§ [FIRST READING.]
THE LORD BISHOP OF ST ASAPH
My Lords, in asking leave to present a Bill relating to education I desire at the outset to make one fact clear. I am wholly and solely responsible for the measure submitted to your Lordships. I have not sought the advice or support of those leaders and organisations with whom I might naturally be supposed to be in communication. The Bill comes before your Lordships simply on its own merits, and compromises no one except its author. I recognise that the lonely presumption involved in such a step calls for some explanation. Although the Bill and the problem with which it 705 attempts to deal are in no sense limited to the Principality, the circumstances that suggested such a measure occurred in Wales.
The Act of 1902 aroused in Wales as Well as in England slumbering antipathies, almost precisely in the same measure and intensity as happened after the passing of the Act of 1870. Last year the county councils of Wales invited the representatives of the voluntary schools to meet them, with a view to effecting a friendly arrangement for the management of the voluntary schools, and providing that the interests of religious educationshould be safe guarded on the lines of the syllabus of some larger School Boards, supplemented by facilities, where demanded by the parents, for special religious instruction, to be provided by the denomination requiring it, on the colonial plan.Although the invitation was courteous and generous, there were some who naturally doubted whether Wales offered the best soil and climate for so tender a plant as a concordat, and they therefore declined the invitation. However, in North Wales, representatives of the voluntary schools met the committee of the county councils. The conferences and negotiations, conducted in the most friendly spirit, brought out two interesting facts. In the first place it appeared that the managers and the teachers actually engaged in the work of the schools were singularly destitute of any experience or consciousness of that religious difficulty which is so acutely felt by many public speakers. Moreover this difficulty assumed reasonable and manageable proportions when it came to be discussed in private by those who, to use the graphic phrase of the most distinguished representative of the county councils,Had not got their war paint on.In quoting the terms then agreed upon I wish very distinctly to say that those terms do not now bind or compromise anyone. It was agreed that in all the schools in the area under discussion a syllabus of religious instruction on the lines of the London School Board syllabus should be taught from 9 to 9.45 a.m. on four days in the week in provided schools, and on three days in the week in the non-provided schools, and that there should be facilities in provided schools 706 for unrestricted religious teaching on one day to the children of those parents who desired it, and that on two days there should be facilities given in the non-provided schools for unrestricted religious teaching; and that there should be an annual examination. It was also agreed, but under protest, and as an experiment; that—The teachers may, if willing, give the unrestricted religious instruction in provided as well as in non-provided schools.Those were the terms asked for and agreed to upon what is, of course, the centre of the whole difficulty, the religious question.
In considering those terms, I was urged to their acceptal, not because they would solve a present and irritating difficulty, but because those terms would have secured substantial and systematic religious teaching in all the board schools in the area. And later on I shall show that this was a strong reason for their acceptal. Why then, it may be asked, did the concordat fail? Not from any misgiving as to the sincerity of those who offered those terms, but for the insuperable objection, to my mind, that the concordat lacked legal sanction and legal security. Had that concordat been carried out, and its loyal fulfilment legally secured, we should not only have had educational peace, but, what I value much more, we should have had real and systematic religious instruction in all the elementary schools in the area concerned. After that experience, I think I realise fully now, not only the strength and the weakness of both sides, but the possibility of finding by moderation and conciliation a solution for the difficulties, so grave and often so unedifying, that now trouble our schools.
I have therefore made bold to bring this Bill before your Lordships. In its main principle it is a natural extension of the principle of the Act of 1902. It clothes the local education authority created by that Act with a power which will facilitate the adjustment and adaptation of that Act to meet the special conditions of the locality. Under that Act, the necessity for the provision of a new school is in a measure to be decided by the wishes of the parents. Upon the same principle I propose that 707 the parents should have what seems to me to be the incontrovertible right of a parent, viz., the right to decide the character of the religious instruction given to his child. The Bill would give the local education authority and the governing body of any association of voluntary schools, if so authorised by their managers, power to make an arrangement with reference to the transfer of their schools.
