HC Deb 04 July 1833 vol 19 cc120-9
Mr. Tooke

said, the Motion which I have now the pleasure to submit to the House is one which, I am persuaded, will enlist in its support every feeling of liberal regard for the entire community of England. It is the first step towards breaking down an odious monopoly, by affording permanent encouragement to universal and cheap education; and whatever advantages may attend cheap law, cheap religion, and cheap government—and no one is less disposed to undervalue them than myself they will be the necessary result of cheap education; and it is really—to adopt a homely adage—placing the cart before the horse, to bestow privileges upon men until they are rendered capable of appreciating their value, and of submitting to their wholesome moral influence and restraints. It would be worse than nugatory to occupy the time of the House by entering on any detailed account of the origin and progress of the University of London. Suffice it to say, that its foundation was the spon- taneous effort of a generous public, put in action by some great and good men, with each of whom, in his high musings for the public good, the plan may be said to have originated. In 1825, the sum of 160,000l. having been raised by voluntary subscription, a noble edifice was erected, and has in chief part been completed, The plan of instruction then commenced and having gone through the inevitable process attaching to infant establishments, of struggle and detraction, of internal schism and external persecution, has, I may confidently assert, settled into perfect union and consequent utility. A body of professors, not to be excelled in Europe for talent and for character, have the entire conduct of the discipline and literary, and scientific portion of the establishment; while a superintending council of distinguished laymen has delegated to a small Committee the financial and business details, between whom and the professors the utmost harmony prevails. By way of steady supply of pupils in all the classes, a junior school has been established within the walls of the University, which is conducted to the entire satisfaction of the public; and in aid of the medical students a hospital is now building by voluntary subscription, which is calculated by the facilities for clinical lectures, and the practical information it will afford to the medical class, to constitute the metropolis the first school of medicine in the United Kingdom, if not in the world. Early in the progress of the University, the necessity of a Charter was contemplated, for the purpose of giving legal protection and permanency to the institution; an instruction to that effect is contained in the deed of settlement, and, therefore, so long ago as 1830, a Charter was applied for, on a petition of the Duke of Somerset, Mr. John Smith, and Doctor Lushington. The draft of the Charter was approved by the then Attorney and Solicitor General; it was ingrossed, and went through all but the last sanction of the Great Seal, at an actual expense in fees of 268l., and when thus on the threshold of completion, it was stopped by a private application on the part of the Chancellor of Oxford, and by the more public course of a Petition from the University of Cambridge, to both which learned bodies, according to customary practice, notice of the application had been given, as well as to all the other Chartered Universities of the United Kingdom, and, as I have before stated, the only opponents were Oxford and Cambridge, the former requiring a restriction from conferring degrees in arts, the latter objecting to the granting of any degrees at all. It is not generally known, that no university whatever is entitled to confer degrees, by grant of any Charter whatever, the claim so to do being considered as incident to the name and title of University, and, therefore, King's College, although it has a Charter, can at present claim no such right; the name is consequently the sole matter in dispute, the University of London praying to be incorporated as such, subject to no other restriction than as against granting degrees in divinity, but wholly unfettered in all other departments of literature, science, and the arts. There can be no pretences for Oxford and Cambridge insisting on a monopoly, which they only possess in common with Dublin and the Scotch Universities. The privilege now claimed is purely honorary, as