HL Deb 04 September 1893 vol 16 cc1846-53

on behalf of the Bishop of St. Asaph, moved— That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying her to withhold her assent to the following portion of the Merionethshire Intermediate and Technical Education Scheme: —Clause 91 (b) from the word ("boarding-house") to the end; Clause 91 (c). He said, the Merioneth Scheme contained a very important element. The portion of thy scheme to which he objected proposed to introduce the undenominational system of religious teaching and worship into boarding-houses; and this, in his would constitute a very serious precedent in the case of like institutions in England. He believed the intention of the authors of the Welsh Intermediate Education Act was to leave boarders attending intermediate schools in Wales under Clause 16 of the Endowed Schools Act, and, therefore, on the same footing as boarders in England. Several discussions had taken place on the subject, and particularly in Committee of the House of Commons on the 23rd July, 1889, when attempts were made by Mr. Stuart Rendel, Mr. Ellis, and others to get the word "day" before "scholars" left out in the Conscience Clause; but Sir W. Hart Dyke declined to accept the alteration. But it appeared that in this scheme the Charity Commissioners had made a kind of flank movement. In Clause 91, Sub-sections (b) and (c), they had introduced an entirely novel interpretation; and he would ask whether the Welsh Intermediate Education Act was not intended to leave the position of boarders as regarded religious instruction and family worship on the same footing as boarders in England? He would also ask whether the interpretation of the clause by the Charity Commissioners was a legitimate one? The Vice President of the Council had stated in the House of Commons that he was not responsible for that interpretation, and it was, undoubtedly, a very serious departure and most radical change. Under Section 91, and under the interpretation by the Charity Commissioners of Clause 16 of the Endowed School Act, a boarding-house master or the master of a hostel might himself be a Churchman, all the hoarders might be the sons of parents who were also Churchmen, and yet, say on Easter or Trinity Sunday, the use of the Collects for the day would be out of order. It was further provided that while the teaching in general should be undenominational, yet, with the permission of the County Governing Authorities, instruction might be separately given in matters of a denominational kind. He objected that to put this matter under the direction of County Governing Bodies was to make a serious departure from the Endowed Schools Act. He contended that even if the interpretation placed upon Clause 16 was a legitimate one, such a change ought not to be introduced by a side wind. If it was intended to deal with the work of religious instruction and family workship in boarding-housing and hostels on new lines, it ought to be done in the clearest and most direct way, so that everyone should understand what a change was coming over our educational system. On these grounds he asked their Loprdships to adopt the Motion.

Moved, "That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying her to withhold her assent to the following portion of the Merionethshire Intermediate and Technical Education Scheme:—Clause 91 (b)from the word ("boarding-house") to the end; Clause 91 (c):"—(The Lord Bishop of Chester.)


