HL Deb 24 April 1845 vol 79 cc1231-8
The Earl of Clancarty

presented petitions against the National System of Education in Ireland, and in favour of the Church Education Society, from thirty-two parishes: and, on presenting the following petitions against the Maynooth grant, viz., from the parishes of Shillelagh, Kilnorthen and Muclin, and from the Wesleyan Methodists of Ballinasloe, said, he trusted he might be permitted to say a few words with reference to the subject on which these petitioners had addressed their Lordships. I am very far from questioning the right of the State to provide education for any class of Her Majesty's subjects who may be deemed proper objects of such a provision, and may be willing to accept it at Her hands; and I should be the last person to deny or undervalue the peculiar and very strong claims of my countrymen, the people of Ireland, to the consideration and sympathy of the Imperial Government in this respect. But whether at Maynooth or elsewhere, I am decidedly of opinion that no system of education should be provided at the public expense without Ministerial responsibility, and that is not subject to the supremacy and absolute control of the State. Your Lordships will, I am sure, agree with me that there is no function of Government—no duty which a Minister of the Crown could undertake—which according to the manner in which it is fulfilled and the principles that regulate it, may be productive of such lasting benefit to the community, or, on the other hand, exercise so evil an influence upon society, as that of public instruction. It is, therefore, most important that Ministers should be held responsible to Parliament, as Parliament is (and at the present time fearfully so) to the country, that the public money shall not be laid out for educational purposes, except upon principles conducive to the welfare and future usefulness of those under instruction, to the general good of society, and to the dissemination of religious truth. Now, I believe, that no such results have flowed from the system of education pursued at Maynooth College; that originally founded for the legitimate purpose of "the better education of persons professing the Roman Catholic religion," it has signally failed of accomplishing that object. At the end of half a century, and ere your Lordships are called upon to pass an Act to extend and perpetuate this institution, it is not unreasonable to ask, what good has it effected—whether among those who have been educated within its walls any have adorned the literature of the country—have been distinguished as men of science, or have exhibited in their characters any praiseworthy qualities referable in any degree to the moral or religious training of that College? I believe that such an inquiry would show it to have been an institution neither creditable to the State, nor beneficial to the country—that it has, in fact, proved nothing better than a Propaganda of the worst and most intolerant principles of Romanism, destructive alike of social harmony and of religious liberty, and rendering the very profession of Protestantism often insecure, and a certain cause of persecution. The unfavourable opinion I have expressed of Maynooth College, is, I believe, entertained by most people who are acquainted with Ireland; and, judging from the petitions that have been presented, the public in general are not more favourably impressed in behalf of that institution. If such an opinion is mistaken or exaggerated, there is a ready way by which the reputation of the College may be vindicated, and that is by an inquiry—by a searching inquiry into the whole system of Maynooth education, into the discipline, the training, and the class book of instruction, religious as well as secular. Such an inquiry has often been called for, and is most due to the country at the present time, when it is proposed to fasten this institution upon it by perpetual endowment; but it is especially due to the Irish Roman Catholics, whose interests you are so desirous of promoting. Without such previous inquiry, and a thorough reform of every proved abuse, I should, for my part, certainly feel it my duty to vote against any further grant in aid of Maynooth College, even did I not feel my discretion in the matter greatly fettered by the oaths which, in common with most of your Lordships, I have taken at the Table of this House. My Lords, in adverting to my opinion of the obligation of an oath, which nearly all in this House have taken, and which, rightly understood, must be equally binding upon all, I can truly say, that I speak with those feelings of deference and respect which are so justly due to those whom I have the honour of addressing, and with the humble but anxious desire to be set right, if my views of our common obligation be incorrect. But, my Lords, I have always been accustomed to consider the Legislature of this country as bound by certain and defined principles, in relation to the established religion. Whether those principles are well or ill suited to the present time, is not now the question. If they are deemed objectionable, it might be competent to review them. But while they are consecrated as at present by oaths and declarations, taken and subscribed in the most solemn manner, I cannot but view them as, in the strictest sense of the word, obligatory, and such as cannot be deliberately or knowingly violated in ever so small a degree, without, to say the least of it, setting a most pernicious and dangerous example. I do not consider that any oaths or declarations taken at the Table of this House militate against the most perfect toleration. If I did, I should rather forego the privilege of my seat in this assembly than take them; but I do feel, and strongly, that to give direct I encouragement to a religion which we believe and declare to be erroneous and delusive, and whose doctrines are directly at variance with the established religion of the country, is in violation of principle; and that I am bound by no less an obligation than that of an oath against doing aught to establish or increase the spiritual or ecclesiastical authority of any foreign prelate, and consequently of the See of Rome, within this realm. In no other sense can I understand the obligation or intent of the Oath of Supremacy; and if that is a correct view of it, it certainly appears to me to have a very decided bearing upon the question that at present so much agitates and alarms the public mind, and opposes a decided objection to your Lordships passing a Bill for the perpetual endowment of the College of Maynooth, thenceforward not subject to State control, but under the recognised ecclesiastical authority of the Romish Church, and consequently the supremacy of the Pope, and under the same authority propagating Roman Catholic tenets subversive of the Queen's supremacy in these realms. Upon these grounds I should consider the Oath of Supremacy as a bar to my voting for such a Bill. I am aware, my Lords, that there are some who deny that there is any religious question involved in the matter. With these I cannot agree. That there are others who ridicule the conscientious objections of the people of England against the proposed measure. With such I can have no sympathy. There are, however, many who argue that the principle was disposed of by the Act of 1795, and that it is, therefore, too late now to argue the question of Maynooth upon the ground of principle. My Lords, I cannot agree in this view of the subject. Looking at the title and provisions of the Act for the establishment of Maynooth College, and the circumstances which led to it, it does not appear to me that it did involve any violation of principle; it was an act of toleration, enabling Roman Catholics, at their own expense, to endow a college for the better education of the youth of their own religious persuasion, and licensing the performance of the Roman Catholic Church service within it. This, I think, was no invasion of the supremacy of the Crown; but one thing is quite certain, viz., that the Oath of Supremacy is still an oath obligatory, as far as it is still practicable, upon those who have thought proper anew to take it. My Lords, I trust the importance of the subject will be a sufficient apology with your Lordships for my having, upon the mere presentation of a petition, taken up so much of your time; but impressed as I am with the belief, entertained by others, here as well as out of doors, that the Oath of Supremacy does limit the discretion of the House respecting the institution of Maynooth College, I did feel it important to bring the subject thus early under the notice of your Lordships.

