HC Deb 13 June 1862 vol 167 cc608-11

said, he rose to call attention to a Petition from Resident Fellows and Masters of Arts of Cambridge University, respecting the Act of Uniformity. The Petition went to show that certain provisions in the Act of Uniformity, which required all persons before admission to fellowships in colleges to make a declaration of conformity with the doctrines of the Established Church, were, in the opinion of the Petitioners, injurious to the University, and the Petitioners therefore prayed that those provisions might be repealed. The Petition was signed by seventy-four resident Fellows of the University; and among them were comprised no fewer than sixteen tutors and assistant tutors of different colleges. The signatures, therefore, were those of gentlemen who were best qualified to form an opinion on the subject, and that opinion was entitled to the greatest weight upon a question of the kind. A few years ago the subject was comparatively of no importance: but in the year 1856, upon the passing of the Cambridge University Act, the operation of the Uniformity Act was brought fully into view in reference to the exclusion of Nonconformists from the emoluments of the colleges of Cambridge. Previously to that time a statute of the University, dating from the time of James I., required all who took a degree to sign a declaration of membership of the Church of England, and that statute was found to be so complete a barrier to all who were not members of the Established Church that it was not necessary to consider how the Act of Uniformity operated. In 1856 the great barriers to Nonconformists becoming members of the foundations were removed. It was enacted that for the future, with reference to all degrees except in theology, no subscription or declaration should be required, and the University Statute of James I. thus became imperative. The operation of the Act of Uniformity being thus brought more distinctly into view, the Petitioners came to the conclusion that it was for the interest, of education that the remaining barrier should be taken away. They wished the colleges to be left free. It appeared, that if a certain portion of the Act of Uniformity was repealed then, with the approbation of Her Majesty in Council, the authorities of the University would be enabled to deal with the matter in such a way as to them seemed best, and the Petitioners were satisfied that the remaining restrictions should be removed, and that a wider field should be now opened to those who were to take part in the education of the youth at Cambridge. They had had a most convincing proof of the injury which this statute imposed on them at present. Two of the Senior Wranglers within the last two or three years were respectively members of the Free Church of Scotland and of the Baptist Church, and not being admitted to compete for fellowships in the colleges to which they belonged, they had no in-uceinent to remain in the University for the purpose of taking part in carrying on education in those establishments, as I they otherwise naturally would. This circumstance attracted the attention of those who took an interest in the cause of liberal education, and they stated that the repeal of the statute would enable them to deal with the matter in a manner beneficial for educational purposes. He knew that it was always supposed that these great foundations of Oxford and Cambridge were pure Church of England establishments, and that the Church of England was entitled to a monopoly of their emoluments. That was true with respect to many of the colleges at Cambridge in the present day, and their statutes framed under the University Act of 1856 required that their Fellows should be members of the Church of England. It was not, however, true with respect to some other of the colleges at Cambridge, which had no such strict limitatation of the college emoluments; and there was nothing but the Act of Uniformity which prevented them from electing qualified Nonconformists to fellowships; and as regarded the remainder, it was competent for them, if they thought fit, to alter their college statutes with the consent of the Queen in Council. If the Session were less far advanced, he should not have hesitated to propose a Bill to repeal that portion of the Act of Uniformity which excluded Nonconformists from fellowships; but he gave notice that it was his intention in a future Session to move for leave to introduce such a Bill.


said, that having been in the House when the Cambridge University Act was under consideration, he fully remembered the ground upon which the restriction now in question was retained. It had been preserved from no wish to debar any person, not being a member of the Church of England, from any of the emoluments of the University —not in the least; but as the Fellows formed the governing body of the different colleges, and thus in great measure of the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford, it was thought inappropriate, considering that the Universities were the great source of the education of the clergymen of the Church of England, and also of the great body of the laity of the Church of England, who desired that their sons should be brought up according to the doctrine of the Church of England—it was thought and decided, that it would be inappro- priate that the governing body should be exempted from that test which secured uniformity with the Church of England. The House then held, and he thought wisely, that as the University of Cambridge was not like the London University, an open University, but a University intimately connected with the Church of England, therefore, while the Nonconformists were admitted to all the advantages of education, that still in the governing bodies of the principal colleges conformity with the doctrine of the Church of England should be secured, since that was the Church with which the University was connected.