My Lords, with regard to what I understand to be the right rev. Prelate's interpretation of the effect of the 16th clause of the Endowed Schools Act of many years ago and of the clause which the Charity Commissioners have inserted in this scheme, I do not think he precisely explained the point. I do not think the Act provides for any such special restrictions as those referred to; but that the provisions are only of a general kind, enabling parents to withdraw their children in case the religious instruction is not such as they approve. I can tell the right rev. Prelate unreservedly that the Charity Commissioners, who are charged with the preparation of these schemes, are distinctly of opinion that what they have done in the present ease is in no sense ultra vires. I am not now speaking of the merits, but that Subsection (b) is distinctly within their powers. With regard to the policy of the sub-section to which objection has been taken, I think that, looking to all the circumstances of Wales, and the state of opinion there, it is highly undesirable to allow denominational teaching in boarding-houses or hostels connected with intermediate education in Wales. In a matter of this kind you must take account of the, general feeling which exists. Speaking of Sub-section (c), the Joint Committee proposed that the teaching of denominationalism should be absolutely forbidden in those houses. That was the mode in which the proposal came before the Department; but the Department thought, looking to all the circumstances of the ease, it would be much more likely to work smoothly if the Governing Body were permitted to act subject to any regulations which might be made on the subject. Those words were inserted at the suggestion of the Education Department. The whole matter is one which is, no doubt, difficult of adjustment. There is a great deal of feeling upon all these subjects, and it is exceedingly hard to devise such a system as will meet the wishes of all who send their children to those boarding-houses. But there is really no hardship here, because in Subsection (a) it is provided that the boarders shall be allowed to attend such places of worship as their parents may desire, and should have reasonable facilities for such religious instruction as their parents shall choose for them. That seems to me to provide for the case of parents who desire that instruction of an undenominational kind shall be given. Those who attach enormous importance to their children being taught a dogmatic theology, and who have a strong objection to any religious instruction which is not of that character, can have it provided elsewhere than in the hostel itself; but it may be provided in the hostel itself if the Governing Body will permit it. On the whole, I suggest that the arrangement is fair and reasonable, and does not act against the conscientious feelings of anyone. Looking at the whole circumstances of the case, and at what I am afraid are the animosities which prevail in that part of the United Kingdom, and considering how desirable it is that you should not in any way force denominational education upon these institutions, I think it is reasonable and fair that the scheme should remain in the form in which it has now been framed.


My Lords, my objection to the course which the Government are taking is that they are making a very large and vital change in a small clause in a small scheme—a change which, when its scope and effect are known, will cause the bitterest feelings on the part of a considerable number of Christians in this country. Whether the Government are right or wrong, if Parliament determines that undenominational education is to prevail, and succeeds in defining what education is, I do not raise any further objection on that point. But I do demur most strongly to a change of this great extent and area and effect, which is so likely to embitter the feelings of religious educationists in this country, being introduced in a small scheme for a Welsh county. Now, the point is this. In all the battles we have had here upon the Endowed Schools Act and the Intermediate Education Act we have always drawn a very strong line between day scholars and those who reside in the family, and are subject to teaching, as it were, night and day. Certain arrangements were made for day scholars; but in the Act of 1869, and again in the Act of 1889, it was carefully stated that the exclusion of denominational education should apply to day scholars. When that is done in an Act of Parliament it means that others shall not be subjected to the exclusion. If the noble Lord is right in saying—


It is the view of the Charity Commissioners. I am not giving my view of it.


I think the noble Lord is quite wise to dissociate himself from it; but whether that is right or wrong, undoubtedly the meaning of the clause is that others which are not denominational shall not be subject to that enactment. But now, when the day provisions have been in force for 20 years, by a side wind the Charity Commissioners are trying to thrust in the application of the principle in the much wider case of those who are brought up in the family. Your Lordships will see at once what the difference is. Undenominational education means education in religion, leaving out anything to which any person can object. Giving undenominational education to children means teaching without any dogmatic statement which any body of religious persons can object to. It means without teaching the divinity of Our Lord. That is the real point on which, in the long run, all these regulations will turn, whatever the local circumstances in particular places may be. Now we say that to do that is really to put out of gear religious teaching altogether; that religious teaching is not possible in that hypothetical way. Just consider what is the position created by Sub-section (c). In the general schoolroom the teacher has to say that he does not know whether the divinity of Our Lord is to be maintained or not; but in a neighbouring schoolroom, if a bit of paper is produced from the pocket of the scholar, the teacher will be required to teach the very doctrine which was forbidden in the other case—he will proceed to give his reasons for believing in the divinity of our Lord. In what state of mind do you imagine a boy will be when he has been subjected to that extraordinary proceeding? You cannot play fast-and-loose with the deepest religious convictions of the human mind in this way, and you had better utterly abandon the idea of any attempt at religious education, if your conditions of religious education are to leave out the fundamental doctrines upon which all religious feelings and all religious motives must ultimately turn. The notion that there is a religion expunging that upon which men differ, and leaving nothing but that upon which all men can agree, is the wildest chimera that ever entered the brain of a politician. A politician cannot make these things happen as he desires. The religious conviction is much too strong for him. It will have its way; and all you will do by this attempt to force an impossible neutrality upon the mind you are attempting to teach the most important things will be undoubtedly to propagate infidelity in the first place, and, in the next, to promote a bitter, angry religious reaction, from which the education you are trying to press forward will be the first to suffer. My Lords, I entreat you, if you mean to undertake this anti-crusade, if you desire to exterminate all religious belief from religious education, do it in the open; do it by a bold general measure; do it by something we can discuss here in public, and to which we can call the attention of the country; but do not attempt to do it, by a side wind, by this wretched introduction of insidious words into a scheme of the Charity Commissioners.


