HC Deb 10 March 1869 vol 194 cc1041-54

Order for Second Beading read.


Sir. I am about to invite the House to assent to the second reading of this Bill, and in so doing I do not propose to detain the House more than a very few minutes, because this Bill is now an old story, and the subject with which it deals has formed so common a topic in the election addresses and speeches of hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House that I think it is fair to presume that the leading arguments in favour of the change—the just change—proposed by the measure are by this time familiar to all of us; and, for my own part, as it has been my evil fortune to inflict three speeches already on the subject upon the House of Commons, I am sure hon. Gentlemen will rejoice to know that the materials altogether fail me for a fourth. There is one topic, however, that is new in the present discussion, and that is the presence of my right hon. and learned Friend opposite (Mr. Mowbray) in the fore front of this battle. For during the few years I myself have had a seat in Parliament my right hon. and learned Friend has observed a cautious silence on this matter, and I had been induced to hope that upon some points of the Bill, and those not unimportant points, there was an agreement in sentiment between myself and that learned and right hon. Gentleman. But my right hon. Friend is no doubt no longer quite his own master. He has been sent to this House as the representative of the Convocation of Oxford—of the constituency which rejected the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, and which would have nothing to say to the distinguished services of my hon. and learned Friend the Mem- ber for Richmond (Sir Boundell Palmer). Therefore, no doubt, my right hon. and learned Friend must needs do the bidding of Convocation. That he will do it well; that he will do it, so far as he can, in a genial and kindly spirit, I have known my right hon. and learned Friend for too many years to doubt; but I trust that he will excuse me if I say that he cannot as yet make up to the House for the candour and dignity, for the great gifts and the singularly lofty and stainless character which has been lost to the House by the absence from its debates of the right hon. Gentleman's distinguished predecessor, Sir William Heathcote.

The Bill now before the House is, as everyone who has taken the trouble of reading it will see, with one exception, and that a mere verbal alteration, an exact reprint of the Bill of last year, and like the Bill of last year it deals in a different manner, and upon different principles, with the two great subjects comprised in it, the Universities and the Colleges of which these Universities are mainly composed. With regard to the Universities, it compels that amount of religious freedom in regard to all the subjects of the Queen which the House of Commons at least by overwhelming majorities on previous occasions has declared that it thinks just and right. With regard to the Colleges, it only removes all restrictions upon their freedom of action which have been imposed from time to time by the authority of Parliament itself. It leaves the Colleges controlled by their statutes, it leaves them controlled by the feeling of their members, it leaves them controlled by all the associations which gather round them, and which are after all upon most men's minds as effective as any Parliamentary action can be, and it relieves them only from those restrictions which have been imposed from time to time by Acts of Parliament. I cannot but think that year by year the necessity of some such change will become more and more apparent. The discontent—the just and reasonable discontent—of those multitudes of persons who do not agree in all things with the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England is deepening day by day; and for my part I cannot but see with regret that men of high character and great attainments are every year lost to the Colleges, and lose themselves those just and honour- able distinctions which are the due reward of their character and attainments, and which they would possess but for the restrictions which legislation has thought fit to impose. The Senior Wrangler at Cambridge this year was a Jew, and he is not the first person by any means who has, from a difference of religious opinion, been ex-eluded from the just and. right result of a course of academical distinction. I have myself known, not a great many, but several instances of persons, highly distinguished in both the Universities, who have been excluded from Fellowships in the Colleges, not from any active hostility to the Church of England, not from any strong or definite objection to this or that particular tenet of the Church, but because, as honest men, they could not say that in all things the doctrines and opinions contained in the whole of the Thirty-nine Articles exactly expressed their belief. Now it is only to enable the Colleges, if the Colleges themselves think fit, to alter this state of things that the Bill at present proposes to deal with them. I can- not but think that there is no ground, if the provisions of the Bill be looked into, for speaking of it as anything like a tyrannical interference with their liberties, still less as an act of spoliation, as I have before now heard it described.

It is fair to say, however, that there is one matter with which the Bill now before the House does not deal, but which, expressing my own opinion only, it appears to me cannot long be kept from the action of Parliament. I allude to the position which, at least at Oxford, the visitors of many of the Colleges are supposed under the present state of the law to maintain. I am not exactly aware how the matter stands at Cambridge; but at Oxford many of the most distinguished Colleges are visited not by the Crown, but by various Bishops, in virtue of the tenure of their sees, and it has been decided, upon very high authority, that according to the Oxford Act of 1854 these visitors can place a veto upon all alterations of their statutes by the Colleges. I know that one very distinguished visitor has not hesitated to interpose his veto to prevent a College making an alteration in its statute, not upon the ground that the alteration in the statute would be prejudicial to the College, but because he, being the visitor of the College and a Bishop, thought that alteration in the statute would be prejudicial to the Church of which he was a member; injuring the College of which he was a visitor, to benefit, as he thought, the Church of which he was a Bishop, and giving an example of a confusion of functions which I cannot help thinking ought not much longer to be allowed to exist.

