HC Deb 18 June 1872 vol 211 cc1934-48

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clause 65 (Conscience clause.)

DR. LYON PLAYFAIR moved in page 25, line 18, before "secular," insert "elementary." The hon. Member said it was necessary to insert this Amendment, in order to prevent any difficulty which might arise in some of the schools which were open continuously from eight o'clock in the morning till four o'clock in the afternoon.

Amendment agreed to.

MR. ANDERSON moved in line 18, after "day" insert— And no religious catechism or religious formulary which is distinctive of any particular denomination shall be taught in the school. The hon. Member said, the question raised was one upon which there was great divergence of opinion in Scotland, but it was one of great importance. He desired to render the Conscience Clause in the Scotch Act like that in the English Act, from which he had copied the words of his Amendment. One reason why that proposal was even more necessary in the Scotch than in the English Act was, that in Scotland the Act would be more generally compulsory, and therefore the rights of minorities ought to be more strictly protected. It was true the three great Presbyterian bodies desired that the Shorter Catechism should be taught in the schools; but the Episcopalians, Roman Catholics, Jews, Unitarians, and others formed, in the aggregate, a large minority, whose conscientious scruples ought to be regarded and protected from assault. It might be said that the children of parents who did not desire the religious teaching might withdraw during its progress; but though they did, a portion of their school fees would be appropriated to the payment of the teacher, and so another question of conscience would be raised. It was not enough that a clause in the Act affirmed that the Privy Council Grant was not given on religious instruction. That grant formed part of the general emoluments of the teacher, and if a school board could require the teacher to teach religion nominally for nothing, it became part of the work for which he received his emoluments, and was, practically, State-paid religious instruction. He would like to ask hon. Members what they would do next year in the case of Ireland, if they now allowed the Shorter Catechism to be taught in the school-board schools of Scotland? Some hon. Friends of his, no doubt, had pleasant recollections of the Shorter Catechism in their youth, and he would ask them, and other hon. Members who earnestly desired to see the Scotch grow up a religious people, whether to place the Shorter Catechism in the hands of people too young to understand it, was not likely to create a feeling of disgust and aversion against all religious education? He had no wish to proscribe religious teaching at proper times and places, whether by means of the Shorter Catechism or any other book; but he objected to its being so taught in the public schools by State-paid and rate-paid teachers.

Amendment proposed, In page 25, line 18, after the word "day," to insert the words "and no religious catechism or religious formulary which is distinctive of any particular denomination shall be taught in any public school."—(Mr. Anderson.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."


said, he thought, after the discussions which had taken place upon this question, there remained nothing new to be said with regard to it. The principle of the measure, to which he meant to adhere, was that, subject to the provisions of a Conscience Clause, the terms of which had been substantially adjusted, the matter of religious teaching was one which should be left to the people themselves, and that the statute should neither prescribe nor proscribe anything upon the subject. This provision to exclude all catechisms, creeds, and formularies was inconsistent with the principle which he had endeavoured to state. He should only like to observe further, that there was a manifest distinction in this matter between the cases of England and of Scotland. About 86 per cent of the people of Scotland were Presbyterians, and however much they might differ upon subjects of more or less importance, they generally agreed as to the religious education they desired for their children; and, therefore, by a statutory proscription of the Catechism, in which they were generally agreed, from the schools, a large number of the parents would be prevented sending their children to the schools. If he knew the people of Scotland aright, he knew that nothing could give a greater impulse to the life and vitality of the Catechism than its proscription by a clause in the Scotch Education Bill.


said, he thought the hon. Gentleman had not really stated the bearing of his Amendment. The effect of the Amendment would be to exclude the Catechism not only from the rate-paid schools, but in the denominational schools also. He believed the Shorter Catechism to be valuable not only as an instrument of religious instruction, but as an instrument of mental cultivation; but he could not on that ground think of introducing it by Act of Parliament in the rate-aided schools. Parliament had no right to meddle with the question of religious teaching; and he thought it was with great wisdom that the Goverment proposed to relegate the question to the people of Scotland, who would have sufficient toleration and good sense not to abuse the power if it was conferred upon them.


said, he thought proscription would be exceedingly wrong, and he entirely opposed the Amendment.


