HL Deb 03 May 1906 vol 156 cc676-80

rose to put the following-Questions standing in his name on the Paper: viz.: "To ask the Lord President of the Council whether a Return can be furnished showing (1) the regulations or syllabus of religious instruction put forth by each local authority in England and Wales for the use of its-council schools; (2) the date when each was settled; (3) the extent to which individual council schools are, or are not free in each area to depart from the regulations or syllabus; (4) the extent, if any, to which individual council schools in the area do depart from such regulations or syllabus, or refrain from giving any religious instruction; (5) where an authority issues no regulations or syllabus, to state whether individual council schools nevertheless give religious instruction, and on what syllabus; and (6) what arrangements the local authority makes for the inspection of the religious-instruction in the council schools."

The most rev. Primate said: My Lords, I do not mean to detain your Lordships more than a moment, for the purport of my Questions will, I think, be obvious to any of your Lordships who have read them. At this moment, when discussions are rife upon educational questions both in Parliament and in the country, reference is constantly made to the syllabuses of religious education which are in use in the council schools of the country. Quotations are frequently made from these syllabuses, sometimes for the purpose of laudation, and sometimes for the purpose of criticism or condemnation. I have no kind of controversial object in asking these Questions. All that I desire is that when we speak upon this matter we shall speak upon a subject of which we have in our hands some certain information. I therefore venture to ask that the information which is tabulated on the Paper may be furnished to the House and to the country. What we desire, of course, is to know whether, when a syllabus is quoted, it is really a typical one or an exceptional one; and, further, whether the mere fact of a syllabus standing upon paper is all that really happens in a local area—;it is reported that there are instances in which that is the case—;or whether the syllabus prescribed is, as a matter of fact, followed in the schools under the control of those who issue the syllabus. For that reason I ask in my last Question what arrangements the local authority makes for the inspection of religious instruction in the council schools. I ask for a Return with regard simply to council schools, but as regards the denominational schools of the country, so far as they are in connection with the Church of England, we have no kind of wish to do other than give all possible information which may be asked for; and should the noble Earl the Lord President of the Council think it desirable that any information should be furnished by any of the authorities of the Church of England with regard to the denominational schools under their control I need hardly say how gladly and freely we will furnish it. Ten years have elapsed since a similar Return was given of religious instruction in the then Board schools of the country, and during that period a great many administrative changes have taken place with regard to educational matters and the Return then made is now for many reasons somewhat out of date. On these grounds I trust that His Majesty's Government will see their way to grant the Return for which I ask.


Before the noble Earl replies I would like to make one observation by way of suggestion to the most rev. Primate. I think the Return will be extremely valuable and useful, and will assist the discussions which will take place on the Education Bill; but it occurs to me that it would be a valuable addition if the Return could contain a list of the council schools where there are no regulations and no syllabus. The object of the Return is to give information in a handy form, and it would be convenient to know what councils have no regulations and no syllabus.


My Lords, I can assure the most rev. Primate and the House that we have no desire whatever to place any obstacle at all in the way of his gaining the information he desires. On the contrary, we welcome his desire for further knowledge on the subject, and we most fully accept his statement that these Questions are put without any controversial object whatever. As those of your Lordships who are in the habit of studying the news- papers are aware, there is not at this moment absolute agreement in the country as to the form which religious instruction ought to take in the elementary schools in England and Wales. That, at any rate, is not overstating the case; and it certainly is desirable tha[...] those who hold different opinions on this subject should have the knowledge that they are arguing from the same data, and that their differences of opinion are not complicated by any further dispute as to what the facts of the case absolutely are; consequently we are very glad to help in supplying all the information possible. I have to point out, however, that in one or two respects it would not be easy, under the circumstances, to furnish the Return exactly in the form suggested by the most rev. Primate. Your Lordships will notice that in his Questions the most rev. Primate asks for information as to the extent, if any, to which individual council schools in the area do depart from such regulations or syllabus, or refrain from giving any religious instruction; and where an authority issues no regulations or syllabus, whether individual council schools nevertheless give religious instruction, and on what syllabus. I must point out to the most rev. Primate that if that information were to be obtained it would mean that every local authority, in any case where it had any doubt as to how far its syllabus was being practically used, would have to put the question to each individual school, and the time occupied in that process would, I am afraid, be so long—;it would be a matter of some months—;that by the time the information was received the purpose for which it was required might have passed by. I propose, therefore, if the most rev. Primate will agree, to modify the Motion, and to put it on the Paper for to-morrow in this form—; To move for a Return showing in respect of each local education authority in England and Wales under Part III. of the Education Act, 1902—;

  1. 1. The regulations or syllabus for religious instruction put forth for the use of its council schools, and the date on which they were issued.
  2. 2. In the absence of such regulations or syllabus, any Resolution of the authority on the subject, and its date.
  3. 3. Whether the authority leaves individual council schools free to depart from the regulations or syllabus."
Your Lordships will observe that that relieves the local authority from the necessity of applying to each separate school, and allows it to use the information which its education committee possesses.

4. Any information now in the possession of the local education authority as to the religious instruction, other than that under its own regulations or syllabus, given in individual council schools. On that I may deal with the point raised by the noble and learned Lord opposite. It will be quite easy, without altering the the form of the Motion, to make it clear, in issuing this Circular to the local authorities, that we wish, if they possess the information, to know in what schools no religious education at all is given; but we cannot go so far as to ask them to obtain the information by inquiry, for the reasons I have already stated to the House. 5. What arrangements the local authority makes for the inspection of religious instruction in its council schools. I now come to the observation which the most rev. Primate was good enough to make at the end of his speech. As your Lordships are aware, there are some 12,000 Church schools in the country, and I certainly think it would be desirable to lay before Parliament at the same time a statement of what may be called the typical religious instruction given in Church schools under the regulations of the different diocesan boards. I propose, therefore, to ask those who are able to supply the information to be so good as to furnish us with their different syllabuses, and when we receive them, as we have every reason to suppose we shall by the courtesy of the bodies concerned, I will lay them on the Table of the House in the form of a White Paper. It would take too long, and not be worth, I think, either the trouble or the cost, to attempt to obtain from every individual Church school a statement of what religious instruction it actually gives; but at the same time I think your Lordships will agree that it would be desirable, in addition to the information asked for by the most rev. Primate, to get some general idea of the course of religious instruction which may be considered to represent the type given in the Church schools of this country. Provided no opposition is offered to a Return in the terms I have read to your Lordships, I propose to place a Motion for that Return on the Paper to-morrow.


With the indulgence of the House I should like to say that the Answer which the noble Earl has given seems to me perfectly satisfactory. If I understood him rightly, in the more compendious form in which he proposes to give the information asked in Questions 4 and 5, there will be included something which will show the case of schools in which no religious instruction is given, so far as that is within the knowledge of the local authority.


That is so.


That perfectly satisfies me. I agree that expedition is of the the highest importance in this matter, and that anything which causes unnecessary delay is to be deprecated. I would only add that when the noble Earl asks the ecclesiastical authorities of the Church of England for information it will be furnished with the utmost promptitude and care.