The Earl of Belhaven
presented a Petition from the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, against the Irish Education System.
The Earl of Roden
said, that he could not help expressing his sincere regret, that the noble Earl had not given notice of the day it was his intention to present this latter petition—a petition which emanated from a most important body of persons, and which related to a very important question. If the noble Earl had had the courtesy of giving that notice, he (Earl Roden) should have had an opportunity of communicating, from the Assembly of the Church of Scotland, important information, in order that their Lordships might be fully acquainted with the general feeling that prevailed in Scotland on this system of education, adopted by the present Government, and still pursued by them. The proposed Resolutions were not strong enough for the General Assembly; they were mere milk-and-water Resolutions, and did not express the real feelings of that body; they were consequently rejected; and the present petition was agreed to by an overwhelming majority, instead of the Resolutions proposed by the friends of Government. He thought that a fair statement should be made relative to the circumstances in which the petition had originated; which ought not to be thus silently laid on the Table.
The Earl of Belhaven
said, with respect to the charge of not having given notice of the petition, that he did give notice of it to a noble Earl opposite; that he mentioned his intention of presenting it, and said, that he was quite ready to present it on the day that might be most agreeable to their Lordships. With respect to the circumstances attending the petition, he thought he should have been wanting in duty to their Lordships, had he entered into any discussion about them.
The Earl of Haddington
said, that he would refrain from any discussion on the matter, but as he had certain communications to make on the subject, perhaps it 1356 might be as well to state them to their Lordships. It was only doing justice to the Assembly with which the petition originated, to state, that the petition was not got up for the purpose of embarrassing the Government. The feelings of the Church of Scotland on the Government system of education adopted in Ireland, were not new to him, and he knew that the petition of last year spoke the general feelings of that body. The petition of this year contained stronger expressions than that of the last year, but he doubted whether all the members of the Church of Scotland went so far. It was certainly their opinion, that in all those Government Irish schools, there should be a Protestant teacher, that the Bible should be made a class-book, and that certain hours should be devoted to Protestant instruction. The Resolutions which were rejected, were not of a milk-and-water character, as the noble Earl had described them, but they went to express an opinion, that having petitioned last year, the General Assembly did not, of course, think itself again called upon to petition. If the noble Earl chose, he could tell him the numbers that voted on the petition. There were in favour of it 166, and 55 or 56 for the Amendment, and many of the minority agreed generally with the majority on the matter of Irish education. They would not encourage Catholic schools unless the Bible were made a ground-work of education in them.
The Earl of Wicklow
said, that though there might be some doubts entertained as to the petition of last year, there could not be the slightest doubt as to the petition of the present year, nor as to the general feeling of the respectable body from which the petition came, respecting the Government system of education pursued in Ireland. On that system a good deal of misconception prevailed. He would refer to the Returns from the Irish Education Board and it would be seen from the first Return made by the Commissioners after a lapse of a period of two years, that there were no means of ascertaining the amount of private subscriptions under the present system, or of knowing whether the late Secretary for Ireland's Resolutions were acted upon.
§ Viscount Melbourne
complained of want of courtesy on the part of the noble Lords opposite in originating a debate on this subject without any notice. If the noble Earl who spoke last had applied to the most reverend Prelate, the Archbishop of Dublin, one of the Commissioners, he might have 1357 obtained the information that he said the Report of the commissioners did not contain. With respect to the petition presented to their Lordships, he would say, that it was with great concern that he saw such a body as the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland passing so severe a censure as the petition embodied on the system of education that Government thought fit to pursue for another part of the United Empire. He confessed himself a party to that system of education, which he considered well adapted to the wants of Ireland, which, upon trial, had already been found to work well, and which could not in any way interfere with the established religion. However, any effect that the petition would have upon Government would be light indeed compared to the regret that would be caused by the Resolutions upon which the petition was founded being the avowed opinion of that Assembly. That opinion was neither more nor less than this, that the Catholics should have no education at the expense of the State, if they would not accept an education contrary to the principles of their religion The minority, however, that opposed the Resolutions contained many men of distinction, among others, the Lord Justice Clerk, the Dean of Faculty, the Professor of Divinity of the University of Glasgow, and Dr. Cooke; all persons of considerable influence in the Assembly and in Scotland, and of great learning. It was certainly some consolation that the Resolutions should have been opposed by such distinguished persons.
The Bishop of Exeter
was extremely reluctant to say anything upon the petition, and would have said nothing, were it not for the remarks of the noble Viscount reflecting on the liberality of the Assembly with which the petition originated. The noble Viscount implied, that the Assembly of the Church of Scotland was disgraced by this petition.
The Bishop of Exeter
It appeared to him that the noble Viscount's remarks were a reflection on that body, for having come to the Resolutions on which the petition was founded.
The Bishop of Exeter
was bound to repeat, that his impression of what the noble Viscount said, was, that the noble Viscount considered the Church of Scotland disgraced by the present petition. It was his own 1358 opinion, that if any persons professing to be Christians did not take the Bible as the ground-work of education, they could be no friends to the established religion. The Catholic Biship of Glasgow allowed Catholic children to attend the Scotch schools, in which the Bible was read as a class-book; but if the Roman catholies of Ireland would not adhere to the system of Government education, unless the Bible was driven from the schools, it was quite clear they were no friends to the established religion. The withdrawal of the Government grant to the Kildare-street Society was complained of by several persons of large property in Ireland.
The Earl of Haddington
bad not understood the noble Viscount to have asserted, that the General Assembly had disgraced itself by the present petition, but merely that it betrayed illiberality, and the noble Viscount regretted the effect which their Resolutions would have upon the progress of education in Ireland, For his part, had he been a member of the General Assembly, he would have voted against the petition, for he did not think that that body was called upon to go so far beyond their vole of the preceding year. He was far, how-ever, from asserting, that it was surprising that they should have forwarded such a petition, as no subject could be so interesting to them as that which was then before the House, affecting as it did the progress of religion.
§ The Duke of Wellington
reminded the House, that when the petition of last year was drawn Up the General Assembly had agreed to certain Resolutions, founded, as afterwards appeared, upon a misconception of the intention of the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the new plan of education to the House of Commons. The Assembly was therefore anxious to have the error rectified, and they now sent forward a petition for that purpose.
§ Petition to lie on the Table.