HC Deb 17 March 1840 vol 52 cc1204-16
Mr. Wallace

rose for the purpose of moving, in pursuance of the notice which he had given, for a Return, showing in columns, the names and status of the office-bearers and professors in the university of Glasgow, who have been enrolled, or are now members of the political club called the University Peel Club; together with the names of those of the above who have held or now hold honorary offices therein, or who attend the convivial or other meetings thereof with the name of the offices held by each; together with the whole number of students, and that of those from each class of the university in the said club, and the probable age of the youngest students belonging to the logic, Greek, and Latin classes: also the date of the origin of the club, the place or places of the meetings of the aforesaid club, and whether these are held within or without the parish walls: and also for a similar return as respects the Glasgow University Liberal Association. His object in moving for these returns liamentary reports, or other documents connected with Parliamentary proceedings, that prosecutions or actions at law against your petitioners, who are often compelled, in the regular and ordinary course of their business, to reprint and republish the same, may thereby be rendered more frequent, vexatious, and oppressive. Your petitioners, therefore, humbly pray your hon. House that you will not pass any act having for its object or effect to prevent prosecutions or actions at law, against the original printers or publishers of Parliamentary reports or other documents, unless such act shall contain a clause or clauses to prevent in like manner prosecutions or actions against your petitioners, and the registered proprietors of the said newspapers, for reprinting and republishing the same in whole or in part. And your petitioners will ever pray, &c. JOHN JOSEPH LAWSON (Printer and publisher of The Times). THOMAS PAYNE (Printer and publisher of the Morning Post,") was to obtain such information as should justify the House in taking ulterior measures for the suppression of associations of a political character within the walls of a learned university. The association to which he wished more particularly to call the attention of the House had been represented as being formed for literary purposes, but the fact was, that from its origin to the present time, it had always had a decidedly political tendency. For this reason he condemned it, and condemned equally the liberal club, which had been formed in opposition to it, and to which he had refused to belong. He did not know whether associations of a similar character existed elsewhere; but if any such associations existed, he thought measures ought to be taken for their suppression. He found among those who belonged to this association, University officers who were paid with the public money: he found that, at the institution of the club, it had been presided over by a most learned and distinguished professor, Sir Daniel Sandford, and was held in the room appropriated to the Greek class. Now, when it was considered that many of the students at the University of Glasgow were between thirteen and sixteen years of age, a large number being no more than fourteen years old, he was sure no one, either within or without the walls of the House, would consider it a wise course to permit mere children like these to hold convivial meetings, at which they were encouraged by the excitement of toasts and speeches to prolong their sittings to late hours of the night, and to drink wine ad libitum. He found that no less than five of the professors of the University were members of this club, or visitors at its convivial meetings, while, on the other hand, he found that those professors who entertained political opinions of an opposite nature, did not suffer themselves to be so misled, as to belong to the club which had been set up as an antagonist to the Peel Club, but expressed their disapprobation of persons in their situations joining any political association in the University. Such were the sentiments of three of the professors, Professor Noel, Professor James Thomson, and Professor Thomas Thomson, as appeared from letters written by those gentlemen, of which he (Mr. Wallace) held copies in his hand. The great objects for which the Peel Club was established was, the election of a Lord-rector entertaining political opinions of a Conservative character, and the general diffusion of Conservative principles throughout the country. The hon. Member concluded by moving for the returns specified in his notice of motion.

Mr. Colquhoun

could not understand what the House of Commons had to do with the proceedings of the young gentlemen who had formed themselves into the association alluded to by the hon. Member. These gentlemen had to choose a lord rector by popular election, and probably met to make arrangements for that purpose. Yet the hon. Member for Greenock, who professed to be the advocate of popular rights, wished to put down their meetings as soon as they appeared to be favourable to Conservative principles. The hon. Member said, that if he had known of political meetings held at universities elsewhere, he should be willing to adopt the same course with respect to them. Now, he (Mr. Colquhoun) looked around him and saw many hon. Members, both on his own and on the opposite side of the House, whom he recollected to have met when an under-graduate at Oxford at a society which met for the express purpose of discussing political questions, and he could only say, that those hon. Members, as well as himself, at that period, would have felt much obliged to the hon. Member for Greenock, if he had done them the honour of moving in the House of Commons for a return of the members of the society, and a copy of its rules. He would suggest an addition to the motion of the hon. Member, and would recommend him to move also for a return of the toasts which had been proposed at this club, in order to bring the whole matter fully before the House. With respect to the students meeting in the Greek classroom, he presumed that the students merely assembled there previously to the meetings of the class, in order to prepare for an approaching election of a lord rector. If this motion were agreed to, there was no reason why similar returns should not be moved for with respect to the Union at Cambridge, or the Debating Society at Oxford.

