HC Deb 16 March 1832 vol 11 cc320-9
Mr. Shaw

rose to present a Petition from the county of Cork, signed by upwards of 4,000 of the Nobility, Gentry, and all the most influential men in the county, against the proposed system of Education in Ireland. He also held in his hand three other petitions of the same character, one of them signed by one Archbishop, seventeen Bishops and above 13,000 of the most respectable Protestant Clergy and laymen of every denomination in Ireland. He was prepared to contend that the right hon. Secretary and the Solicitor General had misunderstood the opposition of the petitioners to this measure. It was stated, by those hon. Gentlemen, that they opposed the use of extracts from the Bible in schools. This was not the case; they did not object to the use of extracts as extracts, but they would not consent to their substitution for the whole. The allegation of the petitioners was, that "the substitution of any part for the entire Word of God was, in their judgment, inconsistent with their principles and obligations as Christians and Protestants;" and this was at once the answer to all the arguments of the other side, founded upon the Reports of former Commissions, composed of any of the friends of scriptural education—that though they might admit of extracts, they never for a moment contemplated their substitution for the whole Bible; they had no objection to extracts joined with other books of religious, moral, and literary instruction being, as it were, a part of the superstructure of education, but they would resolutely maintain that its foundation must be laid in the pure, the simple, the entire Word of God. The proof that this was no fanciful distinction was, that what the right hon. Secretary, in his official letter, designated "the vital defect of the former system," and announced as the ground on which parliamentary aid was withdrawn from the Society was, that the Bible was required to be admitted into the schools, and the point of distinction, which he relied upon as the essential excellence of his own system, was, that the Bible should be excluded. Again it was said, that the opponents of this measure charged the Government with having had for their object to deprive the children of Protestants of the Bible. He never heard imputed to the professors of any religion, or to those who professed no religion, with the exception of the Roman Catholic persuasion, that they were anxious to keep the Bible from the people; and he rejoiced to think that the time had come when that doctrine could not justly be attributed even to all Roman Catholics, inasmuch as a large proportion of their laity would not longer submit to the spiritual bondage of being deprived of that gift, the dearest birthright of all Christian men. The Government was not charged with the desire of taking away the Bible, but with being indifferent as to whether or not that should be the result of their measure. The Ministers were willing to sacrifice that which should be the principle of every Protestant and Christian Government to a low expediency, hoping to satisfy the unreasonable clamour of one party, and greatly miscalculating the feelings of the other. The great mistake of the Ministers was as he had heard it said, that "they measured the Protestantism of Great Britain by their own." It was this fatal course of his Majesty's Ministers which justified the expression he had used elsewhere, though it had been cavilled at in the House; that the same principles which bound them to "obey their rulers in all things lawful" would also induce them, when a sense of paramount duty obliged them, to oppose them even though only to oppose them lawfully. There was but one quality in the whole system proposed, which he could regard with satisfaction, and that was, that it carried within itself the seeds of its own destruction. The right hon. Gentleman called it but an experiment, and it had already failed: in the proof of this, he (Mr. Shaw) need only refer to two points in the right hon. Gentleman's letter—the first, in which he stated that the object of the Government was to promote a "combined" education—the second, that the Board would invariably require as a condition not to be departed from, that local funds should be raised, upon which any aid from the public would be dependent. Without inquiring whether the opponents of the plan were right or wrong, must it not be plain, even to Ministers themselves, that in these two respects the plan must fail? Could they expect a united education, when the Protestants of Ireland were nearly unanimous in their opposition to the scheme, or that local funds would be raised to support a system against which at least nineteen-twentieths of those who had heretofore contributed local funds for the purposes of the education of the poor, had already protested? Of the Irish Bishops seventeen had recorded their opinions against it, and not one in its favour, except that distinguished Prelate, who was nominated a Member of the Board, of whom, personally, he desired to speak with every respect, whose silent acquiescence might almost be accounted for on personal grounds. The Presbyterian member of the new Commission was the solitary exception to the determined opposition of the whole Synod of Ulster, and not one Protestant minister of religion in Ireland had raised his voice in support of the Government plan, save those whom the Government themselves had selected to put in the enviable situation of being opposed to all the friends with whom they had hitherto been in the habit of co-operating. He denied that there was anything political in the character of the opposition made to this heterogeneous system: witness the two noble Lords opposite (Lord Sandon and Lord Robert Grosvenor), supporters of his Majesty's Government, who were on that night charged with the presentation of petitions similar in their prayer to those he had presented. He would appeal to the members for the county of Cork, who sat on the same side of the House, whether, in that county, this ques- tion had not united persons who on no political subject were ever found to agree; and he would unhesitatingly declare that, among 200,000 signatures attached to petitions which he had now submitted to the consideration of the House, there would be found Protestants of all denominations, and persons of all political parties, having united upon this occasion, on no ground of worldly policy, but, in their own words, "desiring to express a dutiful submission, as Christians, to all measures of merely temporal interest, which the wisdom of the Legislature might adopt; but, feeling that when any measures were proposed directly at variance with the principles of their religion and their duty to their God, they were bound by an authority superior to all human wisdom, and all human power, not to acquiesce in them."

