HL Deb 16 April 1832 vol 12 cc496-9
Lord Kenyon

presented a Petition against the new system of Education, from the clergy, gentry, merchants, and inhabitants, of Manchester. It was signed, his Lordship said, by the borough-reeve and municipal Magistrates, by all the clergymen of the town with only two or three exceptions, and by all the Dissenting ministers, and, in a very short space of time, by 4,000 of the most respectable inhabitants, and it would, there was no doubt, have received the signatures of a much greater number had the usual means been resorted to. The petitioners condemned the conduct of Government in attempting to overthrow an established system of education, which had produced consequences the most beneficial and satisfactory on no other grounds than that the Catholic priests objected to it. They expressed also an opinion, that, to appropriate the revenues of the State to the establishment of a system of education from which the Holy Scriptures were to be withdrawn, was inconsistent in the Government of a Protestant King. In this sentiment he entirely concurred. He had always been a great advocate for education, but he considered it essential that it should be founded on the Word of God. He hoped Ministers would not persevere in their plan.

Lord Suffield

said, the object of his rising was, to explain to their Lordships the character of the meeting from which this petition emanated. He by no means wished to complain of meetings being held on this subject; but he objected to this petition being received as the petition of the gentry, clergy, merchants, and inhabitants of Manchester, when the meeting at which it was agreed to was a packed meeting, to which admission could only be had by a ticket previously obtained. He had received information from a highly respectable individual who attended it, that, soon after the business began, he proceeded to address the meeting, when he was stopped by the Chairman, who called upon him to state whether he agreed in opinion with those who had called the meeting, because, if he did not, he could not be per- mitted to be heard. Their Lordships were told of the unanimity which prevailed at the meetings where these petitions against the proposed system of education were agreed to. That unanimity was sufficiently accounted for, if no person was permitted to offer his sentiments in opposition to the opinions of those who had called the meeting. He was informed, that there were not more than 200 persons present at the meeting, and that out of that number 120 were females. He did not wish to detract from the merits of the ladies, who no doubt were always busy in the performance of good works; they had been exceedingly active in obtaining signatures to the petition. His noble friend said, that this petition was signed by more than 4,000 persons. The wonder was, not that it was signed by so many, but that it was not signed by 14,000, or even 40,000 persons; for he would say, that, if the petition had been sent to him with such an invitation as that which was put forth at Manchester, he should have signed it directly, and, connected as he was with the town of Manchester, he really was surprised that the petition had not been sent to him for that purpose. There was not a noble Lord on that side of the House who would have refused to sign it on the invitation put forth which commmenced thus:—'All who regard the Holy Scriptures as the birth right of every Christian; all who believe them designed to make men wise unto salvation; all who conscientiously deny the right of man to interfere be twixt his fellow-man and a full and perfect knowledge of the will of God; all who are earnest in contending for these great Protestant principles, on behalf of themselves and their children; all who desire them to be applied and extended for the benefit of their brethren in Ireland, are invited to come forward and sign this petition.' Who could hesitate to subscribe to such a declaration as that? But then came that which, he scrupled not to say, was a false assumption. It prayed Government to revise or relinquish a measure, by which the whole and individual Word of God is to be excluded from the schools of national education in that country. The Government system of education for Ireland was calculated, according to the assertion, to exclude the use of the Holy Scriptures. How any persons, pretending to be in possession of common sense could make such an assertion, appeared to him wholly incomprehensible. He had had too much experience of public life, even within his limited sphere of observation, not to know that party feeling frequently led men, under its influence, into the greatest imaginable absurdities, and that they were now and then induced to make assertions, which their calmer judgments altogether repudiated; but of all the gross and outrageous assertions that ever party spirit betrayed men into uttering, this assertion stood out in unequalled absurdity. The more he reflected upon the system of education proposed to be established in Ireland, the more did he become convinced that it was not only the best suited to that country, but that it was, at the same time, the system of education best calculated to secure to the pupils for whose use it had been devised, a sound acquaintance with the Holy Scriptures. He was quite sure that his noble friend, in making the statement which the House had just heard, did so with perfect good faith, and he was anxious merely to rebut his statement, because he imagined that his noble friend might not know what sort of meeting it was at which the petition originated.

Lord Kenyon

said, his noble friend had told their Lordships that he was never surprised at the length to which party spirit carried those who were under its influence. He trusted that he was not one of its votaries. He considered himself as free as most people from the influence of party feeling, and he hoped he had never been carried away by any other cause than the cause of his country, truth, and religion. He acknowledged his warm attachment to all that could promote truth and justice, and he, therefore, hoped, that his noble friend did not mean to impute to him any influence arising from considerations of party. He must be allowed to say, with respect to this petition, that it had been rather hardly dealt with by the noble Lord. It was a petition not hawked about with bands of music, or any display of colours as some others were, but it was an address from a Protestant population, and its object was, to display a Christian and Protestant feeling, and to procure for the people of Ireland, the use of the Holy Scriptures unmutilated. He should, certainly, have been happy if the petition had been signed by more persons, but it was with much satisfaction he found the signatures as numerous us they actually were. It had been objected to the meeting that it was in some degree a private assembly, it never professed to be any other, n d he much commended the prudence of hose who, upon such an occasion, avoided public disputation. They were in a town which contained many thousand Catholics, and if they had not adopted precautions, a disturbance might have ensued, and the petitioners been exposed to outrage and insult. Whatever was the character of the meeting, the petition must be considered as that of those who had signed it, among whom was the great body of the clergy of Manchester.

Petition to lie on the Table.

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