As was intimated yesterday in the course of my jottings, it was my intention to spend a pleasant afternoon watching Liberals debating the management of schools. It was the choice of the Assembly in Harrogate to devote much of their time and energy to the question of church schools.
To my mind this was regrettable; it was a matter we settled in principle in 1870. There appears to be a case for reform and that was agreed by the assembly. Nevertheless, it seems to me, if the party chooses to debate education, it should not find itself discussing religion.
Regardless of that note of alarm, fulsome praise should be issued to the majority of those who participated in this discussion. Strongly opposing views were put forward with civility and generosity, in a fully liberal spirit. Indeed many participants accepted the liberal dilemma: that families should choose their schools and may do so according to their religion; that schools should nevertheless, if they are in receipt of funding from the tax-payer, should not restrict their entry to those of their own belief; that a school that is of one religion in a small town or village may restrict the choice of those who do not share that religion.
I recall discussing the 1870 Bill with our dear Queen prior to its passage. "Mr Gladstone, you mean you will permit schools not to teach religion!" she exclaimed. "Indeed, Madam" was my reply as I then sought to expound the principles of the Bill.