no legal rights attach to it; the qualifications in medicine and for abridging time both for the Bar and admission as solicitors, are by several Acts of Parliament limited by name to Oxford and to Cambridge, and who will still, therefore, for the present, retain those and many other exclusive rights and exemptions, provided for by Acts of Parliament; there is no pretence, therefore, for their interfering with the creation of a new theatre, for the noblest emulation of youth, seeking honorary distinctions, and depending only on merit for a reward. I trust that the better spirits of Oxford and of Cambridge, those who have so liberally distinguished themselves in the last and the present year, by entertaining in their walls the assembled science and literature of the kingdom, cannot be parties to this conspiracy against the extension of that knowledge they have thus professed to honour. Let as believe that they have reluctantly acted under the influence of some ancient statute, and will be well pleased with their defeat. At all events, defeated they will be. It is impossible that a Legislature, which has, to its immortal credit, in this, its first Session, granted the rights of conscience and immunity separately to various classes of fellow-subjects, whether Roman Catholics, Quakers, Moravians, Separatists, or Jews, will refuse to them and every other sect and denomination collectively the sacred right of acquiring knowledge, and competing with their hitherto more favoured fellow-citizens, for the honours and the advantages which should attend a successful issue of that competition, the high prizes due to intellectual eminence. The whole dissenting community of England is now altogether precluded from academic honours, if not academic education, which may, it is true, be obtained at Cambridge, but leading to no result. Even, under this disadvantage, the dissenting youth have eminently distinguished themselves; and what may not be expected when the monopoly shall have been broken down, and all admitted into generous competition? I will not—I cannot—anticipate any objection on the score of merits, there really being none; the only point, therefore, that can be alleged is mere matter of supposed form—namely, that the question is one that should be determined by the King in Council, or argued before the Chancellor, for there appears no certain course of proceeding on these occasions of mere honorary distinction; and, indeed, it is difficult to conceive how any one should presume thus to circumscribe the Royal prerogative in its most beneficial exercise. When a Charter was granted to the Asiatic Society, it was unsuccessfully opposed by the Linnean Society; and more recently on the grant of a Charter to the Royal Society of Literature, Sir Humphry Davy objecting to the title, I met him in amicable controversy before the then Attorney and Solicitor General, who instantly over-ruled the objection. In the present instance, Oxford and Cambridge peremptorily declined the discussion. I then gave a long notice of this Motion, and immediately apprised them of it, and have received an answer from each Vice Chancellor, abiding by their objections. They have, as I contend, thus taken issue before this tribunal, and thus literally put themselves upon the country; and to its righteous verdict, as expressed by the House, is the appeal now made. The two learned bodies cannot say their interests will not be watched and protected here; they are well represented by four learned and hon. Members, with whom I would not venture to compete in argument, could any be adduced; or in eloquence, were any needed to perplex, rather than to refute the plain statement I have so plainly submitted to the House. Several petitions in aid of the object have been presented to the House, and the prayer will be supported by some, I am sure, of my hon. friends; and, therefore, reserving to myself, in reply, such observations as may arise out of the discussion, I leave the decision in perfect confidence to the House, with my cordial thanks for the indulgent hearing it has vouchsafed me. I move "That an humble Address be presented to his Majesty, beseeching him to grant his Royal Charter of Incorporation to the University of London, with such powers and privileges as shall appear to his Majesty to be most effectual for the encouragement of education amongst all classes of his Majesty's subjects."