I will now say one word with regard to the common argument which those who oppose this Bill have brought forward, and I wish to do so because last year I spoke warmly on this subject—perhaps too warmly—and made use of expressions which, were misunderstood—I hope and believe unjustly misunderstood—to reflect upon the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Hardy), who I am sure knows that to reflect on him is the last thing I would do intentionally. I confess I have felt sometimes provoked and mortified to hear men for whom I have a great respect speaking in what seems to me so weak and hopeless a tone of the strength and prospects of the Church of England and of Christianity itself. To hear those Gentlemen talk, it would seem as if the Church of England relied entirely upon the protection of certain Acts of Parliament, and it would be destroyed if certain Acts of Parliament were repealed; and that with regard to Christianity there was a hopeless future in store for it, if ever it was brought face to face in fair conflict with infidelity. For my part, I utterly deny both those statements. With regard to Christianity, I must say that history and experience show us that the battle of belief and unbelief is going on, and always has been going on; and that, looking back at bygone times, there is no reason for Christianity to be afraid of the ultimate result of that great struggle. And with regard to the Church of England, I say that with the great advantages and the immense associations with which she starts it is her own fault if she is not perfectly safe. She is perfectly safe if she does her duty; and if she does not do her duty she has no right to come to Parliament for protection against the natural results of her own neglect. I say, therefore, this measure as now proposed to the House, is a perfectly harmless measure; I believe it to be an inevitable measure, and I believe it to be a measure inevitable in a very short time. I believe, further, that many hon. Gentlemen opposite know in their hearts that this is true, as well as I who say it; and I do earnestly wish that they would take counsel in time and accept the inevitable; that they would accept it in a case where, unless they give everything, they give nothing; that they would accept it frankly; that they would prepare for it and work for it in good heart and good faith, and not fly the flag of "No surrender," a flag quite certain to be torn down; and not raise the cry of Non possumus, a cry which history shows no good ever came from, and out of which no good ever will.

Motion made, and Question proposed "That the Bill be now read a second, time."—(The Solicitor General.)


Sir, My hon. and learned Friend, at the commencement of his remarks, told us that we had heard enough of this measure in election speeches, but I think I have some reason to complain that he followed out that remark by himself making an election speech. He was not content to refer merely to the election of 1868, but he must travel back to the proceedings of the University of Oxford in 1865, and reflect upon those who then took part in the election of that year. No one, Sir, is more painfully conscious than I am of my inability to fill the place of the many distinguished men who have been my predecessors in the representation of the University of Oxford. No one laments more than I do that I have to stand here and, to the best of my feeble powers, defend that cause which my hon. and learned Friend has just said was so well maintained by my distinguished predecessor, Sir William Heathcote; and I can only say, "would indeed that he were once more amongst us." My hon. and learned Friend has just stated that I am here to do the bidding of the Convocation of Oxford. I should like to know what right I have to sit in this House if I am not here as the representative of the Convocation of the University of Oxford; and this I must say that, if at any time I altered my views, or departed from the opinions which recommended me to the consideration of the Convocation, I should feel myself to be unworthy to stand up in my place in Parliament in their name. My hon. and learned Friend has thought fit, whilst he pays me personal compliments, for which I thank him, and which I must say were far beyond my deserts, to insinuate that my own opinions differed from those which I am about to advocate. All that I on say can that point is that if, on previous occasions, I have maintained a cautious silence in this House, it is because I have found the principles at stake well recommended and amply defended by other Members better able to take part in the debate than myself; and I beg to tell my hon. and: learned Friend that I never shrank from recording my vote on every occasion in every division that has taken place. It is quite true that I have not yet made four speeches on the subject, like my hon. and learned Friend, and I must ask the indulgence of the House for a little longer time than my hon. and learned Friend has occupied. And first let me say that there is one point in which the Universities have a right to complain of my hon. and learned Friend's proceedings with regard to this Bill. On every previous occasion it has been the habit to give longer notice before bringing in this Bill, and to have the Bill printed in such time as to enable the University to express its opinion upon it. Now, although it is more than a fortnight since my hon. Friend obtained leave to introduce his Bill, it was only last Thursday that it was printed, and it could only be sent down to the Universities on Friday. Steps were taken at the earliest moment to take the opinion of Convocation upon it; but the forms of Convocation have prevented that being done in time, otherwise I think I should have been able to present to the House a petition from Convocation against the Bill.


