HC Deb 22 July 1853 vol 129 cc653-6

said, the question of which he had given notice relative to national education in Ireland, required one or two sentences to make it intelligible. It was well known that that system was a system of united secular instruction, together with separate religious instruction; but in order to supply a deficiency which was felt to exist in a system of that kind, a rule was framed, by which, in addition to that theological and that secular teaching, a joint instruction was given, partly of a moral and partly of a religious character, to all the children in the school. In order to guard against any possible abuse, it was provided that the works used for that joint instruction should be subject to the approbation of the Board, which was composed of some of the highest authorities, both Protestant and Roman Catholic. A further security was also provided against any possible encroachment upon individual liberty of conscience, by the framing of a rule—the eighth—as to the construction of which some ambiguity existed, and which had been interpreted in different ways. It was understood by some persons that in the event of the parents of a child objecting to his receiving instruction from a particular book, that child should not be compelled to receive such instruction. By others it was construed to mean that if the parents of any single child objected to its being taught from a particular book, and objected to that book being used at the time of joint instruction, that book should, on the remonstrance of that one parent, be disused. Some decision had recently been arrived at, but of the exact nature of that decision no satisfactory information had been afforded, and statements the most contradictory had been made by persons professing to speak on the highest authority. He wished to ask whether the rule to which be had referred had been rescinded or affirmed; if affirmed, what interpretation had been put upon it; if rescinded, what regulation had been substituted for it? He also wished to know whether the statement was true, that in consequence of any step which had been taken by the Commissioners, Archbishop Whately had tendered his resignation at the Board?


said, the Commissioners had carefully considered the matter, and come to a decision upon it. He was not at present in a position to state the precise alteration which had been made in the rules by the Commissioners, and he confessed that, after reading the minutes as carefully as he could, and listening to parties upon either side, he was not surprised that different opinions should have been expressed in the other House on the subject, and that different conclusions should have been arrived at by noble Lords. The exact state of the case would be unintelligible without a long statement, and that statement he could not make until he had an opportunity of laying the decision of the Commissioners upon the table of the House. He, therefore, thought it would be better for the House to suspend its judgment until the papers were produced. With respect, however, to the nature of the education given under the National system in Ireland, there could be no doubt it was a separate religious and combined literary education. As the noble Lord had truly stated, it was intended that it should partake also of a moral and religious character, for he found it stated in a letter published by Lord Stanley many years ago, that, in selecting books for the National schools, the principle upon which the Commissioners proceeded was, not only to choose such books as inculcated sound moral principles, but also to introduce into the schools books containing the most important parts of sacred history, the precepts of morality comprised in the Scriptures, and the examples by Which those precepts were illustrated and enforced. It appeared, however, that a great difficulty immediately arose, and that it was found quite impracticable to carry out the system proposed. At the same time there could be no doubt it was the wish of everybody acquainted with the subject of education, especially in Ireland, that, if at all practicable, a combined religious and moral education should be continued in that country. How far the recent alteration in the rules would effect that object, he could not at present undertake to say, and he hoped the House would suspend its judgment upon the subject until it had possession of the decision at which the Commissioners had arrived. It was quite clear, however, that neither the Commissioners nor any other extraneous authority could enforce compliance with a combined system of religious and moral education, where the parties chiefly interested harboured feelings of jealousy and dislike towards each other, and that the success of any system must mainly depend upon the exhibition of good temper, and the observance of mutual forbearance. With respect to the question as to whether Archbishop Whately had resigned or not, he regretted that, as the noble Lord had not stated specifically what his question was, he had not been able to make inquiries in the course of that day; but up to yesterday he certainly had not heard that the Archbishop had resigned, or had communicated to the Lord Lieutenant any intention to resign.


said, that the statements of the right hon. Baronet had embarrassed him even more than the debate in the other House. He understood that the noble Earl at the head of the Government had distinctly stated what was the ultimatum arrived at by the Commissioners. The statement of the noble Earl was to the effect that, whereas formerly the rule went to exclude the book and not to exempt the child, the alteration now made was to exempt the child and not exclude the book. The noble Earl had also stated, what he believed was correct, that the Board had expunged from their list of school books two publications of the Archbishop of Dublin, which had previously been used with their sanction, and, indeed, by their express order, in the National schools. He held in his hand one of the books which had been so expunged—that entitled Scripture Lessons—and he had no hesitation in saying that a more admirable or a more useful book could not be submitted to the youth of Ireland. Yet the Board had struck it out of their list as unfit for either Protestants or Roman Catholics, though it had been published by themselves, and furnished to their schools for a number of years. If Parliament was to have any control over these Commissioners, and if such books were to be expunged as fit neither for Protestants nor Roman Catholics, he thought the House would be to blame if it did not take the matter up, and have a full discussion upon it at the earliest convenient moment.