suggested to the hon. Member for Glasgow (Mr. Anderson), who he believed wished to apply his Amendment only to public schools, the desirableness of inserting the word "public" before "schools" in his Amendment, on which he hoped a division would be taken. He should like to hear the Vice President of the Council upon this Amendment, which was copied from his own Act. He, for one, objected to the extraordinary way in which the English Act was quoted or left untouched in these discussions, just as might be most convenient to the supporters of the Bill. Now, for the first time, the ratepayers were called upon to support the schools, which had hitherto been done by the heritors, and therefore it was the more important that protection should be afforded to the consciences of the minority among the ratepayers. To teach the Shorter Catechism at the public expense would be to violate the rights of conscience. It might be said that the schoolmasters would be able from the Bible to give the same teaching that was given by means of the Catechism; but whether that was or was not the case, they desired Parliament to pronounce an opinion in favour of rendering religious teaching as comprehensive as possible, and against purely dogmatic teaching.


said, he was willing to accept the suggestion of the hon. Baronet.


denied that it was proposed by the Bill to make the teaching of the Shorter Catechism compulsory. It would be no more compulsory than the reading of the Bible. People who objected to have their children taught the Shorter Catechism would make use of the Conscience Clause. He entirely denied the hon. Baronet's insinuation that the Government had played fast and loose with the English Act in these discussions. They had always stated that the circumstances of Scotland and England were different, and that the educational position and the feelings of the two countries must be taken into consideration. When, in the English Bill, they proposed to exclude the Catechism, they did it on this ground—that it was a question of new schools which at first would be in a minority. The religious differences in England were great; there were large numbers on each side; and therefore it was thought advisable to exclude from the schools the teaching of the catechism of any particular sect. But in Scotland they were not introducing a comparatively small number of schools, but were about to change the position of the old and existing schools of a people who had few differences of religious opinions. In every parish school the Shorter Catechism was taught, and the effect of his hon. Friend's (Mr. Anderson's) Amendment would be to alter the mode of teaching, and oblige them to exclude the Shorter Catechism. That appeared to be a violent and unnecessary change.


said, that the Government, to his utter astonishment, had reduced the religious teaching in the Scotch schools to a minimum, and religious instruction was now to be given for a very short time at the beginning of the day. Hitherto, the Shorter Catechism had been taught, and it would be a point of honour to teach it rather than the Bible the whole of the time that would be devoted to religious instruction. Now, believing that it would be wholesome and better that the time which had been curtailed by the action of the Government should be given to the teaching of the Bible, he thought the Committee would best promote the religious teaching of the Scotch children if they accepted the Amendment of the hon. Member for Glasgow (Mr. Anderson).


said, from what he had heard of the action of the Scotch schools—and it had been confirmed by what he had seen in the two largest schools of Edinburgh—ample time would be given to religious instruction.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Then Amendment proposed— And no religious catechism or religions formulary which is distinctive of any particular denomination shall be taught in public schools.


said, he thought the effect of the proposal as amended would simply be to give a great impetus to denominational education, because it would outrage the feelings of the people of Scotland who were much attached to the Shorter Catechism.


wished to call attention to the probable effect of the rejection of this Amendment. When discussing the English Act of 1870, it was urged that the result of passing a clause similar in spirit to the Amendment under discussion would be to render the teaching of an undenominational character. The effect of what was actually done, however, was to cause the school board to adopt a system of religious education suitable to the comprehension of the children to be taught. If the Amendment was rejected, the English school boards would be disposed to ask why they should act in a different manner from the Scotch boards, who would have the power to order the teaching of the Shorter Catechism in the board schools. If they gave the Scotch greater power over religious education than the English, they must give to the Irish still more power, because the Irish wanted more; and no doubt the Government would come to Parliament next year to say that in 1872 they had consulted the feelings of the Scotch people on the religious question, and in the same way they must consult the people of Ireland. The Government would base their Bill for Ireland on the same principle that they had adopted for Scotland. It was for this reason that he protested against any such principle, and it was a most dangerous one for the House to adopt.


said, he did not see how the proposed principle in the Scotch Bill was to be reconciled with the English Bill of 1870, because at the time of the passing of that Act there was a strong feeling in favour of liberty in respect of English formularies which had been denied them, but which the Government were going to grant to Scotland. He confessed to be a little jealous if Scotland was to be better off than England in this respect; but he thought they should be acting wrongly if they allowed that feeling to lead them to deny that liberty which they had claimed for themselves originally, but which they had not got. It might be said that they ought not to interfere with the conscientious scruples of those people who objected to formularies, and that it was better that they should be taught the Bible. That might be a good argument for its adoption in England; but it would be a mistake to lay down the same principle for Scotland. He took up the proposition of the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Dixon), who did not see why formularies should not be considered applicable to England. He (Sir Stafford Northcote) did not see either why it should not be applicable, only it was too late. With regard to Ireland the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Dixon) need not fear, because they had been repeatedly told by the Prime Minister that it was not intended to deal with primary education in Ireland. It was because he considered the principle of the Bill of 1870 the safest that he opposed the Amendment of the hon. Member for Glasgow (Mr. Anderson).


