§ Lord Bexley
said, that in the absence of a noble Viscount, who would have performed the task much better, he was desirous to present to their Lordships a petition against the proposed plan of education in Ireland, agreed to at a public meeting at Exeter Hall. It was signed by fourteen Peers, twenty Members of the House of Commons, 156 Dissenting Ministers, and between 3,000 and 4,000 of the most respectable inhabitants of London and Westminster. This petition could not be said to originate in party spirit, for it was signed by men of all parties and of all religious persuasions, with the exception, perhaps, of Roman Catholics. For his own part, he was ready to support any measure of his Majesty's Government which would have the effect of pacifying Ireland, but it was because he thought the adoption of the proposed plan would have exactly the opposite effect, that he objected to it. It had been said, that the various societies previously established in Ireland for the education of the people had failed in their objects, but that was, he thought, an error. The petitioners were of the same opinion, and returned thanks to God for the success of those societies. It appeared by the Report of the Education Commission in 1812, that 200,000 poor children then received instruction in the schools in Ireland, of whom 20,000 only were taught to read the Scriptures. The Kildare-street Society formed its first schools in 1816; in the succeeding ten years it and other so- 343 cieties laboured with so much effect, that in 1826 the Commission reported that about 569,000 children attended the different schools, of whom at least 300,000 read the Scriptures. The number attending the scriptural schools had since gone on increasing. By the returns in 1831, the schools of the Kildare-street Society contained 137,000 scholars; those of the London Hibernian Society 70,000; those of the Baptist Society, 8,000; in all, 215,000 attending daily schools. Besides these, the Sunday School Society educated 202,000; making in all, 417,000. Could it be said that all these children were Protestants? In that case, instead of an inconsiderable proportion (as they were often represented to be), they must constitute at least half the inhabitants of Ireland; for, 400,000 children at school implied a population of from 3,000,000 to 4,000,000, and all those classes were to be added whose children did not receive gratuitous education: but the case was notoriously otherwise, and though the proportion between the two religions could not be exactly ascertained, there was good reason to believe that two-thirds of the children were of the Roman Catholic persuasion. But the claims of the Kildare-street Society to the protection of Parliament, and the gratitude of the public, did not end there. Exclusive of 1,620 schools, and 137,000 children, under the Society's care, it had educated since its commencement, 1,908 masters and 482 mistresses for schools, many of whom were Roman Catholics, and conducted Catholic establishments. Another important branch of the Society's operations was publishing books. Many of its members—men of great attainments and eminent character, in literature as well as in professional distinction—had devoted a part of their time and talents to the composition of elementary works in various branches of science, as ell as of religious and moral instruction. w[...] These works, which might vie with the very first productions of their class, even in this age, when elementary instruction had been so much attended to, were printed in a very cheap form, both for general sale and for lending libraries to the poor. Nearly a million and a half of cheap books had been issued by the Society, and 1,131 libraries formed under its auspices, besides a library attached to every school, making in the whole above 2,700 libraries in the different provinces of 344 Ireland. He left it to the House to judge of the effect of such a mass of information dispersed throughout a country, whose inhabitants, in many parts, were wholly destitute of mental cultivation. Of the success of the new system very flourishing statements had been made; and a very important document had been laid before the other House of Parliament, to which he might without impropriety refer. He would venture to affirm, that it presented the complete picture of the total failure of an attempt at joint education. All that the influence of Government, aided by the zeal of its partizans, and a large grant of public money had produced, was six joint applications of a Protestant Clergyman or Dissenting Minister with a Roman Catholic Priest, for the erection of a new school, and thirteen for grants to schools already existing. There were three separate applications from Protestants for new schools, and nine for schools existing; and from Roman Catholics, 136 of the first kind, and 285 of the other. Could there be a more complete proof that in Ireland this system was not considered one of joint education, but exclusively Roman Catholic? He did not blame the Ministers for entertaining this plan in the first instance, for they found a great mass of materials prepared for them, and they believed that the public looked for some plan at their hands; but he should blame them if they persisted in it at the risk of destroying a real system of joint education, which already existed, and was daily gaining ground, but which it was the obvious tendency, if not the intention, of the new plan to undermine. The new plan could only be one of Roman Catholic education, and if Ministers meant to support it as such, let them say so; but let them not, under the mask and disguise of a joint system, covertly introduce one exclusively Roman Catholic. If they were determined to persevere in the plan, the vote for the Board of Education ought to come separately before the House, and not mixed up with the Appropriation Act, which would deprive their Lordships of an opportunity of discussing it. The noble Lord, in conclusion, moved that the petition be read.
The Earl of Wicklow
would not trouble the House with any lengthened observations, but as he was the person who first brought the subject of the new plan of education in Ireland before the House, he thought that it was his duty to take 345 the earliest opportunity of inquiring of the noble Lords opposite (the Ministers), whether it were true, as had been stated, that a very great change had been determined on by his Majesty's Government in the arrangements which they had lately made for the education of the poor of Ireland? At a meeting of the General Assembly, the Solicitor General of Scotland had stated, on the authority of repeated communications from Mr. Stanley, his Majesty's Secretary of State for Ireland, that it was the determination of the Irish Government to enforce the attendance of the Protestant children at Bible classes in the national schools; but to excuse Catholic children from attending to those classes. He looked upon that as a vital and most useful change of the system; and he thought it was due to the Government to make it known to the public, if, in compliance with the petitions which had been presented to both Houses of Parliament, they had really determined on such a change.
