HL Deb 30 June 1857 vol 146 cc608-16

presented a petition from the visitors of the Foundation of John Michel, Esq., in the Queen's College, Oxford, praying to be heard by counsel against the Bill. The noble Earl made some observations which were inaudible.


presented several petitions in favour of the Bill, from the Provost and Fellows of Queen's College, and certain Fellows on the Michel Foundation. The noble Earl said, that one of the objects of the Bill was, to consolidate the fellowships on the Michel Foundation with the old Foundation of Queen's College, and the only parties who objected to the new state of things were these trustees. Every one was now agreed that nothing was so inconvenient as that in one college there should be two sets of Fellows established on a different footing. The question raised by his noble Friend was whether, irrespective of the merits of the Fellows, the state of things should continue. Parliament had given power to the Commissioners to deal with that question, and it was in the hands of the Commissioners, and they had thought it right to deprive the persons whom they had dealt with of the undue advantages which they possessed. It was, however, provided by the Oxford University Act, that when the Commissioners should give notice to the parties concerned of their intention to make any alteration in the statutes, and when the ordinances were passed, an opportunity was given to the parties interested, by an interval of forty days, to ascertain whether they were approved by them, and their case, if any, was heard by the Commissioners. There was no reason given why fellowships in one foundation should be on a different footing; and he trusted their Lordships would agree to the second clause of the Bill, which provided for the consolidation of Michel's Foundation in Queen's College with the old foundation of the college. The first clause of the Bill asked for a prolongation of the powers of the Commission. In the last Session of Parliament he had asked for and obtained a prolongation for one year of the powers of the Commission; but it was found that the slow progress which had been made rendered it requisite to ask for a further prolongation this year. By means of such a prolongation all the duties of the Commission would be discharged. Already out of twenty colleges of which Oxford consisted statutes had been framed for fourteen, and of the remaining six there was a difficulty with only one, which he trusted would soon disappear, and that within the present year the whole business of the Commission would be settled. But as a certain time must elapse before an ordinance of the Commission could become law, namely, forty days after it was promulgated, it was not desirable that the Commission should expire before parties interested should have opportunities of objecting to any ordinance that might be passed. The Bill, therefore, asked for the prolongation of the Commission till July 1, 1858.

Then the Order of the Day for the Second Reading of the Bill read.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.


