HC Deb 15 May 1834 vol 23 cc1029-35
Mr. Hughes Hughes

said, he had the honour to be intrusted with the presentation of a Petition from the Mayor, Bailiffs, and Commonalty, of the city of Oxford, in Common Council assembled, unanimously adopted at a Council on Monday last, and to which the common Seal of the Corporation was attached. The petition coming from a body of so much consideration, and which, during the three Parliaments he had had the honour of representing the city of Oxford, had not, he believed, presented as many petitions to that House, and also on account of the importance of the subject to which it referred, he had thought it right to give notice of his intention to present it, and then requested the indulgence of the House for a few minutes. The petition, after noticing that a Bill had lately been brought into Parliament to remove certain disabilities which prevent some of his Majesty's subjects who dissent from the doctrines of the Church of England from resorting to the Universities, and proceeding to degrees therein; went on to state, that should the measure sought by the Bill in question, receive the sanction of the Legislature, the petitioners predicted the most serious consequences; that it would be an infraction of the ancient rights of the Universities—an innovation of their discipline—would lead to schisms amongst the students—to the overthrow of those regulations which time had proved so essential to the promotion of learning, and the advancement of the great and solid interests of the country in Church and State—and eventually to the subversion of the Established religion; it moreover stated, that the union which had so long and so beneficially subsisted between the Universities and the Church of England (deeply felt by the petitioners) would virtually become extinct; and that beyond what the petitioners had thus submitted to the consideration of the House; there was another fundamental objection to the Bill,—namely, that it proposed to admit not only persons of every or any religious persuasion, but, to allow men destitute of all religious principle whatever, to matriculate and to proceed to degrees; and that so privileged, such graduated sects would go forth to the world with all the force and effect which learning could confer, to inculcate their mischievous principles. It was upon such grounds, that the petitioners prayed the House that the Bill of the hon. Gentleman opposite, the member for South Lancashire, (Mr. G. W. Wood), might not pass into a law, in which sentiments and prayer he (Mr. Hughes Hughes) entirely, and most heartily concurred. He thought it right to take that opportunity of alluding to what had been said in the House on the 14th of last month, upon occasion of the right hon. Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Spring Rice), proposing the annual grant to defray the charge of salaries and allowances to the Professors of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. The hon. and learned member for Bath, (Mr. Roebuck), stated, that on behalf of the great body of the Dissenters of the kingdom, he opposed, most strenuously, the grant in question; he added, that the House, sitting there as the Representatives of a great nation, was called upon to give certain salaries and allowances to certain national Universities from which, nevertheless, a portion of the people was entirely excluded. To his unspeakable surprise, that speech, was thus met by the right hon. Secretary to the Treasury; he said, he should be desirous that the grant should not be opposed; this, of course, was to be expected, but would the House believe the reason assigned—because one of the strongest arguments which could be urged in favour of the general principle of the admission of Dissenters to the Universities was, that out of the produce of the general taxation of the country those contributions were made for the support of the Universities. In consequence of that discussion, he (Mr. Hughes Hughes), felt it to be his duty to move for the return be held in his hand, and which had been delivered to hon. Members that morning. It was a return of the number of Members admitted to, and of Degrees granted by each of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, and also of Testimonials or Certificates of Admission to Degrees given during the last three years; distinguishing each year, and each Class of Degree; the amount of duty payable respectively on the Admission or Matriculation of Members, and on the grant of each Class of Degree, and also on Testimonials or Certificates of Admission to Degrees; and the aggregate amount of duty so respectively paid in each of the three years, ending 31st December last. From this return it appeared, and figures could not err, that in the year 1831, the stamp duty paid to Government on those several accounts was 5,037l., while the pitiful grant made to them for the salaries of Professors was 900l.; in the year 1832, was 4,887l., the grant being 900l.; and in the last year, was 5,181l., the grant being 1,264l.; thus proving, that in addition to the various other respects in which the country was indebted to the Universities, she was their pecuniary debtor in the course of the last three years to an amount not less than 12,041l. upon the balance of a debtor and creditor account; and, he might fairly add, 400l. for Certificates of Admission to Degrees at Cambridge, a register of them, as the return stated, being kept at that University; 401l. being the amount received under that head at Oxford during the same period, and the return of the Universities in other respects being so very similar in amount. He could not help reminding the House, that the grant to which he had alluded, was originally an annual acknowledgment by the Sovereign out of his hereditary revenues to the Universities, of their encouragement of learning and science; but now, in consequence of his Majesty's exchange of his hereditary revenues for a Civil-list, the item was necessarily transferred to the votes, and had annually been made the subject of cavil, and in the years 1831 and 1832 of divisions in Committees of Supply; an hon. Member of some notoriety at the time (he meant Mr. Hunt), contending, on one of those occasions, that it was money taken out of the pockets of the weavers of Lancashire. He hoped he had justified his Motion for the return in question, which would disabuse the public mind on that part of the subject at least, and show that the money granted to the Universities was not equal to one-fifth of the amount of stamp duty received from them. So much for what he was willing to concede to the right hon. Secretary to the Treasury to be one of the strongest arguments, the very strongest if he pleased, which could be urged in favour of the general principle of the proposed measure. He would add, "ex uno disce omnia," such was a sample of the right attached to most of the claims put forth by the Dissenters when they came to be investigated. Having disposed of their right on pecuniary grounds, he would endeavour to show the impossibility of the admission of Dissenters to the Universities, and with them Atheists and Infidels, who, if the Bill should pass, would claim to be admitted. [The hon. Gentleman read the petition, and then continued]. The last sentence was conclusive in favour of his argument, that it was impossible effectually to receive Dissenters into the Universities, unless the House was prepared to enact that the tutors should not instruct the youth committed to their care according to the dictates of their own consciences and their sense of religion, but agreeably to the various views of the several parents of the young men, a tyranny, he felt assured, the House was not prepared to exercise, and yet, without which the Bill of the hon. Member would be a complete delusion upon the Dissenters. In its present form, the Bill would be perfectly harmless, because it would be inoperative, and it might, therefore, he believed, be safely passed, if it were right to legislate after that manner, and to delude the expectations which it would raise. A Dissenter or an Atheist might then be admitted to the Universities, but, finding he must conform to the doctrines and discipline of the Church of England, would soon be compelled to withdraw from them. He called upon the hon. Member to state to the House, whether he believed, that the Dissenters would relax the discipline, or alter an iota of the rules and regulations of their colleges or schools, of which they had several, in order to meet the scruples, and accommodate themselves to the admission of Churchmen within their walls; and, if not, upon what principle of equality or fairness they could claim the assent of the Universities to the Bill before the House? He had thus endeavoured to give expression to the sentiments of the distinguished Corporation which had done him the honour to intrust to his hands their unanimous petition, which he moved should be brought up.

