HL Deb 24 June 1892 vol 5 cc1856-66


Bill read 3a (according to order).


My Lords, before this Bill passes out of the hands of the House, I wish to say a few words, with the permission of the House, upon an aspect of the question which has not been much noticed. The main part of this Bill is Clause 18, which gives a large sum of public money in support of the present system of national education in Ireland; and what I want to say is that the Bill is an important Bill in this respect: that it is a great step in strengthening the existing system of school education in Ireland, and that that system is virtually a denomina tional system. I do not think the people of this county clearly understand that; they have a notion that a system of common education was established forty years ago by the late Lord Derby, when Lord Stanley, and that that still goes on as a mixed and common system of education. Now really, and to a very largo extent, the existing system of education in Ireland is a strictly denominational system; with this modification, that there is a strict Conscience Clause, and that all schools, whether vested or not vested, are obliged to admit all scholars without insisting upon the religious instruction of the school. Well, my Lords, I do not think that in the passage of this Bill through Parliament any attempt has been made, or any desire expressed, upon the part of anybody, to alter that system so as to make it either more or less denominational. Last night there was a discussion, I understand—I had not the honour of being present in the House—about a question which has been raised in the House of Commons; and your Lordships must have seen it raised elsewhere in the papers, about the connection of a body called the Christian Brothers in Ireland with the system of national education. My Lords, I certainly had understood Mr. Balfour to say in the House of Commons that some arrangement was likely to be come to with that body, whereby their schools might be admitted to the benefit of a grant, without departing from their strict rules in regard to religious instruction. I believe my noble Friend the Lord Privy Seal last night explained to the House that there was virtually no new arrangement of this kind at all, but that hopes may be entertained that the Christian Brothers may arrive at some understanding with the Government as to the adoption of a Conscience Clause. Further than that, I understand that no arrangement has been made. There is therefore no modification or addition made in the denominational system of Irish education. Now, my Lords, I am very glad of this. I heartily approve of the denominational system of education. I know it is unpopular on the Liberal side of the House, but I have always dissented from my noble and right hon. Friends upon this subject. I am very glad indeed that there should be a united system of education, where the branches of the Christian Church who are concerned are heartily agreed in such a direction. But where they are not agreed, if a compromise is forced upon them, I think it is an injurious system to insist upon; and I feel very strongly that in a country like Ireland, where the religious feelings of the people are very deep and earnest, and somewhat exclusive, it is quite hopeless to force upon that people a united system of education when they are determined not to adopt it. And this I feel still more strongly—that for the State to refuse to support schools which give a good secular education, because they also give a special religious education, is a great injustice, and is, in fact, a boycotting of religion. Now, my Lords, I want to ask this question of the House: Would any of your Lordships think it fair to say that giving money to a Roman Catholic school for its secular education is an endowment of the Roman Catholic religion? I think it would be a gross fallacy to say so; and therefore I wish to direct the attention of the House to a statement which I confess greatly astonished me, made by my right hon. friend Mr. Gladstone the other day in a public speech to the Nonconformists of England. He said that there was great fear that any new Parliament in Dublin would endow or maintain educational institutions in the direct interests of Roman Catholics; and he went on to say— This is indeed a danger; but it is a danger which does not come from an Irish Parliament, but from a much nearer hand"; and he proceeded to assert that that danger came from Mr. Balfour, the present Leader of the House of Commons, who, three years ago, had made a distinct proposal to endow Roman Catholic academical institutions in the interest of Roman Catholicism. My Lords, when I read that statement, I could not conceive what Mr. Gladstone could mean. I remembered no such proposal coming from any Member of the Government; I remembered no such proposal being discussed in the public Press in connection with any proposal of the Government. And then I recollected the foundation for this extraordinary charge against Mr. Balfour—because it was a charge; it was made at a meeting of Nonconformists, and it was intended to rouse their ultra-Protestant feelings against the Government as intending to give a specific endowment to Roman Catholics in the interests of Roman Catholicism. Then I recollected the fact, and the only fact—the rudimentary fact—on which this