§ Viscount Melbourne
said, that if he had been aware of the noble Earl's intention to ask this question, he should have been much better prepared to answer it than he was at present. All that he was able to state now was, that Government never intended that the plan of education adopted in Ireland should not admit of changes which were consistent with the principles upon which it was founded. The alteration in the system which the noble Earl had alluded to did not appear to be inconsistent with its principles; but he could not at present say whether it was the intention of Government to propose it.
The Earl of Wicklow
said, that he had given no notice of his intention of asking any information on this subject, because he conceived that the change to which he had alluded was of so vital a nature, that it could not possibly have been resolved on without the knowledge of every member of his Majesty's Government. If it should be adopted, he would withdraw his opposition to the new system of education in Ireland. If it had not been determined on, then he would say, that the meeting of the General Assembly had been unfairly dealt with.
said, that the noble Viscount (Melbourne) ought to be able, without any previous preparation, to answer the question put to him. The noble 346 Viscount himself was the responsible Minister for Ireland; and if he was not aware of that, he did not know the nature of the duties which he had undertaken.
§ Petition laid on the Table.
The Earl of Roden
had also to present a Petition from Colreagh, in Sligo, against the present system of education in Ireland, and he must take the opportunity of stating, that if the alteration alluded to by the noble Earl were adopted, he should still consider the system liable to many objections.
The Marquess of Lansdown
said, that the proposition commented upon by the noble Earl (Wicklow) was not of a vital nature, nor inconsistent with the principles upon which the new system was founded, and to which the Government was resolved firmly to adhere; namely, the application of the national funds to the joint advantage of Roman Catholics and Protestants. The proposition was merely to allow an extra hour out of the usual school-time to Protestant children for instruction in the Bible. This was in nowise inconsistent with the new system; and he for one disclaimed any support which might be offered on the ground of its being a vital alteration.
The Earl of Wicklow
said, that it appeared from what he had read, that a Bible class was to be introduced in the national schools. This was an important alteration, because at present the Bible was not permitted to be used in the schools.
The Duke of Leinster
said, that it had always been the intention of the Board to allow certain hours of the day to be devoted to religious instruction of the children, if the clergyman of the parish would attend for that purpose. The Bible was not, however, to be introduced during school hours. He assured the House that it was not without great pain he had heard the observations of some noble Lords opposite, who seemed to think that he was not a Protestant in his heart, and that he did not think reading the Bible necessary, for no other reason, that he could discover, than because he entertained a liberal feeling towards his Roman Catholic countrymen.
The Earl of Roden
observed, that the noble Duke was a man of very high character in Ireland; but he did not appear exactly to understand the objection of those who disapproved of the new system 347 of education. The objection was, that in that system the Bible was not made a school book. Dr. Chalmers had, on occasion of the Catholic emancipation measure, been held up as a high authority by the noble Marquess, and he hoped the noble Marquess would allow the same weight to that authority now, when he was decidedly opposed to the new system. His Lordship presented a petition against the new system from members of the Orange Lodge, 217, in the county of Down.
§ Viscount Goderich
said, that nothing could be more erroneous than the statement of the noble Lord, that the grant to the Kildare-street Society was intended exclusively for the instruction of the Protestants. There never was a greater error, in fact. He remembered when the grant was first proposed to be made, and, that the great complaint on that occasion was, that Catholic and Protestant children were not educated together, and that the very reason for selecting the Kildare-street Society for managing the grant was, that its system was not exclusively Protestant, but included Catholics, and the proof of this was, that there were Catholic noblemen and gentlemen among its directors. The great object was, that the children of Protestants and Catholics should be admitted under the same roof, in hopes that when they grew up together, the effect would be, to soothe that feeling of irritation which had so long prevailed in Ireland. They might be disappointed in that, but such had been their object, so that it was a total mistake to suppose that this grant was intended for the exclusive benefit of the Protestants.
§ The Duke of Sussex
wished to know whether the petition just presented purported to be the petition of an Orange club, or of certain members belonging to the club. He apprehended, that the petition could not be received as the petition of an Orange Lodge, as that was a body not recognized by law.
The Earl of Roden
said, that he had described the petition as being the petition only of the persons signing it. He, was, however, surprised that the illustrious Duke should have made an objection to the present petition, when so many petitions were received by that House, coming from Political Unions, or from the members of Political Unions, which, he begged leave to say, were not less objectionable than the petitions of the members 348 of Orange Lodges. The object of the two bodies was, he admitted, different; for the first had in view the overturning of the Constitution, and the other wished to support it to the utmost of their power.
§ The Duke of Sussex
said, that his object in rising, was to prevent the petition being received in a manner which was not consistent with the forms of the House.
The Bishop of Exeter
said, that it was certainly true, that public money had not been granted to the Kildare-street Society for Protestants alone; but that Society was selected by Government, not because its views were proselytizing, but because they were scriptural.
§ Petition laid on the Table.