Sir Robert Inglis

said, he might, perhaps be allowed to call the attention of the House to the petition of the Archbishop, Bishops, Protestant clergy, and Protestant laymen of Ireland, which had just been presented by the hon. and learned member for Dublin; and the very importance of the subject which it embraced, he should have thought would have commanded the fullest attendance of hon. Members. He did not complain of no Member of his Majesty's Cabinet being present; but seeing the hon. and learned Gentleman in his place, who was the Representative of his Majesty's Government, so far as Ireland was concerned, he certainly wished to call his serious attention to the prayer of these petitions of the clergy of Ireland which had just been laid on the Table, because he felt that he (Mr. Crampton) was the person whom the House had a right to look to for some information upon the subject now before them. As a general principle, he objected to entering into discussions upon the presentations of petitions; but he regarded this as a case not only deserving of an exception from the general rule, but as one which demanded the immediate attention of the House; for he apprehended that, if at any time, and upon any subject, it were fitting that the discussion should be taken upon this great question, it was then. It was more especially requisite that this should be done, when it was remembered that his hon. and learned friend gave notice of his intention to present these petitions some time since, and that that notice had been renewed from day to day for a consider- able period. There were circumstances which induced him to occupy the House for a very short time, and there was one point particularly to which he meant to refer, and upon which no answer whatever had been received. It had been alleged as the great objection to the plan of education recently introduced into Ireland, that the Bible was excluded from the schools. This objection had, on the other hand, been met by a denial on the part of those who supported the present system. He would ask the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite, if, upon any of the four days devoted to the general education of the children, any boy, or master, or teacher should introduce the Bible into the school, whether such a circumstance would not be considered as a violation of the rules of the school, and, consequently, involve the individual in an offence against the principle upon which the schools were established? The hon. and learned Gentleman expressed his dissent significantly, though not by words; therefore he would, perhaps, state how far the Bible might be introduced into the schools by any master, whether he were an Episcopalian, a Roman Catholic, or a Presbyterian, without its being a violation of the rules of the schools. There was a second point, with respect to the general question, the consideration of which he should reserve for another opportunity, as he did not see the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Ireland in his place: it was this (and he wished to call the attention of the House to the matter)—it was maintained by many persons that the Bible was not excluded; allowing this for the sake of argument. But for whom was the exclusion of the Scriptures, admitting it to be only partial, intended? To conciliate whom was it thought necessary to do this? Did not the right hon. Gentleman see that it was done to serve, not the interests of the Protestants, but those of another class of his Majesty's subjects. Whatever might be said of the exclusion of the Bible, or of the system of adopting extracts from it, this was quite clear, that no Protestant could gain any thing by either the one mode or the other. He would learn nothing from extracts only, selected under the sanction of a few persons who were connected with the present board. A great deal had been said in that House, and in other places, with reference to this plan, in connexion with the Fourteenth Report of the Commis- sioners. But it must be remembered that what that Report proposed, was something supplementary only. It did not disturb existing regulations—it left them all as it found them. Let it be remembered, also, that the number of schools in Ireland had very nearly doubled; therefore, there was no longer any need of the supplementary schools to which the Report referred. Some of the most distinguished persons, Prelates of our Church, were known to have signed this Report; and they were now charged with inconsistency in petitioning against the new plan of education. He hoped he should be able to show they had not been guilty of inconsistency. They never anticipated any attempt to disturb the existing state of things; and the distinction to be drawn between the present system and that recommended by the Report, which was purely of a supplementary character, was obviously great. By that Report, it was left to the discretion of every master to take his pupils to the places of worship of their respective religions; and the distinction in the present case was, that instead of this being done, they were educated in common, and extracts only were made from the Bible, in order to meet the opinions of the Roman Catholics. And was this a system which the House was to be called upon to support? Was it to be tolerated that a system like this should be established, from which, upon the implied acknowledgment of the Solicitor General for Ireland, the Bible was to be excluded. As Christians, the Legislature could not sanction such a system. He trusted that his Majesty's Ministers would not press the measure, but let it quietly drop.