unjust charge was raised against the Government. My Lords, in the year 1889, towards the end of the Session, Mr. Balfour made a cursory remark that academical or university education in Ireland was not at present in a satisfactory state as regards the Roman Catholic population; he said that it did not meet their wants, and that probably we should soon have to consider some other mode in which their desires should be met. That was the sole foundation. As to any proposal, nothing of the sort was made; the words of Mr. Balfour were so vague and general that they might have pointed to anything. For instance, they might have pointed to giving a charter to the Roman Catholic Universities, or to any one of a dozen proposals for the purpose of meeting the Roman Catholics. Now, when that speech of Mr. Balfour's was made, he was instantly assailed by a howl from a great proportion of the Liberal Party, who said that he contemplated the endowment of Roman Catholicism; and this speech of Mr. Gladstone's to the Nonconformists of England is nothing but a resuscitation of that howl, for which there was no foundation whatever. Even if the matter stood thus alone, the accusation against Mr. Balfour would have been most unjust and uncalled for; but it does not stand alone; that was not all that Mr. Balfour said. He went down soon after that to Glasgow, and he made a long speech at a place called Partick, in the immediate neighbourhood of Glasgow, in which he repelled the charge which had been made against him, and the misinterpretation which had been put upon his language; and in that speech, going beyond what he was called upon to do, with that perfect openness and candour which is part of his character and has secured for him so large a portion of the confidence of his fellow-countrymen, he explained exactly what he did mean; and, instead of its being a proposal to endow the Roman Catholic Universities, he distinctly declared that he had no such idea in his head. He said that in any scheme to meet the Roman Catholic claims in Ireland, there were three essential conditions. He said— My own view is that we cannot, in the first place, with public advantage, found a Roman Catholic University"; —that was a distinct denial, in broad terms, of that which indirectly but effectively Mr. Gladstone pretended that he had proposed— That it would be fatal to the cause of higher education in Ireland if the Catholics and Protestants were not brought into competition in degrees. The second declaration that he made was this— We cannot give any State endowment of theological teaching—such a request, if made, would be scouted. And the third was, that in any system whatever for academical education in Ireland the Conscience Clause would be an indispensable condition. Now, my Lords, after that explanation by Mr. Balfour of the speech he made in the House of Commons, I must say that it is most unfortunate that Mr. Gladstone should have made a charge so utterly unfounded, and so contrary to the fact, as that which I find in this speech to the Nonconformists of England. I have very little doubt that Mr. Gladstone either did not see, or had never read, Mr. Balfour's address at Partick; but still it was a public document which was much commented upon at the time, and therefore it is one to which I can appeal in your Lordships' House when I appeal against the erroneous statement made by Mr. Gladstone. Now, my Lords, I know what the secret of this is, because, in the middle of the period between this and 1873—and here I must explain the interest that I feel in it, which is this—and I would refer to my noble Friend behind me (the Earl of Kimberley), because my noble Friend and I were both Members of the Government of 1873; we were not all, of course, responsible for everything that Mr. Gladstone said then, but we were jointly responsible for the proposals made by the Government, fatal as those proposals ultimately were to the Government, and injurious to its credit. Mr. Gladstone entered upon a great scheme of reform for the University of Ireland. It was a complete and disastrous failure. He opened his address to the House of Commons in a very grave and serious manner. He said— This scheme of University reform for Ireland is the complement of the two other great measures which we have passed—one, for the disestablishment of the Protestant Church, and the other, the Land Act. This reform of the academical instruction in Ireland we are dealing with is the third great branch of Irish grievances. Nothing could be more solemn than that. But he did not stop there. He went on to explain to the House of Commons the facts of Irish academical education, and he ended by saying— There are some persons who say, and even who venture to maintain, that under the University system of Ireland, as it now is, the Roman Catholies do not stand, after all, so very ill. I disagree entirely with those who say so. I say that the position of Roman Catholies with respect to University education is bad; I go further and I say it is scandalously bad. Those were the words of Mr. Gladstone; and he summed up a long part of his speech by saying— Well now, I have proved to the House that in regard to national education there is a great religious grievance in Ireland. Now, my Lords, I say that, although we are not all individually responsible for the details