HC Deb 22 May 1873 vol 216 cc319-30

Select Committee on the Callan Schools:—On Motion of The Marquess of HARTINGTON, Mr. Secretary CARDWELL, Mr. GATHORNE HARDY, Mr. WHITBREAD, Mr. BOURRE, and The O'CONOR DON nominated Members of the said Committee.


who had given Notice of his intention to move, as an Amendment, the addition of the names of Dr. Lyon Playfair and Mr. Cross, said, it was with much regret he found the Motion made without explanation on the part of the Government. The justification of his unusual Amendment was to be found in the peculiar character of the Motion. The question to be considered by the Committee was the conduct of an Executive body; and one would have thought that the party to have sat in judgment upon that Executive body in the first instance was the responsible Government of the Crown. He regretted that the Government had not formed and expressed an opinion upon the conduct of that body instead of transferring their responsibility as a Government to the House of Commons. It was in the power of the Government to deal with the National Board if they thought it was in the wrong. The Government had said, that the Board had been misrepresented and misunderstood; but the Board seemed to have assumed the character of the lady on the French stage, the Femme incomprise. By whom was the Board misunderstood? not, he presumed, by Her Majesty's Government. He could not vote against the appointment of the Committee, because he could not share the responsibility of a course which might result in the extinction of the National Board. But, in accepting the Committee, it was desirable they should know what it was to do when it was appointed. That was exactly the thing which the Government had never told them. The Order of Reference was one of the most ambiguous he had ever seen placed on paper. It said the Committee were to report on the circumstances connected with the Callan Schools. That might mean anything, everything, or nothing. He learnt from general rumour that the Committee were only to consider the facts of the case; but the House had never been informed authoritatively that there was to be any such limitation to their province. Even assuming that they were only to investigate facts, experience had taught him that one of the most difficult things in the world to ascertain was a fact, and that when the fact happened to be an ecclesiastical fact, its ascertainment was not difficult, but impossible. That was not a matter merely affecting the schools of a parish in Ireland; it involved one of the largest questions which could possibly be conceived, and which was now agitating every part of Europe—namely, how far ecclesiastical authority was or was not to be supreme over the civil authority of the country? It was because the Government knew that to be its character that they preferred to cast the responsibility of deciding it on the House rather than take it upon themselves. Therefore, the House could not be too careful at every stage in seeing that the ground on which they went was firm. This was, indeed, a preliminary step. But it was a step in a very important proceeding. In so grave a matter the House ought to have had more time to consider how the functions thus thrown on it should be discharged. As to the composition of the Committee, everybody would feel that the Gentlemen proposed were as fit as any that could be named from either side of the House. But that was not the whole question. A Committee of five Members was not a usual thing in that House, and was adopted only in very exceptional circumstances. Why had such a Committee been proposed in that instance? Either the Government should take the responsibility of deciding that most momentous issue or should decline it; but he could not understand why they should throw the responsibility on the House and at the same time keep the balance of power in the hands of the Government. In a Committee of five the weight of the casting vote of the Chairman was far greater than in a larger Committee. Unless there were three to one against the Chairman, no proposition adverse to his opinion could be carried. It might be said that was immaterial because the Committee was not to report opinions, but facts; but it was impossible to distinguish between that which was a fact and that which was an opinion. If, for example, they reported that the course taken by the National Board was in conformity with the precedents on which it had acted in former instances, he supposed that would go a long way to decide this case. But he asked, whether a finding that it was in conformity with former precedents was a fact or an opinion? The question, therefore was, whether the House should delegate its authority in regard to a question of that magnitude to so limited a body as five of its Members, however unexceptionable their names might be. Not one of the five Gentlemen proposed was chosen from below the gangway on either side. Why should not the Committee be composed from all sections of the House, so as to be adequately representative of its authority? The names he had to submit to the House were equally unexceptionable with those proposed by the Government, and his Amendment was conceived in no hostile spirit. The hon. and learned Gentleman concluded by moving his Amendment.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Dr. Lyon Playfair be one other Member of the said Committee."—(Mr. Vernon Harcourt.)


