HC Deb 26 May 1884 vol 288 cc1429-34

I do not propose at this very late, or rather early hour (1.15), to detain the House more than a few minutes in asking leave to bring in this Bill. I shall assume that all who are interested in the Scottish Universities, and the legislation proposed for their improvement, are familiar with the Bill of last year; and therefore I shall only in a very few sentences point out the leading particulars in which the Bill I now ask leave to bring in differs from the Bill which was placed before the House last year. In the first place, it was felt in many quarters that the Bill of last year might possibly give too large powers to the Commissioners in dealing with the constitution of the Universities. I think that was a somewhat visionary fear, because it was not intended to confer upon those Commissioners the power of revolutionizing the constitution of the Universities, as some persons apprehended. As that was not intended, we have in the Bill of this year made such references to the Act of 1858, and such other provisions, as will make it clear that the powers of the Commissioners in dealing with the constitution of the Universities are powers to be exercised by way of amendment, and not in the manner in which it was feared in some quarters the powers conferred last year might be put in force. With regard to this point, I will only add that we have introduced into the measure of this year express provisions for the amendment of the constitution of the University Court in the manner recommended by the Commissioners. I do not enter into that, because those who are familiar with the Report of that Commission are no doubt aware of the way in which it recommended that the constitution of the Court ought to be amended, and that matter is dealt with by this Bill. But the point in which, perhaps, of all others the greatest interest is taken in Scotland with regard to this Bill is the matter of finance. It will be in the recollection of those who are familiar with the Bill of last year that the substantial provision which it contained on this subject was that a sum of £40,000 should be appropriated from the Consolidated Fund towards the purposes of the Universities, that sum having been calculated on the footing that it would give a clear addition of £10,000, or something more, to be allocated by the Commissioners among the four Universities of Scotland. Statistics were obtained and actuarial calculations made, from which it appeared that there was reason to fear that the sum which appeared in the Bill of last year would not leave £10,000, but something less, probably between £7,000 and £8,000 of addition, and it was very strongly maintained that that would not be sufficient to carry out the leading purposes of the Bill. But there was another criticism which was made upon the pecuniary provision of last year which had undoubtedly also very great validity, and it was this—that in ascertaining the aggregate sum which would have remained to the Universities sufficient regard had not been had to the possible increase of pensions which might arise from the disability of Professors; and it was pointed out that when that sum came to be allocated amongst the Universities, the Commissioners would not have had it in their power to appropriate any part of it to any permanent purpose, because of the liability to have the amount invaded by the demand for additional pensions. In the present Bill, all these points have been met in a way which I hope will prove generally satisfactory. Instead of the sum of £40,000 which entered into the Bill of last year, there is a sum of £43,000 proposed to be paid from the Consolidated Fund, which sum, even upon the most unfavourable calculation, we hope will leave £10,000 at least as an increased allowance to the Universities. But, over and above all that, there is a provision for the case of pensions substantially to this effect—that the Commissioners shall, in case of each University, specify the amount of the pensions payable to retired Principals and Professors; and if, at any future time, the amount of pensions payable by a University to retired Principals and Professors, having vested interests, shall exceed the specified amount, such excess shall be paid by the Treasury out of public money, so that there will not now be any fear of the amount appropriated by the Commissioners to each University being encroached upon. I believe, without going into further details, that these two improvements in the present Bill will be generally welcomed, and will be regarded as a reasonable settlement of this question. There are just two other points in regard to which I desire to say a word by way of explanation, although there are various new matters which are dealt with by the Bill. In the Bill of last year there was a provision which, to state it shortly, amounted to this—that the Commissioners should have to exercise, amongst other powers, the power of providing that it should not be necessary for a Principal or Professor of the Theological Faculties to take what is commonly called a test. That provision was made the subject of a great deal of criticism from many and various quarters. Whilst there were some persons who were against any interference with the test, there were many others who, while they thought that there should not be a test confining the