HC Deb 07 May 1832 vol 12 cc735-41
Colonel Lindsay

presented a Petition from the provincial Synod of Fife, against the Ministerial Plan of Education in Ireland. The hon. Member said, that this petition was entitled to the most serious attention of the House, as it was signed by seventy-three clergymen of the Established Church of Scotland, and by as many Elders; and they prayed that no legislative enactment might pass, or that no grant should be given, for the purpose of promoting any education in Ireland which was not founded upon the Bible. It was but rarely that the clergy of Scotland interfered in political subjects, and the House might therefore, well suppose that nothing but a sense of duty could bring them forward on this occasion. He had great satisfaction in presenting this petition which completely coincided with his own opinions. He did not support this petition from any feeling of intolerance, which neither he nor the clergy had ever entertained. He was for giving the fullest toleration, but there was a great difference between toleration and encouragement. He could not avoid saying that the constitution of the Irish Board was such as to excite the greatest jealousy amongst the clergy of Scotland, and he must say that he partook of such jealousy. The Board was composed of persons of different sects, and these had an interest in preventing the use of any books which might be inconsistent with their respective creed; now this was a power which certainly ought not to have been granted, particularly to Roman Catholics. He knew it was desirable to give a literary and moral education to the Irish, but then he could not allow any system in which morality was separated from religion, which was the true basis of all morality. This, however, was proposed by the Government, who were to exclude the Bible from schools during four days of the week, and the House by sanctioning the plan of Government, were effectually giving their aid to the separation of religion from morality. He believed the fact to be, that the Government had found it convenient to concede to the Roman Catholics, and this was an additional cause for jealousy. There had been already too many concessions. They had passed the Catholic Relief Bill. They had passed the Test and Corporation Acts; they now were proceeding to the extinction of tithes, a word which as soon as it was announced, rung from one quarter of the country to the other; and the extinction was determined upon before any measure for the relief of the Irish clergy had been passed. He was sure that the proposed system would have the worst effect, and he was sorry that it had ever been adopted, as he felt satisfied it would be a most disastrous blow to the Protestant education in Ireland.

Mr. Robert Dundas

said, he had been called upon to support the prayer of this petition, and he had great pleasure in doing so, as he could bear testimony to the respectability and high intelligence of the petitioners. The clergymen who signed that petition were men of great talents, and great moral worth, and were entitled to have their opinions attentively weighed by the House. He should not then enter more fully into this subject, but should merely say that the opinions of the petitioners were those of the great majority of the clergymen of the Established Church of Scotland. He still hoped that Government would adopt some plan less objectionable with respect to education in Ireland.

Mr. Hume

had not intended to have said a word, but he felt called upon to give a decided contradiction to the assertion that the majority of the Church of Scotland were opposed to the Government plan of education. He could take upon himself to say that such was not the case: and in confirmation of his opinion he would merely refer to the only open meeting which had been held in Scotland on the subject. At the meeting in Glasgow there was a majority of five to one against the opposers of the Government plan of education; and he was sure a similar result would await any like public attempt in Scotland. This was a case in which he thought the clergy of Scotland ought to remain neuter; or, if they did interfere at all, it ought not to be to promote any monopoly of education. The Catholics of Ireland had as good a right to education as the Protestants of England, or the Presbyterians of Scotland; and they had also as good a right to be educated in their own way.

Mr. James E. Gordon

supported this petition, which was sanctioned by the signatures of seventy-five clergymen of the Church of Scotland, and as many lay elders. It was a petition which appealed to the heart of every Scotch Member—it recalled to their remembrance that period in the history of their country of which they might well be proud—it reminded them of the struggles made by their ancestors in support of their religion, and was a question which embodied everything which was good and great as attached to the name of Scotchman. The hon. Gentleman who presented this petition said, that the clergy of the Church of Scotland seldom interfered with temporal affairs; but he would impress it on the consideration of the House that this was not such a question—it was one embodying spiritual matters, on which it was their duty, as it was their inclination, to come forward and express an opinion. With respect to what had fallen from the hon. member for Middlesex, was the House to understand, that the knowledge of the clergy of the Church of Scotland, on the subject of education, was not to be put in competition with that possessed by members of Political Unions, who thrust themselves forward and said that they were the only judges on the subject of education, and that, on this, the clergy knew nothing? As he had several petitions, of a similar tenor to the one before the House, to be presented at a future day, he would, for the present, refrain from saying more on this subject.

