HC Deb 08 June 1832 vol 13 cc548-54
Mr. Hope Johnstone

presented a Petition from the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, in Council assembled, in favour of the plan of Education in Ireland. They were most anxious that the blessings of education should be extended to all classes in that country, and they hoped the proposed plan would have this effect. They trusted, however, that in any plan which might be adopted the Bible would be left perfectly open to the perusal of Protestant children. He felt it his duty to support this petition, though he was aware that the importance and weight of such a body, distinguished by as much talent and as high character as any body of men in the whole world, was, in itself, sufficient to procure for this petition the attention of the House.

Sir George Warrender

said, this petition was entitled to great attention, not only on account of the importance of the body from which it proceeded, but from the tone of conciliation and temperance of language in which it was drawn up. The same body petitioned the House in favour of Catholic Emancipation.

Mr. Cutler Fergusson

supported the petition: the body from which it proceeded was certainly most enlightened, and most deserving consideration. He coincided with them in wishing the Bible to be used in the schools entire, at certain times, but it was obvious that the Catholics would not make use of the Bible in that form. He wished for a scheme of education which would unite both classes, and therefore, should object to the use of the Bible at all times, as that would exclude the Catholics from the school.

Mr. James E. Gordon

had to apologise for the frequency with which a sense of duty had compelled him to intrude himself upon the attention of the House, on the momentous question of Irish education, but he felt it impossible to remain silent upon the present occasion. The petition at that moment under consideration was, he had no hesitation in saying, the most important which had been laid upon the Table of that House during the Session. It was, in fact, the recorded sentiment of the Church of Scotland upon the great question of Irish education. His Majesty's Government, and their scheme of education, were unquestionably entitled to the full benefit of any countenance or support which was fairly deducible from a candid construction of the language and sentiments of the petition which had just been presented; but, while he made that admission, be felt himself called upon to direct the particular attention of the House to the very peculiar circumstances which led to its adoption. He held in his hand a paper, containing what he understood to be a correct report of the proceedings of the General Assembly, from which it appeared that the Solicitor General for Scotland had acquainted the Assembly with the fact of his having received a letter from the right hon. the Secretary for Ireland, in which he (the Solicitor General), as well as several others equally entitled to the confidence of Go- vernment, had been assured by that right hon. Gentleman, that a scriptural class would be established in each school, upon which the attendance of Protestants should be compulsory, while Roman Catholics were permitted to exercise their discretion upon the subject. Now, without presuming to represent the views or feelings of the General Assembly in that House, he had no hesitation in saying, and he said it upon the authority of Members of the Assembly, that they understood by the communication made to them by the Solicitor General, that a bona fide scriptural class was intended to be introduced into the body of the daily course. Did this he would ask, accord with the explanation which had been given by the right hon. the Secretary for Ireland, in answer to the question which he (Mr. Gordon) had put to that right hon. Gentleman a few nights ago? Had not the right hon. Secretary declared, that not only had no change taken place in the system, but that no change was contemplated? Had he not stated that the scriptural class was perfectly independent of, and apart from, the daily course? Was it not in the recollection of the House, that the proposed arrangement for such a class was, that it should be optional with the parties concerned, as far as related to its establishment, and that, in cases where it might be found necessary to establish such a class, it should commence half an hour before or after the regular daily course? Such a declaration was one which he (Mr. Gordon) could not reconcile with any rational construction of the communication made by the Solicitor General to the meeting of Assembly; but he had better authority than his own opinion upon this point. A most respectable Member of the Assembly, who happened to be under the gallery when the right hon. the Secretary for Ireland made his explanation, was perfectly astonished at the discovery which that explanation made of the manner in which he and others had been deceived upon the subject. So strong, indeed, was the impression produced upon that Gentleman's mind, that he had, no further back than yesterday, declared upon a public platform, that the two statements were, in his judgment, utterly irreconcileable with each other. Nay, more, he had stated his determination to use every effort to endeavour to set his reverend brethren right upon a subject on which they had been so painfully led astray. The hon. member for Dumfries-shire had stated for the petitioners, that they were anxious to see the blessings of education extended to the people of Ireland, and in that anxiety he (Mr. Gordon) fully participated with them; but he wholly dissented from the opinion of the hon. Member that the petitioners were ready to concur with his Majesty's Government in the promotion of their present scheme. Most of the Members of the General Assembly had already petitioned strongly against that system, and the more they understood of its principle and effects, the greater, he was convinced, would be their opposition to its establishment. The hon. Member had expressed a hope that the Government would persevere in their intention to carry this system into effect. They might do so, but he was sure that the opponents of that system would persevere also; and, what was most encouraging in the consideration was, the persuasion in his mind that they would persevere with success. Nay, he did not believe, that it would be in the power of any Government which ever occupied the opposite benches to carry such a system into execution against the principles and feelings of the class which was opposed to it. The hon. member for Kirkcudbright had expressed his anxiety that a system of united instruction should prevail in Ireland, which would afford to both classes the benefits of a well-ordered education, and in that anxiety he (Mr. Gordon) also participated. Such a system, however, was not to be identified with that of his Majesty's Ministers. On the contrary, their system, to the extent that it had been brought into operation, had broken in upon and interrupted the harmony of a system where Roman Catholics and Protestants were unitedly engaged in learning the initiary lesson which taught the great doctrine of one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all; and, where all was unity and unanimity before, all was discord and confusion now. This was an assertion which he did not risk upon in-sufficient grounds. It was not the opinion of a hot-headed zealot, anxious to propagate and to maintain his own opinions. It was the result of evidence from which there could be no appeal. It rested upon the showing of official data in the possession of every hon. Member of that House. It rested upon the letters and figures of the Return of Applications made to the Board in Dublin, for which he had moved a short time since; and when the proper time arrived, he should hold himself pledged to prove to the House and to the country, that the Government plan of education, to the extent that it had gained a footing in Ireland, was the most exclusive, the most purely Roman Catholic, the most party-spirited which the history of Irish education had ever presented.