I believe you can safely entrust these bodies with freedom of contract. The local education authority and the Schools Association represent organisations that are not too large for local knowledge, and not too small for common sense. If the local education authorities are worthy to be entrusted with the secular management of all the elementary schools in their area, they can surely be entrusted with the freedom asked for them in the Bill, and I am confident that the associations and managers of voluntary schools will be strong enough to protect their own interests. The Bill would give both sides a free hand in making arrangements touching control, the appointment of teachers, the religious instruction given in the schools, and the renting, leasing, and repairing of the buildings. I lay great stress upon the opportunity which such an arrangement would give of promoting the cause of religious instruction in all the elementary schools within the area.
I will illustrate this from Wales and Monmouthshire, where there are 320,000 children in all the elementary schools. Of that number 90,000 are in non-provided schools, and less than 80,000 of these children are in Church of England schools. Put briefly, only one in four of the children under education in Wales are being taught in our Church schools. How religious instruction stands in the board schools is shown in the Blue-book of 1895. There are 307 School Board districts in Wales and Monmouthshire. Only in fifty-four out of that number is there any syllabus of religious instruction, and only in seventeen is there any examination in religious knowledge.
This brings me to the question of undenominational instruction. A careful perusal of the Blue-book I have named 708 demonstrates how vague and misleading that phrase is. In the great majority of the Welsh board schools, undenominational instruction means reading of the Bible without comment. What exactly happens—I speak from knowledge—is this. At 9 o'clock the head teacher reads to the assembled school, without note or comment, three, sometimes five, verses, taken haphazard from the Bible. Even in the few schools where comment is allowed, this reservation occurs frequently—That no reference is to be made to the doctrines taught therein.This is one type of undenominational teaching. In the Appendix to the Blue-book another type is given in the syllabuses of religious instruction given in various English Board schools. I find in some of those syllabuses that the Apostles Creed is taught; that the duties as inculcated in our own Catechism, only phrased in the exact language of Scripture, are taught, and that these syllabuses in the subjects specified, and in the time allotted to them, compare not unfavourably with some of our own diocesan syllabuses. And yet this, too, is called undenominational instruction.
What is the explanation of the wide and deep difference between these two types? The Cowper-Temple clause, interpreted in the spirit of its framers, not only allows but anticipated such a syllabus of religious instruction as I have quoted. The point is not only academic but of vital interest. The Welsh School Boards supply the type of that undenominational instruction which Mr. Gladstone called at one time "the popular imposture," at another time "the monster." In the debate in June, 1870, on the Cowper-Temple clause, Mr. Gladstone said that he regardedan attempt to exclude all reference to tenets and doctrines as an invasion of the freedom of religious teaching, such as ought not to be tolerated in this country.And he made it clear that the Cowper-Temple clause did not in his viewimpose limitations upon the freedom of religious teaching.In the same debate, Sir Roundell Palmer said that he regarded the Cowper-Temple clause as preserving substantially 709 the integrity of religious teaching, and he added these words, that—Distinctive catechisms and formularies were necessarily symbolical of the predominance of particular denominations, and although convenient and useful, they were not necessary for the integrity and freedom of religious truth and teaching.I submit that the undenominational teaching I have described is a local and unauthoritative interpretation or gloss which has been put upon the Cowper-Temple clause. The practical point then is this, ought we not, as Churchmen, to take every opportunity of securing in the board schools of this country the full freedom and liberty of religious instruction allowed and contemplated by the Cowper-Temple clause
Thee considerations may minimise the necessity but not the justice of the claim for facilities. In Wales, we were invited to consider facilities upon the Colonial plan. The Education Act passed in 1880 by the Legislature of New South Wales is an admirable illustration of how inside facilities may be provided. On the ground of justice, I cannot see how the State can refuse the claims of parents to have their own children taught their own faith at the cost of their own denomination in the public elementary schools of the country. No doubt there may be practical difficulties in providing facilities in some remote country parishes where there is only a provided school. Even here in London, where it is calculated that there are 300,000 Church children in board schools, it might be difficult at a day's notice to provide a permanent, adequate, and efficient organisation for so vast a work.