said, his noble Friend had fallen into an error in supposing that he was obliged to make an application to Parliament last year to prolong the Commission, for in the original Bill a provision was inserted to the effect that the Commission should last for a certain period, and power was given to the Crown to extend that period a year longer if it should be deemed necessary. Therefore, in point of fact, this was the first application to the House for a further prolongation, the Crown having availed itself of the power granted by the original Act. He did not rise to offer any opposition to the present Bill; but he hoped that this would be the only prolongation which would be asked for, as nothing could be more inconvenient than an indefinite prolongation of the powers exercised by the Commissioners. He wished to take this opportunity of calling the attention of his noble Friend to the provisions of one of the ordinances which had been laid upon the table by the University Commissioners. That ordinance had reference to Oriel College, and the complaint which he had to make with regard to it was, that it was at variance with the original intentions of the founder, and excluded all consideration of the pecuniary circumstances of applicants for fellowships. One of the provisions of the Oxford University Act was that the Commissioners should frame the ordinances of the several colleges according to the obvious design of the founder, but allowed them a certain latitude in abolishing or amending the existing statutes to suit the requirements of the present day. He did not deny that the Commissioners had a right by law to do away with all those preferences as to place of birth and founder's kin, and some of the capricious distinctions which had existed in favour of particular parties. He confessed he thought that Parliament had gone a step further than was necessary in that respect, because, provided the original intentions of the founders were not in themselves unreasonable, nor contra bonos mores, nor impracticable at the present time, he did not see that there was any reason for departing from them. Parliament had undoubtedly authorized the Commission to depart from the intentions of the founders, but he apprehended that that was only in cases where the preferences were founded on grounds which could not fairly be substantiated in the present day. That to which he desired to call their Lordships' attention was a provision of the founder of Oriel College, to which those objections were not quite applicable to a particular period, being one which was good for all time, and was at the very foundation of the objects of university education. According to the ancient statutes of Oriel College, three circumstances were required by the founder to be kept in view in the selection of candidates—first, the moral character of the applicant; secondly, the pecuniary circumstances; and thirdly, the aptitude of the party for study and his desire for instruction. The original statute ran thus:— Hoc etiam in eâdem domo specialiter observari volumus, ut circa eos qui ad hujusmodi eleemosynæ participium admittendi fuerint diligenti solicitudine caveatur ne qui prætor honestos, castos, pacificos, humiles, hidigentes, ad studium habiles, proficere volentes, et ritè electos recipiantur. Of course the Commissioners did not intend to set aside the primary consideration of moral character. So far, however, as these ordinances of Oriel College went, the sole condition seemed to be the test of scholarship as afforded by the University examination. That ordinance not only ignored the pecuniary circumstances of an applicant, but expressly stated that they should not be taken into consideration. There could be no words more strong than those he had quoted to indicate that it was the intention of the founder that those who were to have the benefit of the foundation should be persons of small pecuniary means. He knew that there was a difficulty as to the construction of the word indigentes, which occurred in the statutes of Oriel; but he did not think that difficulty could be urged by the Commissioners, as they had themselves undertaken to explain it. In this very ordinance they had, in his opinion, rightly interpreted the word as intending to denote deserving persons being in need of support at the University. The founder had undoubtedly intended to give eleemosynary assistance to promising youths desirous of education but unable by their own means to bear the expenses of the University. In his judgment that was not only a proper and judicious, but a laudable and beneficial provision. From the foundation of those statutes down to the present time nothing had tended so much to encourage liberal education amongst the middle and humbler classes of society as this eleemosynary system of education, which by the present ordinance it was proposed to do away with. Hundreds and hundreds of persons now living gratefully acknowledge the benefits they derived from that system, without the aid of which they would not have been able to cultivate their talents in the way they had done. The statutes of the founder provided for the exclusive education of persons of good character, though in indigent circumstances. The college did not go so far as that, but only wished that in taking into consideration the claims of the different parties to fellowships, they should be allowed to have regard, as one element, to the pecuniary circumstances of the candidate. Nothing could be more moderate than such a wish, and it is rather remarkable that the Commissioners themselves should appear to entertain the same view. The ordinance of the Commissioners provides that no person should be ineligible on the ground of indigence. They admitted that; but refused to recognise the preference which the ancient statute awarded to indigence. But why, he knew not; but it was said that in consequence of the private communication from the members composing the minority of the college, the Commissioners subsequently altered the ordinance which the college had already accepted, and went so far as absolutely to prohibit the college from taking into consideration the pecuniary circumstances of the candidate, which the founder meant to form the great claim for eleemosynary assistance. The clause, as revised, ran thus:— In elections to fellowships within the college no person shall be entitled to preference or be declared ineligible by reason of his place of birth, or by reason of any statute or rule limiting the number of fellowships tenable at any one time by nature of the same town, city, county, diocese, or other place, or by reason of his pecuniary circumstances. They absolutely prohibited that which the founder declared to be one of the main conditions on which parties should be admitted to participate in his bounty, by declaring that their circumstances should not be taken into consideration as a ground for preference. That clause, on being sent back to the college, was rejected on a division; but, nevertheless, it being persevered in by the Commissioners, it was ultimately accepted by the college. Now, that seemed to be, in the first place, a strange departure from the clearly-expressed and benevolent intentions of the founder; but it was also a strange mode of conducting business, to send down a statute, have it accepted, and then, when urged by a minority to make an alteration in it, and force it down the throats of the majority of the college, notwithstanding their opposition to it. Therefore, he said, they were injuriously affecting the character of the college and of the University by striking out the provision giving preference to the claims of poverty. What was the most prevalent complaint they had heard with regard to the University at the present day? The complaint was that the entrance was so expensive, that it was necessarily confined to a small portion of the community. The wish of the founder of this college was, however, to diminish the expense, and to enable persons of small means to meet it. And with this complaint staring them in the face they diminished still further the narrow facilities afforded to persons of the humbler classes who were desirous of a University education; so that in effect it would appear, according to their notions, that property and not poverty should be the qualification for the possession of those intellectual attainments. Unfortunately the powers of the Commissioners were so ample, and the means of resistance on the part of the colleges so small, that whatever the Commissioners declare shall be the law must necessarily be the law. The colleges in this case voted against the acceptance of this provision; but they could not at the same time say that the provision would prove injurious to the college as a place of learning, because it was possible that persons more intelligent, more learned, and more brilliant than before might be educated under the new rule. Their main objection to it was that they considered it would interfere with the beneficial arrangements of the founder, and consequently there would be an abuse of the original intention of the founder in adopting it. It was true that the Commissioners recognised to a certain extent the rights of poverty, for there was a provision by which one-fifth of the fellowships might be suspended for a certain period of time, in order to provide emoluments for a small number of scholars of £60 each; but the provision made by the founder for this class amounted to no less than £4,500 a year. All that money was now taken away, and applied to the establishment of the professors of the University, and to the payment of the grants to fellowships. While for the humbler classes, the miserable pittance of £240 was distributed amongst four scholars, at the rate of £60 a year each; and that only when five fellowships had been abated. The ordinance had been laid on the table of the House, not for the purpose of being amended, for that could not well be done: the only power their Lordships had in respect to it was to address the Crown that the ordinance might not be sanctioned by the Crown. He, for one, had no wish to take that course. He had no wish, on the whole, that this ordinance should not be sanctioned; but it appeared to him to be framed in contradiction to the main designs of the founder. It was also at variance with the original intentions of the Commissioners, and with that which the college had at first accepted. He did not propose to make any Motion on the matter, but perhaps the noble Earl opposite would explain under what circumstances that extraordinary change had taken place, and upon what grounds the Commissioners had decided that the comparative merits of the claimants to scholarships and fellowships should be decided altogether apart from their pecuniary circumstances, in complete defiance of the wish of the founder.


