HC Deb 19 March 1858 vol 149 cc424-7

said, he rose to call the attention of the Secretary to the Board of Control to the army regulations made by the Governor General in India in Council in 1855, which requires that the children of soldiers over four years of age should be sent to the regimental schools in order to entitle such soldiers to draw for each child subsistence money of 5s. per month; and to ask whether, during the last year, any modification or alteration of that regulation has been made so as to allow the Roman Catholic soldiers now serving in India, who conscientiously object to send their children to these regimental schools, to have them educated in schools of their own faith without the forfeiture of their subsistence money; and to ask, further, if no such modification has been made, whether it is the intention of Her Majesty's present Government to afford that just relief to the consciences of the Roman Catholic soldiers now serving their country in India. He had given notice of similar questions last summer; but before they were asked the news of the mutiny arrived, and at the request of the right hon. Gentleman, who was then President of the Board of Control, he did not press them. He did not know what had occurred since, and could well understand that the mind of the right hon. Gentleman might have been so pre-occupied that he had forgotten the subject. Now, however, they were assured by the noble Earl at present at the head of the Board of Control that the mutiny was nearly suppressed, and he therefore thought that the time had now come when no injury to the public service could be done by bringing the subject forward. To understand his questions the House must be informed that every soldier serving in India was entitled to draw subsistence money at the rate of 5s. per month for each of his children; and that there were at almost every military station Roman Catholic schools of great efficiency, indeed, nearly equal to those which were to he found in this country. In 1854 the celebrated Education despatch was sent from this country by the Court of Directors, establishing a system of education in India on much the same plan as was established in Ireland. In the following year Lord Dalhousie, anxious that the children of soldiers serving in India should have the advantage of the great system of education established under that despatch, drew up certain army regulations, among which was one providing That all children being above four years of age for whom the Government subsistence allowance is drawn, are required to attend the school regularly, unless prevented by sickness, failing which the allowance is forfeited. These regulations were published in the Madras Presidency, but he did not know whether they had been applied also to those of Bengal and Bombay. What had been the result in Madras? Roman Catholic soldiers, who could not conscientiously send their children to the Government schools during the hours of religious instruction, had been obliged to give up their subsistence money, amounting in some cases to 25s. or 30s. a month. It was true that there was a regulation that the children of Roman Catholic soldiers would be allowed to absent themselves at the time when religious instruction was afforded, provided their parents signified in writing to the schoolmaster or mistress their wish to that effect. But practically that regulation was a nullity. It might do very well in Ireland, where public opinion could be brought to bear upon it, and where there were Commissioners of Education to protect the religious rights of Roman Catholic children; but everybody acquainted with regimental discipline knew that a private soldier could not refuse to send his children to the regimental school, especially when it happened that his commanding officer was a person of strong religious feelings on the Protestant side. He understood that in point of fact the regimental schools in India were essentially, apart from the question of religious teaching, Protestant institutions, with Protestant books, and Protestant masters and mistresses, so that the Roman Catholic soldiers could not without great sacrifices, including the deprivation of the sacraments of their Church, send their children to them. The result was that they were deprived of that subsistence money which he maintained was their right. It was proper the House should know that the number of Roman Catholic soldiers in India amounted to nearly one-half of the entire force. For the future, the European troops would be considerably increased, and he asked whether it was right that such a regulation as that he had quoted, though intended for the best purposes, should be continued? He hoped that the Secretary to the Board of Control would give him a satisfactory answer; if not, it would be his duty at some future period of the Session to direct attention again to a question of such vital importance to a largo portion of the soldiers serving in India. The hon. Gentleman concluded by putting his question.


The inquiry of the hon. Member for Cork embraces two questions. First, he asks whether, during the last year, any modification or alteration of the regulation to which he has referred has been made, so as to allow Roman Catholic soldiers, now serving in India, who conscientiously object to send their children to the regimental schools, to have schools of their own? No alteration has been made in those regulations; but the hon. Member does not seem to be aware that those regulations of the Government of India are the same, word for word, as the regulations for the British army in this country. That regulation to which he referred seems to me to meet completely the case of which he complains. Before reading it, however, I may state to the House that the hon. Member has stated quite correctly that those soldiers who receive subsistence money of 5s. a month for their children have it on condition of sending their children to school; and I suppose he does not object to that. The regulation of the Governor General on the subject, which is, as I have said, copied word for word from the regulations of the British army for this country, is as follows:— The children of Roman Catholic soldiers, or of soldiers dissenting from the Church of England, will be allowed to absent themselves at the time at which religious education is given, provided their parents signify their wish in writing to the schoolmaster or schoolmistress; but they must attend at the opening of the school. The religious education commences at the beginning of the day, and the Roman Catholic children are thus not required to attend school until that portion of the instruction is concluded, and they then come in solely for secular instruction. That is the regulation at present, and I do not know that there is any intention of altering it.


said, he had had conversations with Roman Catholic soldiers, who represented the existing regulations as imposing upon them the most intolerable grievance. The comfort and the promotion of the soldier depended upon his obtaining the goodwill of his superior. It was, therefore, "a sham" to tell a soldier in a regiment, where there was a proselytizing colonel or major, that he might withdraw his children from the religious education which they favoured. There was no human being so dependent on the caprice of another as a private soldier in the army. The present regulations did not protect the Roman Catholic soldiers, and they ought to be modified.