Mr. O'Connell

said, the hon. Members who supported the petition had taken upon themselves to eulogize the talents and learning of the clerical personages who signed the petition, but these hon. Members should recollect that there were also great talents and learning amongst the respectable body alluded to by his hon. friend, the member for Middlesex. At the head of that meeting was Sir Daniel Sandford, the Greek professor of the University of Glasgow. A more powerful and rational speech than that of Sir Daniel Sandford's never was delivered. What a contrast did it form to the vulgar bigotry which marked the lucubrations of those who opposed the Government plan of education! The hon. Member (Mr. James E. Gordon), in the plenitude of his kindness, had talked of his disposition to extend toleration to the Catholics of Ireland. She did not want the toleration of the hon. Member. The pride of the Irish Catholics was, to stand upon a level with all other denominations of Christians in the empire, and neither to seek nor require toleration from any of them. The petition which had been presented was a most bigotted and intolerant production. All the meetings which had been held, and the speeches which were delivered, against the Irish Board of Education, were a tissue of the most gross and disgusting cant and hypocrisy. He would cast no imputation on hon. Members, but on every occasion, whenever the subject was introduced, either in that House or out of it, he would denounce this as a factious and bigotted opposition. An honorable Member stated, that the Catholics dictated to the New Board of Education; but only two Catholics belonged to that Board; and by what species of logic would the hon. Member undertake to prove that two persons could dictate to seven? The present plan of education was not framed by Catholics. It was a measure brought forward by the Government on their own responsibility, and it was supported by the Catholics because they considered it a good one. The Catholics were anxious that Protestant and Catholic children should be educated together, but they did not desire to force any system of education on the Protestants of Ireland. An allusion had been made to Emancipation. It had been asserted that the measure effected no good in Ireland. He would tell the hon. Member that Emancipation had been productive of the most salutary results. Parties who had been opposed to each other were now united in the closest bonds of amity, and the only class of persons who endeavoured to keep up dissensions were those who acted from the basest and most interested motives. The Government plan of education proposed to devote two days in the week to religious instruction, and four to literary instruction: it did not interfere with any schools but those which were carried on under their direction. Each party would be instructed by clergymen of their own persuasion, in separate apartments; and all the books employed in the schools were to be selected and arranged by the Managing Board. Many of the objections to this plan came with a very bad grace from those who had supported the Kildare-street Society, which had gone so far as to allow the use of Catholic versions of the Scriptures. Hitherto religion had been prostituted in Ireland, under the plea of supporting a peculiar system of education. What state of society must that be, in which it was necessary for the landlord to consult his clergyman as to what schools he had better counsel his tenant to send his children? If any Protestant could prove that he had ever been interfered with as to the education of his children, he would join him most sincerely in trying to remove so intolerable a nuisance; and he demanded the same freedom from interference for the Catholics of Ireland. The present opposition was resorted to because the measure had been brought forward by a Reforming Government. If hon. Members who declaimed so loudly in favour of liberty of conscience—if they would now take up a case which had been alluded to before in that House, but which had never been followed up—he alluded to the case of two officers belonging to the British service in the island of Malta, who had been dismissed from the army because they refused, from conscientious motives, to bow before the procession of the sacrament in that island: if that case was brought forward, he pledged himself that it should have his support.

Sir Robert Inglis

said, be had once brought this very subject forward, and he was supported by the hon. and learned Member—a circumstance which that hon. and learned Member had forgotten. The language of that hon. Member was scarcely Parliamentary, and such as he would not have addressed to any body of gentlemen out of the House, in speaking of canting hypocrisy.

Mr. O'Connell

observed, that he alluded to the canting hypocrisy out of the House.

Sir Robert Inglis

would leave the hon. Member to settle that with the parties to whom he had alluded, as he best could; but it could not be supposed those Members who advocated petitions like the present could be made answerable for all that parties said out of the House. Did the hon Member mean that the numerous petitions presented against the measure within the last few months, were to be designated as founded on the rankest hypocrisy and cant? It was most surprising to hear hon. Gentlemen say, that these seventy clergymen who had affixed their names to this petition had been influenced by feelings of bigotry. He could not see how, in candour, or according to parliamentary usages, this charge could be brought against those, who were opposed to the present plan of education in Ireland. The supporters of it were indeed equally liable to such charges, and to have motives imputed to them. It was painful to those who held the opinion of these seventy clergymen, to hear the observations of the hon. members for Middlesex and Kerry, and he could not let them pass without making one or two observations in reply. It was a sense of duty alone which induced these rev. gentlemen to petition the House, and it was highly improper to impute personal motives to them. The hon. member for Kerry said, that the Emancipation Bill had produced conciliation between Protestants and Catholics. But the party in Ireland, which called out so loudly for conciliation, never would be satisfied until all the Protestants were driven from that country. Then, indeed, the population might be of one heart and mind, ubi solitudinem facis—then only could the hon. Member talk of general conciliation.

Mr. Cutlar Fergusson

said, from his knowledge of the character of the clergy of the Church of Scotland, he had no doubt of the respectability of the petitioners; he would, however, make one observation on what fell from the hon. member for Edinburgh. The hon. Gentleman stated, that there was an universal feeling against this system of education among the clergy of Scotland. This he denied. Many clergymen were, doubtless, opposed to it, but the majority were not, and many of the most respectable and learned members of that body were divided in their approbation of it. An hon. friend of his had a petition, similar to the one now before the House, to present from the Synod of Galloway. He (Mr. Cutlar Fergusson) had received a letter from a clergyman in that district, in, forming him that the petition was only carried by the casting voice of the moderator. His informant was the rev. Mr. Jeffries, and he stated that he proposed an amendment to the petition, which was lost by one only. This, at least, showed, that the feeling was not universal against the system. It was stated, that the plan of Government excluded the use of the Scriptures. Instead of this, the Protestant children had the use of the whole of the Scriptures for two days, and for the remainder of the week they used, in common with the Catholic children, select extracts from the Scriptures, approved by the clergy of both creeds. It appeared to him that, if there was any objection to this plan, it was the circumstance of making the Scriptures almost a common school-book. This was not calculated to increase a reverence for the Bible in the minds of the children.

Petition to be printed.