Mr. Hume

said, the ground on which he supported the motion was, that the Glasgow University was supported by the public money, and he thought the encouragement given to the establishment of political clubs within its walls tended to pro- duce insubordination. The hon. Gentleman had alluded to the Union Club at Cmbridge, but he had yet to learn that the professors were connected with it, and that the current political topics of the day formed the subjects of discussion. He trusted the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) would, if he desired to promote education in an university supported by public money, institute an inquiry for the purpose of ascertaining how far the professors neglected their duty by thus interfering within the walls of the university in political matters. He trusted that his hon. Friend would alter his motion, and move for a committee of inquiry.

Sir J. Graham

doubted whether it would have been necessary for him to address the House at all on the present motion, for he agreed with the hon. Member for Kilmarnock, that the British public would conclude that that House did not duly appreciate the vast national interests to which it ought to attend, if it wasted any time in such a discussion. But, considering his connexion with the Glasgow University, he felt bound to say a few words, in order to set right one or two misrepresentations of fact which had been made by the hon. Gentleman opposite. It had been imagined by the hon. Member for Greenock, that the institution of which he complained pretended to be a literary institution. He disclaimed any such pretence on the part of the Peel Club. It was frankly avowed to be a political institution. Owing to the peculiar functions which the Glasgow University had to perform in choosing a lord rector every year, the Peel Club was formed for the purpose of forwarding the election of a lord rector whose opinions were similar to those of the right hon. Baronet, whose name it bore, and also for the purpose of supporting those political opinions. The hon. Gentleman said, that the Peel Club was the first example of such a political institution within the walls of the Glasgow University. There never was a grosser error. The person elected as lord rector for one year held by courtesy the office for two years. In 1822 Sir J. Mackintosh was elected, in opposition to Sir W. Scott, by the casting vote of the preceding lord rector, and held the office until 1824. In that year, a violent contest also took place, and Lord Brougham was chosen by the casting vote of Sir J. Mackintosh. In 1826 Mr. Campbell, the distinguished poet, was elected lord rector, and an attempt was made to prolong his tenure of the office for a third year, contrary to precedent, which proved successful. He would now notice the error into which the hon. Gentleman had fallen, when he said that the Peel Club was the first political association formed within the walls of the Glasgow University. The fact was, that in 1828, on the re-election of Mr. Campbell, a club was founded which was called the Campbell Club, and that had existed up to the present time. Other elections followed, in which individuals holding the same political opinions were successful; and the consequence was, that a strong feeling was excited against this monopoly of distinction in connexion with party. At length, when the right hon. Baronet near him was chosen, an association was formed for the purpose of counteracting the influence of the Campbell Club, and this new association was called the Peel Club. With strange inconsistency, the hon. Member for Kilkenny, while he condemned the institution of the Peel Club, wished that he was a member of the Glasgow University Liberal Association. He was surprised that the hon. Member should now feel so much unwillingness for polical agitation. They had it from high authority—from a noble Lord holding place in the councils of her Majesty—that agitation was a Conservative principle, and in proof of this statement the noble Lord quoted a classical maxim, quœ perpetue sunl agitata,' manent. Were, then, hon. Gentlemen opposite alarmed at agitation if it proceeded from any side but theirs? He saw two hon. Gentlemen opposite who had recently returned from a Scotch election. They knew now what were the political sentiments which prevailed in Perthshire, and it seemed as if the hon. Member for Greenock was beginning to feel uneasy, and that some anxiety was also felt with respect to Glasgow, in consequence of the demonstration of Conservative principles. The hon. Gentleman now understood that agitation might be as powerful for one party as for another. While the lord rectors belonged to the political party of the hon. Gentleman opposite, not one word was said against the existence of the Campbell Club, and it was only when the lord rectors were Conservatives that occasion was taken to make this trumpery complaint against the Peel Club, The hon. Member for Greenock had condescended to inquire as to what toasts were drunk at the meetings of the club, the members of which were not mere boys, many of the students being from eighteen to twenty-five years old. The truth was, that all the information which could be required was before the public, and might be procured for the charge of 1s. He repeated, that there was no ground for the present motion, which it was discreditable to the House to discuss, and it really appeared to him that the Speaker felt ashamed at being obliged to read such a motion. Another representation made by the hon. Member for Kilkenny was his statement that the public paid for the Glasgow University. He wished it were so. Formerly 8001. of the public money were granted to the university, but last year that sum was withheld; and though her Majesty had been advised to exercise her power in the creation of professorships, those professorships remained unendowed.