opposed the Amendment as being contrary to the principle of the Bill. It would alienate much of the support which was given to the Bill in Scotland, and lead to practical difficulties in the working of the Bill. He thought the House was agreed that in legislating for Scotland they were to have some regard for the religious feeling of Scotland; but they had had the unblushing avowal of the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Dixon) that no regard should be paid to their feelings. No one who knew Scotland would doubt that the effect of the Amendment would be to uproot the old traditional system that had been adopted in almost all the schools of Scotland. For this reason, he gave his most strenuous opposition to the Amendment.


maintained that the Amendment was not inconsistent with the principle of the Bill, which said that the State had nothing to do with religious teaching, leaving that to the parents and the Churches. The Amendment proposed to carry out that principle by saying that the school buildings supported by the public money should not be used for religious dogmatic teaching, but that it should be left in the hands of the parents and the ministers to provide it. How were they to be consistent if the money contributed from the rates and the public funds was to go for the teaching of dogmas in the schools? He saw no reason for applying the ratepayers' money in this way, and he denied that there was any difference of feeling in Scotland such as had been represented, and in proof of that he referred to a division which took place lately to ascertain the feelings of the Scotch Members on this subject.


agreed that the Government had shown great inconsistency in this matter, because they followed the English Bill when it suited them, and rejected it when it did not suit them. In England, the Government had established a new system. In Scotland they had to deal with an ancient system which had given universal satisfaction, and it was by departing from this old system, instead of supplementing it, that the Government had involved themselves in these inconsistencies. He should certainly oppose the Amendment of the hon. Member for Glasgow (Mr. Anderson).


said, he hoped that as he did not often intrude upon the time of the House he might be allowed to say a few words upon the present subject, and more especially so as there was a more serious consideration in connection with it than had yet been raised. It should be remembered that, if the Amendment were rejected, it would seriously endanger the English Act which was now in operation. He perfectly agreed with what had been stated by the noble Lord the Member for Liverpool (Viscount Sandon); and the London School Board had adopted the course of proceeding to which the noble Lord had referred—namely, to give simple Bible instruction without any dogmatic teaching. They would do wisely, in his opinion, to adopt the Amendment, as its rejection might in the course of a few years cause to be broken up what otherwise might prove to be a national system of education throughout the Empire.

Question put.

The Committee divided:— Ayes 130; Noes 250: Majority 120.


moved, in line 21, at end of clause, add— Provided, That when religious instruction shall be given, the reading and teaching of the Bible shall form part of such instruction. It might be objected to his Amendment that most of the school boards would teach the Bible whether they were required to do it or not. He at once admitted that, but it did not make it the less necessary that he should move this Amendment. It was undeniable that the teaching of the Bible was understood, and was in fact required in Scotland—the old Acts were full of expressions about religious teaching. He thought, therefore, that that was the most fitting opportunity for providing for the religious teaching of the Bible, and it ought not to be neglected. hon. Members would observe that four hours of secular instruction were imperatively required, and that, either before or after that, religious instruction might be given. It was permitted only, but was not required; but his Amendment said, if the permissive power should be exercised, it should be so exercised that part of the instruction should be from the Bible. An argument in favour of the teaching of the Bible had not been mentioned, and it was this—that the evidence of a child who did not know the nature of an oath was not taken in criminal proceedings. Was it not the interest of the State to acquaint the child with the judgments of the Almighty and of the consequences attached to telling the true or the untrue? As they had rejected the Amendment of the hon. Member for Glasgow, he thought the Government, in order to be consistent, must support his Amendment.

Amendment proposed, At the end of the Clause, to add the words "Provided, That when religious instruction shall be given in any public school, the reading and teaching of the Bible shall form part of such instruction."—(Mr. M'Laren.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there added."


