HL Deb 22 July 1847 vol 94 cc665-73

said, he wished to call the attention of the noble Marquess to a subject upon which he had no doubt the noble Marquess would be able to satisfy him by replying to the question he was about to put, although he had not had time to give formal notice of it; and he trusted that the explanation would be a satisfactory one. Within the last few days there had been laid upon the Table of the House a Supplementary Minute of the Committee of Council on Education, bearing date the 10th of the present month. That Minute, after referring to the resolution of the 19th August, 1839, which required "as an indispensable condition that an inspector acting under the authority of the Committee shall be enabled to visit every school to which any grant shall in future be made;" but provided that he should "not be authorized to examine into the religious instruction given in the school, but he would be directed to ask for such information as to the secular instructions and general regulations of the school as might enable the Committee to make a report to Her Majesty in Council, to be laid before both Houses of Parliament," went on to say, "that the principles embodied in the resolution of the 19th August, 1839, be applied to such cases, and that no certificate of the religious knowledge of pupil-teachers or monitors be required from the managers of such schools." Now, it appeared to him (Lord Stanley) that the Committee now intended to apply the spirit of that resolution to two cases which were essentially different: the object of the resolution of 1839 was to exempt schools from religious inspection by inspectors of religious denominations different from those of the pupils; and nothing could be more fair or reasonable than such a proposition. It was manifest the Presbyterian, or Baptist, or Unitarian schools should not be inspected by Church of England inspectors. But it appeared to him that the new Supplementary Minutes carried the matter a great deal further; because the Committee resolved "that there are schools to which it is desirable that grants should be made, though the managers object on religious grounds to make a report concerning the religious state of such schools." He thought the two cases were widely different; and he thought, and he hoped he was not deceived in the belief, that the basis on which all grants were made, or were to be made, was, that although conditions were not imposed with regard to the form of religious instruction, yet that whatever amount of religious instruction should be given, the Parliament and the country which granted and bore the expense of the aid should be satisfied that religious instruction in accordance with the principles of the parents of the pupils educated at the schools should be given. As the reports of the inspectors were the only security which the Government could take or did require for the combination of moral and religious with literary instruction, he wished to know what were the denominations the professors of which objected—as managers of schools requiring aid—to place them under inspection as regarded their religious forms of instruction, and which being to be carried on a religious basis, yet would not undertake to report to Government the religious progress of the children? he hoped they would have some explanation from the noble Marquess as to what class of schools were alluded to in the Minute, and of which Her Majesty's Government entertained the opinion that aid should be granted to them without inspection as to religious instruction.


said, that he could assure his noble Friend that he would with great pleasure give him all the information in his power. Surprising as it might he to the noble Lord, that such strong objections should exist on this subject, and surprising as it had been to himself that they should prevail to such an extent, still a large class entertained strong impressions against receiving any aid in any way connected with religion or religious instruction. Objections had been taken on the part of certain classes of Dissenters, which he should not have taken if he were in their situation, to the existing Minute of the Committee of the Privy Council on Education; and these existed to a very great extent. There were many schools throughout the country which required aid; but the managers of which were deeply impressed with the conscientious feeling that it was their duty to avoid not only the reality but the appearance of receiving any support from the State in connexion with religious instruction. They had expressed in the strongest terms the apprehensions they entertained at inspectors being appointed to examine into the religious instruction given in their schools, as they supposed that they might be considered to receive some support from the State in aid of religious instruction or worship. The Committee of the Privy Council adhered most strongly to the opinion that there must be religious instruction, in some form or other, in all schools which received any portion of the public money; but they would not enforce the visits of the inspectors to inquire into the religious instruction given in them, when conscientious objections were entertained. They would not enforce the visit of the inspectors in such cases as to religious instruction; but they would still inquire into the nature of the secular instruction there given. The nature of the objection was, that such inspection into religious matters was a violation of a principle for which they had always contended. Under these circumstances, by means of this Supplementary Minute, they would be able to extend aid to a very numerous class of schools in connexion with most religious communities. The utmost care would be taken that no aid should be given to any school in which religious instruction was not a part of the system of education. No grant also would be made by the Committee of the Privy Council until they were perfectly satisfied as to the respectability of the parties applying for it, and until they gave ample assurance as to religious instruction being imparted.


