HC Deb 24 April 1855 vol 137 cc1731-9

said, he would now beg to move, in accordance with the notice he had given, that the House resolve itself into a Committee to consider such clauses of the Act of Uniformity of 1662, as impose religious tests. If the Resolution were adopted, he would introduce a measure to repeal that portion of the Act of Uniformity, by which it was directed that the schoolmaster of public schools should take the affirmation prescribed by the Act of Uniformity. One clause of the Act required every public schoolmaster to sign his conformity to the Church of England, and the result of which was, that they had made every grammar school in the country a Church of England institution, The schoolmasters consequently considered themselves entitled to make all the boys, without exception, learn the Catechism of the Church of England, and attend its service on Sunday. That was, of course, quite agreeable to the members of the Establishment, but was very hard on those boys who happened to be the sons of Dissenting parents, and who were obliged to attend a service in which their parents could not conscientiously join. To remedy the evil he was prepared to adopt the clause proposed by the right hon. Member for Droitwich (Sir J. Pakington) in his Education Bill, by which it was declared that he would not require any child to receive religious instruction to which the parents objected. The question was one that called for the interference of Parliament, and he had the authority of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge for saying that an alteration in the tests at present imposed was highly necessary. One of the first duties of a Representative of the people was to take care that the religious scruples of the people were attended to; and he believed that great advantage would be derived from the appointment of a Committee to consider the subject. One of the earliest reformers in this respect was Lord Bacon; but since the time of Lord Bacon 300 years had passed away, and very little alteration had been effected in the meantime. In the rules of the colleges themselves, which had become national institutions, there were many objectionable religious tests. Those could not be a better example of the abuses and malpractices prevailing in the Universities than that of Trinity College, Dublin, the fellows of which had so long been rigidly bent on maintaining the sacramental test. An attempt was made in the Irish Parliament to open that institution in 1793 which was unsuccessful, in spite of the excitement caused by the case of Hearne, who was deprived of a scholarship of the value of 80l., because he refused to take the sacrament according to the rite of the Church of England, being a Roman Catholic. Again, in Trinity College, Cambridge, when a gentleman was appointed to a fellowship, he was obliged to take an oath that he would make theology the end of his studies, and that after the expiration of seven years he would either take holy orders or surrender his fellowship. Many able men professing the Roman Catholic religion, declined to take the Sacrament, and were consequently deprived of their scholarships. He contended that an alteration in the law was called for, and that the House of Commons was the proper body to originate a change. In 1828 the noble Lord the Secretary of State for the Colonies (Lord J. Russell), brought forward a Bill for the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts. Those Acts were abolished with regard to the magistracy and other individuals, but with regard to the colleges no change was made, and a separate measure was now required to effect an alteration. In most of the grammar schools throughout the kingdom the trustees, in appointing a master, were confined to the election of a graduate from the Universities of Oxford or Cambridge, graduates of the other Universities being excluded; but he believed that an institution which selected the best men of the day from all parts of the country was the most likely to advance the interests of the people. We were now arrived at a critical period in the history of the country, when men of talent and ability were more needed than in former times. He called on the House, therefore, to sanction the attempt he now made to set free the educational system of the country, and to affirm the preliminary Resolution he should now lay before them, a Bill founded on which would much tend to the improvement of our educational system.


seconded the Resolution, feeling, he said, it an honour to be identified with the Dissenters of England in one of the most important movements in the cause of civil and religious liberty which had taken place for the last 200 years.

Motion made, and Question proposed— That this house will resolve itself into a Committee, to consider such Clauses of the Act of Uniformity of 1662, as impose religious tests, limiting the advantages of academical, or grammar, or free school education; and so much of any Regulations of National Institutions, either in England or Ireland, as impose religious tests as conditions or qualifications for any advantages connected with Education, in the English or Irish Universities or Public Schools.


