HL Deb 05 May 1876 vol 229 cc96-101

asked, If it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to bring the subject of Primary Education shortly under the consideration of Parliament; also if there is any objection to stating on what subjects legislation will be proposed, especially with regard to School Boards, Compulsory Education, and the Agricultural Children Act; and to move for, Return of Civil Parishes (exclusive of London and municipal boroughs) under School Boards on the 1st of January, 1876, specifying those where compulsory education has been enforced. The noble Earl said, that at the commencement of the Session it was generally understood that it was the intention of Her Majesty's Government to bring the subject of Education under the notice of Parliament. Nearly three months had elapsed since the Government made that announcement. Now, he confessed he could not see why a measure on the subject of Primary Education should not originate in their Lordships' House—especially as the noble Duke the President of the Council was also the head of the Education Department, and no one could more appropriately take charge of such a Bill than the President of the Council. Looking at the amount of business which they got through in that House in the early part of the Session, he thought it would be an advantage if more measures of importance were introduced before a period of the Session arrived when they could not be fairly discussed. It was not for him to dictate to the older Members of the House what course should be pursued; but he certainly thought that Bills should be brought before their Lordships when there was time to consider their provisions. He now desired to ask the Government to give their Lordships some information as to the measure dealing with Primary Education which they proposed to bring before Parliament; and he hoped that it would not be considered that he was putting any undue pressure upon the Government in asking that question. He wanted some information with reference to School Boards; and he asked the question as to them first and foremost because they had excited much interest throughout the country. School Boards were expensive, there had been a large and progressive increase in the rates levied by them, and those rates had fallen upon a class of ratepayers who could ill afford to bear them. Then came a most important question which was connected with School Boards, and he wished to have some information from the Government in regard to it. In School Boards education must assume a secular form, and religious education was almost necessarily excluded. In some few of these schools religion was distinctly excluded, and it was hardly to be supposed that in any of them religion would be taught except in a negative form. In that view of the matter, he thought it would not be incorrect to state that the education of the country was fast becoming secular only. But that was not the real wish or feeling of the country generally. Whatever difference of opinion there might be on religious subjects, he believed that the question of religious education was one on which large numbers of persons were united. Whether those persons were members of the Church of England, or of the Church of Rome, or were Protestant Dissenters, they were almost all in favour of religious education. He did not mean to say that there were not different views as to what amount of religious education ought to be given; but most persons were in favour of some religious education being afforded. This was a question in which the country was deeply interested, and he hoped that the Government would give some information to their Lordships as to the course which would be pursued. Next came the question of compulsory education. This question was connected with School Boards. He would not now express any opinion upon the subject, except by saying that if there must be compulsory education it should not be confined to some classes only, but be applied to all. If these School Boards were to become the governing powers with regard to education in the country, cases must arise in which parents would be compelled to send their children to schools where they would receive no religious education, or at all events a very imperfect amount of it, and he believed he was right in stating that the working classes were very far from desiring an education for their children without religion. On the contrary, they wished their children to go to schools where they would receive a sound religious and general education; and he felt sure that unless the system was placed upon a different basis from that on which it now rested, it would not meet the views of the people in the agricultural districts. The noble Earl then formally put the Questions of which he had given Notice, and moved for the production of the Returns.


asked the Lord President to agree to the addition to the Return of the following words:— Also specifying the names and number of School Boards which have discouraged religious instruction within the schools under their management. Some School Boards had reduced the time for religious instruction to 10 minutes; others had not allowed the Bible or Lord's Prayer to be read; and some had gone so far as to vote that they would not allow voluntary denominational schools transferred to the Boards to be used for religious instruction even out of the hours during which they were used by the Board.


in answer to one portion of the remarks of the noble Earl (Earl De La Warr), said, he could confidently state that Her Majesty's Government were extremely desirous to originate in their Lordships' House as many measures of importance as it was possible for them to do: and when his noble Friend suggested that they had not originated in this House any important measure this Session, he must have lost sight of the Bill of his noble and learned Friend on the Woolsack, the Appellate Jurisdiction Bill, which, so far from being an unimportant measure, might be classed as one of the most important with which Parliament could have to deal: and if his noble Friend the Secretary of State for India were asked, he probably would not say that the Bill he had introduced in reference to the University of Oxford was an unimportant measure. As to the time when the Bill with regard to Primary Education would be brought under the notice of Parliament by the Government, he had to say that Her Majesty's Government had had a measure prepared for some time, and that it would have been introduced into the other House of Parliament by his noble Friend the Vice President of the Council had the opportunity offered; but the time of that House had been so taken up by the Merchant Shipping Bill that they had as yet no opportunity of introducing it. Their Lordships would probably agree with him that it would be far better to bring to a conclusion the debates on the Merchant Shipping Bill before the Education Bill was brought in. Further, it would be obvious to their Lordships that the House of Commons was the proper place in which the Education Bill should commence, inasmuch as it was a measure which dealt to a great extent with the subject of local finance. The other House of Parliament was, therefore, pre-eminently that branch of the Legislature in which a measure of that kind ought to originate. Another reason for introducing it in the other House of Parliament was, if possible, to insure its passing this Session. Her Majesty's Government looked upon it as a measure second in importance to none, and no exertions on their part would be spared to carry it through Parliament. He was afraid he could not gratify his noble Friend's wish by giving him a complete outline of the course which Her Majesty's Government intended to pursue on this question. Their Lordships would agree with him in thinking that it would be in the last degree inconvenient that he should give an imperfect statement in this House of that of which his noble Friend the Vice President of the Council would give a perfect statement elsewhere. Nor did he think it would be respectful to the House of Commons if he were to state in this House the outlines of the measure before it could be submitted to the other House of Parliament. He could, therefore, say no more than that it would be his duty, should the Bill pass through the House of Commons, to bring it under the consideration of their Lordships, and to induce them to pass it through that House. He had no objection to the Returns which had been moved for, and he thought he would be able to add some further information which would make the whole more valuable and complete. As to the addition to the Return asked for by the noble Lord at the Table (Lord Stanley of Alderley), he had no objection to that also; but he had an objection to the language of it, as he thought it was not quite a proper form. The fact was the Return had already been made to the other House. He would suggest that the language of the Return should run thus— Specify all the names and number of school boards which have made no provision for any religious instruction in the schools under their management, He felt sure that that would give the noble Lord all the information which he desired to obtain, and the language of the amended Return would make it appear less invidious.


said, it was only fair to the Government to state that no complaint could be made of the manner in which the Business had been brought forward in both Houses, and he was bound to admit that the number of Bills which had been introduced into that House this year compared most favourably with previous Sessions. He quite agreed with the noble Duke that a discretion must be left to the Government of the day as to the particular measures which they might think it expedient to introduce in either House of Parliament.

Then the Motion for Returns amended and agreed to.

Ordered, that they be laid before the House. Return of Civil Parishes (exclusive of London and municipal boroughs) under School Boards on the 1st of January 1876, specifying those where compulsory education has been enforced, and also specifying the number and names of School Boards which, have made no provision for religious instruction within the schools under their management.—(The Earl De La Warr.)