, viewing, as he did, the proposed change as involving the risk of great danger, had heard with great satisfaction the question put by the noble Lord; but he certainly had not felt satisfied with the answer of the noble Marquess. He thought most injurious and dangerous consequences were involved in the course taken by the Government. The noble Marquess himself did not admit the soundness of the scruples said to be entertained by certain bodies of Dissenters. What was the nature of those scruples? It was, that if they received any portion of the public money for the purpose of aiding them in giving religious instruction to the younger members of their body, it would involve the breach of a rule of conscience; they, therefore, would not in the remotest manner allow any inspection as to the nature of the religious instruction imparted in their schools. So gross a fallacy was involved in this objection, that he was astonished to hear the noble Marquess acknowledge the validity of it. They would receive aid, it appeared, for the instruction of their children. Now, the most important part of education was religious instruction; and they said they would allow inquiry to be made into the manner of instructing the children in mathematics, or any other secular matter; but they would not allow any investigation or inspection to take place as to the nature of the religious instruction given by them. However they might exclaim against the visit of inspectors, when they received a portion of the grant they were in the fullest sense of the word receiving a grant for religious instruction; for such instruction was made essential in all schools. He was surprised that the Privy Council should have allowed itself to be blinded by the allegation of such an objection. It was clear the real objection was to prevent any visits whatever on the part of the inspectors. He did not see any grounds on which the Privy Coun- cil were justified in following the course which they did. He would not go into a general statement as to the opinions entertained by the Church, of which he was an humble member, as to this recent Minute; but he believed he only spoke the general feeling of the Church with respect to the Minutes of the Committee of the Privy Council on the subject of Education, when he said that they were not prepared to acquiesce in any modifications and additions from time to time to such Minutes, to suit the prejudices of certain classes of Dissenters. He would urge it upon Her Majesty's Ministers to consider that there was nothing in the compact between the Church and the Government on this subject which would allow the latter to infringe on those Minutes of the Privy Council which were prepared with so much care, and which it had been understood were to be fairly and fully carried out. He was utterly unprepared for such reasons as had been stated by the noble Marquess as a justification of the course taken by the Government. Such reasons ought not for a moment to be acted upon; for if they were, it was palpable there would not be a sect which would not object to the visits of the inspectors, which they would choose to allege involved inquiry into religious instruction. Let the Government take care of the nature of the exception they had been induced to make. This would prove a most dangerous instance of their severing inspection in secular and religious instruction. They might depend upon it that the adoption of the principle involved in the recent Minute, instead of tending to promote harmony, would excite in the strongest degree ill feeling and animosity.


said, that the more he heard and read on the subject, the more was he convinced of the number and magnitude of the difficulties which surrounded the Government in their attempts to carry out their wishes. He had listened with astonishment to the speech of the right rev. Prelate. He regretted the course which had been pursued by the Government with respect to the education grant to the sect to which he belonged; but he could not subscribe to charges so unjust as those brought by the right rev. Prelate. The right rev. Prelate said that the Government must not give money for educational purposes if not accompanied by religious instruction; but the right rev. Prelate inferred that the Government should not be a party to the instruction in religious tenets unless in connexion with the Established Church. The Dissenters wanted to see general education proposed; and all that they asked was, that, in doing so, their own religious opinions should not be interfered with. What did the right rev. Prelate seek to do? Did he wish the Government only to give money for education in connexion with the Church? Did he wish the Government to propagate the religious opinions of the Establishment, by means of this Parliamentary grant, intended for general education? He hoped next year the Government would return to their original benevolent intention, of extending the grant to all classes. It was a most difficult matter to deal with in this country, where there were from twenty to fifty different religious sects.


said, that he objected to the principle of refusing the visits of the Government inspectors in any schools which received a portion of the public grant. Similar objections to those raised against the inspectors inquiring into the nature of the religious instruction given, would be urged against inspection into secular instruction, and on equally valid grounds. It was the duty of the Government to insist that religious instruction should form a part of the education given in any school receiving aid from the State. As a Christian Government, they were bound to insist on a Christian education being given in all those schools.


knew that a pretty general feeling existed in Scotland in objection to the visits of the inspectors to the schools in connexion with religious instruction, although there was none as regarded secular instruction. Many most respectable persons objected to the interference of the State at all with religion. He did not defend the justice of the prejudices which existed on the subject; but it could not be denied that they pervaded a very large portion of the community. All they asked was, that on their receiving aid, the investigation of the inspectors should be limited to secular instruction, and that each sect should be left to give such religious instruction as it thought fit. The real question was, whether they were prepared to exclude from the benefit of any aid from an educational grant a large proportion of the most religious classes of society in this country.


