HC Deb 09 May 1834 vol 23 cc779-84
Mr. Estcourt

presented a Petition which had been intrusted to him by his constituents—the Chancellor, the Master, the Fellows, the Professors, and the Students of the University of Oxford—against the Bill pending for second reading on Wednesday next to admit Dissenters to take up degrees in the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. He considered it a duty on his part, not only as regarded the high respectability of the petitioners, but with reference to the great magnitude and importance of the subject itself, to read to the House the language in which the petition was couched; but before he did so he must express the regret which he felt, that the severe indisposition of his hon. colleague (Sir Robert Inglis) had deprived him of the benefit of his hon. friend's assistance on an occasion like the present, when it was so much needed.—The hon. Gentleman proceeded to read the petition, which commenced by stating the great alarm which the petitioners felt on learning that their rights were to be infringed by the admission of Dissenters to a participation of the privileges which they had so long enjoyed. The Universities were corporate bodies established for the education of youth, and the petitioners conceived that they would not faithfully execute the powers and privileges intrusted to them if they did not in the most solemn and respectful manner protest against any interference on the part of that House with the rights which belonged to these institutions. Only one instance, they said, had ever occurred in which a legislative interference with the management of the Universities was attempted; and if it were now intended, that the union between Church and State should be kept inviolate this Bill must be rejected; for that such a measure would, if passed, eventually lead to a severance of that connection they were thoroughly satisfied. They anticipated the most serious results from any alteration of the law as it existed with respect to the Universities; and if the Bill now before the House were adopted it would be altogether impracticable to afford religious instruction to the youth committed to their charge. The tendency of that measure would be to promote dissension and discord, to banish divine worship in the Universities, and therefore they prayed that Parliament would not abrogate the rights which they possessed, and the exercise of which they deemed indispensable to the proper maintenance of the established religion of the country.—He need hardly remind the House, that this petition referred solely to the University of Oxford, from which Dissenters were excluded. The University of Cambridge was, however, open to Dissenters, though not to the extent they desired. But he denied the right of that House to interfere in such a matter; and there never had been any well-founded complaint made against the system of education adopted in the University of Oxford. There was great difficulty in obtaining admission to that institution; and in no case was a student received without the strictest examination of his moral character. He therefore asked upon what ground the proposed interference could be defended? And, under these circumstances, he, with the petitioners, protested against that part of the measure which authorised the admission of Dissenters to either of the Universities. The University of Oxford was a Corporation, and, as such, as fully entitled as any other Corporation in the kingdom to retain the rights and privileges which had been conferred upon it. This was the first time that an attempt was made by the Legislature to alter the constitution of the University of Oxford, as a reference to the history of that seat of learning would prove. It was true, that James 2nd did interfere with the Universities; but it should not be forgotten, that it was rather as to persons than privileges; and even he did not attempt to abrogate any of those rights which were now so violently and so unjustly attacked. Even in the time of the Great Rebellion, no such attack was directed against the Universities, although every other ecclesiastical establishment in the country was assailed with violence; and, therefore, he must insist, that this measure was a more glaring assault upon the Universities than they had ever before sustained. What might become of this Bill when it was introduced into the higher branch of the Legislature God only knew; but, without anticipating its ultimate fate, he could not help saying that, if such a measure should obtain the sanction of this House, the future historian, who looked back at their proceeding, would have ample cause to blush for the conduct of the Reformed House of Commons. The petitioners stated, that the by-laws and regulations of the College were made by them, and that the youth committed to their charge were educated in strict conformity with the tenets of the Established Church; but if such an interference as this were admitted, how would it be possible for the present system of education adopted in the Universities to be carried on? The admission of Dissenters, it was apparent to all reflecting minds, must go the length of abolishing religious instruction altogether; and, therefore, every Member of that House who was desirous of maintaining the ascendancy of the Protestant Church was bound strenuously to resist a Bill, the principles of which were calculated only to sap and weaken, with a view ultimately to destroy, the foundation of the established religion of the country. He did not think, however, that any actual danger impended over the Church itself, because he was satisfied it was too firmly based to be injured by such means; but still it was obvious, that if they deprived the clergy of the advantages of a Protestant education, such as they now received through the medium of the Universities, they would take from the Church the first stone of the foundation on which it rested. He hoped he had said quite enough to convince the House of the great and imminent danger of passing such a Bill as this. They had before their eyes one instance of the effects of discordant opinions with respect to religion in an establishment for the education of youth from which religious instruction had consequently been banished; and he would ask them, whether it would be wise on their part to follow such an example, and thereby not only give the enemies of the Church a triumph over them, but pave the way for the separation of Church and State?

