HC Deb 21 July 1856 vol 143 cc1172-5

On the Question that the Lords' Amendments to this Bill be considered,

THE LORD ADVOCATE moved that Clauses 12 and 14, imposing a test on schoolmasters, be left out of the Bill.


said, he did not quite understand the Motion which had been made, but he supposed the object was to reinstate the two clauses which were struck out by the House of Lords. He was sorry that the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate thought fit to disagree with the Lords' Amendments. The Bill was intended to improve the system of education in Scotland, by increasing the salaries of the masters and providing for inspection, &c. So far, everybody was in favour of the measure, but the clauses which had been struck out proposed to sever the connection of the schools with the Church of Scotland. Now, he was surprised that this severance should be attempted, because the whole system of education in Scotland had always been looked up to as worthy of imitation, and they were told the same creed was taught by all denominations in that country. The Free Church party, he was informed, exacted what was called a test from their own professors and schoolmasters, and he could not understand on what ground the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate contended that the masters of the parochial schools should not come under some sort of test.


said, he greatly deplored the course which had been taken in another place on this Bill; and he called upon the House to persist in the principle which they had hitherto maintained on this subject. He thought that when the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Henley) came to inquire a little more into the question, he would considerably modify his views. It was just because the people of Scotland nearly all held substantially the same creed, as the right hon. Gentleman had observed, that this Bill was necessary. The Presbyterians of Scotland, consisting of nine-tenths of the community, were taught the same catechism and held the same faith, and that being the case it was thought undesirable that at least one-half of the people of Scotland should be ineligible as masters of the national schools. The Bill was accordingly brought in to improve and amend the system of education, and to provide that that exclusion should no longer exist. It was not proposed to sever the connection between the Established Church and the schools. The heritors and ministers were to have the power of electing the schoolmasters left in their hands, but it provided that their choice should not be restricted to one denomination. That was the whole question. The House had affirmed the principle over and over again, and by a majority of two to one they sent the Bill, with that provision, to the other House. It had been said in another place that the majority in that House was unworthy of consideration, because it consisted chiefly of the borough Members of Scotland who had no interest in the matter; but he contended that the borough Members had a very deep interest in this question, as it was from the agricultural districts the boroughs principally received those who were employed in them, and the education of those districts must therefore be to them a matter of great importance. They had, in his belief, a far greater interest in the question than the landowners who never sent their sons to the parochial schools, and who had merely to pay the schoolmaster because they bought their land with that burden resting on it. He had been told that this was a Free Church Bill. He could only say that he was offered terms from the other side of the House that would have had the effect of letting in all the Free Church teachers while it kept out others; but those terms he refused, so that there could be no pretence whatever for calling it a Free Church measure. It seemed to him that to keep up a test not to exclude Episcopalians, against whom it was originally levelled, but to exclude one-half of those persons whom it was intended to protect, would degrade the national schools of Scotland to the rank of schools belonging to a mere denomination. The House had already condemned the test as exclusive and unjust. He sincerely hoped it would continue to do so; but, in the event of its being foiled in the attempt to place the schools on a national basis, it would be its duty to declare that the parochial schools of Scotland had no further claim to favour than those of any other denomination.


said, as the representative of the City of Glasgow, he wished to thank his right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate for the Bill, which, although it did not go far enough in the way of reform, was nevertheless a measure for which the people of Scotland would be most grateful to the House of Commons.


said, he could not avoid expressing his astonishment that the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate should insist so pertinaciously on the retention of a clause which, if adopted, would be barren of any practical result. He considered that he was contending for a shadow. The clause, as it originally stood, was sure to be inoperative; for, as had been admitted by a noble Lord, a foremost supporter of the Bill in another place, the landed proprietors of Scotland were too strongly in favour of a religious test to have elected schoolmasters who were not known as members of a particular denomination. He would ask, then, why should such a clause be pressed forward with a tenacity that was likely to endanger the passing of a Bill which contained so much that was useful? The clause said that no schoolmaster should be required to make a confession of faith. Did that mean that when a school was vacant the patron was not to require from the candidates a declaration of their religious opinions? That declaration, whether made by word of mouth, or conveyed in a letter, would be tantamount to a confession of faith, and might be made a condition, not perhaps of the instalment in office, but of the preliminary examination. The passing of the clause would no doubt nominally, though not practically, place the members of the Free Church on a footing of equality with those of the Established Church; but the House was bound, before taking such a step, to consider whether in doing something agreeable to the Free Church it would not be inflicting great injury upon other parties. It was believed in Scotland that the existing test was the best security that could be had for religious teaching in the schools; and he was sure that the absence of any recognition that the schoolmaster had a religious duty to perform would be viewed with great disapprobation and apprehension.


said, the admission of the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate that if he had framed the clause so as to include the Established Church and the Free Church, the Bill would have been received with universal approbation, fully justified the other House of Parliament in amending the Bill as they had done. It would be impossible to satisfy a whole community; but the Lord Advocate had shown them that he had wilfully rejected terms which would have quieted the apprehensions of a great majority of the Presbyterians of Scotland. The truth was, that the Lord Advocate, in order to favour the pretensions of certain would-be schoolmasters, was carrying on a system of persecution against the existing teachers in the national schools, who were very inadequately paid.


said, he would remind the House that there were three sections of Presbyterians in Scotland, the Established Church, the Free Church, and the United Presbyterians. They were all of nearly equal magnitude, and the Lords' Amendments, if agreed to, would therefore prevent two-thirds of the people of Scotland from availing themselves of the advantages to be derived from the Bill.


said, he thought that if the Established Church and the Free Church acted together, the third section of Presbyterians alluded to by the hon. Member would be found a very small minority. The Government had made no effort to advance the cause of education except by introducing Bills which they did not pass, and they alone would be to blame if incompetent schoolmasters were to teach the people of Scotland for another year.


said, he was of opinion that a change in the present parochial system of Scotland would be very injurious to the country.


said, he would appeal to the noble Lord at the head of the Government not to allow agitation upon this subject to be kept up year after year.

Lords' Amendments considered; several agreed to; several disagreed to; several amended, and agreed to; others agreed to.

Committee appointed, "to draw up Reasons to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing to the Amendments to which this House hath disagreed:"—The LORD ADVOCATE, Viscount DUNCAN, Sir GEORGE GREY, Viscount MONCK, Mr. FITZROY, and Mr. KINNAIRD:—To withdraw immediately; Three to be the quorum.

The House adjourned at a quarter before Two o'clock.