I need not at this stage discuss further details in the Bill. It may be said, my Lords, that these proposals are founded too exclusively upon a Welsh experience. Perhaps the symptoms in Wales are more pronounced, and therefore easier of diagnosis, but the trouble in England and Wales is really the same. The measure I present to your Lordships is entirely permissive. For example, in my own diocese there is a portion of the county of Shropshire, and no arrangement 710 is necessary in that staid and admirable county. And the same applies to many other parts of the country. I cannot explain why the Principality suggested itself as a fitting subject, when the Free Church Council had said Experimentum fiat. But, my Lords, I do not complain of this—I do not complain of the tropical eloquence in which criticism of the Education Act luxuriates, but I think there is one very strong ground for complaint.
It is an open secret that the protagonists in the opposition to the Act are in favour of a purely secular system of education in our elementary schools. Let them say so clearly. We shall then know exactly where we are, and there will be a clear issue before the country, I know intimately many leading Nonconformists, and I know well that they will not support the policy of secular schools. To me the great danger ahead appears to be that while religious men are wrangling about the form of instruction to be given, the secularist will meanwhile steal the key of the schools. I believe this Bill would do much in many cases to avert that evil, and in that belief I now venture to present the measure for your Lordships' consideration.
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read 1a"—(The Lord Bishop of St. Asaph.)
§ EARL SPENCER
My Lords, I do not rise to oppose the First Reading of this Bill, nor do I intend to follow the right rev. Prelate in the interesting speech which he has delivered. I might be tempted to refer to several points he has made, but I do not propose to do that, as I believe the proper occasion for a full discussion of this important measure will be when it comes up for Second Reading. I rise for the purpose only of informing the right rev. Prelate and his friends, and of stating publicly, that certain portions of the Bill will probably meet with very strong opposition. The Bill has not yet been printed, but as I understand from the remarks of the right rev. 711 Prelate, it will give a locus standi to different denominations to teach the doctrines of their own particular denomination in provided schools within the school hours. Well, I do not wish to go into that question now. I merely warn the right rev. Prelate that if that is the purport of his Bill he may expect very strong opposition to it. If he proposes to do that, he certainly goes very much further than the Bill of the Government in 1902, which in that respect left the religious question as it was. He raises a very serious and a very difficult question, and, therefore, I have thought it right on the introduction of the Bill to make this statement.
THE LORD BISHOP OF ST. DAVID'S
My Lords, though it is not without some diffidence that I venture to address your Lordships for the first time, I feel personally bound to ask the indulgence of the House for a few brief observations upon the introduction of this Bill, because in the spring of last year, in common with the Bishops of Llandaff and Bangor, I failed to see my way to co-operate with the right rev. Prelate in the negotiations for an educational concordat to which he has referred. I explained at the time to my own diocese my reasons for a decision to which I necessarily came with great regret. Though I continue of the opinion which I formed last year, that it would not have conduced to that educational peace which all men of goodwill must always desire for all the Welsh dioceses to have accepted the invitation of certain Welsh education authorities to a conference, the basis of which, under the circumstances then existing, was impracticable—I have, nevertheless, always recognised that the diocese of St. Asaph— where the proportion of Church schools to the population stands exceptionally high, and in the welfare of which I have reason for taking deep interest—was fully justified in exploring for itself, in detail, all the possibilities of a satisfactory concordat. A certain amount of risk to the common cause from their several points of view was obviously incurred by both parties to those limited negotiations, but I am persuaded that the net result, upon 712 the whole, has been an appreciable gain in a clearer apprehension of the principles hitherto regarded locally on either side as essential, and also of the legal conditions under which it might be possible to submit to the test of experience the practicability of adjusting conflicting principles by means of a local concordat initiated and maintained through the power of goodwill.