of that Bill, with which, I confess, I had nothing to do, and which I regarded with some astonishment, yet, as regards the general principle, that there was a Roman Catholic religious grievance in Ireland, we were all responsible; and I deny that that grievance has been removed to the present day. From that day to this Mr. Gladstone has never lifted a single hand to alter or amend the system of education of Ireland with a view to meet that grievance of the Roman Catholics of Ireland. Why? Because he never forgave the Roman Catholic priesthood for turning against him on that occasion. And in his very speech to the Nonconformists of England, he alludes to the rejection of that Bill. But, my Lords, the secret is this: that in the intervening year Mr. Gladstone wrote a very violent pamphlet against Vaticanism, in which the whole feeling comes out. He says— I consider that the Liberal majority of the House of Commons, and the Government to which I have the honour and satisfaction to belong, formally tendered payment in full of this portion of the debt due by the Irish University Bill of February, 1873. Some, indeed, think it was overpaid — a question into which this is manifestly not the place to enter—after the Roman Catholic Prelates in Ireland thought fit to procure the rejection of that measure by the direct influence they exercise with a certain number of Irish Members of Parliament, and by the temptation which was thus offered to bid, in effect, which is a homely phrase, to attract the support of the Tory Opposition. Their efforts were crowned with complete success. From that day forward, I have felt that the situation was changed—the debt to Ireland had been paid. Now Mr. Gladstone's position is this: he announced to all the world in 1873, with the sanction of all his colleagues, that there was a great and real grievance in Ireland with respect to University education, and he proposed a scheme which was so absurd in itself that it broke down in the House of Commons, and was rejected even by his own friends—for instance, Sir Lyon Playfair and Professor Fawcett were strong opponents, and voted against it—but because the scheme was rejected, he turns round and says: "I will not now admit that there is any Roman Catholic grievance at all; my debt has been paid; I offered them this Bill and they would not accept it, and nothing more is due from me to them." That is the language that he uses. I feel that this language is wholly unworthy. I mean to say that if we other members of the Government of 1873 were to adopt that language I should be ashamed of myself. We were parties to the statement that there was a grievance, and I maintain that there is a grievance still, and that the rejection of the Bill by the House of Commons, not only by the Roman Catholics, but by his own friends, does not relieve us from the duty and necessity of some day going forward in this matter and giving some relief to the Roman Catholics in respect to University education. And now, my Lords, the connection that I draw between that and this Bill now on your Lordships' Table is this: it is the connection drawn by Mr. Balfour in his speech at Partick. He says: "You do not call it an endowment of a Roman Catholic school because you pay for its secular instruction; why should you call it an endowment of a Roman Catholic College if you pay for its secular instruction?" That was the suggestion that he made, and the only one; but as to making a distinct proposal, in the language of Mr. Gladstone, that the State should endow Roman Catholic education in the interest of Roman Catholicism, it is directly in the teeth of Mr. Balfour's declaration at Partick. Now I approve of this Bill myself heartily, because it is a considerable strengthening of a purely denominational system of education with a Conscience Clause, and I, for one, should be very glad to see such a denominational system adopted all over the country. I am convinced that the state of feeling among all classes in Ireland is such that they will not be satisfied with any education which divorces secular from religious. You must deal with the Irish people according to their feelings; and the only result of Mr. Gladstone's speech will be to increase the prejudice against the Imperial Parliament, and leave everything to be done by the new Irish Parliament. And then indeed we shall have a pretty row; because an Imperial Parliament, legislating on this matter with the full consent of the whole population of the country, is a very different thing from a local Parliament taxing Ireland alone for these Roman Catholic institutions. My Lords, I have thought it right to bring the matter forward, because I think that the statement made by Mr. Gladstone was not only most injurious to the Government and unjust to Mr. Balfour, but most injurious to the cause of the Union between the two countries. Although I am a Presbyterian and a Protestant, I am in favour of full and absolute justice to the Roman Catholic population of Ireland, and I agree with the late Matthew Arnold, who always maintained that both Parties in the country were wrong in this matter, and that we ought to go forward, and pay the Roman Catholics, not only in their schools, but in whatever colleges they erect, for their secular education, without taking the least notice of the religious education they give.


