HC Deb 05 April 1870 vol 200 cc1379-82

in rising to bring forward the Motion of which he had given notice, said, it would be remembered that in 1861 the Public Schools Commission was appointed, which reported in 1867; and in 1868 the House passed an Act known as the Public Schools Act, under which the then governing bodies of seven great public schools were empowered to reconstitute themselves by a certain day—the 1st of May, 1869. In the event of their not so reconstituting themselves the powers which were thereby given to them were handed over to Her Majesty in Council. Under the authority of the Act two of the great schools—Eton and Westminster—had reconstituted themselves; the five other great schools did not reconstitute themselves, and the consequence was that their power lapsed as was provided by the Act. The special Commissioners had considered the case of those schools, and passed the statutes which should form the future constitution of their schools. In each of these statutes the qualification of the future members of the governing bodies was made to depend on membership of the Church of England. By the 19th section of the statute, it was provided that the statutes by which the schools were in future to be governed should be laid on the Table for forty days, the object being to enable the House, if it should think fit, to tender advice to Her Majesty as to those statutes. Now he intended to cast no reflection whatever upon the conduct of the Commissioners, of which with one or two exceptions, he entirely approved; but to the necessity of membership of the Church of England he entertained a very strong objection. He believed it would be bad for the schools—that the distinction between endowed and public schools was an unfortunate one. He had applied to the authorities of Rugby for their opinion, and one of the senior Masters—a representative of the majority of the Masters, had declared himself emphatically in favour of the Motion. There was also a Petition signed by a large body of the assistant Masters of Harrow to the same effect, and though the head Master had not signed it Dr. Butler had written to him, saying— It seems to me that if the Nonconformists claim to be eligible, their claim cannot fairly be resisted. Personally, I should be sorry to think that a school like Harrow was obliged to look for its governors beyond the. bounds of the National Church; but I do not believe that the interest of the school could be fostered by a system of legal exclusion. He also believed that the system in question would not only be bad for the schools, but bad for the Church of England. There was still much distrust of the Church of England existing in the minds of the great body of the Nonconformists in this country, and the only way in which that jealousy and distrust could be done away with was that the Church of England should no longer claim any exclusive privileges whatever. It would be a great misfortune for the Church of England if such a proposal as this should be passed, and. if the seven great schools of the country were to be handed over to her as an exclusive appanage. It would be a shackle upon her rather than an increase in her strength. Besides these reasons for addressing the Crown he contended that the present Parliament would stultify itself by allowing these constitutions to go unchallenged after the course taken in regard to the Endowed Schools Act in 1869, the first year of the Reformed Parliament. The 17th clause of that Act declared that no person should be disqualified for the governing body of one of the endowed schools on account of religious opinions. No real difference existed between the public schools and the endowed schools, and it would be mischievous to both to establish any. One other reason which he would press upon the Government in support of this Motion was the difficulty in which their supporters were placed with respect to the great question of primary education. It was of great importance that the Government should make a distinct declaration upon this point, for the warmest supporters of primary education were divided sharply into two camps—those who favoured purely secular instruction and those who believed in the possibility of a religious system of national education. How could the Nonconformists be induced to believe in the possibility of establishing this perfectly fair common ground of religious instruction in primary schools unless in the higher branches of education also they were assured that they would receive perfectly fair play? In these seven great public schools the large majority of the legislators in both Houses of Parliament were educated, and if these seven schools were all reserved as appanages of the Established Church, how could they expect to be looked upon otherwise than as a dominant sect? He trusted, therefore, the Government would see their way to supporting the Motion, and that the Nonconformists would thus receive the assurance that both in the highest class of education and in primary education they would receive perfectly fair play.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying Her to be pleased to order that in the five Statutes for determining and establishing the constitution of the new governing bodies of Shrewsbury, Winchester, Harrow, Charterhouse, and Rugby Schools, the words requiring membership of the Church of England as a qualification in the case of persons elected or nominated members of the governing bodies may be omitted."—(Mr. Thomas Hughes.)


moved the adjournment of the debate. At such a late hour it was perfectly impossible to enter upon the discussion of so large a question. Without taking into account the advanced hour to which the House had sat the night before, the Speaker that day had been in the Chair since two o'clock, and would have to take the Chair at twelve o'clock tomorrow. Moreover, there had been a general understanding that the debate would not be proceeded with that night, in virtue of which his right hon. Colleague in the representation of Oxford University had left the House, and also the two Members for the University of Cambridge; and not only they but the First Minister of the Crown had left. He knew also that two of the Public School Commissioners—the Recorder (Mr. Russell Gurney) and the Solicitor General—who were both prepared to take part in the debate, and to defend the recommendations of the Commissioners, had left the House with the full understanding that the debate would not come on.


said, he trusted his hon Friend would accede to the Motion for adjournment. Had the debate proceeded he should have been prepared to take up the Motion and to give to it a hearty and undoubted support; but, considering the importance of the question, he thought it would prevent a fair discussion if they were to debate it at that hour, especially in the absence of the two Public School Commissioners to whom reference had been made, who, no doubt, would have had some observations to make. The matter was one well deserving the attention of the House, and he trusted his hon. Friend would press it upon the earliest possible day that the discussion could be renewed. He would suggest Friday for the purpose, when facilities could, perhaps, be given him for bringing it on.

An hon. MEMBER suggested that unless the debate were proceeded with at once the supporters of the Motion might be precluded from moving the Address, which it was very desirable to carry at once.


said, that until the debate was terminated no Order in Council would pass.

Debate adjourned till Friday.

House adjourned at One o'clock.