I had previously stated that the Bill was similar to that of last year.


No doubt the hon. and learned Gentleman did make that statement, but until we see a Bill we do not know precisely what is in it. People do not keep old Bills. The Bills of last year were not to be obtained, and Convocation could not proceed to petition against measures which were not before it. But as regards my objections to the Bill they are objections of principle. My hon. and learned Friend asks me to accept the inevitable. I do not know what Parliament is about to do, but it is our duty if we firmly believe great principles, and believe that the interests of the Church and of the country are concerned in the maintenance of those principles, to uphold them manfully, regardless of the consequences. When he tells us to accept the inevitable, my hon. and learned Friend means, I presume, all the provisions which he chooses to put into this great Bill which is now before the House. If there had been any hope of a compromise, if any concession which we could have held out would have been at all likely to have been accepted by the hon. and learned Gentleman, or those who sit behind him, I, for one, should most gladly not have moved the rejection of this Bill, but have endeavoured to bring about a compromise. But Sir William Heathcote offered, over and over again, compromises which have always been rejected. We have read in the public Press and elsewhere various suggestions for compromises, and last autumn a great divine suggested one on the basis of the Nicene Creed. All had the same object, that of maintaining the Universities as places of Christian education; but everything that has been proposed in the nature of a compromise has been rejected, and therefore it only remains for us to say "No" to the Bill of my hon. and learned "Friend. The Bill divides itself into two parts—that which concerns the Universities and that which concerns the Colleges. With regard to the Universities, its legislation is compulsory; with regard to the Colleges, it proposes merely to facilitate action on their part, by removing certain clauses in certain Acts of Parliament. I take the question as regards the Universities first. It has been the fashion to consider this matter as proved by two assertions. I have heard it said by hon. Gentlemen who sit on those Benches, that the Universities are lay corporations. Nobody denies it. Then we are told that they are national institutions. Undoubtedly they are, but in the term "national institutions" the whole fallacy of that argument lies. In what sense do you accept the meaning of the term? The Church of England is a national institution, and I hope will long continue so. But do you mean that the Universities were founded by the State, or are supported by the money of the State? They are neither supported by the State, nor were they founded by it. What is the history of the Universities? It goes back to remote antiquity, centuries and centuries ago, long before this House existed. The Universities were then voluntary associations attracting crowds of students. The wealth they had was wealth of their own; they had created that wealth, and did not receive it from the State. They were national institutions impressed with distinct trusts. There has been no period in the history of England when the education given at their Universities has not been distinctly a religious education, and I mean by that an education connected with a distinct and definite form of religious teaching. It is true that changes took place at the Reformation. It is true that the Universities have followed the changes and fortunes of the Church, and have been connected with the national Church for the time being; but that does not alter my position that, at all times and under all circumstances, they have been places for definite religious teaching—a religious teaching which corresponded with the public profession of faith, as professed by a majority of the nation, and established in connection with the State. This you find recognized by Parliament on every occasion. The Bill which my hon. and learned Friend has introduced is the first in which no mention is made of religion in connection with these Universities. The first statute which was passed with respect to the Universities, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth—13 Elizabeth, 1570—contemplates the objects of the incorporation to be "the maintenance of the good and godly training and the virtuous education of youth," and in most important acts of legislation—the Oxford University Reform Act of 1854, and the Cambridge Act of 1856—you find the same principle recognized, as in the words "whereas it is expedient for the advancement of religion and learning to increase the powers of the University," &c. Then is this not a fundamental change which my hon. and learned Friend seeks to make in these Universities? Not merely has legislation recognized the religious character of these great seats of education, but, practically and historically, that character has been fully maintained, and the very motto of Oxford, "Dominus illuminatiomea," which it has borne for centuries, is a sufficient indication of the same. My hon. and learned Friend seeks to nullify that motto, however, by setting up in the Universities the light of secularism. Is this great change necessary? At Cambridge already every person is admitted to the degree of Master of Arts, without taking any test. A test is only imposed when he becomes a governing member of the Senate. At Oxford undoubtedly the restriction is greater, as you can only proceed to the degree of Bachelor of Arts without a test being imposed upon you. Over and over again, however, we have offered, on behalf of Oxford, what was called the Cambridge compromise, and even now we shall be quite ready to adopt the same provisions with regard to that University that