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Mr. Kay Shuttleworth supported the Government in a maiden speech; and
Mr. Beresford Hope attacked the speech of Mr. Winterbotham as “singularly ill-timed, and struck in a most unfortunate key." The charge against Churchmen was, “at the present moment, exceptionally and peculiarly unjust ;” and the opposition at the present stage of the Bill “ the work of a disappointed faction," who “set up the independent British workman as something between an avenging angel and a noble savage, to hew down the great idol of denominationalism and to build up a magnificent temple of secularism.”
Sir Roundell Palmer said that the views advocated by Mr. Winterbotham were such as “never could be accepted as the basis of a common system of national education by that portion of the people who belonged to the Established Church.” “You must assume,” he said, “that the local authorities in many cases do want to have religious education, and will have it if you allow them. Then do you suppose you will have the co-operation of this supplementary local system if you tie their hands behind them upon points to which they attach the greatest importance, and say they shall not supply their own real wants, such as they know them to be ?” Quoting an opinion of Sir James Kay Shuttleworth, who had said that “A measure for establishing a rate-in-aid of school incomes cannot be successful in opposition to the feelings and opinions of the religious communions; and it would lack both stability and efficiency if it did not obtain the active co-operation of the landed proprietors and of the intelligent and educated portions of the middle classes of rural parishes”—he argued that anything which violated these principles and took away that co-operation would be “fatal to the practical working and success of your scheme. You would not and could not get that universal system of national education which you want; and if you superadded the element of compulsion, of which we have heard so much, it would become an intolerable tyranny. I say that without the least hesitation. ..... We have been in hopes,” he procecded to say, “from a good deal that we have recently heard, that the religious difficulty was diminishing, was disappearing, and approaching its vanishing point. I am afraid that difficulty has expanded again into rather considerable dimensions during this debate. I ownand I say it with great regret—that I cannot think it now comes from those from whom it would formerly have been expected. We have heard much of unsectarian education. If the religious difficulty has been inflamed on this occasion, I think it is on the part of those who talk of unsectarian education. I want fairly to put this question to the House-Is the mind of the country, on the whole, in favour of the principle of religious education or in favour of secular education ?” Both from the language of the amendment and from “the broad facts of the existing schools," he argued that the former was desired generally by the people. After showing that the effect of the Irish National system was not to exclude religion from teaching, he said that, by religious education, he did not mean that the State was to proscribe or prescribe particular dogmas; but that nothing should be done to cripple" the power of teaching the rule of practice and of life according to the sincere belief of the teacher. .... For my own part,” he said, “I would rather that my child should be educated after the manner of the ancient Persians, who were only taught to ride, to shoot, and to speak the truth, rather than that he should be taught all the sciences in the world without the inculcation of that moral principle which is involved in 'speaking the truth.'” As to the “ secular idea,” he said, “ the idea of telling children to learn something useful in a secular sense at school, and to learn religion elsewhere, was in substance to put religion in a point of view which is false, and, at the same time, to teach the young to regard it in that false light.” Regretting as inevitable, but exaggerated, the differences between Dissenters and the Church, he showed that if any agreement was to be come to there must be concessions on both sides.
Mr. Lowe (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) compared the attitude of the House, agreeing as they did almost unanimously to the great principle of the measure, but driven to concentrate their attention on one narrow point, to a “fine herd of cattle in a large meadow deserting the grass, which is abundant about them, and delighting themselves by fighting over a bed of nettles in one corner of the field. . . . . It is quite certain," he said, speaking of the powers to be given to the Boards, “ that if a majority exercises a power in any way the minority will be dissatisfied.” He pointed out to how many and great objections any and every scheme of education must be liable, and strongly denied that the Government had “ nailed their colours to the mast, or determined that no con. cession should be made, or that they would abide by the Bill to the bitter end.”