The Marquess of Normanby

said, it was not his intention to accept the challenge of the noble Earl, as to whether his interpretation of the oath, or that which was more generally and more rationally put upon it, was the correct one. If that question should be revived in the course of the regular discussion of the subject, no doubt it would be answered, and he thought it would be better to postpone such matters until the whole subject was before their Lordships. But the noble Earl had stated, that during the last fifty years he did not believe that the College of Maynooth had produced any man eminent for literature and science. Now, he (the Marquess of Normanby) during his residence in Ireland made it his duty to make inquiry upon that head, and certainly his impression respecting the religious character and learning of the priests educated there was very different from that expressed by the noble Earl. Therefore he could not allow the remarks of the noble Earl to pass without uttering his dissent from them. Certainly no person could have seen that institution without knowing that it was conducted on a scale which was not calculated to render it very effective; but at the same time there was no ground for the sweeping assertion of the noble Earl, that no person had emanated from Maynooth eminent for religious character or literary attainments.

The Earl of Clancarty

explained that he had not made an assertion, but had only said that at the end of half a century it was a legitimate inquiry whether any eminent persons had been educated at Maynooth.

The Marquess of Clanricarde

said, his noble Friend who had previously spoken, and his noble Friend who spoke on the last night that their Lordships met, seemed to imagine that although the College of Maynooth had been instituted for half a century, no inquiry had been made into the mode of Education there during the whole of that period. But that was not the fact; and his noble Friends were mistaken if they supposed it was. Because, when the Education Commission was issued by Government in 1826 or 1827, that very matter was particularly and searchingly inquired into. He believed the whole of the evidence taken by the Commissioners was appended to a Report which was laid before Parliament, and which no doubt was to be found in the library of each House, and open to the research of his noble Friends.

Lord Colchester

admitted the existence of the Report. The noble Marquess was not the only one aware of that fact. Still, as it was made eighteen years ago, according to the noble Marquess's statement, he did not see why a further inquiry should not be made.

Lord Brougham

wished to take the earliest opportunity of doing what he had the means of doing—to give the most authoritative contradiction that words could give to a statement which had been ventured in another place, that a late article against Maynooth, which had most unaccountably appeared in a French newspaper, was the production of one of the Members of the French Ministry. He believed that attack had given the greatest possible concern and offence to the Ministry of that country.

The Earl of Clancarty

observed, that he had sought with great respect for the solution of a most important question. He had stated his desire to be corrected, if wrong, with respect to that oath which so many of their Lordships had taken; but he had not received any light upon the subject. No noble Lord had stood up to reply to his question. Perhaps it was because no one was able to give an answer to it.