trusted the Committee would not enter into the consideration of the Amendment, on the assumption that there was nothing whatever requiring or forbidding instruction in religion and religious observances by giving in schools the protection of the Conscience Clause to those who chose to send their children there. The Amendment now proposed was to enact that if there should be any teaching of religion in the public schools, the reading and teaching of the Bible should form part of it. That was to be a positive enactment, without any reference to the nature of the school, or to the age of the children, or the particular purpose for which the public school was endowed, or the instruction more suitable for the minds of the youth attending such schools; nevertheless they must, under pain of violating the Act of Parliament, teach them to read the Bible. Why should not this matter be left to the managers of the schools? Why should this be ordered by the statute on penalty of violating its provisions? He was quite aware that in all ordinary schools in Scotland the Bible would be read as a rule, nay, without an exception. It was at present so read without any statutory provision, and a statutory provision could hardly make its reading more universal than it was at present. Without such enactment, as a general rule, the Shorter Catechism was taught too; but that they had declined to make imperative. This Amendment seemed to him to be very different to that which was proposed by the hon. Gentleman only last week; because the Amendment last week was that instruction in the Bible should be the only religious teaching, but now it was to be only a part of the religious teaching, and there was to be some other instruction in religion to be given. The teaching of the Bible was not to be the whole. That was the plain meaning of it. He hoped his hon. Friend would not press this Amendment, because, as the clause now stood, there was no restriction on the liberty of reading or teaching the Bible.


said, he hoped that the hon. Member would not press his Amendment, because in his view nothing could be more inexpedient. He trusted the time would never come when the Bible would be taught in Scotland simply because there was a provision to that effect in the Act of Parliament. He would far rather leave it to the Christian feeling of the people of Scotland.

Question put.

The Committee divided:—Ayes 130; Noes 189: Majority 59.


moved, at end of clause, to add—"All payments for instruction in religious subjects shall be defrayed out of funds voluntarily provided." The hon. Gentleman said, that had the Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow (Mr. Anderson) been agreed to, he might not have considered it necessary to move the one of which he had given Notice; but that Amendment having been negatived, he must now do so. The Scotch Bill, as regarded the religious difficulty, stood in a different position from the English Act. In that Act the use of any religious catechism or religious formulary which was distinctive of any particular denomination was distinctly prohibited. But by the Bill now under consideration the school boards in Scotland would have the power to introduce any dogmatic teaching of which the majority of the board might approve. On that he would make no remark, as that part of the clause had passed; but he Wished the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Privy Council had exerted his influence with the Lord Advocate to get him to assimilate the two Bills in this respect. He had prepared the Amendment which he was about to move with the view of rendering that part of the Bill less obnoxious to a very large portion of the community of Scotland as well as of England, who conscientiously held that the State went beyond its legitimate province when it did more than provide means of giving secular instruction. His Amendment was, that all instruction in religious subjects should be paid for out of the funds voluntarily provided; and he could not see how his right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate, as the representative of a Government which so lately refused to endow all sects in Ireland, could, with any regard to consistency, refuse to accept it. It would be out of place to go into any length of argument on the duty of the State in matters of religion; but he would take the liberty to make a few practical remarks on the subject now before the Committee. They might with certainty infer that the kind of religion which would be taught in the respective schools under the Bill would be according to the distinctive forms of the particular denomination to which the majority of the school board might belong—that where the majority were Presbyterians the Shorter Catechism would be taught, and if in any parish the Roman Catholics should predominate, there the formularies of that religion would be used. Well, if the Bill was allowed to remain so as to provide for teaching all religions out of State funds, he would ask what was that but the very scheme of concurrent endowment which the present Government, when in Opposition, so distinctly repudiated when proposed by hon. Gentlemen opposite. The Bill, it was true, provided that parents might withdraw their children from attendance when religious teaching or observances were going on; but if such religious instruction was to be paid for at the public expense—if not only money from the Imperial Treasury to which all contributed, but the money which was more directly paid as a special educational rate was to be used for what they did not approve—the most flagrant injustice would be inflicted, and if persisted in, they might expect a renewal of that dissatisfaction and resistance which was manifested in regard to church rates in England, and the annuity tax in Edinburgh, both of which they were compelled to abolish. If it be right to exempt children from such attendance, it surely could not be right to cause parents to pay for that from which they derived no benefit. The Roman Catholic minority in Scotland would, by the Bill as it now stood, be called on to contribute towards the teaching of the Presbyterian religion. Now, he for one, whatever he might have done in the way of contribution to other denominations as an individual, would vote against any measure that might have the effect of providing by legislative enactment for teaching Roman Catholicism or any other religion in Ireland or elsewhere, and he was not prepared to ask Roman Catholics to do for his religion what he would not do for them. But while desirous of keeping our hands clear of anything like State interference with religion, he was most anxious—indeed, considered it a matter of the highest importance—that where the inhabitants of a district wished their children to receive religious instruction, there should be no obstacle in the way of their making such teaching continuous with the assembling of the children for their secular instruction, provided always that they paid for it themselves. Feeling as he did that religion should permeate all teaching, he should have preferred that no distinction were made between secular and religious instruction; but under a Government Bill that was impossible with a due regard to varying religious convictions, and he must offer his decided opposition to such a system. As regarded the payment for religious instruction by voluntary means contemplated by his Amendment, there was nothing to be apprehended. He had no fear but the great bulk of the parents would be willing to pay for the religious instruction of their children, and where any were unable to do so, that the small amount required in the case would be easily made up in a country like Scotland where two-thirds of the people, of their own free will, and with their own means, had erected churches and manses, and provided for the maintenance of their clergy. He believed that what he proposed was in accordance with the conscientious opinions of a large portion of the people of Scotland, and of England too. It was held by many in the Free Church, and by not a few in the Established Church; while the following brief extract from a Petition which he had the honour to present from the Synod of the United Presbyterian Church showed that they were unanimous. They said— Your petitioners are strongly of opinion that it should be enacted that the local rates as well as the public grants should be applied only to the teaching of the secular branches of education in the national schools; that grants to denominational schools should be withdrawn. One word more as to Ireland. They must soon come to deal with the question of Irish education, and how were they prepared to do with that? Were they prepared to repeal the present national system of education and substitute a denominational one? He (Mr. Crum-Ewing) rather thought they were not; but if they enacted laws by which the State was to pay for religion in Scotland, how could they refuse the same thing to Ireland? He considered that, unless they were prepared to make such a thorough change in the whole system in Ireland, they were shut up to the adoption of such an Amendment as the one he proposed; and, if they did so, they could then mete out equal justice to both countries and to all religions.