Mr. Dennistoun

should not have troubled the House were it not for the assertion of the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down—that the city which he had the honour to represent, was about to change its representative. That right hon. Gentleman ought to have been the last person to have made such a statement; although, no doubt, he spoke feelingly on the subject; for, if he remembered rightly, the right hon. Gentleman himself represented a great northern county, which changed its opinion of him. By the same majority in point of number by which the present Member for Perthshire was returned, the right hon. Baronet was turned out of the great northern county which he once represented. Hon. Gentlemen opposite had stated, that it was wrong to take up the time of the public with such a motion. For himself he must say, that during the last week he had attended three days in that House, at four o'clock, and on no one of these three days had he seen either the right lion. Baronet, or the hon. Member for Kilmarnock present to make up a House. They might make the most of his assertion, but when they complained of the public time being taken up, why did they not attend to their duty and make a House? He must protest against the doctrine laid down, that it was right that the youth of the University should be instructed in political partisanship. There was a greater number of students from fourteen to eighteen years of age than from eighteen to twenty-five. He himself entered the University at twelve and a half, and was not older than a great number of his fellow students. The Liberal Association was formed in consequence of the Peel Club, but one of its fundamental rules was, that the instant the Peel Club was dissolved, it should be put an end to, and he promised that that rule should be complied with.

Mr. Warburton

said, the question was put to Principal Macfarlane as to the age of the students, to which the reply was, that in the Latin and Greek classes the average was fourteen years. Being asked how many entered younger than fourteen, he said, "Many entered at eleven or twelve. I have known some students enter at ten. Of course the youngest student had the same voice in the election of Lord-rector as the most eminent member of the University." Professor Macgill said, "The mode of election, in my opinion, is productive of very bad effects upon the students of the Universty. I think it destroys their habits as students. I think it of great importance that the mode of election should be altered;" and he went on to say, on being asked whether the elections led to idleness and insubordination for some time subsequent, that the effects were different at different times, and that they were chiefly manifest in cases of persons of more advanced years, who repaired to the University from England, and who were for the most part Dissenters. He further declared that there could be no doubt that political divisions arose among the students, when two gentlemen of opposite politics appeared as candidates for the Lord-rectorship. He also said, that for some time politics had been the ruling principle among the students. He could go through the evidence, and show that all the professors, with one exception, declared, that the political excitement which existed was unfavourable to the instruction of youth. "Do, then," said the hon. Member, "do let us act fairly and honestly, and put a stop to a custom which is more honoured in the breach than the observance."