Mr. John Romilly,

in seconding the Motion of his hon. friend said, that the question was not confined to the London University alone, but had, in fact, relation to the rights of the public generally. It was because of the rights of the public which were involved in the question as to the propriety of granting this Charter that gave the subject importance in his eyes. The only point they would have to consider was, whether this institution was in a fit condition to receive the privileges for which it asked—namely, whether qualified masters had been provided for the instruction of the pupils, and if proper and suitable rules and regulations had been constituted for its government. In all these respects it was, he believed, in a situation for incorporation; and when it was known that the granting of the Charter had been formerly stopped at the eleventh hour, and that many of the members of the Government took a strong interest in the success of the establishment, the present appeal to the justice of the House would not, he hoped, be made in vain. He had certainly been surprised at the opposition which the universities of Oxford and Cambridge had given, and, without being at all insensible to the advantages of those learned bodies, he must say, that such conduct on their part but ill assorted with that liberality of feeling which ought to distinguish them in the face of the country. It was undoubtedly true that genius was sometimes called forth by those ancient seats of learning, but it was equally as true that talent was not un-frequently stifled in them. The Universities of Oxford and Cambridge conferred no advantage whatever upon any person who did not belong to the communion of the Church of England; but ought they to shut their eyes to the propriety of allowing the Dissenters, who were now a powerful and important body of intelligent and meritorious citizens, to participate at all events in some of the benefits to be derived from such institutions? He was not himself a Dissenter, but still he thought it highly impolitic to exclude any class of persons merely because of their religion from the advantages and emoluments to which a University education might entitle them. It was by no means his intention to cast any reflection on the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, but at the same time that he admitted their vast utility he must in common honesty say, that they were constituted only for the rich, and virtually excluded the poor. This was a truth that could not be disputed by the best and most zealous friend of those establishments. The temper of the present times was opposed to monopoly of any sort; but could, he would ask, any monopoly be more odious or more injurious than a monopoly of the means of education? And such was the nature of the monopoly of the Universities. If Dissenters were excluded merely from all advantages connected with the Established Church he could understand it; but why they should be debarred from benefits which had no relation whatever with religion he certainly was at a loss to conjecture. It was undoubtedly true, that the funds of the London University were not in a very flourishing state, but that House, he submitted, had nothing whatever to do with its pecuniary affairs, the question they had to consider being simply, was it or was it not in such a situation as would enable it properly to exercise the chartered privileges to be confided to it? No allegation had been urged against the institution which could justify the Government in feeling the least alarm in granting it a Charter. The question, after all, resolved itself into this:—Should the monopoly of education be continued to the existing Universities, or should the privileges enjoyed by them be in future participated in by other establishments of a similar description? The time had arrived when it was the duty of his Majesty's Ministers to do something for insuring the blessings of education to all classes and denominations of the people, and, knowing the anxiety of his noble and learned friend at the head of the law (Lord Brougham) on this point, he must believe, that the sentiments attributed in the public prints to that noble individual, who had already done so much in favour of subjects like this, with reference to the London University, had been misunderstood. It could not be denied, that the lower classes in this country had now attained a higher degree of political power than was ever possessed by the people of any country, and this power had been so increased and fortified by the Reform Bill that it would be hopeless to think of resisting its influence. More danger, he contended, was to be apprehended from ignorance than intelligence, and, therefore, he entertained a strong desire adequately to provide for the general diffusion of knowledge.

Lord Althorp

said, the question of a Charter was at present under the consideration of his Majesty's Government. The mere assent to the granting of a Charter was but of little consequence; the important part of the question being the terms on which the Charter should be granted. The mere granting of honorary degrees without legal honour and advantage was but of little consequence. He was one of those anxious for the success of the London University, and who thought it reflected great credit on those who founded it. After what he had stated, he would recommend the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his Motion, but at the same time, if he persisted in pressing his Motion, he could not feel himself justified in voting against it.

Mr. Wynn

had no objection that a charter should be granted to this establishment; but still the House would do well, before they concurred in the Motion, to consider in whom the Constitution vested the power of granting it. By the Constitution, this power belonged to the King, and the question therefore was, would they not be interfering with the prerogative of the Crown, if they agreed to the present proposition? Me contended that not only would such an address as the hon. Gentleman called for be an interference with the prerogative of the King, but that the Motion was in itself premature, as the matter was under the consideration of the Government. He said this without meaning any hostility to the institution, for in fact he had given some proofs of the wish which he entertained for its success. But he must at the same time join in the request made by the noble Lord, merely because he thought the Motion would operate as an improper interference with the prerogative of the Crown.