election of Professors to persons belonging to one religious communion, considered, on the other hand, that it would be unsafe to set the question entirely adrift, and to leave the Theological Chairs without any safeguard whatever with respect to the opinions of those who might be called upon to fill them. It was pointed out that that matter had not been gone into by the Royal Commission, and that it was not a very fitting subject to be discussed in Parliament, if there was any probability of a modification as distinguished from a total abolition of the test being proposed; and, accordingly, in lieu of the provision of the Bill of last year, there has been introduced into the Bill this year a clause to the following effect:— That the Commissioners shall have power to call before them and examine the Principals and Professors of the various Theological Halls within and without the Universities, and such other witnesses as they think proper, with a view to ascertain whether any and what changes as to the subscription of tests by Principals, Professors, and other University officers, are necessary and expedient, and shall make a special Report to Her Majesty upon this subject. By this provision we hope that this somewhat difficult question, upon which such infinite variety of opinion prevails, will be matured in a way that will lead to satisfactory legislation. Then there is another point as to which I should desire to say a word. It will be in the recollection of hon. Members from Scotland that in the Bill of last year there were certain provisons with respect to the University of St. Andrew's—in particular two, that the Commissioners should have power to determine that any one or more Faculties of that University should cease to exist; and, further, that they should have power to inquire and consider whether, in consequence of the want of sufficient endowments, it was any longer possible for the University to continue to perform its functions with advantage. Both of those provisions have been omitted from the present Bill. It was explained to those who were interested in St. Andrew's, on more occasions than one, why they came to be introduced, and it did appear that there had been some misapprehension as to the representations made on the part of that very ancient and famous University. Accordingly, these provisions are omitted from the Bill, and the only special provisions which the pro-sent Bill will contain, with respect to St. Andrew's, are two, which contemplate its continued and increasing usefulness, but have no regard to the possibility of its ceasing to exist. The first is that the Commissioners, besides the general powers conferred upon them with respect to other Universities, shall possess the power to make Ordinances for uniting the University and the Colleges into one corporate body under the name of the University of St. Andrews, under such conditions as may seem just, having due regard to vested interests; and the second is that the Commissioners shall have power to make arrangements for affiliating or uniting with the University other Colleges duly incorporated in other towns. Now, I believe these provisions will be not only satisfactory to the academic authorities of St. Andrew's, but also to the people of Scotland generally. There are various other provisions of a minor kind in the Bill; but I do not propose to go into them. I may, however, mention among them the proposed constitution of the University Committee of the Privy Council. Having made these observations to explain the main changes in the present Bill as compared with the Bill of last year, I would ask permission of the House to bring in the Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That leave be given to bring in a Bill for the better administration and endowment of the Universities of Scotland."—(The Lord Advocate.)


asked whether the clauses as to the Botanic Gardens and University Buildings had undergone any change?


said, the clauses to which the hon. Gentleman referred had been the subject of great consideration, and they remained substantially as they were.


said, that the statement of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate with regard to the way in which it was proposed to deal with the declaration and test imposed on Professors had greatly disappointed him, and would be considered very unsatisfactory by many in Scotland. In the Bill of last year the Government had, by providing for the abolition of the declaration and test, made a distinct advance in the recognition of the principles of religious equality; and the announcement now made could not fail to be regarded as a decidedly retrograde step. The Government had apparently become afraid that they had last year conceded too much, and now sought to withdraw from the position they had taken up. He did not wish to oppose the Bill at this stage; but on the second reading the proposal he had referred to must be fully discussed, and he trusted the Lord Advocate would not take the second reading without giving time to all in Scotland interested in the measure to consider the provisions and to make their opinion on them, known.

Motion agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by The LORD ADVOCATE, Secretary Sir WILLIAM HARCOURT, and Mr. SOLICITOR GENERAL for SCOTLAND.

Bill presented, and read the first time. [Bill 230.]