exist with regard to Cambridge, and to add to them, if it was desired, that which will recommend itself to my hon. and and learned Friend opposite, a vote for the burgesses to represent the University in this House. The case, then, would stand thus—A young man going up to the University would have open to him every honour, every prize, every social advantage, all that culture and learning we were told last year the Dissenters prized so highly, and he would have all this without distinction of creed, or race, or colour. But the Bill now before us involves a fundamental change in our legislation, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury will kindly give me his attention at the present moment, because this is a change which I venture to think,—unless he has very materially altered the opinions he expressed in former years—he can hardly be expected to sanction at the present moment. Not in a book written in 1839, but in a speech made in this House so recently as 1854, the right hon. Gentleman, at that time the Member of a Liberal Government, and sitting beside Lord John Russell, expressed himself in these terms— I hold the relative position of the Church and the University of Oxford to be this—that while the Church is in the position of a national Establishment, so long as the people of this country insist upon a connection being maintained between religion and education, so long the Church is entitled to expect that the interests of the University, that the discipline of the University, that the government of the University, shall be moulded in conformity with the principles of religion, and with the principles of religion in that specific form in which they are hold and taught by the Church of England. What does that argument amount to but this—that so long as there is an Es- tablished Church in England, so long should the connection be kept up between the Universities and the Church? When we objected to the disestablishment of the Irish Church, we were told that a distinction was to be drawn between the two Churches; but my hon. and learned Friend, while prepared to maintain the Church of England, proposes to do that which the First Lord of the Treasury himself admitted was inconsistent with the connection between the Universities and the Established Church. We are not only to depart from our legislation with regard to the higher class of teaching at the University, but to legislate in direct contravention of the principle laid down by Parliament in 1860 with regard to endowed schools. That Act, while providing for the education of children differing in religion from the governing body, held that the religion of the governing body should be maintained. I come now to the question of the Colleges, with respect to which my hon. and learned Friend seems to feel that his position is a more difficult one, and he proceeds in a tentative, and seductive, and attractive way, clothed with all the charms of eloquence, and says—"There is nothing at all tyrannical in my proceedings; I merely wish to relieve the Colleges of certain difficulties imposed by the Act of Charles II., and by more recent Acts of the Georges upon them, and to leave them free, without regard to anything but merit and ability, to choose the best men as their Fellows." Well, but what are these Colleges? You cannot say that they are national institutions. They are private foundations. They were founded by private benefactors, who had impressed their trusts upon those institutions. Do you suppose that the great and wealthy ecclesiastics, who for the most part founded those Colleges—that Chicheley and William of Wykeham, and Waynflete, did not intend that religion of a very definite form should be taught in those Colleges? What is the meaning of those College chapels, to which all the students of the Colleges are invited to attend, and which are the central ornament and the great feature of every College in the University? What is the meaning of all those trust deeds, by which they tied up the government of these Colleges? And have these Colleges forfeited their trust? By no means. 8o recently as 1854 and 1856 the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury recognized the duty of maintaining the original intentions of the founders and benefactors. [Mr. GLADSTONE: The "main" design of the founders.] What could be more a main design than that these Colleges should be places for religious education? What is the meaning of such names as Trinity, St John's, Christ Church, St. Mary the Virgin and St. Mary Magdalene? What does that mean unless that the founders intended that the students should be taught religious principles? My hon. and learned Friend talked of the "inevitable," and comes to us with this seductive, permissive, tentative Bill, to enable the Colleges to repeal the Acts of Charles II., George III. and George IV., and to select their best men. But what if they do not adopt it? The hon. and learned Gentleman has already, in his short speech of to-day, sketched out a programme of future legislation to remove the direct representatives of the founders—the visiting Bishops—from the position they occupy. That is clear as daylight. My hon. and learned Friend wants to carry one point to-day—to remove these restrictions from the Colleges—and then he would go a step further. Those Bishops are already viewed as obstructives. If you get this Bill you will exclaim, "What a gross thing it is;" you will say, "Here is a young man who has attained the highest honours—a Senior Wrangler at Cambridge or a double first at Oxford—and because he is a Jew or Roman Catholic he cannot enjoy all the benefactions of the founder." You will say, "What a hardship this is." [Cheers.] I expected that cheer, and I would ask whether it was not also a hardship that this young man should not enjoy the estates of hon. Gentlemen opposite. [Laughter] Why not? If