The St. Asaph negotiations failed, as I understand, mainly, if not solely, because without some modification of the existing law adequate security could not be given by local education authorities for the effectiveness of proposals in regard to which both sides had then come, rightly or wrongly, to a substantial agreement. This being so it is easy to understand that the right rev. Prelate has deemed it his duty to follow up his previous negotiations by asking Parliament to remove the existing legal disability upon local option which last year barred the way to the desired concordat. Though this Bill is thus the logical outcome of the St. Asaph negotiations, it is capable of wider application and would cover a considerable variety of proposals for local agreements. It might have, I believe, a practical bearing upon the possible revival of somewhat similar proposals which have been under more or less definite consideration in several parts of England. But Parliament is not asked in this Bill to approve of the particular lines of either the St. Asaph concordat or any other concordat which has been suggested. All that the Bill proposes to do, as I understand, is to make legally practicable in England and Wales the application of the principle of local option in order to facilitate various local experiments in educational conciliation. Its underlying principle of local option therefore has a considerable degree of affinity to the Scottish plan, which has recently received some instructive, and, I may add, unexpected compliments, from both sides in another place.
There is, I think, when the proper time comes, in view of all the present educational circumstances of this country, something to be said against as well 713 as for this application of local option. But without at present committing myself at all either for or against the Bill, the text of which I have not yet seen, I gladly support its First Reading, since it is an attempt at conciliation founded upon experience, and as such certainly deserves the careful consideration of Parliament and the country. In the careful consideration which I hope this Bill will receive from different points of view before it comes on for Second Reading, a prominent place should be given to the necessity of earnest good will on both sides before local option as a step towards the permanent solution of the religious difficulty can be expected to succeed. What are the immediate prospects of such a growth of goodwill? I need not remind your Lordships of the unfortunate form in which strong feeling on one side of this educational controversy has been manifested by large numbers in England. But as an illustration of the attitude of managers of Church schools in my own diocese, I may remind your Lordships that Mr. A. P. Lawrence, K.C., in his recent Report to the Board of Education upon the Carmarthenshire public inquiry, presented to both Houses of Parliament, stated that—No suggestion was made in cross-examination of any sort of sectarian narrowness on the part of any manager. The managers called before me were, remarkable for their open-minded and liberal disposition towards the Nonconformist scholars.Before the Education Act came into operation in any Part of the diocese of St. David's, with the exception of one or two boroughs, the governing body of the St. David's Association of Schools recommended managers in districts where there was only a Church school to avail themselves of the provision of the Act enabling them to appoint a Nonconformist assistant teacher, and also in the exercise of their powers under the Act so to arrange the time-table of religious instruction in all schools as to confine the use of distinctive Church formularies to two specified hours in the week, providing, when desired by parents, alternative hours in Holy Scripture for Nonconformist children at the hours when lessons in distinctive Church formularies were given to Church children.
714 The sole object of these spontaneous recommendations was to facilitate the application of the equitable principle that it is the duty and right of parents to decide what religious instruction their children are to receive in elementary schools. I earnestly wish I could also have adduced similar evidence of the general existence of corresponding goodwill on the part of the Welsh local education authorities. It is, on the contrary, notorious that Welsh county councils have adopted the short sighted policy of unfair discrimination against voluntary schools in educational administration. Feeling over differences is apt to run rather higher in Wales than in England. But, on the other hand, it must not be forgotten that the possibilities of recovery contained in the generosity and good sense of the Welsh people are great. As things now stand, however, the fact remains that the present attitude of the Welsh county councils towards voluntary schools is, as far as Wales is concerned, a most serious obstacle in the way of educational peace. Whenever this obstacle is removed and solid evidence of earnest goodwill on both sides alike so forthcoming, I do not for my part despair of a gradual solution of this religious difficulty, which has for so many years in England as well as in Wales retarded educational progress and obscured the unifying root-principle of our common Christianity.
§ EARL CAWDOR
My Lords, having been brought more closely in contact with recalcitrant county councils than many of your Lordships, I may, perhaps, be excused for rising to speak on this subject. The Bill which the right rev. Prelate has introduced appears to offer no excuse for not reading it a first time, for, as far as I can gather, it is merely an enabling Bill. I was very glad to hear from the noble Earl who leads the Opposition that the only comment he had to make upon it was that those parts of the Bill which referred to provided schools would receive careful scrutiny, and, possibly, opposition at his hands. But the main part of the Bill deals with non-provided schools, and I hope the noble Earl will give those clauses his favourable consideration. I do not wish to go into any of the details 715 of the measure, which, of course, would be more properly dealt with when the Bill comes up for Second Reading, but there are points in it to which I should like to draw your Lordships' attention. It appears to be so far an enabling Bill that nothing will come to pass under its provisions unless county councils and voluntary school managers and trustees concur in making an agreement under it. Further, in so far as non-provided schools are concerned, in the event of the agreement coming to an end after a term of years, those schools would revert to the exact position they occupied before, and would not be taken over as provided under the Act of 1902 and considered in the light of new schools. Therefore, in the event of the agreement proving not satisfactory, these schools would go back into the same position that they were in before the agreement was made.