Sir John Newport

rose principally for the purpose of commenting on the speech of the hon. Member who had just addressed the House who, by turns, assumed to himself the office of interpreter both for the people and the Churches of Ireland and Scotland. He now assumed to be the authority upon whose dictum the House was to be led in reference to what was the opinion of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, and that, too, in opposition to the petition from that body which had just been presented to the notice of the House. The hon. Member hid pledged himself to prove a great many things, and, amongst others, that the plan of education proposed by his Majesty's Government was purely exclusive, and Roman Catholic. He had already done everything to exasperate the feelings of the people of Ireland; and not only this, but to endanger the tranquillity of the country. He (Sir John Newport) deprecated that hon. Gentleman's assuming to himself the representation of the opinion of the people of Ireland, seeing that his knowledge of that country had been acquired chiefly by his missionary labours: and also the attempt to draw into collision the Churches of Ireland and Scotland. Respecting what the hon. Member stated, as to the opinion of the Church of Scotland, he (Sir John Newport) would only say, that, in contradiction to his assertion, the House had the petition of the General Assembly, which had been just presented by the hon. Member opposite, accompanied with observations which evinced the true spirit of concord and charity on his part; while the hon. Member who had just sat down, had done everything to disseminate the spirit of discord and mischief. He (Sir John Newport) was old enough to remember a Gentleman of the same name as the hon. member for Dundalk, who rendered himself most conspicuous by pursuing a line of conduct of the same nature, by which he nearly brought ruin upon this country. He hoped the hon. Member would not be allowed to bring matters to a similar crisis. He begged pardon of the House for having trespassed thus long on their patience, but he implored them to look at the question in a fair point of view and not to excite the angry feelings of the people.

Mr. Robert A. Dundas

thought the right hon. Baronet had made a very unworthy attack on his hon. friend. Every Member of that House had a right to speak his mind upon, this or any other subject. He believed the tenor of this petition was misunderstood. What the General Assembly wished to see introduced in Ireland was, a plan of education similar to that of Scotland, where Protestants and Catholics were educated together in the schools of the General Assembly, the schools being under the direction of the clergy of the Church of Scotland.

Mr. James Grattan

denied, that the Protestants of Ireland were to be deprived under this system, of the use of their Bible. Nothing of the kind was ever intended or proposed. Even under the Kildare-street plan the Bible was not used in schools: the only part of the Scriptures introduced was the New Testament. This was the case in four schools that had been under his (Mr. Grattan's) direction; and the member for Dundalk knew it as well as he did.

Sir George Murray

said, he should not enter into any discussion of the merits of the Kildare-street Society. This petition had his entire approbation. It was conceived and expressed in a tone of moderation, at the same time that it supported the great principle of Protestant education. He should be the last man to entertain feelings of hostility towards any person on account of his opinions, but he thought one great defect in this plan was the separation of moral and literary, from Scriptural education. He fully concurred in the sentiments expressed by the right hon. Baronet (Sir John Newport.)

Mr. Andrew Johnstone

thought the language used by the hon. Gentleman opposite was too strong, for he had, in effect, charged the Solicitor General for Scotland with having practised a deception upon the General Assembly. But, notwithstanding this assertion, it would be observed, that what had fallen from the Solicitor General was corroborated by the speech made the other night by the right hon. Secretary for Ireland; at least, the statement of the learned Gentleman was explained by what occurred in that House afterwards. He submitted that it was better to postpone all further discussions on this subject until it was brought. forward regularly for consideration in voting the Estimates. In the mean time the hon. member for Dundalk might communicate with the General Assembly, and ascertain exactly what was the opinion of that body.

Petition to be printed.

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