Sir, I waited before making any observations upon the proposal of my hon. Friend the Member for North Lancashire (Mr. Heywood), because I considered that hon. Gentlemen who are connected with some of those institutions to which the Motion refers might wish to express their sentiments on their behalf to the House. I have, however, no difficulty in at once stating the course which it is my intention to pursue respecting it. The Motion of my hon. Friend seems to me to divide itself into two very distinct and different portions. The first part of the Resolution relates to the consideration of those portions of the Act of Uniformity winch require religious tests from schoolmasters and tutors in private families—from persons, in short, from whom generally no religious tests have for a long period been required, and which imposed very severe penalties upon those who neglected to comply with the enactments. The second part of the Resolution, if I properly understand its purport, would appear to me to tend to disturb the settlement which was made last year with regard to the University of Oxford. Now, with regard to the first part of my hon. Friend's Resolution, so far as he has explained it and as I comprehend it, I shall have no sort of difficulty in going along with him. I think these obsolete enactments, which have long ceased to be of any practical effect, and which are no longer in accordance with the spirit of the times, may, with great advantage, be swept away from the Statute Book. With regard to the second part of the proposal, I think it would not be right for Parliament to interfere and disturb the settlement of last year, at ail events until we have had some practical experience of the working of that measure. I shall not, therefore, be disposed to go along with my hon. Friend with respect to that part of his Resolution, so far as I understand it. If my hon. Friend should not consent to withhold the doubtful part of his Resolution, and to propose only the first clause, yet, as agreeing with him to some extent, I shall not object to the House going into Committee. I must, however, beg my hon. Friend and the House clearly to understand that, in doing so, it is with the full reservation that I have entire liberty to deal with my hon. Friend's Bill when it is brought in, according to the opinion I may form of the provisions which it contains. I shall be prepared to concur in such portions of my hon. Friend's Bill as will sweep away the old and obsolete enactments to which he has referred, but I shall not be disposed to assent to such portions of the measure as would disturb the arrangement of last year. There may be other points in the Bill which are not included in the Resolution of my hon. Friend, and with regard to them I beg to reserve to myself perfect freedom to consider them when they are explained and developed. I hope, therefore, my hon. Friend will understand, if he persists in leaving his Motion in its present form, that in acquiescing in it I am by no means committed to the full extent of his proposal, but for myself and for Her Majesty's Government I shall be at perfect liberty to object to any portion of the arrangement he suggests, which upon full consideration we may think it is not desirable or expedient to adopt.


said, the declaration which his noble Friend had just made was, it appeared to him, quite fair and satisfactory, but he went beyond his noble Friend in this respect, that he was disposed to urge upon his hon. Friend the Member for North Lancashire, the expediency of amending his Motion forthwith, because he thought it was neither convenient nor satisfactory that the House should go into Committee upon a matter affecting the Act of Uniformity, not on the proposition of the Government, but upon that of a private Member, in order to allow a Bill to be brought in and read a first and second time, with the view of cutting it down to comparatively insignificant proportions in Committee. He felt bound to give notice distinctly to his hon. Friend the Member for North Lancashire that, so far as the University of Oxford was concerned, after the arrangement of last year, he (Mr. Gladstone) would think it his duty, without the smallest compunction or hesitation, to resist any attempt to interfere with the settlement then made by Parliament. He considered, however, that the omission of the latter part of the Motion would not entirely and satisfactorily attain the object of his noble Friend at the head of the Government, for a clause in the Act of Uniformity, which was in fact a fundamental part of the settlement of last year, limited college offices to members of the Church of England. He thought that any alteration of important Acts of Parliament, which might unsettle the condition of ancient institutions, was a matter of very serious consideration, and that it was most inexpedient and unadvisable that the discussion of such subjects should be renewed year after year. No doubt it appeared a very slight thing to his hon. Friend the Member for North Lancashire to cut out of the Statute Book any measures which were opposed to his views of the manner in which these venerable institutions should be regulated. He (Mr. Gladstone) thought, however, that in the case of institutions so ancient, and possessing so many rights of a complex character, a strong case was requisite to justify the interference of Parliament, and it was especially desirable that such interference should be rare. He considered that his opinion would be borne out by those who recollected that it cost the House the labour of half a Session only last year, to pass a Bill for the reform of the University of Oxford. He considered that in a matter of this kind, those who desired to attain reasonable objects should proceed cautiously and step by step. Commissions had been appointed to inquire, time after time, into the old Universities of the country; they had made their reports; and Parliament had addressed itself with laudable care to the object of applying such parts of their reports as it approved to the case of the University of Oxford. It appeared to him that the recommendation given by his noble Friend at the head of the Government on a former occasion was very wise and sound—that to the Universities all minor establishments for the promotion of education should be made to conform. The system introduced by the Act of last year could not have been established, had not the University, in pursuance of clauses contained in the Act, applied itself with great good faith to carrying into effect the intentions of Parliament, by framing regulations for its better government and discipline. He considered, therefore, that it would be but an ill return for the disposition so dutifully manifested by the University, if, before an opportunity had been afforded to the University authorities of carrying any of the new arrangements into effect, they interfered with a fresh set of Parliamentary stipulations, and threw into confusion the regulations which had already been devised at Oxford. The Universities must be the key to the system of instruction in the public schools; and as Parliament had already passed a Bill with respect to Oxford, as a Bill relating to the University of Cambridge was now before the other House, and as he took it for granted that these measures would be followed by one affecting the University of Dublin, he would call upon them first to fix, by a Vote of that House, the principles applicable to the Universities, and then to consider the principles applicable to the public and grammar schools of the country.


said, he thought the most important portion of the Motion of the hon. Member (Mr. Heywood) referred to the endowed grammar and public schools, and that the House ought not, without careful and mature consideration, to proceed to legislate upon a subject of so much importance. The hon. Gentleman must be aware that, in order to open these schools to Dissenters, the trusts of the endowments would have to be, not qualified or altered merely, but entirely subverted. He therefore asked whether, on the present occasion, the House would sanction a proposal which must necessarily have so gigantic an effect? He trusted the hon. Gentleman would listen to the advice which had been tendered to him, and would consent to alter the terms of his Motion in such a manner as would have the effect of removing those merely obsolete enactments to which the noble Lord at the head of Her Majesty's Government had referred.