said, that if the House generally were disposed to consider the enlargement of the Committee desirable, the Government did not desire to offer any serious oppositon to the adoption of such a course. Nothing, however, which had fallen from the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just spoken had convinced him that it was expedient the number of the Committee should be extended. The Government had no intention, he could assure him, in appointing it, that it should enter into the question whether the Roman Catholic Church was to exercise a less or a greater influence in State affairs, but that it should ascertain the facts of a case upon which they themselves as well as the House would ultimately have to come to a decision. The majority of the Commissioners were anxious to obtain a hearing before their conduct was condemned, for, although the bare facts might have been already before the House, they felt that they ought to have an opportunity of stating what had been their previous practice and what were the rules and principles on which they had acted—matters which could not, in the opinion of the Government, have been satisfactorily elucidated by means of a discussion in that House. They therefore thought it was an act of simple justice that the Commissioners should be heard, and there was in the Order of Reference nothing whatever which invited the Committee to pass judgment on their conduct. He should be surprised, indeed, if a Committee of that House travelled so far beyond the Order of Reference as to pronounce any such judgment. As to the composition of the Committee, the Government thought the duties which it would have to perform would be best discharged if its number were small, while they deemed it unnecessary to appoint a large Committee which would be in some degree supposed to be, though it would not be in reality, representative of the various opinions in the House. As to having no Members below the gangway on the Committee, he would merely remark that some of those who had been named—such as his hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread) and the hon. Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Bourke)—must be considered as independent as any that could be chosen. The speech of his hon. and learned Friend went much further than his Motion. He could only express his great astonishment that, with the view which his hon. and learned Friend entertained of the functions of the Committee, he should have voted for its appointment at all. If, he might acid, the object of the Government had been, as had been alleged, to secure delay, they could best have attained that object by making the Committee a larger one—nominally representing all parties in the House—who would have deemed it necessary to call a great number of witnesses. But the House, he thought, would agree with them that a small Committee, fairly selected, was the best calculated to arrive at the result which the majority of hon. Members had in view. He hoped, therefore, the proposal of the hon. and learned Gentleman would not be accepted.


said, this Committee must either be of importance or it ought never to have been appointed at all. If the functions it had to discharge were of importance he objected altogether to its constitution, because, having gained considerable experience by serving on Committees appointed to investigate delicate subjects, involving religious or political questions, he knew the unfortunate results which followed from Ministers and ex-Ministers being placed on them. He thought that five gentlemen might have been selected to serve on this Committee whose judgment would have been accepted outside that House as being perfectly impartial without having recourse to Ministers or ex-Ministers. He thought it very unfortunate that the Government should have thought it necessary to place a Member of their own body and a Member of the ex-Government on the Committee. He should therefore support the Amendment.


said, his hon. and learned Friend below the gangway (Mr. Harcourt) must by this time have repented of having allowed his innocence to be seduced by the noble Lord so far as to induce him to vote for the appointment of this Committee, because the result of this discussion was to show that no such Committee ought to have been appointed. The House, however, having decided the other evening by a small majority that the Committee should be appointed, all they had now to do was to see that it was properly constituted. The names of the Gentlemen who had been mentioned were unexceptionable, but he could not lose sight of the fact that the Secretary of State for War had been mixed up with this Education Board ever since its establishment—indeed, the right hon. Gentleman was the parent of it, and it was just possible that parental partiality might tend to cloud the ordinary clearness of his vision when the existence of his child was at stake. With regard to the duties of the Committee, what the aggrieved parties asked for should be done, their statement should be heard, and what they said in their defence should be reported by the Committee to the House. Let the House accept the proposal of his hon. and learned Friend, because both the Gentlemen he had named were capable men, in whose impartiality the country could confide. Let the statement of the facts by this Committee be stamped by the authority of these hon. Members, as well as the five Gentlemen whom the Government proposed. He had heard objections taken out of doors to the composition of this Committee, in which he himself did not share; he had declined to resist the appointment of it; but he thought there ought to be some understanding as to what the Committee was to do.