Mr. Vernon Harcourt attacked chiefly the proposal that the Boards should be elected by the majorities of Town Councils and Parish Vestries, as unsound and impracticable. He described muincipal elections; and asked what they would be with “the element of religious animosity superadded.” “I suppose,” he said, “that there will be religious' public-houses in every street; that blue and yellow placards will invite the voters to support ‘Jones, and the Thirty-nine Articles,' or 'Smith, and No Creed,' or Robinson, and down with the Bishops ;' and cabs will be flying about advertising the theological merits of the different denominations, and rival divines will take the chair nightly at meetings in public-houses and beer-taps. There will be a great deal of religious discussion, and a good deal more of religious beer. Towards the afternoon of the polling-day there will be miraculous conversions of all kinds-next morning many people will find out that in the course of twenty-four hours they have held every known form of religious faith; while close upon four o'clock on the polling-day men will accept as many
articles of faith as you may supply them with pints of beer, and the least sober will be the most orthodox. That is your plan for spreading religious education among the people.” He supported the Amendment as an attack upon a principle " the principle of denominational education at the will of the dominant sect,” which naturally made the Bill “ one for handing over to the Church of England in all the rural districts an absolute monopoly in the matter of Education.” The Bill, not the Amendment, was evasive, for it evaded deciding the religious question. And the Amendment, if negative in terms, “involved two positive assertions”- first, that the duty of dealing with the religious question lay with Parliament; and next, that it must be dealt with, on what he called “ the great principle of the Liberal Party—the principle of religious equality.”
Mr. Mundella supported the Bill while advocating some concession to the Dissenters. But it was clear that the Amendment would have been pressed to a division which might have proved dangerous to the Government in spite of Opposition support, but for some pledges given by Mr. Gladstone which caused the motion to be formally negatived. He said that “the Government would not insist on the permissive principle further than might appear reasonable after full discussion in Committee - admitted that the mode of electing Local Boards might be altered so that personal representation might not be overborne by the influence of propertyand also that the Conscience Clause (which he acknowledged had not been successful) might be replaced by a separation of religious and secular teaching, on the principle of a time-table, and by a rule so definite that everybody could understand it."
Three months elapsed between the second reading of the Bill and its being taken into committee. During that time a careful study of the direction taken by public feeling induced the Government to open the debates in committee with a proposal to adopt certain changes in the Bill, calculated chiefly to diminish the fear of its fostering sectarian discord. This fear appeared to be generally entertained with reference to the local Boards, and turned upon two points, the insufficiency of a Conscience Clause to limit their discretion with regard to religious teaching in the rate-founded schools, and the leaving wholly to their discretion the power to give or withhold aid in the case of voluntary schools outside the circle of those founded upon the rate. Mr. Gladstone, speaking for the Government with this view, declined to accede to a proposal of Mr. Vernon Harcourt, that the Education Department should secure that, in all schools assisted by public rates, such religious teaching as might be given should be “undenominational in its character, and confined to unsectarian instruction in the Bible,” because he did not know “what, in the language of the law, undenominational and unsectarian instruction meant.” But he was ready to adopt an amendment of Mr. Cowper Temple to exclude from all rate-built schools every catechism and formulary distinctive of denominational creed, and to sever altogether the relation between
the local School Boards and the denominational schools, leaving the latter to look solely to the central grants for help. But in order to deal fairly by the schools of those bodies which, like the Roman Catholics, insisted on a very distinctive religious teaching, and which had the charge of some of the most degraded and ignorant of our people, he proposed to increase the central grant to all schools, rate-built or voluntary, from one-third to one-half of the total cost. The remaining half was to be raised by rates and school pence in the case of School Board schools, and by voluntary subscriptions and school pence in the case of denominational schools. When Mr. Disraeli had characterized this as an “entirely new Bill,” and, understanding it is a scheme which would give the schoolmaster the power to explain the Holy Scripture when he read it, declared that the Government were “inventing and establishing a new sacerdotal class,” the general sense of the House on the “religious difficulty" and the new proposals