HL Deb 14 May 1866 vol 183 cc847-52

said, he would now put to his noble Friend the President of the Council, the Question of which he had privately given him notice respecting "the Conscience Clause" of the Education Code. He brought this question forward in no spirit of hostility, but with the sincere desire that this long-vexed question might be peaceably settled, and he hoped that the answer the noble Earl might give would tend to that effect. The questions he was about to put arose out of a correspondence which had lately taken place between two clergymen of the Church of England and the Secretary of the Committee of Council on Education. The Rev. Mr. Caparn put two questions—first, Whether the Apostles' Creed was one of the formularies of the Church which a parent might require his child not to be taught; and secondly, whether the managers of a school might make the daily reading of the Bible absolutely necessary for all children. The reply of Mr. Lingen, the Secretary of the Committee of Council, was in these words— In answer to your first question I am directed to state that the Apostles' Creed being a formulary of the Church of England, might be required not to be taught to a child by its parent who belonged to a communion wherein that Creed was not used. In answer to your second question, whether the clause aforesaid allows the promoters of the school to make the daily reading of the Bible by every child an absolute rule of the school, I am directed to state that the clause allows the managers to do so, so long as the text of the Bible is not employed to enforce doctrine which (ex hypothesi) is that of the Church of England, but is not also that of the parents. That answer was interpreted to signify that no clergyman was to be allowed in the ordinary teaching of a school to lay down any doctrine of the Church of England to which the parents of any child might object. Of course, if that was the case, not only might any doctrine of the Church of England be excluded from the teaching of the school, but the very first article of belief in the existence of God might be excluded. The second correspondence took place between the Rev. Mr. Scott and Mr. Lingen. Mr. Scott was very anxious to ascertain what obligations would be imposed on him if he accepted the conscience clause. He stated that in the case of the schools he had presided over The practice was to allow the children to attend at whatever Sunday school and at whatever place of worship their parents preferred; also, if desired by the parents, the teacher allowed the child of a Dissenter to omit the Church Catechism, or at all events, that part of it to which Dissenters chiefly object; but he had a strong objection to bind himself not to teach the doctrine as well as the formularies of the Church. Mr. Lingen's answer was that the managers were bound to make such orders as would extend the benefits of the schools to such children as, not being connected with the Church of England, were not desirous of being instructed in its formularies, and that otherwise the managers were not to interfere with the teaching of the formularies of the Church as by law directed. Mr. Scott expressed his wish that their Lordships would allow the omission of the words "doctrine or" in Clause 2. He said— My objection to the insertion of the word 'doctrine' is its latitude. In the doctrine of the Church of England is included the whole range of Christian truth; so that by engaging that children may be exempted from being taught the doctrine of the Church of England we should, in fact, be engaging that in a Christian school superintended and in a great measure supported by a Christian minister, children should, on the demand of an infidel, be brought up without any Christian instruction at all. Mr. Lingen answered— The principle of that clause is that no child ought to be compelled to receive religious instruction contrary to the profession and declared wish of its parent. Mr. Scott declined altogether to accept the conscience clause on that interpretation. It was with the hope of arriving at a more definite explanation of what the clause really meant, and the obligations imposed by accepting it, that he wished to ask the noble Earl the Question of which he had given him notice—namely, Whether a clergyman of the Church of England would meet the requirements of the conscience clause by exempting the children of Dissenters from, attendance in school during the reading of the formularies of the Church, or whether he would be bound to abstain from teaching in the schools any doctrine of the Church of England which the parents of a child might desire should not be taught to his child?


