HL Deb 14 June 1836 vol 34 cc499-503
Viscount Melbourne

rose to move the Second Reading of the Universities (Scotland) Bill. He said that, notwithstanding the estimation in which the Universities of Scotland were held in that country, notwithstanding the effect they had upon the country, notwithstanding the means they afforded for cheap education, some vices, some errors, had still crept into those establishments, which it was admitted on all hands required certain amendments. He undoubtedly felt that such extensive powers and influence as belonged to the Scotch Universities required periodical revision, and especially to be considered by fresh eyes—to be considered by those who were not previously accustomed to the general routine of the affairs within those spheres; and such a revision would be required even if the institution were well administered in themselves. Upon that view the Commission of Royal Visitation had been appointed. That Commission had entered into a very accurate and complete inquiry upon the subject. They had examined into the Universities of Scotland, into their mode of instruction, into their property, into the appointment of the professors, and in short, into their general state and management, and they had made a Report, in which they recommended various extensive and important improvements. The present Bill recited the facts which he had stated respecting the Commission, and was founded upon the particular recommendation contained in the 13th page of that Report. The noble Lord then read the passage of the Report which recommended the appointment of Commissioners, in order to discover the best mode of carrying their specific recommendation into effect. Now, this Bill after reciting those facts, provided that it be lawful for his Majesty with the advice of his Privy Council to appoint a Board of Visitors to the Colleges of Glasgow and Edinburgh, and to the King's College at Aberdeen. In addition to the General Board for the whole it had been deemed convenient to appoint also special boards of visitors for each separate College, because whatever might be the case with the General Board, it might fairly be expected that Gentlemen would be found to give a portion of their time gratuitously towards the management of their own College. The next clause contained various regulations respecting the system of management to be pursued. Clauses 8, 9, and 10 referred to the powers to be given to the visitors. The 8th conferred upon them all the powers at present enjoyed by his Majesty in his visitatorial capacity. The 9th provided that the "Senatus Academicus" of each College should state to the Board of Visitors the regulations which they would propose to be adopted in their own particular case. That provision was inserted in order that they might have all the benefit of the local knowledge of the Gentlemen intimately connected with each College; but if those Gentlemen neglected to make such recommendation to the Board within six months' then the Commissioners were empowered to make the regulations themselves. The 10th Clause gave the power of abolishing professorships, saving vested interests. It was further enacted that the measure should continue in force only for five years, unless, it should be at an earlier period confirmed by Act of Parliament. Upon the whole then, this Bill being recommended by the Commissioners, and having been delayed somewhat longer than it ought, he trusted there would be no objection to adopt the measure, with such alterations as might hereafter Seem fit to their Lordships. The measure undoubtedly did vest in the hands of his Majesty's Government a considerable power, by conferring upon them the appointment of the Board of Visitors; but it would be superfluous, he sincerely hoped, in him to profess that it was the intention of Government to advise the selection of those only for members of the Board who from 'their knowledge, from their character, from their respectability, and impartiality, were the most fitted to exercise that trust, and to acquire the esteem of their fellow-collegians. In conclusion, he begged to move the Second Reading of this Bill.

The Earl of Aberdeen

stated, that it was not his intention to offer any opposition to the Second Reading of the Bill, because he understood from the explanation of the noble Lord, and also from the contents of the Bill itself, that its object was to carry into effect the recommendations contained in the Report of the Commission of Royal visitation which was appointed no less than seven years ago, and which had presented its Report to Parliament more than six years. ["Not quite six years," from Lord Melbourne."] Having had the honour of being a member of that commission, he of course could have no objection to a measure for carrying into effect the recommendations of their Report in which he had mainly coincided. But he certainly felt, that greater discretion must be given to the Commissioners than was given by this Bill. He had been glad to hear the announcement of the noble Lord as to the intention of the Government with regard to the appointment of the Board, and he would only suggest, if they found any difficulty in carrying those intentions into execution, the propriety of following the course which had been pursued by his right hon. Friend (Sir Robert Peel), when he was Secretary of State, by making those appointments entirely independent of any party character so that the Board should be composed of men of all descriptions and opinions, but all equally able to engage in the consideration of the subject in question. He had no doubt that the Commission would give satisfaction, and he should therefore support the second reading of the Bill; but if it should contain any provision subject to objection, which he did not believe to be the case, he should reserve to himself the right of opposing it in Committee.

The Duke of Wellington

expressed a hope that amply sufficient time would be given for the consideration of the measure before it went into Committee.

The Earl of Roseberry

could not avoid stating shortly his opinion on this subject, and in the first instance, having taken some pains to inquire into this question, he begged leave to acquit his Majesty's Government of any neglect or unnecessary delay. He knew that their attention had been continually directed to the subject from the end of the year 1831, when the Commissioners made their Report to his Majesty, down to the time when this measure was digested. They had continually been employed in considering how the recommendation of the Commissioners might be best enforced; but difficulties did present themselves, and questions arose, which prevented the Crown from acting in the matter upon its own responsibility; and the principle of adopting in the Bill the original and fundamental recommendation of the Commissioners was, in his opinion, not only the best method of carrying into effect that primary recommendation, but was the only means of obviating the difficulties that had arisen. Upon that principle he should support the second reading of the Bill.

The Archbishop of Canterbury

said, that after what had fallen from noble Lords much more capable of judging correctly upon this subject than he was, he of course could not think of offering any objection to the second reading of this Bill; but he confessed he had at first been rather alarmed at the powers which it bestowed upon certain individuals; and also at the extent of the measure which went to alter the whole constitution of the ancient, venerable, and highly-useful Universities of Scotland. He, however, had that evening heard from noble Lords who possessed much better information on the subject than himself, that very great alterations were necessary; notwithstanding which he really was not prepared to give a vote upon a subject so deeply affecting the religious interests and the education of the people of Scotland without further information upon which to proceed. Upon that ground, then, he joined in the request of the noble Duke, that full time should be given for the consideration of the measure previous to its going into Committee.

The Earl of Haddington

considered, that time ought to be granted. The greatest interest and a considerable sensation prevailed upon the subject in Scotland. Ample time was necessary, in order to have before the House all the suggestions which might be made, and especially from the Universities themselves; because it was admitted that if the Universities were opposed to the measure it would not work well.

Bill read a second time; to be committed that day fortnight.