was tested in a long debate upon an amendment moved by Mr. Richard to the effect that, “in any national system of elementary education, the attendance should be everywhere compul. sory, and the religious teaching supplied by voluntary effort, and not out of public funds," and forbidding the increase of grants to existing denominational schools. The debate brought out strongly the different and opposite views entertained of all the difficulties connected with the Bill and the remedies proposed by it; Mr. Richard, Mr. Gathorne Hardy, Mr. Winterbotham, Lord John Manners, Mr. Henley, Mr. Vernon Harcourt (who threatened to raise an annual education debate on every occasion of voting the Parliamentary grant), and others, commenting with more or less disapproval or regret upon various aspects of the Government scheme. But it was warmly defended by men of very opposite views. Dr. Lyon Playfair dwelt strongly on the existing state of “educational destitution ” in the large towns especially (instancing Birmingham,“ the head-quarters of the Education League, which opposes this Bill so fiercely'), as “perfectly appalling” and maintained that “any step forward would be better than standing still,” whereas he pointed out that the fears entertained of this Bill were chimerical. “Only educate the people well,” he said, “and our political and religious liberties will be safe in their keeping." At the same time he reminded the House that the Bill was but tentative. “ We are now dealing,” he said, “with the quantity, and doing nothing for the quality, of the education of the people. But the land requires to be ploughed before the seed is sown, and this Bill is an effective imple. ment for the preliminary preparation of the soil.” He referred to the existing Scotch system as proving the wisdom of “high standards;" and advocated the establishment of a separate Department for Edu. cation.
Mr. Forster took the three clauses of Mr. Richard's amendment one by one, and defended in each case the course taken by Government, explaining further its purport. As to the principle of compulsion, it was not really affected by the alteration in the Bill;
the only change being that no bye-law enforcing compulsory attendance was to apply to the religious teaching in any schools. The question would have to be met either by direct or indirect compulsion; and, though “permissive compulsion” sounded like a “contradiction in terms,” it was intended merely as an experiment upon a principle which was too new to be directly accepted at once either by the house or the country, and which,“ once having been started, would find its way.”
Turning to the religious question, he proceeded to point out by reference to numerous individual cases the wide-spread and deep feeling of the working classes in favour of a religious education. He extracted some remarkable particulars from a book recently published under the title of “One Square Mile in the East of London.” In that district of one square mile in the East-end of London, containing about 150,000 persons, the author of that book had made a house-to-house visitation for the purpose of investigating the actual extent of educational destitution, and of ascertaining the wants and wishes of the people themselves. As the result of the investigation and visitation so conducted, he found that the educational destitution was terrible-quite as bad as at Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, or Birmingham. Taking the population at 190,000, the children between the ages of three and fourteen might be assumed at 40,000 in number, and of those 29,000 within the space of one square mile were growing up in almost, if not complete, ignorance. This gentleman also tried to ascertain what views were held by the parents as to the religious difficulty, and he appears to have gone into this question entirely and absolulutely unprejudiced. The feeling of those whom he consulted was strongly in favour of some religious teaching, though as to the precise nature of this teaching very different views were ascertained. One said it should be founded “on the Bible and Dr. Watts's catechism;" but there were only two cases in which religious teaching of some kind was not regarded with favour. “Here is a very dirty, almost a filthy nook, serving for children and parents and all, for the father cannot afford a second room-evidently not the élite of the working classes, but still the very class for which we are legislating. And what said the poor mother ? The mother said she would strongly object to no religion being taught; she would rather send the children to the schools of another Dissenting sect to which she did not herself belong than send them where no religion was taught. Here, again, is a man, a shoemaker, who has evidently had a hard struggle; he has eleven grown-up children, and the youngest go to school. The father was strongly in favour of compelling parents to send their children to some school; but he was also strongly against schools where no religion was taught. He also would rather send his children to the school of a different sect than to one where no religion was taught. Then comes a nice tidy family, with three or four children, one of whom was at school; the parents strongly objected to compulsion :