HC Deb 12 December 1912 vol 45 cc891-901

The constitution of the University of Dublin and of Trinity College, Dublin, shall not be altered by any law made by the Irish Parliament, and any law made in contravention of this Section shall, so far as it is in contravention of this Section, be void.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this Clause be read a second time."

10.0 P.M.


As the Committee is aware, we have already had some discussion on Trinity College in the course of these Debates. I think I am correct in saying that on Clause 2 the right hon. and learned Gentleman the junior Member for Trinity College (Mr. J. H. Campbell) moved an Amendment which, if accepted, would have excluded the University of Dublin altogether from the jurisdiction of the Irish Parliament. The Amendment was not accepted, but I think it was understood at the time that some sort of agreement would be come to between, the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the Chief Secretary for Ireland. It is no secret that the Amendment originally moved was not altogether popular in Trinity College itself. I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman who moved it believed that it would prove acceptable to the hierarchy of the college and the university. But he will see, if that was his supposition, he was to some extent mistaken, because since that time there has been repeated meetings in Trinity College in which a, variety of views have been expressed. I must say, for my own part, I am extremely glad that Trinity College is not willing to be totally excluded from the jurisdiction of an Irish Parliament. I cannot imagine any result that would have been more unhappy for the new Constitution in Ireland or more disastrous to Trinity College itself, and, speaking for myself, I was very much impressed by the warm and eloquent words of the hon. and learned Member for Waterford (Mr. John Redmond) when he expressed his keen regret that Trinity College should choose to be excluded from the jurisdiction of an Irish Parliament. Since then there have been many meetings and discussions in Trinity College, and I am told that even the Board itself is now no longer anxious that the college should be withdrawn from the purview of an Irish Parliament. There have been meetings of the junior Fellows and staff and very strong expressions of opinion have come from a large body of the students themselves. I think we have all reason to rejoice that such a state of opinion now exists in Trinity College. I ventured to put down my Amendment in the hope that it would meet the position of all parties in Trinity College. I confess to the Committee I am not myself perfectly satisfied that it docs so. The words of the Amendment have no doubt been studied by the Committee, but even my Amendment, I confess, goes further than a good many people in Trinity College would like it to go, because it would appear to exclude the constitution of the college of the university from the purview of an Irish Parliament and to confine that particular aspect of the question to the Imperial Parliament. I believe if any words could be devised which made legislation possible with the consent of the various bodies responsible for the government of Trinity College, such an Amendment would generally be acceptable to the college. But I myself have no skill in draftsmanship and I had to content myself with the Amendment as it appears upon the Paper. I should be very glad and very much obliged to the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite and the Chief Secretary if they could improve my Amendment so as to bring it more into agreement with the wishes of the people in Trinity College, and if it is not possible now upon the floor of the House to arrange the matter perhaps it could be done by a more acceptable Amendment on Report. As I say I have no experience or skill in the choosing of words of an Amendment to an Act of Parliament, and I put down my Amendment with such assistance as I have been able to secure. I should be quite willing to withdraw my Amendment in favour of one more suited perhaps to the situation, and I should be very glad if an Amendment of that kind was accepted on Report. But in the absence of any assurance of that kind which perhaps I have no right to ask, I stand by my Amendment as it appears on the Paper.


What the hon. Gentleman has stated is true enough. It will be in the recollection of the Committee that on Clause 2 an Amendment was moved by the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite and upon that Amendment I expressed the readiness of the Government to come to some arrangement with the right hon. and learned Gentleman. The wording of the Amendment was not then agreed on, but was to be considered on Report. I daresay some Members of the Committee may have noticed that a controversy since has been conducted inter silvas academi, and everyone who knows Trinity College will understand that it was carried on with spirit and with animation on both sides. I agree with my hon. Friend that the new Clause which he has moved is one which does not meet the well-considered views of this great and famous university, and I have been in communication with the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite, and he has furnished me with his draft of what he thinks really does represent the views of a section of his important constituency. I may also say I have an obligation to discharge, not alone to Trinity College, but to Belfast, and my promise is equally binding upon me with regard to both these great institutions, the one old and the other the new. It is one of the merits of the proposal made by the right hon. Gentleman opposite which I am now considering, that in the new Clause we combine both these universities, which is obviously most desirable. Under these circumstances, I think my hon. Friend behind me will do what I ask him. I think the best thing for him will be not to press his new Clause, but to wait until the Report stage, when I have no doubt whatever that the Government will be able to put down an Amendment or a new Clause which will exactly meet the wishes of Trinity College in the decision they have arrived at after a controversy which has been a most helpful and healthy one, and I do not think any hon. Member of this House, no matter what quarter he sits in, need regret what has taken place. I think I shall be able by agreement with these two great institutions to put into the Bill a new Clause which will meet both the wishes of Trinity College and of Belfast. I hope, under these circumstances, my hon. Friend will withdraw this new Clause and allow the matter to wait until the Report stage.