From the memorial presented by a section of the Commissioners to the Government it is perfectly clear that the majority of the Board of National Education in Ireland have already submitted their case to the Government. Are we, then, to understand that this Committee is to pronounce a judgment upon a judgment, pronounced by the Government upon the conduct of the Commissioners in the matter of Mr. O'Keeffe's displacement. It appears to me, that this would be a most extraordinary proceeding. Is the Government the Executive of the State or is it not? With whom rests the power of judging of the conduct of those Commissioners? Does it rest with Her Majesty's Ministers? I believe it does. Well, then, I want to know, if Ministers have already identified themselves by approval with the conduct of these Commissioners, why they now ask this House to intervene at all? For if they have approved of the conduct of the Commissioners, what reason have they for appealing to this House, except that by the appointment of this Committee they seek the judgment of the House upon their own conduct, just as much as upon the conduct of the Commissioners? I cannot, for the life of me, see anything but confusion in this proceeding. This House has means of its own of pronouncing a verdict on the conduct of the Government, without the intervention of a Committee. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie) has given Notice of a Motion impugning the conduct of the Commissioners. What does the Government then do? It puts in a plea for delay by asking us to appoint a Committee to inquire into—what? To inquire into the conduct of this National Board, whose conduct they have already approved. I repeat that I can see nothing but confusion in such a proceeding. If, however, the House is pleased to appoint a Committee, by all means let it appoint a good Committee; and, I believe, that the additions which are proposed by the hon. and learned Member for Oxford (Mr. Harcourt) will make the Committee more satisfactory. Still, I want to know upon what points the Committee is to direct its investigations. Is it to be on the conduct of the Commissioners for National Education in Ireland, distinct from that of Her Majesty's Government; or is it to be upon the conduct of Her Majesty's Government, as having approved of the course which has been pursued by the Commissioners? That is what the House ought to know. What is this Committee to do? Into what is it to inquire? There are several questions which may well be inquired into; one of them is, what is the nature of the jurisdiction which the Commissioners have acknowledged in the person of the Pope's Legate, Cardinal Cullen. Whether the Government have excepted the jurisdiction of Cardinal Cullen on the recommendation of the majority of the Commissioners? ["Oh, oh!"] Hon. Members seem very impatient. I can quite understand Gentlemen who entertain Ultramontane opinions objecting to any question being raised as to the jurisdiction exercised by Cardinal Cullen. It is quite natural that, as Ultramontane Roman Catholics, they should wish the authority of Cardinal Cullen to be undisputed and supreme. The question which is at issue here has just been tried in Germany and decided by the German Parliament. The Commissioners wish a verdict to be pronounced in their favour by the Parlia- ment of England; but that would be a verdict, which I believe the people of England would not approve. Are we to understand that the German newspapers have reason for asserting that their Government and Parliament have the courage to resist the intrusion of this Papal authority in matters of education, and that the Government and Parliament of England have either not the courage or the will to oppose this intrusion? These are large and important questions, and I want to know if the Committee are to enter upon them? Then, there is another question. I hold in my hand the statement of Mr. O'Keeffe, and he appears to be supported in this by Professor O'Hanlon, of Maynooth, high authority on Canon law. Mr. O'Keeffe says that he is prepared to yield canonical obedience to his ecclesiastical superior; but Cardinal Cullen says that his view of canonical obedience is perfectly erroneous. How far are the Government of this country to accept the decisions of these Papal Canonists? These are important questions to refer to the Committee, and if it is improper to entertain them, as he now appears to think, why did the hon. Member for the county of Cork (Mr. Downing) vote for the appointment of this Committee? Surely, if we are to appoint a Committee, we ought to know what are the subjects to be referred to it; and as it is nominated by the Government, how shall we know what these subjects are, except by asking the Government to inform us? Is this Committee, then, to hear the Rev. Mr. O'Keeffe? If it does, he will present to the Committee exactly the same case that was submitted to the Committee on Mortmain in 1851, by priests of the Hexham district, in the North of England, who feared being excommunicated, and who prayed that they might not be subjected, through the English law, to the penalties of the exaggerated Canon law of Rome, which law Cardinal Cullen is now attempting to enforce. Evidence upon this subject was given before the Select Committee on Mortmain, which reported in the year 1852. Again, I ask, with regard to the questions to be considered by this Committee, is the Committee to hear the Rev. Mr. O'Keeffe? I call upon the Prime Minister to say whether Mr. O'Keeffe is to appear before the Committee? And I hope the right hon. Gentleman, or some Member of the Government, will answer that question, which I once more repeat—is Mr. O'Keeffe to be heard before the Committee, which it is now proposed that the House should appoint?


said, there must be a very general feeling that the Committee should be so appointed that the inquiry should be full and impartial. He would therefore suggest that, as it was a matter in which a large number of Roman Catholics in Ireland were interested, one of the names proposed to be added to the Committee by his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Harcourt) should be that of some hon. Member who sat for an Irish constituency. ["Name"] Well, as he was called upon to name, he might, perhaps, mention his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dungarvan (Mr. Matthews) as a person in whom the Irish people would have confidence.