said, that it was hardly necessary for him to state that he never apprehended that this question was likely to be put in a hostile spirit; and he was induced to hope that a settlement of the question, which could not long be delayed without injury to all concerned, would soon be arrived at. There was some hope that the matter might be dealt with in a manner to give satisfaction to the clergymen of the Established Church. Some inconvenience had arisen in connection with this question from the fact of individual promoters of schools putting abstract questions to the Council Office on matters with which they were not called upon to deal practically, but which were of a speculative character; and the consequence was, that the Council Office were sometimes compelled to give answers which, when applied to facts, might seem ambiguous. At the same time, there was the greatest desire on the part of the Council to give the most perfect information. With respect to the first question, put by the most rev. Prelate in two parts, he could not answer either part in absolute terms. With respect to the first part of the question—whether a clergyman of the Church of England would satisfy the requirements of the conscience clause by exempting the children of Dissenters who objected from attendance in school during the reading of the formularies of the Church?—it was clear that that description did not meet the requirements of the conscience clause; for it would not be acting justly to the Dissenters if the managers of Church of England schools were to allow the children of Dissenters to withdraw while the formularies of the Church were being read, and to be brought in again to hear the doctrines of the Church taught. He would read the following extract from The Church and, State Review of November 1, 1865— We cannot help thinking that, if Dissenters were aware how little effect the mere Catechism has in the creation of Church people, they would not make such a fuss about a conscience clause; and we are quite certain that, unless our dogmatic teaching is to be of a very different kind in future from what it has been heretofore, we may just as well save ourselves the trouble and the odium of struggling against its imposition. If, instead of puzzling their brains with lists of Old Testament kings, our children were impressed with the lesson to be learnt from the fate of Korah, with the application of it to our own times as enforced by St. Paul and St. Jude; if they were carefully instructed in the perpetuity of the ministry founded by the Apostles; in the necessity of that ministry in order to the validity of sacraments, and to the existence of a true Church; in the unchangeable-ness of the one faith, and the character assigned by St. Paul to all' new gospels,' and deviations from it; in the guilt of schism, as part of that one faith; in the primitive and apostolical mode of maintaining that one faith, by means of synods and councils; in the distinction between the Church and the world, and the independence of the former society from the rules of the latter; in the mutual equality and yet inter-dependence of bishops; in the Scripture way of salvation, and the necessity of a heavenly life if we are to attain to Heaven;—if such were considered as necessary a part of the instruction of the children of the Church as the three R's, which she has nowhere been commissioned to teach, we venture to think that the rising generation would be very different from the present. He did not say that the opinions put forth in this article represented the real opinions of any considerable portion of the Church of England; but it was quite clear that a small number of Churchmen might be able, in schools unprotected by the conscience clause, to outrage the feelings of a great number of Dissenters in this country. He, therefore, thought it was evident that doctrines as well as formularies should be included within the scope of the conscience clause. It must be obvious to their Lordships that not only did the conscience clause not interfere with the religious instruction in the schools, but it absolutely required that no interference should take place by forcing that instruction on the unwilling. This was clearly shown in every letter which emanated from the Council Office, and the conscience clause did not in the slightest degree touch the religious teaching of the Church of England in schools promoted by the Church of England. The only thing it enforced was, that a child should not attend that portion of the religious instruction to which his parents objected.


said, he thought that on the whole the noble Earl's answer was satisfactory. It appeared to throw a considerable light on the question and it would relieve many clergymen from great anxiety. He understood that if a clergyman accepted the conscience clause he would not have the general instruction of his school in any way interfered with; but that if a parent chose to withdraw his child from any part of the instruction he was at perfect liberty to do so.


said, that there never was a time when he did not consider the principle of the conscience clause was not only consistent with, but was absolutely required by common justice and charity; but there was also a time when, while he assented to the general principle, he did not see the necessity of its compulsory imposition. The object of the clause, as he always understood it, was not in the slightest degree to restrict the liberty of religious instruction in any Church of England school, but simply to secure liberty to parents who objected, to withdraw their children from a certain portion of the instruction given in the school. He believed that the object of the Question which had been put by the most rev. Primate was to ascertain from the highest authority whether there was or had been anything to prevent clergymen of the Church of England from accepting the conscience clause, and making it the rule of their conduct in the religious instruction they gave in their schools. There was a time when he was not convinced of the necessity of the compulsory imposition of this clause, because his own experience in his own sphere had led him to believe that the principle was so uniformly adopted in practice that it was not necessary to resort to other measures. But recent proceedings had convinced him that he was wrong in that respect. He deeply deplored that those proceedings had issued in the present most unhappy breach between the Committee of Council and the National Society, but he hoped that it was not too late for that breach to be healed. The answer given by the noble Earl would contribute in a considerable measure to that most desirable object. He must say that it was the absolute duty of the Committee of Council to insist on the conscience clause.


expressed his regret that a discussion should have arisen on so grave and important a subject, under circumstances which precluded the possibility of its being satisfactorily-dealt with. His sole object in rising to say a few words upon it was to guard against the supposition that he, at all events, accepted the views with respect to it which had been laid down by his noble Friend the President of the Council, or the right rev. Prelate who had just spoken. He denied that the questions arising under the conscience clause were so easily disposed of as the noble Earl seemed to imagine. If time had allowed, he should have been prepared to enter into the whole question, and he trusted an opportunity for doing so would before long be afforded. Meantime he would content himself with observing that the clause referred to was one which had never been formulated in a Minute of Council, which had never been laid before Parliament in any shape, and which rested on no other authority than that of the President of the Council himself.


also expressed a hope that their Lordships would have an opportunity of discussing the question on a future occasion.