HC Deb 28 February 1866 vol 181 cc1257-64

(Mr Bouverie, Mr. Dudley Fortescue.)

Order for Second Reading read.


said, he had to present a petition from Mr. Bompas, a barrister, in favour of the Bill. As the petition was one of a peculiar nature, he would briefly state to the House the facts set forth in it. The petitioner stated that he had been an Undergraduate of St. John's College, Cambridge, and when taking his degree at Cambridge University, in 1858, he was fifth Wrangler. He stated that he belonged to the Baptist persuasion, but during his stay at Cambridge he had always attended the college chapel, and received Communion according to the rites of the Church of England. Having obtained so high a place as fifth Wrangler, he believed that had he been allowed to try for a fellowship he would have obtained one, and men who were below him at the degree examination in the same year subsequently did obtain fellowships. He found that before he could obtain a fellowship it would be necessary for him to make a declaration, under the Act of Uniformity, that he would conform to the Liturgy of the Church of England. Being in doubt as to the meaning of that declaration be submitted a copy thereof to Mr. Lush, now Mr. Justice Lush, and his opinion was that, although some of the words of the declaration were ambiguous, the person signing it undertook, at least, to observe all the directions in the rubric of the Common Prayer Book. The petitioner said that he could not conscientiously make that declaration, and he, therefore, was prevented from trying for a fellowship. The petitioner concluded by stating that he believed many members of the Church of England could not conscientiously sign the declaration, and prayed the House for relief. He (Mr. Bouverie) was informed by his right hon. Friend the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Walpole), who was not in his usual place, but was, he believed, engaged in the General Committee of Elections, that it was not his intention at the present stage of the Bill to move the Amendment of which he had given notice for the rejection of the Bill, and he understood that it was not the intention of hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House who were opposed to the principle of the Bill to take a division on the present occasion upon it. He should, therefore, have been perfectly content to have moved the second reading of the Bill, and have said nothing about it till a future occasion when they would have a discussion and, no doubt, a division upon it, but he was informed by an hon. and learned Friend of his (Mr. Neate), who sat on that side of the House, and who was entitled from his knowledge of the subject from his position at one of the Universities, and from his connection with the city of Oxford, to have his opinions listened to with great attention, that he was going to take some objection to this measure, and therefore it was his duty to state to the House what the general purport and effect of the Bill was. He did not, however, propose to enter into any lengthy argument on the subject. The House was aware that twelve years ago a great change was made in the constitution of the University of Oxford by the Act which was passed for the reformation of the University. That measure was followed two years afterwards, in 1856, by another Act relating to the University of Cambridge, which he had the honour of introducing and of carrying in the House. Previous to the passing of the first of those statutes the aspirant to honours at Oxford was subject to tests of every description. At the commencement of his studies there was a test, the signature to the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England. That enabled him to matriculate. When he became a Bachelor of Arts he was required to sign the articles again, and when he took the degree of Master of Arts or any other degree, he was again required to sign the Thirty-nine Articles, and in addition the three articles of the 36th Canon, by which he acknowledged the supremacy of the Crown, adherence to the Common Prayer Book, and also made a declaration that the Thirty-nine Articles were true. The Oxford Act of 1854 made a considerable change in this respect. It enacted that there should be no test up to, and inclusive of, the taking of the degree of Bachelor of Arts; but after that, on taking the degree of Master of Arts, and on taking any other degrees—if the student aspired to them—he must sign the Thirty-nine Articles, and the three articles of the 36th Canon. That was the existing state of things in Oxford. At Cambridge the old state of things was more liberal and comprehensive, and the changes had been greater and more advanced. Even under the old system no signature or test was required for residence at Cambridge, but any young man of any faith or religion might go there, enter any college, and so long as he complied with the college discipline he was not obnoxious to any test. But when he became a Bachelor of Arts he had to declare that he was a bonâ fide member of the Church of England, and when he took any other degree, he had to sign the Thirty-nine Articles. The Cambridge University Act of 1856 made a great difference in this respect. It prohibited any religious test being required for any degree except it was a theological degree, so that a student might take a degree in arts, a medical degree, or a degree in music, or a degree in law, or a degree of any kind except a theological degree, without any religious test. But there was a provision that on taking the degree of Master of Arts, unless he was able to take the test and declare himself a member of the Church of England, he could not become a member of the Senate, the governing body of the University. The House would see, therefore, that the changes at Cambridge were more liberal than those at Oxford. But there was another provision of great importance in the Cambridge Act which was not contained in the Oxford Act, and that was a provision declaring that in respect of any scholarship or exhibition of any college at the University, no test or declaration of religious belief should be required at all. Now, the result of that change practically was this, that at Cambridge Nonconformists, those who were not by profession members of the Church of England, could come into residence, could take their degrees, could take the degree of Bachelor of Arts and also Master