Sir Robert Inglis

would not have risen on this occasion if the noble Lord had placed the matter in its right light, namely, as his right hon. friend had stated, that the Motion would be an interference with the prerogative of the Crown. That was the question which in limine the noble Lord ought to have raised. The object of the Address proposed to be presented to the King, was that his Majesty would be pleased to grant a charter to a body which had been associated together voluntarily, and bore all the characteristics of a joint-stock company. He contended that the shares of the institution were as marketable as the shares of any other company that had been formed in the year 1825. In fact it had been one of the speculations which were set on foot during that year. If he was wrong in this he was at all events right in saying this establishment was formed in 1825. The House would recollect that in the May of that year the hon. and learned member for Winchilsea, who had since been elevated to the Woolsack, brought in a Bill for the purpose of giving a charter to this institution. It was discovered, however, that this was a private and not a public measure, and the hon. and learned Gentleman consequently withdrew his Bill. But, although he had been in that House from June, 1825, to November, 1830, five years and a half afterwards, he had never deemed it necessary to bring the subject forward, although it was in his power to have done so if he thought fit. When that Bill was introduced, the hon. and learned Gentleman expressly stated, that none of the privileges which he intended to confer on this institution, would enable it to confer degrees, or give fellowships or scholarships. He never intended that it should enjoy any privilege which could at all interfere with the two Universities; and he (Sir Robert Inglis) was of opinion, that it would be most improper to confer such privileges upon any Joint-Stock Companies, for in no other light could he regard this establishment. It was clear that the Government could have no knowledge of the doctrines that were to be taught in the London University; and, as to the granting of honorary rewards for scientific purposes, it was as much in the power of that institution to do so now as if a Charter were granted to it, as it was perfectly indifferent whether the reward was a wreath of parsley or of laurel. The object of the present Motion, however, seemed to be to acquire political privileges, and that should never have his sanction. Knowledge without religion was only a more extended means of doing mischief. It had been so for 6,000 years, and, as religious instruction was to form no part of the system of education in this institution, he was convinced that incorporating it would be attended with more evil than good. He concurred in the request that the hon. Gentleman would withdraw his Motion, but on other grounds than those stated by the noble Lord.

Mr. Strutt

was much disappointed by finding this was not made a Government question. The nation was much disappointed that the taxes on knowledge were not repealed. The question was, not what was expedient at the time when Lord Brougham disclaimed a desire on the part of the University to grant degrees, but what was expedient at the present moment? The hon. Baronet had called the London University a Joint-Stock Company. It might be so, but it sought no profit; its only object was to diffuse the blessings of education amongst all classes. He did not wish to depreciate the two Universities, to one of which he owed much, but he thought it very objectionable that these honours should be confined only to those of the Established Church.

Mr. Abercromby

observed, that he was an early subscriber to the London University, and he was a hearty well-wisher to it; and he utterly denied that there was anything like a bargaining speculation in the affair, or that there was any intention of starting an opposition to the established Universities. He had advocated the new establishment, because he thought it would be the means of extending the advantages of an University education to classes of persons who were now excluded from them; and also because the method was not a new experiment, but had been already practised in the portion of the empire to which he (Mr. Abercromby) belonged, and practised with distinguished success. He had no doubt that the institution would ultimately be placed in a situation which would enable it not only to hold competition with the institutions of this country of a similar nature, but with those of all Europe It had been provided that the University should not have the power of granting any degree in theology, and he was of opinion that that provision was amply sufficient to avert any of those dangers to the Established Church, which excited the alarm of some hon. Members. He thought that a degree ought to be made a distinction, the importance of which should be estimated by the character of the University by which it was conferred. But as his Majesty's Ministers had expressed themselves favourable to conferring the powers required by the London University, he thought, upon the whole, that it would be better to withdraw the Motion at present, and to leave the matter to those who were now pledged to do something effectual upon the subject.

Mr. Estcourt

said, he merely wished to express his total dissent from the proposition that the established institutions had any desire to preserve a monopoly of education. The best proof of that was, the successful career of the London University. He had no objection to granting Charters to the new Universities; but the great point was, what was to be the contents of these Charters?

Mr. Tooke

said, he would very reluctantly withdraw his Motion.

Motion withdrawn,