My Lords, with regard to what the noble Marquess has said, I cannot assent to the suggestion that a scheme of this sort, if carried into effect, will be likely to destroy religious belief and promote infidelity. I believe that to be an absolute delusion, and that it springs to some extent from a want of acquaintance with what is called undenominational religious teaching, which is, nevertheless, as truly religious, and which is as truly calculated to influence the mind and heart of man as what is commonly called dogmatic, or religious, or Church teaching. There are boarding and other schools carried on upon undenominational principles, from which the inmates go to confirmation as from denominational institutions. I venture to say, and I speak from knowledge of some of these institutions, that the children who issue from them go into the world as imbued with religious teaching and as far removed from infidelity as from any other schools in the Kingdom. I demur to the view that what is called undenominational teaching is necessarily either antagonistic to religious teaching or to religious feeling. In a question of this sort we have to deal with the matter practically, and I do not know exactly what it is at this moment that the noble Marquess desires. Does he desire that every one of these hostels should become a place of denominational teaching for some Religious Body or another; that there shall be no common Christian worship among those who go there unless they are willing to adopt the worship of some denomination to which, perhaps, they do not belong? We are dealing with a mixed population in Wales, among whom, I believe, this matter will be largely freed from difficulty. I do not believe there would be the slightest difficulty in the young people in Wales taking a common part in family worship without exciting any susceptibilities. The truth is, these difficulties are more imaginary than real. They can be conjured up into something pretentious; but I do not believe that in practice the difficulty arises. If this were a proposal to promote undenominational teaching where it was not desired, I could understand objections being raised to it; but here no parent is debarred from obtaining religious teaching for his child. Is not that a fair compromise in the matter? Such religious teaching is given generally in the school-house as may be made use of by those belonging to different denominations, and as would not be offensive to these different denominations; but as regards the particular religious teaching which any parent desires for his child, that is practically secured by this proposal. The child may attend a place of religious teaching, and may have such facilities for all religious teaching as the parent desires. I do not say the scheme is a perfect one. It would be impossible, perhaps, to have a perfect scheme for this purpose; but, in dealing with a matter of this sort, I submit to your Lordships that this scheme is not creating any such dangerous precedent, as the noble Marquess suggests, or likely to lead to the terrible irreligion which he appears to anticipate.


asked whether the county schools would only have one hostel in each case? Parents might wish to send their children to a hostel which had a different religious teaching. They might be hostels for Roman Catholics, hostels for Wesleyans, or hostels for Baptists, and if the head of the hostel was to announce that he proposed to teach the children therein in accordance with the wishes of the parents, and if the parents chose to send all their children to one hostel, why was a clause put into the Bill to limit that hostel in using the formularies of a particular denomination for family worship? It was possible for the head of a hostel to say he would have undenominational education, and why should not the head of another have other teaching? A boarding-house was a place where the children residing there spent a large part of the year, where they obtained the main part of their religious teaching, and where their religious feeling was developed day by day. He ventured to hope their Lordships would support the Motion.

On Question? Their Lordships divided:—Contents 39; Not Contents 23.

Resolved in the affirmative.

Ordered, That the said Address be presented to Her Majesty by the Lords with White Staves.