of Arts, and could hold scholarships in the different colleges, which were at Cambridge the first steps to fellowships. There was nothing in respect of degrees which prevented a Nonconformist from obtaining a fellowship. But when this came to be practically worked out, and when a Nonconformist had had a University education and thought that he was achieving the great object of his residence there, which was to obtain a fellowship, he found that there was another bar in his way, and that there was in an obscure and forgotten corner of the Act of Uniformity a provision that he should declare on taking the fellowship that he would conform to the Liturgy of the Church of England. Now, there had been, in consequence of the relaxation of the rules at Cambridge, so far as they had gone, a considerable number of Nonconformists who had gone to that University, and some of them had gained very great distinction there. The gentleman whose petition he had presented obtained a very high degree indeed. Nobody who knew what it was to be a fifth Wrangler at Cambridge would fail to have respect for his ability and attainments. That was in 1858. In 1860 a gentleman belonging to one of the branches of the Scotch Church was not only Senior Wrangler, but proved himself to be one of the best mathematical scholars that had entered at Cambridge during the present century, yet he was debarred in the same manner from obtaining his fellowship, which otherwise he would have obtained. The following year a Nonconformist, Mr. Aldis, was Senior Wrangler, and he in the same way had been debarred from the opportunity, the certain opportunity, of getting a fellowship. Since then there had been three or four gentlemen, who had been more or less distinguished, who had been debarred in a similar way. One, a brother of the Mr. Aldis he had already mentioned, was seventh Wrangler, and another brother of the same gentleman was second Wrangler, What was a remarkable thing in the present year, out of the seven Wranglers two were English Nonconformists, and four were Scotchmen. He did not know to what church the Scotchmen belonged, but the fair inference was that they did not belong to the Church of England, and of course they would be unable to declare that they would conform to the Liturgy of the Church of England. The House would see that this was a special practical grievance, and not a mere theoretical one, as was alleged against the Bill of his hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield (Mr. Hadfield). All these gentlemen were excluded by the provision in the Act of Uniformity to which he had adverted from the rewards to which they might otherwise have legitimately aspired. The measure that was passed in 1854 had had the effect that was anticipated, of inducing young men of a class that had been heretofore shut out to go to Cambridge to compete for the highest honours of the University. It had shown that men were to be found in the middle class, who comprised the great bulk of the Dissenters in this country, who were able to hold their own with distinction; but at the very moment when these gentlemen might fairly step in and receive the reward of their exertions this test stepped in and said they were not to receive it. His measure simply proposed to repeal that portion of the Act of Uniformity. The notion that there should be a Bill of this kind was started in 1862 in one of the most remarkable petitions that was ever presented to this House. It was signed by seventy-four resident fellows and tutors of Cambridge, comprised the names of gentlemen of all politics, the majority of the tutors of Trinity College, and also a majority of the fellows of Christ College. All these gentlemen stated that they believed that the repeal of this particular clause of the Act of Uniformity would be advantageous to the University. The following year he introduced a Bill, and it passed a second reading, but it was late in the Session, and there being no chance of carrying it that Session he withdrew it. In 1864 he brought in another Bill with the same object. On the second reading it was rejected by a majority of about thirty. Last year he did not think it desirable, having regard to the last decision, to raise the question again in that Parliament. But they had now a new Parliament, and he considered it his duty, and due to the gentlemen who took an interest in the question, to take the sense of the House of Commons upon it. Under the circumstances, as they were not going to a division, he did not wish to enter into any argument, but after the allegations which had been made against the Bill, he would state that if he thought the measure would interfere with the religious character of these institutions, he would have nothing to do with it. But the religious character of the colleges at Oxford and Cambridge did not in any way depend on the tests which he sought to abolish, but on other things. In the first place, the majority of the fellows were required to become members of the Church of England within a certain time after they had obtained their fellowships. The real security for the religious character of the colleges was in another clause of the Act of Uniformity altogether, which he did not propose to touch, and should not dream of touching—namely, the clause that required that the service in the chapel of the college should be in accordance with the Prayer Book, and also that the heads of colleges should sign the Thirty-nine Articles, and once a quarter read the service of the Church of England in the chapel of the college. They must bear in mind that those fellowships were the great prizes at Oxford and Cambridge, and that they were not sought in order to obtain a voice in the government of Colleges. No one sought a fellowship in order that ten or twelve years afterwards he might become one of the governing body, but he sought it because at a critical time of his life it would give him the means of support, The Church of England derived no strength or support from maintaining a monopoly of this kind. This was no dangerous movement against that Church. It was lather for the purpose of strengthening the Church of England in the right direction, by holding out the hand to those who were offshoots from her, both historically and actually, that the present measure was sought from the House of Commons.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. E. P. Bouverie.)


