HC Deb 01 July 1875 vol 225 cc819-21

rose to call attention to the circumstance that 256 School Boards in England and Wales have provided, by their by-laws, that the Bible should be both read and taught in their schools; and to ask the Vice President of the Council, Whether the Government will consider the propriety of testing the accuracy of the instruction so imparted, by including it in the branches of knowledge to be reported upon by Her Majesty's Inspectors? The hon. Member said, it appeared to him to be a sound principle that all branches of education which were to be found in the public elementary schools should be subject to inspection, in order that it might be ascertained whether or not the work of the teacher was done in a satisfactory manner. The only alteration required to carry out his object was a slight alteration of Section 7 of the Act of 1870. Since the Act was passed there had been a considerable reaction against what was called secularism in education, and he thought there was now a general feeling that the grandest book in the world, in a literary point of view, should not be eliminated from the board schools.


said, he looked with favour on the proposal of the hon. Member for Exeter. He hoped that if the Vice President of the Council did recognize this principle for the benefit of the children of Protestants, the noble Lord would take care how far he might, by so doing, oppose a similar necessity in the case of children belonging to parents of other creeds, such as Roman Catholics.


said, he hoped that the time was not far distant when religious education would become much more a substantial part of elementary education than it was at present, and there was abundant evidence to show that that feeling was entertained very largely in the country, not only as regarded school board schools, but also denominational schools. At the same time he fully concurred in the opinion that care should should be taken not to infringe upon the liberty of the conscience of parents. England was a country largely favoured by Providence. She possessed many blessings and almost boundless wealth. It was therefore but right and reasonable that provision should be made systematically for the instruction of children in our public elementary schools in the simple clear truths of Christianity; and the more so, as in so many cases parents were unable or even unwilling themselves to impart religious teaching to their children.


said, he fully appreciated the observations of the hon. Member (Mr. O'Shaughnessy). If the great subject of education were re-opened he should be prepared to advocate the view he held years ago, when he was not in Parliament—namely, that a very strict Conscience Clause was absolutely necessary. He believed the damage done in years past by not acknowledging the right of conscience could hardly be fully estimated. With reference to the subject touched upon by the hon. Member (Mr. Salt), it was clear from a Return, moved for by the hon. Member for Plymouth, that the opinion of the great bulk of the country, as tested by school board elections, was in favour of Bible reading, instruction in religion and morality in the schools. Now that the Government had withdrawn religious inspection from all schools, he could not but conceive to himself that serious danger might arise—not so much in board schools as in voluntary ones—owing to the interest of the managers and teachers, in a money point of view, being against the introduction of any other than secular topics in the curriculum; and the circumstance might happen that when the teachers of those schools who were accustomed to conduct them on religious principles dropped out, Bible teaching would gradually be taken out of the curriculum. How that danger was to be met, or whether it could be met at all, was a serious question. He was afraid he could not say the Government were prepared to establish such a System of inspection as was proposed, for the subject was such a large one and had been so recently discussed that they would hardly be justified in re-opening it at the present time. As to the possibility of conducting religious education in elementary schools, the reports furnished to the London School Board were to his mind conclusive. One Inspector reported that, out of 60,000 children, only 28 had been withdrawn from Bible instruction, and that no difficulty had been experienced with the remainder, while the religious knowledge seemed to be imparted in as thorough and reverential a manner as in voluntary schools. Another Inspector reported in the same strain; and, under these circumstances, he ventured to think that religious instruction in board schools was not so worthless as had been alleged.

Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.