HC Deb 19 March 1832 vol 11 cc402-6
Mr. Anthony Lefroy

said, he had four important petitions to present, they proceeded from the Archbishop of Tuam and the clergy of the diocese of Ardagh; the Archbishop, and clergy of the diocese of Tuam; the Bishop and Protestant clergy of the diocese of Elphin; and from the clergymen and Protestant inhabitants of Drumlish, in the county of Longford. He had hitherto abstained from occupying the time of the House when the new system of Irish education had been discussed, not from any lute warmness on the subject, or that he admitted that a sound moral education could be given on any other foundation than the unmutilated Word of God, but, because on these occasions he found there were many anxious to address the House who could do so with more effect than himself. However, when he considered the rank, learning, and situation of the individuals who had intrusted the present petitions to his care, he felt it his peculiar duty to call the attention of the House to them, as affording a most satisfactory contradiction to the statement that the clergy and Protestants of Ireland were not opposed to the proposed plan of national education. He was also anxious to take the first opportunity of making a few observations which, in compliance with the wish of the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he had postponed from the night his learned friend, the Member for Dublin, presented the most important petition that had yet come from Ireland on this subject. On that occasion a noble Lord, the member for Liverpool, in supporting these petitions, observed that his chief objection to the Kildare-street Society was, that it had compromised too much. He (Mr. Lefroy) was disposed to agree, at present, in the views of the noble Lord, as by the new system of his Majesty's Government, the Roman Catholics were so much enslaved and brought under the power of their priests, that they could not judge for themselves. Under such altered circumstances he was of opinion that a consistent Protestant was bound to support whatever plan was most effectual for direct proselytism, and rescuing his countrymen from the bondage and blindness in which they were held by their priesthood, who esteemed no sin more mortal than to inquire into the principles which they inculcated. At the same time, as one who had always supported the Kildare-street Society, so long as it re- ceived a grant from Government, on the conditions that all educated there should have access to the entire Word of God, and thus possess the means of judging for themselves on topics involving their hopes for time and eternity, and as on these grounds he should continue to do so, he felt it due to is own consistency, as well as to that Society, to explain the erroneous views of the noble Lord respecting the means of usefulness which that Society possessed, and which were probably produced by the statement of the Solicitor General for Ireland on a former night. That learned Gentleman stated, that the rules of the Society were such as to entitle it to this description—"that it kept the word of promise to the ear, but broke it to the hope;" and be proceeded to prove the truth of this by stating, that the rules did not permit such explanation even as was necessary for understanding the plain meaning of the passages of Scripture, nor were the children permitted to commit portions of the Scriptures to memory. He would now beg permission of the House to read the fundamental rules of the Society on these points, which, they had ever held, and faithfully acted on:— That, by the Sacred Scriptures the Committee mean such books, and such only, as both Protestants and Roman Catholics unite in believing to have been dictated by the Holy Spirit; and whilst the Committee uphold the fundamental principle, that these Scriptures shall be read in their schools, without note or comment, by all the scholars who may have attained a suitable proficiency in reading, they do not mean thereby to prevent, but, on the contrary, recommend that such explanations shall be given to the children during school-hours as may convey to their minds the plain meaning of the passages of Scripture read by them, and introduce them to an extensive acquaintance with the Bible; so far as those objects can be attained by explanations not inculcating any peculiar religious opinions, or introducing points of controversy. That it is perfectly consistent with the principles of the Society that the children should be examined in the schools as to their acquaintance with the passages of Scripture previously read by them; provided such examination be carried on so as to avoid inculcating thereby peculiar religious opinions, or introducing points of controversy; and such examinations have been held in several schools in connexion with the Society. That, if the managers of schools shall think it useful that the children shall commit to memory portions of the Scriptures, such a practice may be adopted in perfect accordance with the principles of the Society; and has frequently been pursued in their Schools with the approbation of the Committee. He hoped that the House were now convinced how mistaken the learned Gentleman had been in his exposition of the rules and practice of the Kildare-street Society. He would next advert to the question put by his hon. friend, the member for the University of Oxford, to the Solicitor General for Ireland. His hon. friend asked the learned Gentleman, if a child or master brought the Bible into a school