HC Deb 11 July 1889 vol 338 cc228-36
* MR. STUART RENDEL (Montgomeryshire)

I beg to move— That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that she may be graciously pleased to withhold Her consent to the Statute made by the Governing Body of Jesus College, Oxford, on the 2nd February, 1889, amending the Statute of the College concerning the Meyrick Endowment. It is within the knowledge of every one interested in Welsh educational affairs that the important Meyrick Endowment in connection with Jesus College was remodelled under the Universities Acts. The settlement thus made by the Universities Commission and confirmed by the Act of 1887 is recorded in the Statutes of Jesus College, and was stated fully by the Departmental Committee of 1881, over which Lord Aberdare presided. It has unfortunately happened that a sum of £20,000, which should under this settlement have been dealt with by the Charity Commissioners for the benefit of Wales, has not been so dealt with. That sum has now gone to Jesus College, to which it does not morally belong, and it has gone to purposes for which it was never intended by the Universities Commission, and it is with the view of securing that the money shall be maintained intact for the purposes for which it was intended that the present notice of opposition has been given. If we can only receive an assurance that there is no intention whatever of encroaching upon the income or corpus of the £20,000, my hon. Friends from Wales and myself will be quite ready to accept it.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That an humble address he presented to Her Majesty, praying that She may be graciously pleased to withhold Her consent to the Statute made by the Governing Body of Jesus College, Oxford, on the 2nd of February. 1889, amending the Statute of the College concerning the Meyrick Endowment."—(Mr. Stuart Rendel).

* SIR J. MOWBRAY (Oxford University)

I hope the House will not assent to the Motion proposed by my hon. Friend. It is in the interest of education in Wales that this Statute has been passed by the college. The hon. Gentleman says that the money does not properly belong to the college. In that statement the hon. Gentleman proceeds in the assumption that the Charity Commissioners did not do their duty in respect to this sum. As a matter of fact they made no order about it, and the legal right to the money is in the college, and was confirmed by the Court of Chancery. The hon. Gentleman also agrees to withdraw his Motion if an assurance is given that there is no intention of encroaching further on the fund. The charge of £200 a year for a Celtic library is not a charge on this or any other fund. The Statute was passed for the promotion of a Celtic library, and I am persauded hon. Members from Wales will agree that the promotion of Celtic study will be really advantageous to the people of Wales. I suppose the hon. Gentleman would rather there were scholarships or exhibitions. Let me take three distinguished Welshmen in the House as examples of the benefit which might be afforded by this Celtic library. The hon. Member himself was a member of Riel College, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Denbighshire (Mr. O. Morgan) was a member of Baliol College, and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Merionethshire (Mr. T. Ellis), who had done himself so much credit by the honours he took at Oxford, was a member of New Clare. They did not go to Jesus College, the national Welsh College; but what an advantage it would have been to them if they had been enabled to avail themselves of the opportunities afforded by this Celtic library within the walls of Jesus College. So far from this being a local object, it is a general object. It is intended for the benefit of education in Wales, and I hope the House will not interfere with it.

MR. T. E.ELLIS (Merionethshire)

At the time the University Commissioners sanctioned the change in the Statutes of Jesus College, this £20,000 was, to a large extent, compensation for changes made in the constitution of the college. At that time Jesus College was open not merely to Welshmen, but to others. No part of the £20,000 was laid by in order to enable Welshmen to be educated in Wales, and so educated as to be able to avail themselves of education in the University. It seems to me that to enable Welshmen not merely to study the mysteries of Celtic literature in the library of Jesus College, but to go from Wales to the various colleges of the University is the greatest help that can possibly be given them. The argument of the right hon. Gentleman can very well be turned against himself. It is rather remarkable that Jesus College, which is supposed to be a completely Welsh College, has not one of its own members in this House representing any Welsh constituency, whereas several hon. Gentlemen, who have been educated in other colleges, are the Representatives of Welsh constituencies. Since the right hon. Gentleman has been kind enough to refer to myself, I may give him this experience, that the greatest help which the University or this House can give to Welsh boys is to give them good schools in Wales from which they can go to the University. I am afraid that the requirements of the schools are such that very little time, indeed, is allowed for the ordinary undergraduate to go into anything that he is actually required to go into. It is very little time any fellow-countryman of mine can give to the mysteries of the Celtic language until he has got his degree in some of the other schools. This is really a case in which the Charity Commissioners and Jesus College have, either by intention or accident, broken faith with Wales. A distinct promise was made by the Governing Body of Jesus College to the University Commissioners and the Charity Commissioners that this £20,000 should be put by in order to promote and develop education in Wales with a view ultimately, of course, to enable young Welshmen to go to the University of Oxford. Through the neglect—the shameful neglect—of the Charity Commissioners, this £20,000 has, it seems, lapsed again to its old control. This House, by sanctioning this scheme, would be sanctioning a breach of faith with the Welsh people. I even go further. It seems to me that Welshmen have a claim not merely on this £20,000, but on the interest during the last eight years. For eight years we have been deprived of the income from the £20,000, and after eight years' suffering the only consolation we get is to be robbed of the £20,000 itself.