said, he had no objection to modify his Motion. The most important and urgent cases were not at Oxford, but at Trinity College, Dublin. For the scholarships there sacramental tests were required, when they were abolished everywhere else, If it would meet the wish of the House, therefore, he would alter the Motion by inserting Trinity College by name, as that was the most important case.


said, he considered that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford (Mr. Gladstone) was a satisfactory answer to the speech of the noble Lord (Viscount Palmerston) and afforded the strongest reasons for the rejection of the Motion altogether, because the Motion that the House should go into Committee in order to find out what was the meaning of the hon. Member (Mr. Heywood) was perfectly absurd, and was a most unjustifiable task to be imposed on them. The hon. Gentleman, however, said that he was willing to qualify his Motion provided he were permitted to do something with the University of Dublin. Now, it was a most remarkable fact that that University was the most liberal of any of the Universities of the United Kingdom, and there was extant a speech of Mr. Grattan, which was spoken in 1794, in which that eminent man pronounced a panegyric on the Dublin University as being the most liberal in Europe, because it had permitted the education of Dissenters within its walls fully a century before any other University. He visited the University last week, when he saw a list of scholarships for election, and he asked whether they were to be open to all classes of Her Majesty's subjects, and the answer was that they were. But what did the hon. Member propose? He proposed that scholarships also should be open to Dissenters; but he did not yet go so far as fellowships. Now, he (Mr. Whiteside) admitted that the Dissenters in Ireland were a very respectable body of men; their language was more moderate than that used by the Dissenters of England—and in which he thought they showed their good sense; but the proposition, that the doubts raised as to the meaning of the hon. Member's Motion should be solved by fastening on the unfortunate University of Dublin and seizing upon its scholarships was one which he did not think even the noble Lord himself would assent to.


said, that he was wiling further to alter his Motion by omitting the latter section, and stopping at the words "religious test." It would then read thus— That this House will resolve itself into a Committee to consider such clauses of the Act of Uniformity of 1662 as impose religious tests.


said, he thought the hon. Gentleman was committing a mistake in supposing that the noble Lord at the head of the Government had actually assented to the Motion in the qualified terms in which he had proposed to submit it to the House. It was quite clear that the noble Lord did not know what were the intentions and objects of the hon. Gentleman. It was obvious that they were not those indicated by the noble Lord. He (Mr. Disraeli) thought it would be extremely unwise for the House of Commons to go into Committee on a Statute of not less importance than the Act of Uniformity, when absolutely the hon. Member who made that proposal had not indicated to the House in precise language what was his object, and when the First Minister of the Crown, who had sanctioned the Motion, had described it in a manner which proved that he was unacquainted with the intention of its proposer.


said, he was very sorry that he had been misunderstood. The object he had in view was that boys, not merely belonging to the Church of England, but to other denominations, should be allowed to partake of the advantages of academical or grammar or free school education, without having religious tests forced upon them of a Church to which they did not belong.


said, that although but a humble Member of the House, he thought it rather an insult upon his own common sense if he were called upon to vote upon a Motion such as this before it had been explained by its proposer what was the object of it. Upon the suggestion of the noble Lord (Vscount Palmerston), indeed, some alteration had been made in the Motion; but it appeared to him that that alteration was anything but satisfactory. The subject to which it referred was one of the most important with which that House could have to deal, and it appeared to him that the best course the hon. Gentleman could pursue would be to withdraw the Motion, and bring it on again at a future day, when he might be able to explain to the House what he really did mean by his Motion.


said, he considered that the Motion would be rendered only the more objectionable by the alteration the hon. Gentleman proposed. It was objectionable enough as it stood originally; but it would be still more so when amended in the manner suggested. Not only would it be useless, but positively mischievous, for the House to go into Committee upon a Resolution framed in such general terms; and if the hon. Gentleman did not withdraw his Motion, he would recommend that it should be met with a direct negative and ejected altogether.


said, it appeared to him the hon. Gentleman had done himself injustice in not folly explaining what it was he wished to submit to the Committee. The hon. Gentleman did not read the whole sentence, and by not doing so he seemed to propose that the House should inquire generally into the effect of the Act of 1662 which imposed religious tests. That no doubt would be a very wide inquiry indeed; but that evidently was not what the hon. Gentleman meant. He begged to be permitted to read the first part of the hon. Gentleman's Resolution— That this House will resolve itself into a Committee to consider such Clauses of the Act of Uniformity of 1662 as impose religious tests, limiting the advantages of academical or grammar or free school education. This was what he believed the hon. Gentleman meant to propose to the House. He should like the hon. Gentleman to say whether he did not mean that his amended Motion should read on in the following way—That this House will resolve itself into a Committee, to consider such clauses of the Act of Uniformity of 1662 as impose religious tests, limiting the advantages of academical or grammar or free school education?


said, he wished to put the Motion in the shape most satisfactory to the House, and was ready to adopt the suggestion of the learned Serjeant. With that view he would beg to be allowed to withdraw the original Motion.

Question put, and negatived.