HL Deb 18 May 1868 vol 192 cc405-11

seeing the noble Earl opposite (Earl Granville) in his place desired to answer a Question which he had put to him a few evenings since with respect to the course the Government intended to pursue in regard to the Education Bill, which stood for Committee on the 22nd inst. Several of their Lordships had placed Amendments on the Paper in regard to that Bill, some of which, if agreed to, must materially modify its character. The first Amendment had reference to the creation of a new Department of State; and the second proposed to leave out all the principal clauses of the measure. He had hoped that after the manner in which that Bill had passed the second reading it might have been agreed to with certain modifications not affecting its principle. The Bill related to several important matters, into which he need not now enter as they were fully discussed on a previous occasion. After that discussion he was aware that some modifications were necessary; but after they had been agreed to—as no doubt they would have been cheerfully—he had every confidence that the measure would have been accepted in regard to its main provisions. He was confirmed in that impression by the favourable reception the Bill had met with from the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the almost universal acceptance it had met with out-of-doors as a substantial and honest endeavour on the part of the Government to deal with one of the most difficult and intricate questions of the day. Had it been allowed to pass, he could not help thinking that they would have made some advance on a question of such vital importance to the nation as that of education, and that it would have been entitled to take its rank among the most useful Acts of the Sessions. Considering, however, the state of business in the other House of Parliament and the condition in which public affairs had been placed by the action of a right hon. Gentleman in that House, it was impossible that Government could entertain the slightest hope that a measure involving discussions of such a very intricate character had the slightest chance of passing in this Session. It was, therefore, the intention of Her Majesty's Government not to proceed any further with the measure in the present Session; and they had come to that decision with the more regret, because there was, he believed, another Bill in the House of Commons which might have been considered in conjunction with this, and which might have been found to contain some provisions of great usefulness. How far any of these were capable of being engrafted with success upon the measure of the Government it was impossible for him now to say; but obviously it would have been attended with advantage to the public if the two Bills could have been considered together. This, however, was hopeless in the existing state of things, and the Government were accordingly compelled reluctantly to withdraw the Bill. He begged, therefore, to move that the Order be discharged.