Mr. Crampton

hoped that the hon. Baronet, the member for Oxford, would not consider him wanting in courtesy if he declined making any observations upon the present occasion. The subject had been already fully discussed, and any hon. Member who wished for another formal debate might, if he thought proper, bring it forward by a motion; but on petitions he declined saying anything.

Mr. Leader

admitted the respectability of the petitioners; but contended that in the county in which he resided, Kilkenny, as well as in most parts of Ireland, a large proportion of the most intelligent and influential Protestants were decidedly opposed to the Kildare-street plan of education in Ireland, and approved of that proposed to be substituted.

Mr. Lefroy

said, that the right hon. Gentleman to whom the credit of devising this plan was ascribed, had mistaken the means for the end. How could he expect a combined system of education from a plan which precluded the clergy of every Protestant denomination from taking any part in it? He concluded from the silence of the Government that they did not mean to proceed with the measure.

Lord Sandon

would take that opportunity to say, that he had to present a similar petition from Liverpool, signed by 1,300 persons of different sects. They prayed that the House would not sanction the new system of education which his right hon. friend, the Secretary for Ireland had proposed to establish as a national system for that country; and here he would observe that the principal point in which he differed from the petitioners was, in the regret which they expressed at the abandonment of the Kildare-street Association, as an object of national support. By professing to teach the Scriptures without note or comment, that Association aimed at a system of conciliation by means of compromise, which he could never look upon as wise or sound. The Scriptures were converted into something little better than a school-book, inasmuch as each party sacrificed the rights of explanation and interpretation, without which the mere reading of the Scriptures could be made but little profitable to the infant mind. It was, besides, distasteful to the great mass of the religious instructors of the Catholic part of the Irish population, and whatever opinion might be formed of the justness of the objections entertained by these parties, he considered the mere fact of their existence sufficient to extinguish any claim to the title of a national system, and as such to national support. If the objections entertained by the Catholic clergy were in his mind amply sufficient reason for withdrawing the aid of national funds from one system, common justice and consistency compelled him to admit that the strong repugnance to the new system felt and loudly expressed by the Protestant clergy and laity of Ireland, was entitled to equal consideration at their hands. No scheme could be fairly called national to which the great body of the clergy of either of the two great persuasions, between which Ireland was divided, had a decided objection; and of the strength of this objection sufficient evidence was given in the decal- rations of the Synod of Ulster, as well as of nearly the whole Bench of Irish Bishops, in the petitions of clergy as well as laity, and of Presbyterian as well as Episcopalian of either class. Against such a fact it was idle to contend; whether good or bad the scheme could not work. By disputing the reasonableness of that feeling, this new system could no more be forced in repugnance to it, than the system of the Kildare-street Association by the same process, in repugnance to the feeling of the Catholic priesthood. If it might be permitted to treat for a moment with levity so serious a subject, he would say of this scheme, as of harlequin's horse in the old story: it might have excellent qualities, its colour might be beautiful, its form might be perfect, in every respect a most excellent animal it might be—but, unfortunately, the horse was dead. So of this scheme, it was virtually dead; it wanted to constitute it a national system of education, the living qualities of the assent and attachment, nay more, it had the aversion of one great division of the Irish population. Under such circumstances he could have no apprehension of its passing into a law, it had already failed. But as he had said before with respect to the