With regard to one matter to which, no doubt, considerable attention will be called —the modification of the Cowper-Temple clause—I might observe that there does not appear to be any great change with regard to the effect of that clause so far as non-provided schools are concerned. Denominational teaching is given in the non-provided schools now, and any agreement which provided for that denominational teaching to be continued in the event of a non-provided school being taken over by the county council would be merely a continuation of what exists at the present time. I think the Bill deserves careful consideration at the hands of your Lordships. It is brought forward by a right rev. Prelate who is not remiss in defending what he considers matters of principle worth defending, but is known also throughout the length and breadth of the land to be ready to compromise if he can maintain the principles he thinks essential to his case.
I do not know whether your Lordships fully appreciate the condition of affairs in parts of the country in which the Act of 1902 has not been brought into force. In certain cases it is not merely a refusal to bring the Act into force such as has been described this evening. There is a good deal more besides that. In certain cases attendance officers have been prevented from doing their duty in so far 716 as non-provided schools are concerned. Where the attendance officer was assumed to be serving both provided and non-provided schools, he has received instructions from the county council to pay no further attention whatever to the attendance in non-provided schools; and where attendance officers were merely serving non-provided districts and non-provided schools their services have been dispensed with, and there is no attendance officer in those districts at all. The result is simply disastrous upon the attendance at those schools. I am informed that in one county alone the diminution in the attendance in non-provided schools brought about in this way will result in the loss in that county of Government grants to the extent of not less than £4,000 or £5,000.
It is not so much the actual results at the moment that we must look at. We must look deeper into the matter and see what the eventual results are likely to be. This is not only a refusal to administrate an Act, but it is a deliberate attempt to make use of the powers conferred by Act of Parliament on local authorities in order to injure and hamper non-provided schools. I would suggest that the first duty of the Government and of Parliament is to vindicate the law. Defiance of the law in an individual is a serious thing enough; defiance of the law by local authorities is, to my mind, a far more serious matter. If it is not checked— and rapidly checked—by a firm hand, it must prove a serious danger to the State and to the community at large. Defiance of one particular law must surely lead inevitably, if gradually, to the defiance and the contempt of law in general. There is, to my mind, no greater danger than to allow individuals or local bodies to get it into their heads that they can defy any law that Parliament has passed. Therefore, while I hope your Lordships will read this Bill a first time, and while I am sure your Lordships will give to its further passage through the House your earnest consideration, I would urge upon His Majesty's Government that the Bill they have introduced in another place should, for the reasons that I have ventured to place before your Lordships, be pushed on vigorously and without delay. If there is any necessity for such a Bill at all, it should not be allowed to lie for 717 many days on the Table, but should be passed as soon as possible into law.
* THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
My Lords, it is inconvenient, indeed impossible, to discuss, even on the basis of so lucid a speech as that of the right rev. Prelate who introduced this Bill, the details of a measure not yet in your Lordships' hands. Obviously it is not at this stage that profitable detailed discussion can be carried on; but I should like to say a few words upon the principle that presumably underlies the action of the right rev. Prelate in endeavouring to promote some peaceful and harmonious solution of the difficulties which unhappily beset us in this matter, difficulties which must be a cause of genuine distress to every religious man. The speech of my right rev. brother was clear and incisive as his speeches always are, and it had the further advantage of being based on wide and thoroughgoing information and such knowledge as is second to none on the Episcopal Bench. But with a discretion which he is quite within his right in exercising he has felt it to be best to introduce this Bill—I do not for a moment say he was wrong—on his individual responsibility; and, as he has, I believe, already explained to your Lordships, the Bill is not to be taken as in any way a joint production of the Episcopal Bench or the result of consultation on our part as a whole.