said, he thought the Government had taken the wisest course in withdrawing a Bill which they had no hope of carrying this Session, and he congratulated the Lord President on the personal relief which he must feel. The Lord President (the Duke of Marlborough) had admitted the justice of the suspicion expressed by the noble Earl (the Earl of Harrowby) and by himself that the Bill presented to the House was only a portion of that which was originally drafted for consideration, and was in fact only a portion of a much larger measure of education which must sooner or later be taken into consideration, and his sound judgment must make him feel the inadequacy of the portion embodied in this Bill to meet the requirements of those interested in the extension of education. It would, moreover, have been a difficult task to defend the majority of the details in the Committee. There were, however, some clauses to which no objection had been made, and against which no Amendments had been threatened, but which; on the contrary, had been generally approved by nearly all who had taken part in the two previous debates. Such were the proposals respecting "evening schools," "secular schools," and "building grants." But at the same time very strong objections had been made to embodying minute regulations such as these in a Bill, instead of embodying them from time to time in Minutes to be then submitted to Parliament for their sanction. But, whether these objections were right or wrong, it would be very hard, now the Government had withdrawn their Bill, that the promoters of schools should be deprived of the advantages which they would enjoy if, in accordance with the ordinary practice, these proposals had already been embodied in Minutes. He wished to know what course the Lord President meant to pursue on this point. There was also another question of greater importance. He was not going to inflict on the House the speech he might have made on moving his Amendment on the Conscience Clause; but he wished to point out the difficulty in which the Government were placed, and the only way in which he thought they could advantageously meet it. The principle of Conscience Clauses had been adopted by the Committee of Council ever since 1846; but it was the late Lord Salisbury and Mr. Adderley who first had the credit of practically applying it to a certain number of Church schools. They in certain cases refused to make Grants to schools unless the promoters agreed to insert in the trust deeds one of two Conscience Clauses. The same system was followed during the Governments of Lords Palmerston and Russell; and he believed, but was not sure, that no deviation had been made from it by either of the noble Dukes who since had presided over the Council. An important step, however, had been lately taken; the Bill which had been introduced by the Government contained a Conscience Clause, and the Bill was supported by the Archbishop of Canterbury chiefly because it contained that clause. Some of his (Earl Granville's) Friends had desired to divide against the Bill; but he ventured to disuade them from doing so on its second reading, partly because it was not inconsistent with a much larger measure, but chiefly because it established the principle of applying a Conscience Clause to some Church schools. His Friends yielded to that argument, and no one objected to the construction he had put on it. That Vote, in his opinion, was fatal to all the abstract objections to a Conscience Clause. He had looked over the famous Seventeen Reasons against a Conscience Clause that very morning, and he had found that Vote was absolutely fatal to them all. None of their Lordships could pretend now that there was a compact between the Executive and the Church which could not be broken, or that no clergyman could receive a Conscience Clause without detriment to his conscience, and that no Government or Parliament could impose such a burden on a clergyman. All that now remained was a question of degree and expediency, and not of principle. The Government had abandoned the Bill. What course did they now intend to pursue with respect to a Conscience Clause? The great difficulty he had felt in answering the objections of those hostile to a Conscience Clause was to explain why he had not procured Parliamentary sanction for it. When examined before the Committee of the House of Commons the following Question was put to him by the present Secretary of State for War (Sir John Pakington):— May I take the liberty of asking why, as the head of the Department, you did not in the case of the Conscience Clause, as in the case of other important changes in the practice of the Office, place the question before Parliament? He (Earl Granville) answered— I do not know whether I am wrong in what I have done, but I am quite ready to state to the Committee my reasons for acting as I have acted. I think that it is very important indeed, if possible, to arrange this Conscience Clause with the concurrence of the Church of England. It is very desirable, if possible, that the Privy Council, or whatever Department has charge of the education of the country, should be on good terms with the Church of England, and I hope that an advance has been made with the Conscience Clause in the minds of a very large portion, not only of Church of England men, but of the clergy of the Church of England.… But I think that if I were to propose to lay before the House of Commons a Conscience Clause now, exactly in the shape in which it is, with rather a difficult and wavering rule as to the number of Dissenters, the first question of the House of Commons would be—'Why are any number of Dissenters to be forced either to violate their religious feelings or to be excluded from the benefit of the education which is partly supported by the State?' I believe that our Conscience Clause does not go far enough now to satisfy the House of Commons, and at present I am afraid that we should not have concurrence on the part of the Church of England so as to enable us to bring in a measure which would be perfectly satisfactory with respect to the Conscience Clause. On this question of religious differences I think it is absolutely incumbent upon members of the Government not to bring them needlessly forward so as to cause irritation, unless they can see their way very clearly to a settlement of them. In another part of the evidence he (Earl Granville) expressed an opinion that a Conscience Clause should apply to building and annual grants. The right hon. Baronet, pursuing his examination, asked— May we understand the substance of your Lordship's answers to be that you have abstained from submitting that important question to Parliament, partly from a feeling of conciliation towards the Church of England, and partly from the opinion (which is, I think, a sound opinion) that Parliament might say, 'If you adopt this clause you must carry it out to the full extent of the principle which it involves?' To this he (Earl Granville) answered in the affirmative; but when he gave these reasons, the course of the Privy Council was known to everyone, and under that notoriety the House of Commons passed the Education Votes. These reasons now, however, no longer applied; the Government had negotiated with the Church, and had proved their opinion that it was time to approach Parliament; and they had condemned the present system by making a proposal more fettered with restrictions and with words in the clause of a new and doubtful construction. Admitting the necessity and wisdom of suspending the Bill, he hoped the Government would embody a Conscience Clause in a Minute of the Committee of Council. But, he asked, what Conscience Clause was to be so embodied? There were many in the field. The Government had indirectly disapproved those which had been adopted or suggested by the Committee of Council; there was a clause proposed in an Education Bill now before the House of Commons, but the wording of it was new; and as to their own clause, the Government, must be convinced that, meagre in extent, vague in its meaning, and liable to all sorts of interpretations by succeeding political chiefs of the Department, it would not be tolerated for a moment in the House of Commons. Not one of the large Liberal majority was known to hold opinions on this subject different from those supported by him and confirmed by Sir John Pakington. Was it likely that the Secretaries of State for Foreign Affairs and of War, Mr. Adderley, and other eminent Conservative Members had changed theirs, at least, in a retrograde sense? His suggestion, therefore, was that the President of the Council should lay before Parliament a Minute embodying the Amendment of of which he (Earl Granville) had given Notice. It would have been presumptuous in him to press this course on the Government if the Amendment had been of a novel character. There was, however, nothing original about it. It only made building and annual grants conditional on the managers making rules for or adopting in practice the obligations of the claims of the Endowed Schools Act. That clause was approved by the right rev. Bench, passed by the Legislature, had been worked for eight years in the Charitable Commission and in the Court of Chancery, without a single case of litigation, find without a word of complaint from either Churchman or Nonconformist, The words "establish" in "practice" had already been introduced into several schemes of the Charity Commissioners and were intended in a conciliatory spirit to many clergymen who objected to the theory but not to the practice of a Conscience Clause. It was also in the spirit of the recommendation of the Middle-class School Commission. He was quite sure that if the Government desired to adopt a Conscience Clause it was impossible to unite so many reasons in favour of any other. The Government would incur a grave responsibility if they left this matter unsettled and declined to seek Parliamentary guidance for themselves. On the other hand, such a Minute, instead of adding to business in the House of Commons, would facilitate the passing of the Education Votes. If questioned it would give the Government the luxury of finding themselves in an enormous majority, and it would tend more than anything else to arrest the current which was beginning to flow against a denominational system—and consequently against the Church of England—in favour of a purely secular one.


said, that, so far from the clause having been generally accepted, as the noble Earl had stated, the schools of the National Society and nearly all the Church schools in the country were exempted from its operation.


said, that the Endowed Schools Act, on which the noble Earl (Earl Granville) so much relied, did not, in point of fact, contain any Conscience Clause at all. It merely laid down the rule, and left the particular form of Conscience Clause to be afterwards adopted. A form had been prescribed by the Education Department; and the Government, after due consideration, had proposed another, which they thought would be an improvement, and which, after consultation with the heads of the Church, had been accepted by them, and by others who were unwilling to accept that now in use, and who were equally opposed to that supported by the noble Earl, As, however, it was not possible to obtain the assent of Parliament to it, there would be no deviation from the present practice, nor was it intended that there should be any deviation from the principles at present acted upon by the Education Department, without the direct sanction of the Legislature. As to the proposal of the noble Earl that the Government should lay on the table of either House a Minute embodying his views, he could only say that Her Majesty's Ministers had no such intention. He could only repeat the regret that Government felt that they had neither the opportunity nor the power of legislating during the present Session on the subject of education.

After a few words from the Earl of AIRLIE,

Order for the House to be put into Committee on Friday next, discharged.