supported on the new plan during school-hours, would not that child or teacher be considered guilty of a fault, and to have transgressed the rules? He regretted that the Solicitor General was not on that occasion very explicit, because he should have supposed, that when so fair and important a question emanated from a quarter where neither national nor party prejudices could have had influence, his Majesty's Government would, if possible, have gladly availed themselves of the opportunity to rescue their plan from misconception, and from those misrepresentations of which they had so much complained. The Solicitor General having declined giving any reply to that question, it was left to mere inference whether the introduction of the Bible was or was not a fault. If the Solicitor General would admit it to be a fault, let the Protestants of Ireland be informed, and let the British nation hear that public money was to be raised for supporting a national institution, where the introduction of the Bible (that book which our gracious Sovereign George 3rd wished to see in every cottage in his dominions—that hook which was the birthright of every British-born subject,) amounted to a "crime." If the Solicitor General denied that it was a fault, he must say, that the learned Gentleman and the Chief Secretary for Ireland were at variance in their views on the subject, because that right hon. Gentleman, in his letter to the Duke of Leinster, alluding to the Kildare-street Society, said:— Shortly after its institution, although the Society prospered and extended its operations, under the fostering care of the Legislature, this vital defect began to be noticed—(mark what was this vital defect as explained before!)—the indiscriminate reading of the Holy Scriptures without note or comment. It was vain any longer to assert, that the people of Ireland would accept this system of education from his Majesty's Government. The opinion of thousands and thousands of Protestants had been expressed against it, the opinions of the clergy, the Bishops, and at their head the most enlightened, respected, and venerable Primate, were recorded, declaring that they would not suffer the functions of the Established Church to be superseded, and national education to be made subservient to a Popish priesthood. The resolutions of the Synod of Ulster were also against it, supported by a noble Lord, who professed himself to be a friend and well-wisher of the Government on every other matter, but he declared that be was not a friend of this system; nay, further, that it carried with it the seed of its own annihilation. Such an opinion was of no small consequence, if the constituency represented by that noble Lord was considered. There could be no doubt that when the noble Lord differed from his Majesty's Government in this alone "their favourite scheme," he must be convinced that his doing so would meet with the approbation, not merely of the petitioners, but also of the great body of Protestants whom he represented. His hon. and learned friend, on presenting his petitions on Friday night, stated, that none of the clergy of the Established Church had expressed their approbation of the new system, except Dr. Sadler. He desired not to allude more to that reverend gentleman than to assure the House that his approval of it would not recommend it much to the Protestants of Ireland; they well knew that the reverend gentleman, from motives of expediency, had, on a former occasion, deserted an important post he then held under the Bible Society, and within a short period this gentleman was the medium of communication between the new Board and the Mendicity Society, when several leading members of that institution, who were against the mutilation of the Scriptures, opposed the bringing up of the report, as it alluded to receiving a grant from the new Board. It was then intimated to that institution, through' the reverend gentleman, that the Board would not insist upon a strict adherence to its rules as to the use of Scripture extracts. Then the Mendicity Institution said, "We will take your money, but not your plan of education." To such a man as a member of the new Board, let it not be supposed that the Protestants would yield the inquisitorial power of judging for them, as set forth in another part of the right hon. Secretary's letter, where it stated:— The Board will exercise the most entire control over all hooks to be used in the schools, whether in the combined, moral, and literary, or separate religious instruction. None to be employed in the first, except under the sanction of the Board, nor in the latter, but with the approbation of those members of the Board who are of the same religious persuasion with those for whose use they are intended. He would only add further, that it appeared that the present Commission had not succeeded better than any former one in giving universal satisfaction; and if his Majesty's Government had not courage to support an institution, which, without paralyzing or interfering with peculiar religious opinions left to all the free exercise of their conscience and judgment; he conjured them to withdraw altogether grants from Ireland, and not suffer British money to be polluted by attempting to prop up with it so anti-Protestant and so anti-Christian a system as the one proposed.

Colonel Rochfort

said, he had been requested to support the prayer of the petitioners, and he did so with great pleasure.

Petitions to be printed.

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