Kildare-street Association, he could not consider the attempt at conciliation by compromise in such a question as national education, to be more wise or sound than practicable. Each party must, to obtain this object, sacrifice something which it considered valuable and important—prejudices, which were often near allied to principles, must be made to give way, and with the prejudice there was danger that some of the principle might go too; at least the sacrifice of the one prepared the way for the sacrifice of the other. If the Protestant thought, that in excluding the Bible from daily use in education, he was making a sacrifice of principle, it would be doing mischief to induce him to make it. If the Catholic thought he was making a sacrifice of principle in admitting the Bible for the same purpose, it was doing equal mischief to induce him to do so. Besides, as a christian, he was not quite satisfied with any scheme which had the appearance of recognizing the separation of morality from religion: as a Protestant he was not quite satisfied with any scheme of national education which, in the minds of many, wore the appearance of recognizing nationally the exclusion of the Holy Scriptures. He would not, however, sit down without expressing his regret, and indignation, at the motives which, in too many places, had been imputed to the promoters of this measure. He should have thought that in the minds of men of any fairness, the public, as well as personal, character of his right hon. friend, the Secretary for Ireland, would have been a sufficient protection against such an imputation—that the recommendations of several successive sets of Committees and Commissioners, consisting of men of undoubted attachment to the Protestant faith, given in favour of schemes, though not identical with, yet nearly similar to, the scheme of his right hon. friend, might have been a natural explanation of the motives which induced him to propose that which was now before the House. But he was much afraid that political, as well as religious feeling, had had much to do with the reception which this measure had met with in Ireland. Indeed, such was the unhappy state of that country, that he did not think he ever saw an instance of either feeling unmixed. He believed that the measure was impracticable in the present state of Ireland; he believed, looking at the state of feeling both in Scotland and Ireland, that it must be given up, and he should feel it his duty to vote against any grant of money for the support of the scheme.

Lord Robert Grosvenor

said, he could confirm the noble Lord's opinion as to the growing unpopularity of the measure in the north of England, as he had a similar petition to present against it.

Mr. W. Peel

said, that the measure was introduced to the House as an experiment, and he believed that the experiment had already failed. Consequently, he begged leave to advise Ministers that, as the Kildare-street grant had been withdrawn, no other grant such as that should be made, but that Protestants and Catholics should each provide for the education of their own poor.

Mr. James Grattan

wished that the experiment should be given at least a full, fair, and impartial trial, before it was condemned. For his part, he believed, if adopted and persevered in, it would confer great benefits upon Ireland.

Lord Ingestrie

was desirous to see the poor of every denomination educated. But in this plan favour was shown to the Catholic at the expense of the Protestant poor, who could not be expected to give up their own feelings and consent to a mutilation of the Holy Scriptures, which they had been accustomed to receive entire.

Lord Althorp

said, it was of essential importance to the country that the Estimates should be proceeded with. He, therefore, suggested to hon. Members the impolicy of such discussions as the present at such a moment. It was understood that the Committee of Supply was to close at half-past eight o'clock.

Mr. J. E. Gordon

said, he had intended to offer some remarks upon the subject, but after what had fallen from the noble Lord he would not then detain the House.

Mr. Jones

said, he disapproved of the Ministerial plan on religious grounds.

Petitions to be printed.

Lord Althorp

moved the Order of the Day for the House to resolve itself into a Committee of Supply.

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