Upon this matter I wish to put myself right, not only with my own constituents, but with the Committee. The Amendment which I proposed to Clause 2 of the Bill, and which in substance and spirit was accepted by the Chief Secretary, was word for word the Amendment which was moved by the Opposition to the Bill of 1893. On that occasion it had the entire support, not merely of the whole Unionist party in this House, but, so far as I know, of all those who had any interest in the welfare of the University of Dublin. That Amendment was put down in the month of June last to this present Bill, and from that hour until the time it was accepted in spirit and substance by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, I received no objection from any quarters of any sort or kind to that Amendment. On the contrary, in my interviews with some of the hierarchy of the university—I am proud to call the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Cecil Harmsworth) one of my constituents, although he goes wrong sometimes—the only point they made was that they thought it was not explicit enough, and did not secure in express language the security which they considered to be adequate. Therefore I was like my right hon. and learned Friend and colleague in the representation of the University (Sir E. Carson), up to the day that this Amendment had in spirit and substance been accepted, left in this position, that while the Amendment was on the Paper for six months we had received no objection of any sort or kind. Since that time I have received hundreds of letters from all parts of England and Scot land, because my constituents are scattered all over the Empire. I am sure hon. Members will appreciate my statement when I say that in no place do they exist in sufficiently large numbers to cause me any special trouble. In this case, how ever, some of them at home, after the Amendment had been accepted, and after they had maintained this mysterious silence for over six months, wrote to me raising certain objections, and one of them, the strongest—I do not think this will appeal very forcibly to hon. Gentle men below the Gangway—asserted that if you show by this Amendment in plain terms your distrust of an. Irish Parliament and Executive, they will take it out of you in some other way. The Paper which hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway are in the habit of quoting as a leading Unionist organ, the "Irish Times," made that ex press point, and they warned the University that if they were to allow this slight to be put on the Statute Book it might be regarded by a future Irish Parliament as such, and that Parliament would be quits with them in some way. That is not a pleasing prospect either for the University or the Unionist minority. But be that as it may, the governing body of the University met, and by ten votes out of twelve adopted the Amendment I have moved, and they have sent me an expression of their gratitude for having succeeded in getting it accepted. Some of the younger members——


Hear, hear.


I am glad the hon. and learned Member for South Donegal attaches a certain importance to youth. Some of the younger Members—and I should have thought Members with less experience influenced by various reasons, none of which they have communicated to me—suggested that it might be desirable to allow legislation on the part of the new Irish Parliament to take place, provided it was done with the consent of the various bodies interested in the university. I thought there was good sense in it, because it occurred to me that in future this great university might itself require some modification of its constitution, and I could see no reason why that power should not be reserved to the Irish Parliament. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am afraid I find myself getting into very queer company, and there must be something radically wrong with what I am saying. However, I am taking the Committee fully into my confidence and telling them exactly what has occurred. As a result, I have drafted an Amendment which I have submitted to the right hon. Gentleman opposite, and I do not ask him to accept it without considering it, and perhaps when he has considered it he will let me know whether he approves of it, and if he does I think the position will be settled to the satisfaction of all parties including myself.