said, that as the hon. and learned Member for Oxford (Mr. Harcourt) did not seem disposed to accede to the suggestion which had just been made, he must take his Motion as it stood. Now, the grounds on which the Committee had been originally proposed were based upon grounds of justice as well as of policy and grace, and it would, he thought be matter of regret that the step which the House had already taken in the matter should be deprived of that character by anything which might be done that evening. The number five had been proposed by the Government because they were of opinion that it would greatly conduce to the despatch of the proceedings of the Committee that its number should be small. But it was not the numbers five or seven, but, what was to be the composition of the Committee, which was really at issue on the present occasion. Upon that point the view of the Government was that it should be a Committee which would command the confidence of the people generally, and especially of those who were directly interested in its proceedings. He did not refer to the Roman Catholic Members of the House; he referred to the people of Ireland, who viewed with suspicion the proceedings of the National Board. The Roman Catholic people of Ireland generally, and the Protestant people of Ireland to a very large extent, were deeply inter- ested in the maintenance and prosperity of the system of national education, which was partly bound up with the National Board of Ireland, and he might be permitted to say that if there was one section of persons in Ireland more distinctly and warmly interested in the National Board and in the system of education in Ireland than another, it was those friends of liberal education and mixed education whose opinions and whose feelings were to be consulted on this occasion. The earnest desire of the Government under these circumstances was not to appoint an ill-balanced Committee, and they had done everything in their power to make it a fair one. Nothing had been said against its composition, indeed, by anyone except his right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie), who spoke of it as the child of the Secretary of State for War, forgetting that his right hon. Friend was not Secretary for Ireland in 1831. [Mr. BOUVERIE: The Board has been entirely altered since.] Yes, the numbers were altered from 13 to 20, but its composition, so far as the admixture in it of members of different religious persuasions was concerned, continued to be the same, and its spirit was that which it had received from Lord Derby, with the assent of all parties in that House. That being so, was it desirable that the composition of the Committee should be changed? His hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oxford, indeed, contended that the Government had abdicated their responsibility, and had delegated to a Committee the province of judging how far ecclesiastical authority was to be supreme in Ireland. But if that responsibility ought not to be delegated to a Committee of five, neither ought it to be delegated to a Committee of seven Members. The Government always maintained that they must ultimately be responsible for the proceedings of the National Board. That had been explicitly stated by his noble Friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland, as well as by himself, last year; but they added that they did not think the time had come for passing judgment on the conduct of the Commissioners. It was on the same ground that they declined to pass judgment upon it when the Motion of his right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock came under the notice of the House, but their responsibility the Government had never attempted to abdicate, and he again repeated that they were ultimately responsible for reviewing that conduct, and for either disapproving or supporting it. As to the names of the Committee, they were those of men who could not be supposed to have any disposition to recognize the supremacy of ecclesiastical authority, and although the popular feeling of Ireland had but a limited space upon it, he thought its composition ought to be satisfactory to all parties. His hon. and learned Friend now proposed to add to it two hon. Members whom he selected from below a line to which he seemed to attach much greater importance than any other line in that House, and he, for one had no wish to say a single word which might be regarded as disagreeable with reference to the hon. Gentlemen named. No one could fail to see that the Motion of the hon. and learned Member was intended to alter the complexion of the Committee. The hon. Member for the University of Edinburgh (Dr. Lyon Playfair) had been placed by circumstances, possibly against his own will, in a position antagonistic to the feelings of a large majority of the Irish people on the question of education in that country, and the name of the hon. Member for South-west Lancashire (Mr. Cross) was calculated to excite apprehension and alarm in the minds of 4,000,000 of our Roman Catholic fellow subjects. If it was thought right to alter the numbers of the Committee, he trusted the House would not impair its usefulness by making additions to it of an avowedly one-sided character. To the proposition of his hon. and learned Friend he could not consent.


said, if the composition of the Committee was not satisfactory to the people of Ireland its proceedings would have no weight in their minds. He approved of the proposition of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Harcourt), and thought a Committee of seven would not be too large, and should not object to a Committee even of 13, 15, or 17.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 200; Noes 182: Majority 18.

Motion made, and Question put, "That Mr. Cross be one other Member of the said Committee."—(Mr. Vernon Harcourt.)

The House divided:—Ayes 205; Noes 165: Majority 40.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Select Committee have power to send for persons, papers, and records."


gave Notice that to-morrow he would move that Mr. Newdegate and Mr. Whalley be added to the Committee.


wishing that the matter should be considered by a fuller House, moved the adjournment of the debate.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Sir Patrick O'Brien.)


said, he hoped the debate would not be adjourned. If the hon. Member wished to add other Members to the Committee, he might make a substantive Motion to that effect; but whatever might now be said of the composition of the Committee he thought the investigation should be conducted with all possible despatch.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Original Question put, and agreed to.

Power to send for persons, papers, and records; Three to be the quorum.