I confess I was a little disappointed in listening to the few words which fell from the noble Earl who leads the Opposition. I had hoped we might at least have had a kindly word of welcome to the endeavour which, wise or unwise as it may be in detail, at all events is an attempt to bring about a harmonious solution of existing difficulties. The noble Earl confined himself to a warning, from what the right rev. Prelate told us about the Bill, that we must expect that one at least of its principles would receive strenuous opposition. I was disappointed in this because as I have always believed no one is more anxious and keen than the noble Earl to further some solution of the difficulty we have had to face for the last two years. But I should like to say this. Although, as 718 the right rev. Prelate has said, this Bill is his own product and we, the other Bishops, are not responsible for it, it does not stand by itself, but is only one among many endeavours we have made to arrive at a peaceful solution. I myself six months ago endeavoured to my utmost power to bring about a conference or discussion with leaders among our opponents (if I must call them so), on the religious part of this controversy, in order to sec whether there was any solution attainable that did not appear on the surface. I tried in a letter which I addressed to my friend Dr. Horton to lay down the main principles from which we could in no wise depart, and I hoped that, granting these as common to both sides, we might discuss the details of their application. Those principles were three. First, that simple religious teaching should prevail throughout our elementary school system; secondly, that that religious teaching should be given by those who could give it genuinely as well as effectively; and, further, that in the large system of our elementary education as a whole, place should certainly be found for denominational teaching of some sort. Those principles being laid down. I hoped that it would have been possible to have a friendly conference on the best mode of applying them, I failed. I was told that unless we abandoned at once the principle that the person giving religious teaching should be one whose qualifications for that task might be inquired into and ascertained a conference was impossible. It was disappointing, and particularly so because I honestly fail to understand wherein lies the need for such a severance.
I have tried with perfect fairness to bring to a point the difficulties which are felt by those who have opposed the Church on this particular matter. We find our opponents laying down the principle, and they would be indignant were we not to accept it, that they are as keen as we are for religious teaching being given, and yet so strong is their objection to what they describe as tests that they will have no inquiry made about the teacher to whom that great task is to be entrusted. There I feel it to be impossible for me and those who feel with me to give way; nothing, 719 to my mind, would be more contrary to reason or common sense than that we should lay down the principle that religious teaching shall be given, and that at the same time we should decline to allow managers to find out whether those who are to give it are, or are not, qualified for the duty. This objection to all inquiry is now strangely said to form an inherent part of the Liberal creed; but it seems to me wholly incompatible with a common-sense view, to take no higher standpoint. If a man is about to give teaching in drawing, will you not satisfy yourself that he can draw? In this higher matter, is it reasonable to sanction or enjoin the giving of religious teaching to little children unless you know that the man or woman who is to give such teaching can be trusted to give it genuinely as well as effectively? We are met with the reply, "See how well the system works to-day; you have commended the teaching in the London board schools; why not trust in like manner to the working of a similar system throughout the country?" I am almost ashamed to repeat again the answer to that argument, but I find it necessary to go on repeating it because it seems to be continually forgotten. Of the head teachers in the London board schools all but a trifling fraction have been trained in religious training colleges, and with that training behind them have become headmasters and headmistresses. But all will now be changed, owing to the power which the new Act most rightly gives to county councils and other authorities to make provision for the training of teachers at the public expense. They will be empowered to arrange for the training of elementary teachers in their own way, but they will be unable to make as a necessary part of the training such teachers receive, any instruction how to impart the religion they will be required to teach. Before many years pass teachers untrained in religious teaching will be found all through the country unless you make it to be the interest of those who apply for posts in elementary schools to be able to show they are qualified to give religious as well as other teaching.