I hope I may be allowed to intervene to say that from the point of view of those who have had some responsibility for this Bill, the statement which has just been made by the right hon. Gentleman is one which we feel has been made in such good temper and with so single-minded a desire to do what he thinks to be best and to be right for the great establishment which he represents in this House, that certainly we for our part should never think of making any party capital out of it. The right hon. Gentleman will perhaps forgive me for saying, since I take a great interest in another great se at of learning, that I well understand that his first duty and interest is to serve the great institution which he represents to the best and fullest of his ability, and for my part I think I am speaking for all who take an interest in this Bill, when I say we take no factious objection because he has endeavoured from first to last to do that which he thought would be in the interests of that institution. On the other hand it appears to me—and I think any man who values a connection with a great university will agree with me—he is entirely right in trying to secure everything that it is prudent to secure for a great institution of that kind; and, if this Bill came into law on terms which put that institution into a position of risk, certainly any man in this House who had a special duty towards it, and did not endeavour to protect it would be open to very serious reproach. We recognise for our part entirely that it is in that spirit the right hon. Gentleman intervened at an earlier stage of our Debate. Here we are at the end of the Committee stage, and I hope I shall carry others besides Home Rulers with me when I say that any man who really values and who really under stands the part which a great university can play in the life of a nation should be very slow to take steps which will put it outside the life of the nation. The right hon. Gentleman has said fairly enough that he has been in consultation with my right hon. Friend to see what might be the wise way in which to protect the great and important interests of Trinity College, Dublin——


And Belfast,


Yes, and Belfast in this Bill. I am not going to anticipate the result of those consultations, and all I take leave to say at the moment is that I think we shall all, whatever be our views about the matter, recognise that the right hon. Gentleman is only doing his duty. I come back to what is the main point. Could anything be more disastrous than that a great academic institution, which has had from the beginning to the end of its life a close connection with the enterprise and the intelligence of the nation, should deliberately put itself outside the activity of that nation?


Are you not disfranchising it?


That is not the proposal of the Bill. I approach it, I willingly confess, without any special knowledge of Trinity College, but there is nothing which for my part I feel more keenly than the part which a great national university can play and ought to play in the life of a nation. Here is this great institution, which, in spite of the fact that from some points of view it has been almost of necessity associated with a particular political and it may be a particular religious outlook, has at every stage, and in every circumstance, contributed towards the life of Ireland. There has never been a single stage in the history of Irish life when this great institution has not contributed as one of the leaders of that life some great name. Whether you take the Parliament of 1782 with Grattan or Flood, or the Revolution of 1798 with Emmet, or of 1803 with Wolfe Tone, or whether you come down to Thomas Davis or to Tom Moore, or whether you take the man who, after all, invented the very name of Home Rule, Isaac Butt, or whether you take the present Leader of the Irish Nationalist party, one and all of them owe their fealty to this great institution. It has from first to last provided so many of those who have been representative of different kinds of Irish energy and of Irish movement; and to the mind of an Englishman who knows little about Trinity College at first hand this makes it deplorable that we should be asked a priori to cut Trinity College out of the scheme of a Bill of this sort. If this Bill is not going to pass and is not going to come into force, very well, no harm is done; but on the assumption that it is coming into force and is going to pass, I cannot say how gladly those of us who really attach importance to the academic relation between a great university and a great nation realise how reasonable is the point of view which the right hon. Gentleman puts before the Committee. Under these circumstances, without in the least degree anticipating what may be the form in which this proposal will be put forward on the Report, I say this on behalf of those who have an interest in this Bill, a sincere interest in the position of universities in the nation. Trinity College is within a stone's-throw of the old Parliament House; the property of Trinity College is for the most part in the South and West of Ireland; it is by the benevolence of the citizens of Dublin that they acquired the land on which their buildings stand, and it would be strange indeed if in this proposal to restore self-consciousness to the community we at this moment endeavoured to cut out from the self-governing institutions of that community the power to confer not evil, but good upon an institution of which every Irishman is proud.