My Lords, I do not see that there is any immediate connection between the attack which my noble Friend has made upon Mr. Gladstone—and he is always very glad to attack him whenever he can—and the Bill now before the House. No doubt the question is education; but the question is not University education at all. However I am free to confess that I have not looked into this matter, nor have I a very vivid remembrance of what Mr. Balfour said some three years ago. But this I do remember: that it was the opinion of a great many persons, which, I think, was not confined by any means to the opposite side, that in the House of Commons Mr. Balfour had used some rather vague expression—at all events, he gave that impression to a certain number of people, which implied that there was at that time to be a special endowment of the Roman Catholic higher education in Ireland. As the noble Duke says, Mr. Balfour evidently thought there was some possibility of his language bearing that interpretation, because at the same time, at Glasgow, he took a great deal of pains to explain more precisely what he meant; and I think it was generally thought that he found that there was a considerable opinion on the subject in the country at the time that he had touched the question in a manner which was likely to give some offence, especially in the North of Ireland, and that it was therefore absolutely necessary for him to explain away what he had said in the House of Commons. With regard to what my noble Friend said as to the part we took in the Bill at the close of the Government of 1868, I am not quite prepared to stand in the white sheet, as my noble Friend does. He says the Bill was an absurd Bill, I am not prepared to say it was an absurd Bill; on the contrary, I think in many respects it was a very good Bill. I know well that a great deal of opposition was raised against the Bill, but, so far as I remember, it was principally against one or two clauses which had reference to certain Chairs which were to be appropriated for the teaching of certain subjects, because it was thought religious prejudices might be excited. Since that time there have been changes made in Ireland which have placed the higher education of the Roman Catholics upon a better footing, and I believe they are, on the whole, satisfied that there has been an improvement in their position. My Lords, I understand that what Mr. Gladstone said the other day was that, if there was any ground for apprehending that there would be any endowment of Roman Catholicism such as to give offence to those who differed from them, Mr. Balfour had certainly shadowed forth something of the kind, and that if there was any apprehension to be felt, it must come from that quarter. So far as I know, the real point at issue must have been whether or not, if there were to be what is called a Home Rule Parliament established in Dublin, it would be likely to endow the Roman Catholics in that country as regards education in a manner which would be considered unfair to the Protestant population. My noble Friend rather gives colour to that; he speaks of the dangers that there might be in case a Home Rule Parliament were established. My Lords, I do not think it is at all convenient to raise incidentally, upon a Bill of this kind, the great question whether there should be what is called Home Rule for Ireland or not. It is known that we have strong opinions on this subject, and strong opinions are held on the other side; and upon that very matter there will be an issue before the country in a very few days, and we shall know what the country thinks upon it. I can only say that I firmly believe that, if there should be a Home Rule Parliament established in Dublin, there is not the smallest probability that they will deal unfairly with their Protestant fellow-countrymen, or in any way interfere with them in any arrangement that they may make. As regards what my noble Friend says of his wish that the Roman Catholics should enjoy the fullest advantages of education in every respect, in the same way as all other subjects of the Queen, I do not think there will be any difference of opinion on that point. The strongest proof that can be given that upon the Liberal side there is that wish is that very Bill which we staked our existence upon in the former Government of Mr. Gladstone—that "absurd" Bill, as my noble Friend calls it. I do not call it an absurd Bill; I think that in principle it was an exceedingly good Bill. There were undoubtedly deficiencies in detail, which afterwards we all regretted. I have no more to say on the subject. I do not think the occasion is one when my noble Friend need have gone out of his way to make this fiery attack on Mr. Gladstone; but I have no doubt it has given him great pleasure; he has ample opportunities here, and on platforms of doing so; and I have no doubt that it is not the last time that I shall hear from him these strong denunciations of one who once was our common leader.

Bill passed.