I mention this because it falls in with the argument touched upon by my right 720 rev. brother when he spoke of the teaching usually given in Board schools to day. I retract-no word I have ever used about the excellence of a great deal of the religious teaching given in Board schools under such Boards as those of London, of Liverpool and, in recent years, of Birmingham. The noble Lord, Lord Reay, who has presided over the London Board and Lord Stanley, who has been a prominent member, know that the teachers who fill the chief posts in London have nearly all been religiously trained. But that is not true of the country as a whole, and will become less true as time goes on. As we have heard from the right rev. Prelate, and I could expand the statistics he gave, there are a vast number of Board schools throughout the country where nominally religious teaching has been given; but, inasmuch as it has never been examined or inspected, there are no means of knowing, except by private information, which sometimes leads one to sad conclusions, whether that teaching is given with any efficiency. It is just because London, Birmingham, and other towns are constantly held up to observation as though they were typical of all Board school teaching that we need to draw attention to the peril involved in going forward without making any such arrangement as shall ensure that religious teaching is given by teachers genuinely qualified to give it. As regards the proposals of the Bill, I need not say with what great attention I shall study them when they are printed and placed in our hands. It is impossible for me to say more at present than that I most earnestly desire to see a harmonious conclusion brought to the difficulties which attend the working of the Education Act, if such a conclusion can be arrived at without any sacrifice of the fundamental principles for which we who care so deeply for real religious teaching have from the first contended.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT, OF THE COUNCIL AND PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF EDUCATION (The Marquess of LONDONDERRY)
My Lords, my first duty is to express to the right rev. Prelate who moved the First Reading of this Bill my gratitude to him for his courtesy in consulting my convenience in regard to the day selected for the introduction of 721 the Bill, and I trust he will not consider me guilty of any discourtesy if my remarks on this occasion are brief. It has always been the custom in your Lordships' House never to oppose the First Reading of a Bill, and I do not suppose that that custom will be departed from on the present occasion. Again, it has been the rule that the discussion on the introduction of a Bill should be very short and the speeches very few. I do not for one moment deprecate the number or the length of the speeches which have been delivered on this subject to-day. On the contrary, I think they will prove of great assistance to those who are responsible for the administration of education in the country, and will enable them to judge the spirit that pervaded your Lordships' House on the First Reading of this Bill. Neither do I regret the introduction of the Bill, for which, as the right rev. Prelate has himself explained, he alone is responsible. A fortnight ago, I speaking at Carnarvon, I laid great stress on the opinion of His Majesty's Government with regard to the administration and the working of the present Education Act. I then said that it must not be supposed that the Government desired to force unwelcome procedure or unpalatable legislation down the throat of anyone. I proceeded to say—They (the Government) did not assert that the Act of 1902 was perfect. No Act could be a perfect one—certainly no Education Act—and no Act built on the Act of 1870 could be a perfect settlement of educational difficulties. The Government realised that if, in suite of the compromise they had endeavour, to embody in the Act, difficulties still arose in its working, it might be necessary that further changes should be devised. They were only too anxious to secure any solution of this difficult question which would be accepted permanently by all sections of the community.After those remarks I could not disapprove of the action of the right rev. Prelate in introducing a Bill which, whatever may be thought of its details, gives practical proof of his desire to take advantage of the opinion of the Government which I put forward on that occasion. I think it shows his ardent desire to promote efficiency of education all over the country, and his equally anxious desire to arrive at some solution of the difficult problem which is retarding the education of the country. I confess that I share 722 with the right rev. Primate regret that the noble Earl, the Leader of the Opposition, should have stated at this early stage of the Bill that he intends to oppose certain of its provisions. So far as I gather from the speech of the right rev. Prelate, the Bill desires to do injustice to none; it is a desire to effect a compromise between all sections, such as I indicated in my speech at Carnarvon. Whether the proposals contained in the Bill are of a practical nature or not it is impossible at the present moment to decide. I do not pledge the Government either to approval or disapproval of the Bill. I would ask the right rev. Prelate to give a reasonable time for the full consideration of the matter and for the question to be thoroughly ventilated. If the right rev. Prelate will do this, I trust I shall be able when the Bill comes before your Lordships for the Second Reading to give him a longer and fuller reply. In the meantime, His Majesty's Government will give every possible consideration to the details of the Bill, and the right rev. Prelate may rely that when the next stage is taken, he will receive from this Bench a full and clear exposition of the views the Government hold with regard to his Bill.
§ On Question, Bill read 1a; and to be printed. (No. 72.)