It was with great pleasure that I heard the Solicitor-General speak in such high terms of this institution. There has been no intention on this side to de-nationalise Trinity College, but on the other hand we are bound to see to it that the Government in the proposal they will make on Report will do what the remonstrant portion of the community of Trinity College have asked for, namely, that they will take care it shall not be possible for any authority in Ireland, as it is proposed to be reconstituted to affiliate to the University of Dublin colleges of a new type which would be foreign to the constitution of that university. What is really wanted is to assert the freedom of the University. There never has been an intention on this side of the House of separating Trinity College from the Government of Ireland. But there has been an intention to safeguard Trinity College from wanton interference with its constitution—an interference which, without some such Amendment, would have been perfectly possible under this Bill as drafted. That has been definitely asked for, in as strong terms as possible by those remonstrant members of Trinity College, whose action has been supposed to be a reflection of the case put by the right hon. Gentleman. Personally I see no difficulty whatever between what we ask for on this side and what the hon. Gentleman who moved this Clause asked for. It is a question of language. We wish to have the safeguards. We do not wish to cut Trinity College out of Ireland, but we wish to make it impossible for the Parliament in Ireland to act tyrannically towards Trinity College, and we shall wait with anxiety the form of safeguard which is to be put in on the Report stage. I see grave difficulties in the matter of the University of Belfast, which, at present, depends on an annual Vote. I do not know how that is going to be safeguarded: if it is to rest with the Irish Parliament from year to year; but we all hope that actual safeguards will somehow be discovered.


I just wish, in a few words, to express the extreme gratification of my colleagues and myself at the position in which this matter now stands. That gratification is so sincere and so deep as to entirely prevent me from making any remarks of a party nature in connection with this matter. When I spoke on this matter when it was before the Committee on a previous occasion, I expressed the sense of deepest possible pain and humiliation that a proposal to exclude the University of Dublin from the purview of the new Irish Parliament should have been made at all. I most reluctantly agreed to it. I did so because I felt that if my colleagues and I refused it would be used with great effect against us, and said that we had rejected the first safeguard asked for by the Protestants of Ireland, a safeguard dealing with what has been a great fortress and citadel of Protestantism in that country. I regretted the acceptance of that Amendment from many points of view. An hon. Gentleman below me a moment ago turned round to these benches and said, "You are disfranchising Trinity College." So far from that—being true, we agreed that Trinity College should retain its two Members in the Irish Parliament, although we made no claim that similar representation should be given to the new National University. Indeed, I may say that one source of my regret for the adoption of the Amendment moved by the right hon. Gentleman below me (Mr. J. H. Campbell) in Committee was that it would necessarily have the effect of depriving Trinity College of the representation which this Bill would have given. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down says that he sees no difference between the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman on the Front Opposition Bench and what is now suggested. I see a world of difference. The proposal, which was agreed to in Committee in substance and in fact, was a proposal which would have for all time——


Who agreed to it?


I never suggested that the hon. Member ever agreed with anything I ever did. What I said was that the agreement which had been arrived at by the Committee was an agreement whereby for ever, in the admirable words of the Solicitor-General, for good as well as for evil, this great institution in Ireland would be cut off altogether from the national Parliament of the country. That I regarded as a terrible misfortune. What is now suggested is that some safeguarding words should be put in the Bill, safeguarding the endowments and status of the university, but not cutting the university off from Irish life, not turning the university into an alien university, but keeping the university still an Irish university, within the purview of the Irish Parliament, with power to that Irish Parliament to legislate for its good, and to legislate for it in any other way with its consent. I think there is a world of difference between the two suggestions. As an Irish Nationalist, I congratulate the Committee, and I congratulate ourselves oh the change that has come over the situation. So far as I have spoken I have mentioned only Dublin University. With the observations of the last speaker about Belfast University I entirely agree. Any new Clause which is passed for the University of Dublin ought to be so drafted, in my opinion, as to cover the case of the University of Belfast. I gather from what was said by the Chief Secretary that that would be the case.


Hear, hear.


I think that in all the circumstances of the case all parties in this House and all sections of Irishmen in this House, wherever they sit, ought to congratulate themselves on what is a happy termination of an incident which would have been a lasting reproach, in my opinion, to the Ireland of the future.


I have listened——


The clock has struck, and I bound to put the Question.

It being half-past Ten of the Clock, the CHAIRMAN proceeded, pursuant to the Order of the House the 14th October, to put forthwith the Question on the New Clause already proposed from the Chair.

Question, "That the Clause be read a second time," put, and negatived.

The CHAIRMAN then proceeded successively to put forthwith the Question on any Amendments moved by the Government of which notice had been given, and the Questions necessary to dispose of the business to be concluded at half-past Ten of clock at this day's sitting.

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