HC Deb 29 April 1870 vol 200 cc2094-8

, who had given Notice to call attention to the state of public measures affecting England, said, he was aware the Bill that had so long occupied the attention of the House was one of the first importance. At the same time there were other measures of very great importance which should not entirely be overlooked, and the requirements of England ought to receive some attention as well as those of Ireland. Since the meeting of Parliament they had scarcely discussed one subject that was not directly or indirectly Irish; while the interests of England and Scotland had been, to use a common phrase, "shunted," to make room for Irish matters. The Queen's Speech at the open- ing of the Session contained this passage— We are further directed by Her Majesty to state that many other subjects of public importance appear to demand your care; and among those especially to inform you that a Bill has been prepared for the enlargement, on a comprehensive scale, of the means of National Education. The importance of the question of national education no one would deny. They had had debates on various occasions on that very topic; and the Government had so far redeemed the pledge they gave at the commencement of the Session by laying on the Table a measure on that subject, which he thought he was not wrong in describing as most satisfactory to all the different religious bodies in the kingdom. It was also a measure that had received the support of both sides of the House; and he did not know why so important a measure should be entirely shelved for the sake of Ireland. The question of education, as it now stood, might, he thought, be very easily settled. He was aware it was said there was a religious difficulty in the way; but he did not believe, when they came to face that difficulty, it would be found anything like so great as some had assumed. He, for one, should be extremely glad to hear the arguments that might be offered in favour of irreligious education, or education without religion; but he confessed that he held such a system to be an impossibility, and that those arguments, however ably urged, must signally fail. From the way in which the measure had been, from time to time, postponed, there was a great feeling arising in the country that the Government was not sincere in its intention to deal with national education—a great suspicion that the Amendments the Government proposed to lay on the Table would not carry out fairly and honestly the principle it announced when it introduced its Bill. On the other hand, there was a small, but extremely vigorous section who were anxious to make the question of education the stalking-horse of battle against the Established Church of England. It was, therefore, most desirable that an answer should be given on these points. First, would the Government proceed with the Education Bill this Session? Secondly, would they lay on the Table the Amendments they proposed to make in the Bill, so that they might be fairly discussed in all the various parishes they would affect, and that the opinion of the public might be obtained as to whether they would or would not be consonant with the principle which the vast majority in England and Scotland were determined to maintain—namely, that religion should be taught in the schools assisted by the State? He hoped he had placed the matter on a clear footing. The information he ventured to ask from the First Lord of the Treasury could, he thought, hardly be refused. The right hon. Gentleman could not deny that the question of education, at all events, was to England as interesting as the vast Bill on Irish land tenures; and if he would deal with the great question of education, he would not find placed in his way the impediments he encountered in regard to the Irish land question. The right hon. Gentleman could look with but little satisfaction to the legislation of the present Session. All that they had yet passed into law was the Coercion Bill for Ireland—a measure which he trusted would not be the single result of a barren Session. If the right hon. Gentleman was fortunate enough to confer, as no doubt he hoped to do, on the Irish people a Land Bill that would give them peace, tranquillity, and confidence, he was also bound not to neglect the still greater interests of education. That subject had occupied public attention for many years; there were many anxious to see the measure on the subject carried into effect, and if the right hon. Gentleman would rely on the support he would obtain from all who conscientiously held that all education must be based on religion, he firmly believed he would pass a Bill which would be creditable to himself, and go far to redeem the Session from the barrenness that had hitherto characterized it.


Sir, I am sure the hon. Baronet (Sir Lawrence Palk) will accept in good faith the assurance I give him—that I am not surprised at occasional manifestations of anxiety, or even of impatience in reference to measures of the greatest importance announced in the Queen's Speech, but with which we have not been able to make the progress that would on all hands have been deemed desirable. On the other hand, I feel, as I expressed on an occasion that occurred immediately before the Easter Recess, that discus- sions regarding the order and precedence of business, and competition for priority in the handling of it, do not really tend to advance the purpose we have in view, because what is to be desired is, that there should be pointed out some mode in which the Government can find a greater stock of time available for the purpose of forwarding those measures, or that a vigorous exhortation should be addressed to independent Members to abate considerably the demands they make—as I admit they are entitled by the rules of the House to do, on the time of the House for the discussion of the subjects which they think fit to introduce. If we are merely to debate which of various measures ought to take precedence of the others, we shall, in that very act, be consuming the precious time which might enable us to dispose of them, and the position of those who do so rather reminds me of two lines in that very clever volume, Rejected Addresses, where the author speaks of persons who loudly call for silence in a theatre— He who, in quest of quiet, 'silence' hoots Is apt to make the hubbub he imputes. We should take care that the mode we take to correct an evil does not increase that very evil. I must say there is no means in the power of the Government to adopt which would have produced a greater aggregate result than we have actually attained. In regard, however, to the Irish Land Bill, I may observe that many of the criticisms passed on the slowness of its passage through Committee are founded very much upon the very small number of clauses that have been disposed of. But if the number, the variety, the novelty, the sweep, and the importance of the propositions contained in those clauses are considered, it will be seen, I think, that the work really done by the House in respect to the Irish Land Bill is a very great deal larger than the public out-of-doors suppose. In respect to the hon. Baronet's question on the subject of the Education Bill, all I have to do is, in the first place, to refer to the Queen's Speech, a passage in which was studiously framed to give, as far as was in our power, to the English Education Bill, next after the Irish Land Bill, the position of the greatest prominence and importance among the measures of the Session. Two or three weeks ago, I referred to the state of business, and declared it to be the inten- tion of Government to press forward the Irish Land Bill, with all the resources at our command, in the first instance, and, when that Bill was disposed of, to place the English Education Bill in the same position. Of course, all such intentions are necessarily liable to be modified from time to time, owing to change of circumstances; but I see no reason now existing to induce me to recede from the declaration I then made. It would be idle to name a day for proceeding with the Bill at the present moment, for I cannot estimate the number of days that must necessarily be devoted to Supply, and to the transaction of other business that cannot be postponed. All I can say is, that the question is always in the thoughts of my right hon. Friend near me (the Vice President of the Council) and of myself, and that no time will be lost in bringing the subject under the attention of the House for a practical purpose on the first opportunity within our reach. With regard to the Amendments, I hope they will not be of so grave a character as the hon. Baronet seems to think; but the question of the hon. Baronet, with respect to the Amendments is most reasonable. I can assure him that he shall have ample means of judging of their character when they are reduced to form. In adequate time, say a fortnight before we go into Committee, we will take care that any Amendments we mean to propose, in pursuance of the pledge given by me on the second reading of the Bill, shall be laid on the Table of the House.