Lord Monteagle

observed, that there might be various reasons, and good reasons too, for their Lordships remaining silent upon such an occasion. One in which he believed they would generally share was, that the assertion was so contradicted by all the facts that no answer was necessary. If the argument of the noble Earl was worth a straw, every noble Lord, and all the Members of the other House, who since the year 1795, or from 1800 up to 1845, had continued to take the Oath of Supremacy, and had voted for the grant to Maynooth—some hundreds or thousands of Members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, according to the declaration of the noble Lord, had been guilty, not merely of misapprehension or of impolicy, but of a violation of the Oath of Supremacy. But he must say, that he could not find within the four corners of the Oath of Supremacy anything about Maynooth; and nothing required greater ingenuity, he thought, than to make it appear that a grant to Maynooth was a violation of that oath. As to the silence of their Lordships, it had been said that nothing created silence more than astonishment; and the noble Earl might have augured that the silence of their Lordships was caused by their astonishment at the noble Lord's assertions, rather than by their inability to answer them.

The Earl of Eldon

presented a petition from Bletchingly, in Sussex, against the grant to Maynooth, and was about to present others, when—

The Earl of Clancarty

rose and said, that the noble Lord (Lord Monteagle) had attacked him with sarcasm and ridicule—an attack which none could make better than he—for putting a question in a respectful manner to the House. He felt that the Oath of Supremacy stood between him and Maynooth; and the noble Lord had stated that every noble Lord who, since 1795, had taken the Oath of Supremacy and voted for the Maynooth grant, or acquiesced in it, had forsworn himself. Now, he considered that the Act of 1795 might have been perfectly legitimate. The object of it was the better education of the Roman Catholic subjects of Her Majesty. It was an act of toleration, not implying any infringement of Her Majesty's supremacy. But when the College became, as it subsequently did, a seminary for the purpose of disseminating views and tenets subversive of Her Majesty's supremacy, it was not right that the funds of this country should longer be tributary to its support. The noble Lord, instead of attacking him, should have stated how he understood the Oath of Supremacy, and what were its obligations. If there were no obligations, the caking of the oath was a mockery.

Lord Beaumont

was astonished at the noble Lord, because he betrayed the most profound ignorance of the Roman Catholic religion—an ignorance which many of the opponents of Maynooth could not plead. He stated, that at the time the grant was originally passed he saw no objection to it, because at that time it was for the better education of the Roman Catholics of Ireland. The Roman Catholics of Ireland received their chief and main education through their priests; therefore the grant, which now was to prove the source of all education in Ireland—which was to give specifically, because all former grants had failed, a better education—was brought forward on the sole ground, and on the same ground, as former grants, and without any violation of the oath, even taking the interpretation of the noble Earl. But the point of ignorance was this—the noble Earl had said, that in former times the tenets of the Catholics were such that he had no objection to the grant. But now the noble Earl said, it appeared that subsequently to that period the tenets preached and taught in that College tended to the subversion of order; and therefore he called upon their Lordships to object to the grant. He would tell the noble Earl, then, that he knew nothing of the Roman Catholic religion; he was profoundly ignorant of it, if he supposed that any of the tenets or principles of the Roman Catholic religion were altered. It was the great characteristic of the Roman Catholic religion that it did not change.

The Earl of Eldon

said, it was upon that very ground—namely, that the tenets of the Roman Catholic religion were unchangeable—that he felt bound to oppose the grant. The noble Lord presented four other petitions from Surrey against the grant.

Lord Brougham

, presented a petition, from a number of individuals largely interested in railway property, residing in Manchester, Liverpool, Lancaster, Leeds, Wales, Cheltenham, Derby, Rugby, Chester, Dundalk, Plymouth, Nottingham, Burlington, Edinburgh, and in every part of the kingdom, in short. They stated that they required the protection of the Legislature, because their property was involved to an endless extent in railways; and that they found themselves damnified in their property by the exercise of the powers vested in the directors who managed things in such a way as to include one railway within another, so as to absorb the property in which these individuals were concerned. Now, he must say, that he totally differed from them. He considered that they did not want protection; they had it in their own hands by the prudent and discreet avoidance of risking their property in railways. For he must remind them that they were liable to many other and worse risks by heedlessly vesting their property in railways. The directors might belong to another company, and it might be their interest to sacrifice the one company and ruin it. Or they might wish to purchase more shares, and for that purpose might give out a report injurious to the undertaking, or even pass a damaging resolution, and then, having bought the shares, revoke it, and let the price go up again. In fact, they were supreme, and the shareholders could not control them while they remained in office.

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