Sir R. Peel

said, that as the subject was under consideration, he said too, "Do let us act fairly and honestly." The hon. Member had read a portion of evidence which had been in his possession these eight or nine years; how happened he never to have referred to it before? After the continuous election, during so long a period, of Lords-rectors of the same opinions as hon. Gentlemen opposite; after Mr. Cockburn, Mr. Jeffrey, Lord Archibald Hamilton, Mr. Brougham, and Lord Lansdowne, had been successively elected, and after the rejection of Sir Walter Scott, without any objection being taken to the mode of election by the hon. Gentleman, now at last, when a turn had taken place in the public opinion of the University, the hon. Gentleman having had by him this evidence for no less than eight or nine years, comes forward and says, "Let us act honestly and fairly, and put a stop to the mode of proceeding." But would it not have been fair in the hon. Gentleman, when he read the evidence, to have also read the report of the commissioners? They said, that notwithstanding the representations that had been made to them, and the opinions expressed in the evidence, they were inclined to think that great advantages arose from the election of the Lord-rectors by the students. Yet the hon. Gentleman, in his desire to act fairly and honestly, reads the evidence, but omits the report. Now, what was the truth? In 1727 the students had been first invited to take part in the election, and from that time the right had been held and exercised by them, and among other instances of the commendable exercise of it, was the case of Mr. Burke. Indeed, he thought there was a strong evidence of the integrity with which it had been exercised, that during so many years the Lord-rectors had been chosen from the Opposition to the Government of the day, and when he saw them exercising this right of election so well, when he saw them appointing men so eminent—he would not mention any one then present in the House—as Mr. Cockburn, Mr. Jeffrey, and Lord Lansdowne, he should pause before he assented to the proposition for abolishing such a custom. Who was his opponent on his election in 1836? The Attorney-general. The political party with whom the Attorney-general was connected did not feel then that these political contests were unfavourable to the interests of the students. On the contrary, they put forward to oppose him (Sir R. Pee!) a gentleman holding the highest law office who could be a Member of that House. He soundly beat him; and the consequence was the formation of this club. It was not a literary club. It was a club founded for the purpose of supporting Conservative candidates for the rectorship. This being the case, he would ask, would it not be unwise, after the House knew, and had so long known, that the arts which were usually practised at elections had been resorted to in this instance—would it not be unwise, after so long overlooking the affair, now to institute an inquiry which would serve as a precedent for inquiry into every convivial meeting in the country? He had said that this was a political body, but it was not an exclusively political body. It gave prizes for literary productions. It published a periodical work, in one of which he found a criticism on Coleridge's poetry. Another article was entitled "Mr. Wallace and the Peel Club," and from the spirit with which this was written, he thought he might caution the hon. Member that the bargain he offered would not be accepted. The Club, said a writer in that periodical, felt too well the security of their ground to yield it for so trivial a price. They knew too well the principles of advantageous exchange to make such a bargain. It would have all the appearance of giving gold for copper. The club, then, it appeared, knew their real strength, and he thought that happily they had but little to fear. Hon. Members opposite had a majority in the House, and they claimed, therefore, he supposed, the privilege of putting down an association of this sort. Now, no one was a more strenuous supporter of privilege than he was, but he really could not agree to extend privilege to this case. Had hon. Members opposite, before they had put forward their bargain that the instant the Peel Club should be abolished the Liberal Club should also be dissolved—had they fully calculated their strength to enforce that bargain? How was it that they had not come down to inquire into the constitution of the Peel Club at its first formation, but, instead of that, had enrolled themselves members of the Liberal Club? Far from this, it was not till they found that the Liberal Club was incapable of effecting their purposes—it was not till they found that the principal men of the University were against them, and that they could do nothing against the Peel Club, that they said, "Let us get as great a majority on this question as we can, and so effect by means of Parliament what we cannot effect by our own strength." Was it, then, wise—was it liberal to institute this inquiry? Was it not one of the distinctive marks of a free country to allow of free discussion, to take the advantages and the disadvantages of such a course together? It would be allowed that they must permit free discussion in this country, but then nothing was more unwise, nothing more intolerant, than for the purpose of controlling those who might be politically opposed to them to interfere with freedom of discussion, whenever that freedom tended against their particular views. It was surely intolerance in those who were the advocates of free opinions to say, that in the case of one university, freedom of discussion should not be permitted, and to choose to fix upon that university because it was a political body, having the right of election of its lord rector. For his own part, he felt very much flattered with this debate, because it called to mind recollections of his own election as lord rector; for that election he regarded as one of the proudest events of his political life. It was true he had avoided allusions to politics in his address to the university: but he did while there address some observations on political topics to one of the largest assemblies that he had ever been present at, and he never heard, without recollections of the honours that had been paid him there, of the city of Glasgow, and be should always hold the citizens of it in the highest respect. He wished for nothing more than to see into the whole working of the Peel Club, and he had practised the greatest self-denial in refraining from seconding the motion. Most reluctantly, in consideration of his his dudes as a Member of Parliament, had he been withheld from seconding the hon. Gentleman. If this inquiry were to take plaee, in that part of it which would relate to the convivial meetings of the club, probably the character of the toasts usually given would be an object of interest. He might mention one. Everybody must feel that the character of a toast at a public meeting was partly dependent on the song which followed it. He found that the treasury of this club was very prosperous, and on the occasion of the treasurer's health being drunk, the air was "Money in both pockets." The contrast between their treasury and that of their opponents was striking. But was this really to be the sort of inquiry, and if so, why limit it to one university? Having acquiesced so long in the election of the lord rectors by the students, they must expect to find in the University of Glasgow, as elsewhere, the usual concomitants of elections. Of course, there would be political associations for the purpose of carrying those elections. If it was wrong for the University of Glasgow to have associations of this nature, was it not wrong for Eton? was it not wrong to have anything of the sort in the English Universities f There was a Pitt club, he believed, at Cambridge; would they tolerate that? Where were they to stop? It was better to avoid these difficulties, it was better not to begin. To institute this inquiry would be to establish a censorship on opinions, which might come to be appealed to as a precedent for far other purposes. Were there not in every election of Members to that House some excesses, and did they not overlook these? Was it not the wiser part to be content to take the advantages and disadvantages of freedom together? He hoped the House would not be prevailed upon, after so long an acquiescence in this system, to turn round now because different politics from these which had hitherto prevailed were in the ascendant in the university, and established what he believed must give a fatal precedent of an inquisition into the convivial meetings, toasts, and sentiments of political bodies.

