erasmus Smith's charity, and partly by the Kildare-street Society. Now, the latter were not likely to have made the objection to the Usher because he was a Catholic, for it was not their custom to do so, but the Board of Erasmus Smith's charity most probably did, for they were obliged to do so by the very terms of their charter. While he was in possession of the House, he would take advantage of the opportunity, in order to ask the right hon. Gentleman opposite, whether it was true, as he had been informed, that in a school under the management of the Dublin Government Board of Education, among a list of books put up in the school, were reading lessons from St. Augustin, and from St. Bernard, and that these books were to be paid for by the new Board?

Mr. Stanley

believed that the Board did not send down separate books to the schools under their management, for the separate classes of scholars who attended those schools. It was, therefore, possible, that the books mentioned by the hon. Member might be among those sent down by the Board, and it was equally possible that they were good books, for he had no doubt that a Board, like that of Dublin, could find things in the writings of St. Augustin and St. Bernard that were equally fit for Protestants and Catholics.

Mr. Shaw

continued. It was supposed, that the Protestants in Ireland were favourable to this scheme of education there, but the fact was, they were forced to concur, often by threats, in the system which was supported by so many Catholics around them. Twenty-eight clergymen in the whole of Ireland had joined with the Roman Catholic clergymen in approval of the plan. With respect to the Protestant laity, he denied that this was any criterion by which it could be shown that they had voluntarily joined in seeking the protection of the new Board. It had been alleged to the General Assembly of Scotland, that the Scriptures were permitted to be read in school-hours, and he wished to know from the right hon. Gontleman what the facts were.

Mr. Stanley

said, he had brought down the whole of the private correspondence that he had had with gentlemen in Scot- land on this subject, so that any one might see what communications he had had with that country, and how little the exclusive system was admired there. He had held out, in every letter that he had written to Scotland, as he had in every speech he had uttered in that House, that the direction of the focal schools should be subject to local managers, so that, if the Protestants desired that their children should have instruction in the Bible on each day in the school, nothing would be easier than for them to send their children a little earlier, or allow them to stay a little later [Mr. Shaw asked, if the Bible was not to be taught in school hours?] It was not, because many Catholic parents objected to their children reading the Bible as a school-book, and it would, therefore, be improper to introduce it in the ordinary school-hours, for the effect of that would be, to prevent the Catholic children from being sent to school. These things he had fully explained in his letters to Scotland, and, at a large public meeting, a petition, which he should shortly have the honour to present, had been agreed to in favour of the present plan, which had also received the approbation of a Church Assembly there.

Sir George Murray

was sure that these details of the right hon. Gentleman's plan could not have been understood in Scotland, or they would not have been approved of there. He was glad that the right hon. Gentleman had thus explained, that the people of Scotland might now understand, that the reading of the Bible formed no necessary part of the system of national education proposed by the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Alderman Wood

said, that the children of people of different persuasions might well be mixed together in the same school; and, if they were all treated alike, there would be no disagreement. He himself had been the founder of a school, in which there were 1,000 boys and 500 girls, where the children were composed of all sects—of Jews, Catholics, Protestants, and Dissenters, and where the system of education had never been interrupted by religious differences.

Mr. Andrew Johnston

said, he had been at some pains to satisfy himself as to the nature of the communication made by the Solicitor General of Scotland to the General Assembly; and he was happy to find, on the best authority, that it was in perfect accordance with what the right hon. Gentleman had stated. When, therefore, the Presbyterians saw that there were to be local managers for each of the schools, he could not see what objection they could Lave to the plan. At all events, he trusted their good sense would induce them to wait a season, and see how it worked. After the concession made by the Secretary for Ireland, he thought it was only just they should do so.

Mr. Pringle

did not think that the Presbyterians of Scotland would be satisfied with the proposed modifications.

Mr. James E. Gordon

, without further troubling the House, would beg leave to withdraw his Motion.

Motion withdrawn.