* MR. J. G. TALBOT (Oxford University)

The hon. Gentleman is desirous that this fund shall be apportioned in a particular way. This fund is at the absolute disposal of Jesus College, and they propose to distribute it in another way. That way may not be, in the opinion of hon. Gentlemen, the best conceivable way; but surely that is not the question for the House to determine. The question to be decided is whether Jesus College has allocated the money in a manner which is consistent with public policy. No one can say that the establishment or enrichment of a public library in the college is not a very desirable object. That may not be, in the opinion of hon. Gentlemen opposite, the best object to which to devote the money, but surely it is dangerous for the House of Commons to enter into such a question. The House would be stepping out of its province and embarking on a very wide held of legislation if it were to go behind the backs of the Corporation, who have control over this Fund, and say how the money is to be spent. What we say is that Jesus College has this fund at its disposal; that it has a right to dispose of it in the way the Statute points out. I do not for a moment complain of the action of hon. Gentlemen opposite; but I maintain that the balance of the judgment of the House ought to be on the side of college in having framed its Statute rightly, and in having devoted this money to a purpose which no one can deny is a very enlightened one.

MR. BRYN ROBERTS (Carnarvonshire, Eifion)

We object to the mode in which Jesus College thinks it right to apply this money. There was an understanding, which is recorded in the correspondence between the Charity Commissioners and the University Commissioners in 1881, that this money should be applied in the interest of education in Wales. By some means or other that money has been devoted to another purpose. We do not deny it is within the legal right of Jesus College to apply this money in the way proposed, but we most positively deny that it is within its moral right to do so. We say it is by the violation of the moral right that they have got the legal right.


I regret to trouble the House again, but I was really not prepared for the official resistance which has been made to the Motion. This is rather a peculiar case. The fact is that under the Meyrick Endowment Statute forming part of the existing Statutes of Jesus College, £20,000 was distinctly reserved for the benefit of education in Wales, and was declared to be not included in the endowment of the College. Under the same Statute the Charity Commission were to deal with the £20,000, or to give due notice of their intention to do so, and by a mere technical slip, a most culpable neglect, the late Chief Commissioner failed to give the required notice of opposition, with the result that the £20,000 lapsed to the College. Surely we ought not to go to a division without hearing a statement on the part of the Charity Commissioners as to what the facts are. I may be under a slight misapprehension in the matter, but I believe I am broadly stating the facts when I say it is entirely owing to a piece of negligence on the part of the late Chief Commissioner, and by availing themselves of a technical flaw, that Jesus College is now in any way enabled to make any claim upon the £20,000. We, in Wales, maintain that the £20,000 ought to go as the University Commission provided in furthering the interests of education in Wales, and if we are in a poor minority in this House, we must divide on the question all the same as a protest.