said, it was not his intention to controvert the principle on which the Bill of his right hon. Friend was founded; indeed, he was prepared to go much farther in that direction, and to concur in any general and well-considered measure of this kind. In fact, with respect to all offices, whether in Parliament, Corporations, or Universities, he was in favour of relieving laymen altogether, directly and indirectly, from the necessity of making any profession of their religious faith. But it was because he thought that some difficulties would arise between the Bill of his right hon. Friend and that of the hon. and learned Member for Exeter (Mr. Coleridge) that it was necessary to keep in view the bearing and effect of the two measures. It would be better, he thought, if the two hon. Members conferred together to see whether they could not agree upon some united plan of action. The difficulty which now arose out of the conflict between the two measures was one on which he believed hon. Gentlemen on the other side were prepared to act. There were two ways in which the connection between fellowships and the Church was now secured—the one consisted in the obligation of making a declaration of conformity, and the other was the almost universal necessity of subscribing the Thirty-nine Articles when a man took his M.A. degree. The Bill of the right hon. Gentleman negatived the necessity of making the declaration of conformity, and the connection between the fellowship and the Church was to be secured by the necessity of taking the oath when assuming the M.A. degree. Now he put it, that they must either depart from the principle of the Bill, which was to throw open the University without distinction of creed, but still to secure the connection between the colleges and the Church of England, or they must insert in the Bill a special clause with regard to the declaration to be made by fellows. The Bill of his right hon. Friend would relieve fellows from taking the declaration directed by the Act of Uniformity, but by the Bill of the hon. and learned Member for Exeter (Mr. Coleridge), they would still be required to take the declaration from which the Bill of his right hon. Friend would relieve them. If there was inserted in the Bill of his right hon. Friend a special clause requiring fellows of colleges to make the declaration required by the Act of Uniformity, from which his right hon. Friend wanted to relieve them, the Bill of his right hon. Friend would be totally useless, and worse than useless. No doubt one of the arguments in favour of the Bill was, that it would secure the connection between the fellows and the Church, by still rendering necessary the subscribing to the Thirty-nine Articles on taking a Master's degree. But then came the Bill of the hon. and learned Member for Exeter, which relieved all without exception, whether fellows or not, from subscribing to the Thirty-nine Articles when taking the Master's degree. In one sense he thought the Bill of his right hon. Friend the best, inasmuch as it extended to Oxford as well as Cambridge, and he thought it a fatal objection to the Bill of the hon. and learned Member for Exeter that it was confined to Oxford. What would be the effect? There would be a special connection between the University of Cambridge and the Church of England, which would not be the case with Oxford; and as a Member of Oxford University he could not concur in any measure which would place that University in a position of inferiority. No good result could arise from any single-barrelled measure desultorily proposed. In any well-considered measure applying to both Universities he would concur; but between the present stage of the Bill and the Committee he would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman whether his plan of operations could not be brought into harmony with that of the hon. and learned Member for Exeter.


said, he had understood from the right hon. Gentleman that in proposing the second reading of this Bill he would not speak more than two or three minutes, and would refrain from entering into any arguments in support of the measure. He had also understood that this step would be taken in consequence of the absence of his (Mr. Selwyn's) right hon. Colleague in the representation of the University of Cambridge (Mr. Walpole), and the absence of many other Members engaged upon their public duties. He was not going to follow the right hon. Gentleman in this discussion, but would merely remark that he no less differed from the right hon. Gentleman in his estimation of time than he did in his estimation of what was an argument. On behalf of his right hon. Colleague, however, he gave notice that when the Motion was made for committing the Bill he would move, as an Amendment, that it be committed that day six months.


said, that it had not been his intention at that stage to enter into arguments in favour of the Bill, and he had only done so as he understood that the hon. and learned Member for Oxford (Mr. Neate) intended to object to it.

Motion agreed to.