Mr. Fox Maule

was sure that his hon. Friend the Member for Greenock would bear him witness that since he had seen the notice of this motion on the paper he had endeavoured to persuade him not to bring it forward, deeming it a matter highly inconvenient to be a subject of inquiry by that House. He deprecated an inquiry of this kind as inconsistent with the duties of the House of Commons. At the same time hon. Gentlemen must bear in mind, that after all, the University of Glasgow was little removed from an ordinary seminary in England. Individually he objected to the public election of the Lord Rector by the youth of the University. He might be wrong in his opinion, but he felt confirmed in it, He wished he could say of the Peel club that it had been established solely to commemorate the advent of the right hon. Baronet; for he could never look back to the period of the right hon. Baronet's visit without a feeling of great pride in his native country. He wished that the club had been formed for that purpose alone, and that the pro- fessors had not united themselves with the students of the University for the advancement of objects purely political. He asked hon. Gentlemen calmly to reflect what great inconvenience, damage, and danger might not arise to the interests of the University of Glasgow as long as the professors united themselves with the students for the promotion of political objects. Was it not possible that the professors might carry their partizan feelings into their class rooms? Was it not possible that they might show more disposition to advance a student who belonged to their own political party than one who belonged to the opposite party. Was it desirable to promote and foster such a feeling in a public seminary. He thought it would be well if hon. Gentlemen would reflect a little upon these points. In all schools and all seminaries he should deprecate a political contest between the students and the professors. Under the present constitution of the University of Glasgow, he knew it could not be avoided; but he trusted that the professors would see the propriety of withdrawing themselves from political associations of this kind, and, instead of encouraging the students to pursue a system of political animosity, endeavour as far as possible, to shorten the period of political excitement which necessarily ensued upon the election of any new Lord Rector.

Mr. Wallace,

in reply, observed that two of the Lord Rectors of the University had that evening expressed an opinion decidedly in favour of the encouragement of political discussions in the university, and neither of them had denied that the University itself had been made the arena in which some of these discussions took place. If any grant for the rise or support of the University of Glasgow should this year be proposed in the estimates, he (Mr. Wallace) should then most decidedly take the opportunity of moving certain resolutions, upon which he would positively take the sense of the House, unless, in the meantime, the professors publicly declared that they would withdraw from their political association with the students. After what had been stated by his hon. Friend (Mr. F. Maule), he should not press the present motion to a division.

Sir James Graham

in explanation begged to state that never, within the precincts of the college, had any permission been given for any political meeting of any kind, either on the one side or the other.

Motion withdrawn.