* MR.J. W. LOWTHER (Penrith)

I should not have intervened in the debate had not the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire directly appealed to me for confirmation of the statements made by him. That confirmation I can certainly give. The Charity Commission intended to deal with this, and a certain time was stated during which the Charity Commissioners were to deal with it. By an oversight on the part of the Commission, the sum was not dealt with, and it has lapsed to Jesus College, subject to certain educational trusts. It rests with the College to say in what direction the fund shall go—whether it shall be for direct education or for indirect education, such as endowing exhibitions or scholarships, or endowing their library. I believe there are only 49 or 50 undergraduates, of whom 47 hold scholarships, and apparently the authorities thought that there was no use heaping scholarship upon scholarship, and that it was better to apply the funds to indirect rather than to direct education. I think it does not rest with the Charity Commissioners to suggest to the House what course it should take, and personally I do not propose to vote in the Division which is about to take place.

MR. J. E. ELLIS (Nottingham, Rushcliffe)

I think the statement of the hon. Member has placed us in a very different position. The hon. Gentleman is one of the Charity Commissioners, and it appears from his statement that there has been a great lapse on the part of that body. If that be so, surely the responsibility rests with the Government to place the people of Wales in the position they would have occupied had not there been this serious neglect of duty on the part of the Charity Commissioners. I appeal to some Member of the Government to inform us whether in their opinion the Government are not bound to relieve hon. Members from Wales who have been improperly placed in their present position in this matter.


From the legal point of view, it would be exceedingly wrong of Her Majesty's Government to interfere as a Government with this question. Still there is no doubt about the legal position. Failing an appropriation of the funds in question within a limited time, the right of dealing with the funds went to Jesus College. Unless Jesus College has been guilty of some neglect, or has in some way departed from some obligation which rests upon them, the House will be doing wrong in interfering with the right of Jesus College in applying the money to a purpose which is admitted to be educational, although not that which commends itself to the minds of hon. Gentlemen opposite. It is not even suggested that the Government should or could interfere at present, but it is suggested that a Bill may be introduced at some future time. It may be that Parliament will then think that the maintenance of this library should be charged on some fund other than this particular fund. But the House is now asked without sufficient reason to say that the body legally constituted, having legal authority over this Fund, acting, as is admitted, in the exercise of their power by devoting this Fund to a lawful object connected with Welsh education, is not so to act. I think the House would be proceeding without any trustworthy information, and that further than that it would be establishing a most dangerous precedent if they were thus to interfere with a properly and legally constituted body.

SIR E. J. REED (Cardiff)

I go with the Attorney General in believing that the Government are under no special obligation in the matter, but I think that honourable men are under a special obligation in the matter, because honourable men do not desire to deprive people of that which was intended for them because of an accident or the negligence of a public official. The object of the Motion of my hon. Friend is to obtain the appropriation of this Fund, which would have taken place but for the neglect of the late Chief Charity Commissioner. The Attorney General in his eulogium was content to take a strictly legal view of the matter, but this is not the view we take. We do not think that the Jesus College should take advantage of this slip and turn it to the disadvantage of the Welsh people.

* MR. TOMLINSON (Preston)

I cannot help thinking that the Attorney General expresses too narrow a view of the duty of this House in relation to these College Statutes. It seems to have been intended that they should be liable to come before Parliament for consideration. Though the College has acted within its rights, there appears to have been a failure to appreciate the condition originally attaching to the fund, though legality has been strictly observed, I think a moral claim has been established against this scheme.

* MR. RATHBONE: (Carnarvonshire Arfon)

I really must protest against the position taken by the Attorney General. It does not seem to me that a College can act on different principles to those that should guide honourable men. I cannot conceive that any honourable man coming into possession of money by accident and knowing for whom it was intended would not make an effort to place that money in the hands of those for whom it was intended. So I cannot conceive how the college can be justified in taking advantage of this technicality.


I should be sorry if any acrimony were imported into the discussion. This is essentially a matter on which the House should decide, and Her Majesty's Government do not think it their duty to guide the House upon the subject. We, therefore, shall follow the precedent which has been set on previous occasions, notably, in 1882, when Lord Spencer declined to take part in the Division in reference to a question raised in the other House upon a Statute of Lincoln College. My hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General did no more than to give his legal opinion. While I regret that this lapse did occur as to this fund, I entirely dispute the proposition that Jesus College is not in legal possession of this fund.

The House divided:—Ayes 54; Noes 62.—(Division List, No. 198.)

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