Mr. Hill

said, that the hon. Member for the University of Oxford had stated, that immense mischief and danger would accrue to the Universities if they touched those institutions, and that the admission of Dissenters would raise such religious controversies that the orthodoxy of the Universities would be sapped to their foundations. But Dissenters had been already admitted to Cambridge. The experiment had been tried; and, he asked, had it sapped the orthodoxy of Cambridge? He thought, this was a sufficient answer to the alarm of the hon. Member.

Mr. Ingham

participated in the alarm of his hon. friend, and did anticipate great danger from the passing of the Bill then before the House. As long as the Established Church was to be maintained, the exclusive character of the Universities Of Oxford and Cambridge, as far as related to ecclesiastical degrees, ought also to be upheld.

Colonel Williams

could not understand why other institutions were to be altered and amended, and that the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge were to remain unchanged.

Mr. C. Buller

said, that, it was his belief, that if the Universities would meet the Dissenters, that the latter might be admitted into the Universities without the slightest injury to the interests of the Universities.

Petition laid on the Table.

Mr. Forster

, in presenting a petition from members of the Established Church in Walsall, against the Bill for the admission of the Dissenters to the Universities, said, that he could not agree with the hon. member for Oxford.

Mr. John Stanley

supported the claims of the Dissenters, and denied, that the Church of England could claim the property and privileges of the Universities on the footing of private property. If its clergy persisted in their opposition to the rightful claims of the Dissenters, the Establishment would become a practical grievance, and must be dealt with as such by the Legislature.

Sir Richard Vyvyan

contended, that until it could be proved, that the Universities were not Corporations, they should not be deprived of their rights; and, for his part, he should defend their privileges until they themselves called for alteration. They ought to take a serious lesson from the Motion which was brought forward by the hon. and learned member for Tipperary last night. The object of that Motion was to enable Dissenters and Roman Catholics to participate in the whole of the advantages to be obtained in the University of Dublin; but although the advocates of the claims of the Dissenters disavowed all desire on their part to appropriate to themselves fellowships, professorships, and scholarships, was it not clear to the commonest understanding, that if one concession were granted to them, they would use the power placed in their hands to obtain others? All he could say was, that if this Bill were passed, he should be prepared, and at no distant period, to see the Dissenters as clamorous for a full participation in every endowment of the Universities as they were now for admission into them.

Mr. Baines

observed, that it had been said, the Dissenters did not desire professorships and scholarships; now, he begged to say that they did, but they certainly did not wish for any ecclesiastical offices; because they were not congenial with their own principles. They merely wished to obtain those privileges of which they were deprived as Dissenters, and which they could only enjoy as Dissenters. It was said to be a popular doctrine, that Dissenters should be placed in a situation of exclusion; but it was not a popular doctrine; on the contrary, it was very unpopular, and the conduct which the Universities were pursuing towards the Dissenters under their professed and avowed opposition to the separation of Church and State was the very means of hastening the discussion of that question, and the churchmen were defeating themselves. He had thought proper to make that open declaration, because anything short of it would be hypocrisy, of which neither he nor the Dissenters of this country were capable. The members of Oxford and Cambridge were represented as wishing to secure to themselves liberty of conscience, and undoubtedly they had a right to that liberty; but let them consider how far they were infringing on that right in submitting certain tests to candidates of any description for admission to the Universities. It was said, they were anxious to preserve uniformity; this was the charge brought against the Roman Catholics in former times, and it was the worst part of the Roman Catholic religion which the Universities preserved. As long as there was but one religion, and, as it was said in Spain, "but one, and that the true religion," of course it was all uniformity; but was that a doctrine to be propagated in this country? It was said, the Dissenters designed to seize on the rights and privileges of the Universities by violence. This he denied, and he wondered how the hon. member for Oxford could undertake to assert it, seeing that the Dissenters quietly and respectfully petitioned the Legislature to enact such laws as would give them those privileges to which they had an undoubted right, to the endowment of the different Colleges. It was a fact, that thirteen out of the nineteen Colleges at Oxford, and twelve out of the sixteen at Cambridge, were endowed before the Reformation; therefore, if they were to be placed on their original foundation, there was another religious body which had the best right to them.

Mr. Estcourt

expressed his admiration of what had fallen from the hon. Member who had spoken last. If the first degree were granted to the Dissenters, it would be injustice to deny them to all the others; they would be hypocrites if they did not seek for them also. The concession of privileges to them would be an infringement upon the laws and rights of the University.

Mr. Baines

, in explanation, said, that he could not keep back a fact that was already before the public, namely, that the Dissenters, at their meeting on the previous day, had passed a Resolution to the effect, that it was expedient a separation should take place between the Church and State.

The Petition was then laid on the Table.

Back to