Lord Norreys

rose to second the prayer of the petition. He thought the sentiments so unanimously expressed, in a manner so marked and so decided, by the members of the city of Oxford, (who from long connexion were intimately acquainted with the forms and practices of that University), were entitled to the attention and serious consideration of the House. He had presented numerous petitions on this subject, signed by men of all parties, of various political opinions, men of liberal principles, who had been sincere friends to the cause of civil and religious freedom; who were in favour of the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts; who had been the consistent advocates of Catholic Emancipation; and who had assisted in carrying the great question of Parliamentary Reform, but who viewed the proposed measure with alarm and astonishment. He would not now stop to inquire, he would not enter into a discussion as to what the effects of that measure would be on the Universities. There were other reasons sufficiently strong to induce him to oppose the Bill. The arbitrary and oppressive nature and tendency of the Bill were grounds, to his mind, sufficient to warrant an opposition to that measure. On what grounds of equity and justice could the House proceed to deprive the Universities of that which had been secured to them by Royal Charter? Their undoubted right to exercise their own discretion in the admission of their members, and the power to frame their own statutes for the regulation of their own concerns. What right, he would ask, had Parliament to annul and abrogate these statutes? But he would put the case in a still stronger light: What right had that House to interfere with the rules and regulations of the respective colleges of those Universities?—to dictate to them, to compel them contrary to the will and express intention of their founders; contrary to the opinions deliberately expressed by a vast majority of those engaged in the tuition of youth—what right had they to compel them to admit any person within their walls without their own consent? Pass that Bill, and they not only sanctioned a violation of chartered right, but they recognized the doubtful and dangerous principle, that that House had the power of disposing of the property of individuals. But he would tell the hon. Member opposite, who introduced the Bill, the Bill might pass that House, and pass into a law, and become the law of the land, but unless he was prepared to have recourse to physical force to carry its provisions into effect, he would defy him to frame any measure which would compel the authorities of the colleges to admit any one within their walls against their own free will. He gave his cordial support to the prayer of the petition, as against a measure the most arbitrary and oppressive that ever was introduced to Parliament, insulting to the Universities, and at variance with the principles of a free Constitution.

Mr. George Wood

said, that in bringing forward this Bill, he had not sought to promote any political object. He had no wish to interfere with the property or Statutes of the Universities; he only required that all his Majesty's subjects should be equally eligible to participate in the benefits derived from them.

Mr. Blackstone

supported the petition, and contended, that if the Bill were sanctioned, it would be a most unjust and unwarranted interference with the Universities.

The Earl of Darlington presented petitions from several places to the same effect.

Mr. Milnes Gaskell

was anxious to say a few words on the subject of these petitions, and the more so, as he was placed in a position of some delicacy by the Bill to which they referred. Much of the property which his family possessed was derived from Dissenters, and, on that account, as on many others, it would have been a source of sincere gratification to him to have been enabled to support the Bill; but having carefully examined its provisions, and given the whole subject his best consideration, he felt that he owed a higher duty to the University at which he had been educated, and to the Church, of which he was an attached and zealous member. He wished he could regard this measure as one of mere relief from disqualification, but he viewed it as one of pains and penalties on the Established Church, as incompatible with the maintenance of religious instruction, and as rather imposing disabilities on the Universities, than removing them from the Dissenters. He should feel constrained, therefore, however reluctantly, to oppose the Bill."

Petitions to lie on the Table.

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