an Act of Parliament could take the one, why not the other? I can fancy my hon. and learned Friend—if not removed to a more distinguished place—saying three years hence, "We gave you once the opportunity—Parliament gave you the hint; we put the screw on the University, and compelled them to admit into the governing body those who were not members of the Church of England. At the same time we gave you, the Fellows of Colleges, power to throw your foundations open; you would not take advantage of the hint, and we now come forward with compulsory measures." I am sure that that will be the sequel of the legislation of the hon. and learned Gentleman; and if you do proceed to compulsory legislation, will you respect private foundations of recent date? It is true that many of the large foundations of Oxford will not come within the limit which the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury laid down. They were anterior to 1660. If my hon. and learned Friend does bring in such a Bill, I hope he will allow me to put in a word on behalf of Worcester College, which was founded so recently as 1714. I should like to know, also, what he would do with the College chapels. Suppose all the Fellows were Unitarians—the College chapel having no marketable value—would he leave it to the Church of England, or to the single unfortunate head, to keep it for his own purposes? At any rate, there is one College which I hope will appeal to the tender sympathies of my hon. Friend, and on which he will not lay a finger—that College whose walls are only now rising, whose mortar is still moist, and whose roofs are yet uncovered, that College which is founded in memory of the great Christian poet, whose life we have all been reading with, so much interest. Need I remind my hon. and learned Friend of the opinion expressed by that distinguished man—I do not refer to the mysterious whisperings of his sentiments about the Church Establishment of Ireland, but the clear, unmistakable opinions which Mr. Keble uttered three years ago with reference to the position of the University and the Colleges. There is another point which has been kept out of sight by those who advocate the measure. We are told that Nonconformists are anxious to resort to these Colleges for the learning they get there; but are we sure when we have made these fundamental changes, so that the Colleges shall cease to be places of religious teaching, the religious parents of England will send their sons to the University as before? The social attractions of the Universities may thus be destroyed in endeavouring to liberalize those institutions. Do I say so without reason? I believe every religious body which professes a definite belief—not a colourless creed which seems so fashionable—desires that their youth shall be taught the distinctive tenets of their own denomination. In 1854 the late Mr. Lucas, a distinguished Roman Catholic Member of this House, in speaking on the question of admission of Dissenters to Oxford, said that he would advise Roman Catholic parents not to send their sons to Oxford if the change then proposed should be carried. And what do we and in 1867? We find Roman Catholics in this and the other House, voting hi 1867 against the measure of that time on the ground that there must be religious teaching. It was distinctly on that ground that two Roman Catholic Peers both spoke and voted against the measure of my hon. and learned Friend. I am sorry to have troubled the House so long, but I must protest as strongly as I can against the proposed legislation. It is most injurious to the Universities and destructive of the whole principles on which the Universities were founded and have hitherto acted—it is most unjust to the Colleges, and to the Church of England. These two Universities, if I may be allowed to quote the eloquent language of the First Lord of the Treasury, have been "tried and not found wanting in the vicissitudes of a thousand years." They have during that time conferred inestimable benefits both upon the Church of England and upon the Legislature. To the Church they have given a succession of great and learned divines, who defended the doctrines of Christianity in their pulpits and by their writings, and exemplified its precepts by their blameless and holy lives. To the State they have given statesmen who have served the Crown with honour, and adorned both Houses of Parliament. And the right hon. Gentleman would be very ungrateful did he not admit this; for, excepting only two distinguished Members, the President of the Board of Trade and the Vice-President of the Committee of Council on Education, the Universities have furnished all the occupants of the Bench opposite. They have perfected and carried out the best system of education that ever prevailed in any country. For all this they have deserved well of the country. It is most unjust, then, to break in on a system which has prevailed for centuries, from which such great results have followed. However feeble my voice, and however ineffectual my protest—however "inevitable" the future to which my hon. and learned Friend referred—and how ever I may be taunted with speaking the sentiments of Convocation, I, speaking the real mind and sentiments of those who sent me here to represent them, and the convictions of my own heart, will always raise my voice against so revolutionary a measure. I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time this day six months.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Mowbray.)

Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

SIR ROUNDELL PALMER moved, that the Debate be adjourned.


To what day?


Till to-morrow, after the Army Estimates.


At what hour will it be resumed? It ought to be taken at an hour when it can be fully debated.


I agree in that, and shall take it not later than half-past ten.

Debate adjourned till To-morrow.