HC Deb 27 May 1834 vol 23 cc1365-8
Mr. Granville Vernon

presented a petition of graduates of the two Universities, in the county of Nottingham, in support of the Established Church, and against the admission of Dissenters to the Universities, and said—he begged to state, that, after much and anxious consideration, he felt it his duty to concur in the prayer of these petitions. He did so reluctantly, because, in the first place, he had hitherto, on every occasion, in the House and out of the House, as far as lay in his power, advocated the cause of the Dissenters. He did so as long as he thought their claims reasonable in themselves, and not injurious either to the interests of the Church of England (of which he was a conscientious Member), or to the vital interests of Christianity. He did so also, because he could bear his willing testimony to the valuable exertions of the Dissenters in this country to promote the cause of morality and religion. There were many districts, he was sorry to say, in this country, in which the efforts of the Church itself would have been wholly inadequate to stem the tide of infidelity, from the absence of either moral or religious instruction, unless they had been aided by the exertions of the Dissenters. He felt, therefore, great reluctance in arriving at the conclusion, that this claim of the Dissenters was not founded in justice. His general sentiment upon this subject was, that the more comprehension could be imparted to the institutions of the Church, the more people would be brought within the pale of her essential doctrines. There was not, in truth, any very great difference—no wide line of demarcation between the Church, and many of the most—I may say the most—respectable class of Dissenters. They were rather divided on minute questions of feeling and matters, of taste, than upon any essential doctrines of religion. He had therefore, felt it his duty, whenever he had been directly or indirectly concerned in any of those institutions which promoted education and religion, as far as possible, to impart a comprehensive character to them, so much so, that he was afraid he might be considered by some a latitudinarian. For instance, in the national schools, he had always advocated the principle of not compelling the children of Dissenters to go to the Church of England; but, on the contrary, that all should be educated under the same roof, and imbibe the common principles of morality and religion; and that it should be left to the parents of the several classes to say to what place of religious worship they should go. But the Universities must certainly be considered the sanctuaries of the Church of England, for the education of those members of it who were ultimately to instruct in its doctrines those whom the national Church committed to their charge. He did not think the Dissenters had any claim to enter into these sanctuaries; but at the same time he was of opinion that many of the benefits of University education might be conceded without trenching upon any one of the institutions of the Church. He was desirous of seeing those regulations introduced into Oxford, which had been introduced at Cambridge, for allowing all who might be willing to matriculate. When, however, they came to graduate, they were of an age to judge of questions of religious difference: and if they could not conscientiously subscribe to the doctrines for the support of which the Universities were founded, and maintained—not by national funds but by funds destined to the support of a State education, then it was time they should separate themselves from it; but, till then, all the means of liberal education which a University could afford, they should have access to. In stating these sentiments, however, he begged to say that the members of the Church of England were not peculiar in their views, or—as the Dissenters would call it—their intolerance. Very recently, within the last year, a numerous class of Dissenters (the Unitarians) had been deprived, at the instance of other Dissenters, of the benefits of a very liberal institution founded at a remote period by a person (Lady Hewley) whose opinions had been very much canvassed in the Court of Chancery, where they were assumed to be adverse to Unitarianism. It was possible they might be so, and the Vice Chancellor had decided that they were so, but he knew, that a contrary opinion was entertained by one of the ablest men of that persuasion (Mr. Tottie, of Leeds). This Gentleman published a letter on that occasion, in which he stated he was firmly convinced the existence of an Established Church was absolutely necessary to prevent the Dissenters from tearing each other piecemeal. He said he was perfectly sure that a general spirit of persecution would arise among the Dissenters themselves, if it were not for the existence of a tolerant Church, which would not intrude itself into their religious concerns with that spirit which he was, from lamentable experience, induced to expect from the Dissenters themselves. He forgot by what class the Unitarians were excluded from that charity; but the head of the institution was a most worthy and excellent man, (well beloved), well known in Yorkshire and its vicinity, for his promotion of every valuable undertaking, and his intellectual acquirements, as well as his truly Christian spirit. He mentioned this to show, that the Dissenters would not allow that any institution which they could claim to have been founded upon any specific principle, should be perverted, or applied to latitudinarian objects. He therefore was of opinion, that in the Universities, as they were at present established, there was no claim for the Dissenters to be admitted to take degrees. There was no reason why they should not have their own colleges and seminaries for education; but it was quite clear, from the mode in which they had pursued the various objects which had been insisted upon by the Dissenters' petitions this Session, that if permission were given to them to graduate, their next claim would be, that they ought to be equally admissible to the various beneficial situations which that graduation conferred upon the members of the Church of England. On these grounds, he could not support their views.

Mr. Mark Philips

begged to say, that among the Dissenters in the town which he had the honour to represent, there was no such feeling as Mr. Tottie ascribed to them; and he did not believe, that religious persecution would result from removing the disabilities under which the Dissenters laboured. He saw no narrow policy among them, no selfish feeling which prevented one party from assisting the other but they had joined hand and heart in getting rid of their disabilities. He regretted exceedingly the observations which had just been made by the hon. Member, because he had great reason to hope from what he knew of the hon. Member, that his vote would have been given in favour of the Bill which was particularly referred to. It was his conviction, that the great body of Dissenters in the kingdom were acting with perfect unanimity. They were aware of the important objects they had in view, and they would evince the worst possible feeling, if they allowed any differences of opinion to separate them.

Mr. Hume

protested against the sentiments contained in this petition. The hon. Member did not state, that he considered the Universities had been endowed with property which originally belonged to the Church alone. He considered the Universities national institutions from which all persons had a right to derive benefit. He thought the Dissenters entitled to participate in all the advantages which these public institutions could give, and he hoped they would not be satisfied until they succeeded in obtaining that participation. He must express his regret, knowing the liberal course of policy which the hon. Member had taken, that the hon. Member should believe, that the admission of the Dissenters to the Universities would be injurious to the Established Church. In answer to that which appeared to have had considerable influence in bringing the hon. Member to that conclusion—namely, the opinion of Mr. Tottie, who said, that but for the Established Church the other sects would tear each other to pieces—he must say that was only the opinion of one, member of one sect. Now, rather than rely upon the opinion of one individual, he would ask the hon. Member why that evil did not exist in the United States? There was not half so much acrimony in the United States as in one parish in England, and so far from the present Establishment promoting harmony, he thought that it was the cause of perpetual quarrels and discord.