said, these parties had no conscientious scruples whatever against applying for the fund, or against taking as much of it as they could get; but they were too scrupulous to take it upon the conditions laid down by the Government. These scruples of conscience were never indicated until the money was received. They asked and they received, the conditions, being, of course, implied and understood; and when the funds were in their possession the conditions were rejected, and their conscience refused to allow them to act honourably. This was a mode of proceeding he did not very well understand. Who wished not, willed not, was a common maxim; and it was certainly not strictly honest to deny the self-imposed responsibility. Another reason he had to offer against the principle involved in these Minutes being carried into effect, was the objectionable species of legislation thus introduced. He considered it a dangerous precedent to legislate in matters of such paramount importance by Order in Council, instead of by Act of Parliament.


must express his regret and disappointment at the nature of the answer which had been made by the noble Marquess; and he must also express his earnest hope that the Minute (after the conversation which had taken place) would not be considered as finally arranged. It had been brought forward at so short a period before the prorogation of Parliament, that it could not be sufficiently discussed; and he trusted the Government would undertake not to act upon it until Parliament should have a full opportunity of pronouncing its opinion upon the character of this particular Minute. He was as free as any man could be to give way to, and make allowance for, conscientious scruples; but he must be satisfied that those conscientious scruples were in the first place founded on reason; and in the next place, if he gave way to conscientious scruples, he must be assured that he did not violate fundamental principles on his own part which he was bound to maintain. As to the reasonableness of those scruples, he conceived that the right rev. Prelate and the noble Lord behind him, had both of them exposed the sophistry and quibbling on which the objection appeared to be founded. Taking it either as a wholly unreasonable and a wholly sophistical quibble, or a pretended scruple, or a scruple without foundation—taking it as either —it was a distinction without a difference; those parties were ready to receive the money of the State, but at the same time refused to comply with a reasonable demand for an account of how they applied it; and the Government were bound not to give way to scruples which were wholly unreasonable. Or else, if there were nothing in that objection, then was there a concession to be made by the Government on a point of principle? Were they to withdraw altogether their control, and the security they had that religious instruction should be given in every school? Would they sanction the principle that they were to have nothing to do with inquiring whether in the schools to which their money was given, instruction in the principles of Christianity was to be afforded? If those constant alterations were to take place, and further alterations were to be made from day to day by simple Minutes of the Committee of Council; and if principles were to be infringed from mouth to mouth, and year to year; Parliament could have no permanent security for the principles on which they acted, or the grounds on which they sanctioned them.


saw no ground whatever for the objections urged by the noble Lord. Having been informed of the undoubtedly conscientious scruples of those numerous and most respectable bodies of Christians, he had not been prepared to insist upon compliance with the conditions imposed, in other cases, as to the religious education which would be imparted in the schools aided by grants from the State. It was not for him to interpret the exact conscientiousness of their scruples, or to ascertain the precise amount of reason by which they were guided. He believed them wrong; but he was not entitled to question their sincerity; and he thought it was too much in any man, however differing with them, to apply to their conduct the term "sophistry" or "quibbling." The Legislature had always been in the habit of respecting the scruples of those who disagreed with them. In matters of allegiance and oath-taking, we over and over again dispensed with the forms with which some portion of our fellow-citizens refused to comply; and, convinced as he was, that the control of the State in religious affairs was beneficial to the country and advantageous to the Government, he was yet not prepared to refuse assistance to the cause of education, merely because the details as to the religious instruction could not conscientiously be accepted in all cases. He did not think the noble Lord had any ground for complaining of the time at which this Minute had been laid before Parliament. It had already received full consideration, and ample opportunity had been given for discussing it previous to the prorogation of Parliament.


did not care when it was laid before Parliament; the Supplementary Minute was only dated the 10th of the present month. About three weeks before the dissolution of Parliament, and when a general election was about to take place, the Committee of Council came to the determination that it was wise and expedient to agree to this Minute. The noble Marquess had said, that all scruples that were conscientious scruples, ought to be respected; and the inference from that would be, that you should demand no condition, for on the principle laid down by the noble Marquess, if there was one word in a condition that any human being could object to, they were to do away with that condition. That was doctrine to which he (Lord Stanley) would not assent.


said, he thought that no man should come into that House, and, speaking of a large body of his fellow-citizens, say that the scruples they entertained were sophistical. he denied the right of any man to hold language of that sort towards such a body of men. He thought they should feel the deepest interest in the subject of education. It was a disgrace and a scandal to them, that in the year 1847, so large a portion of the children of the British empire were growing up in ignorance. he believed there was actually a smaller proportion of the people of this country who could read or write than of the people of any other country in Europe. Nay, more, it was even stated that a larger proportion of the natives of New Zealand could read and write than of their own population. He thought the alterations which had been made by the rules adopted by the Privy Council were strictly proper and right, and would, he thought, carry into effect that which, from recent debates in the other House of Parliament, seemed to be the general opinion of the most enlightened persons on both sides.

Subject dropped.