Amendment proposed, At the end of the Clause, to add the words "all payments for instruction in religious subjects shall be defrayed out of funds voluntarily provided."—(Mr. Crum-Ewing.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there added."


observed that not only were there the Roman Catholics resident in Scotland, but many Protestant Dissenters—such as the Evangelical Union and others—who objected to the teaching of religious dogmas in the public schools, and he could not see with what justice they ought to be taxed for the promotion of the views of the minority. The minority, indeed, ought to withdraw their children from the schools. If they adopted the Amendment of the hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Crum-Ewing), it would be the nearest approach they could make to a system of united religious and secular instruction, and to the solving of the religious difficulty.


said, that he had only one or two words to say on the subject. In regard to the principle enunciated by his hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, that the public money ought not to be paid for teaching religion, he agreed generally; but with reference to the public schools, he thought his hon. Friend would concur with him that it was impossible to carry out that principle with perfect integrity, without absolutely excluding the teaching of religion altogether from those schools—that was to say, from all buildings provided at the public expense. No doubt, it would be very advisable to allow all children to receive religious instruction at the expense of the parents alone; but it would be attended with the difficulty he had formerly pointed out arising from the habits and feelings of the people of Scotland. As a matter of practical utility, they were, he thought, quite prepared to make small sacrifices of infinitesimal points to secure a great good. With respect to the fees, they would be paid by those who attended, so that the voluntary principle contended for by his hon. Friend would be operative to that extent. He did not think that it would be wise to tell the people of Scotland that their children could only be permitted to receive religious instruction in the public schools by their paying something more than what they would otherwise have to pay or the schoolmasters to receive.


wished to know whether his hon. Friend would accept the following Amendment of his proposal— That no payment for instruction in religious subjects should be defrayed out of the funds provided or sanctioned by this Act? If he would not accept this suggestion, he should be obliged to go into the Lobby against him.


said, he could not accept what the hon. Member for Leith proposed, and if the hon. Gentleman walked into the Lobby against him, he would be as consistent as he had hitherto been.


supported the Amendment, which was of a character similar to that which he had endeavoured to introduce into the English Education Act. The phrase "religious instruction" was used with great vagueness. Hon. Gentlemen opposite used the phrase as if it represented a meaning in which they were all agreed; but that he very much doubted. What they were now asked to do was to sanction religious instruction in accordance with the Presbyterian faith; and the right hon. Gentleman wished members of all religions to join in that. Was he prepared to vote for the carrying out of that principle in the case of Roman Catholics? If not, he was inconsistent. He supported the Amendment as affording the only escape from all difficulties—the separation of secular from religious instruction. The Amendment was in harmony with the principle advocated by the late Lord Derby when introducing the Irish National School system, and with the views of Dr. Chalmers.

Question put.

The Committee divided:— Ayes 85; Noes 230: Majority 145.

Clause, as amended, agreed to.

House resumed.

Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Thursday.

And it being now Seven of the clock the House suspended its Sitting.

The House resumed its Sitting at Nine of the clock.