said, that it was necessary for the Commission to take the general circumstances of the matter into their consideration. The words humiles alumni occurred in many statutes, especially in those of Merton College, and there was no more reason for retaining them in Oriel than in any other college. They knew that young men, in the days when the foundation was made, were elected fellows at thirteen or fourteen, for the purpose of gratuitous education. They were then educated by Professors, but now they were educated by tutors. Oriel College had deviated as well as other colleges from the express words of its founder, but it was only in order to make their foundation more conformable to the spirit of the age. Suppose there were several candidates, and the poor man was, intellectually, the worst qualified, and was to be elected Fellow, the consequences would be very inconvenient; and surely if of several candidates the most eligible in point of intellectual and other qualifications happened to possess larger pecuniary means than the others, that circumstance ought not to be held as a disqualification. The old rules as to indigentes et humiles virtually had become obsolete. They had not put the poor man in any worse condition than he was in before. They had increased the number both of exhibitions and scholarships, placing the poor young student much in the same position as he was in 1250, or the century when the foundation was made. The words of the ordinance gave a wide scope to the admission of every qualification, and the words were studied for that purpose especially, to introduce young men of high moral qualification. The pecuniary qualification for fellowships had been expressly abandoned on account of the difficulty and abuse to which it was subject, and that abandonment had been officially approved. The Commissioners themselves explained that they had not precluded the college in other cases from admitting pecuniary considerations.


as one who, under God, owed all the advantages he had gained in life to an eleemosynary foundation, was desirous of stating generally the description of the foundations which, in his opinion, should exist in the University. He thought the noble Earl opposite would see there were reasons why pecuniary considerations should be entirely excluded from the selection of Fellows. University foundations were divided into fellowships, scholarships, and exhibitions. In the latter case he could not help believing there would be great advantage in making poverty an element of consideration in conferring them, and exhibitions might wisely be given to the sons of poor clergymen, to enable them to prosecute their studies at the University. This was an advantage which he had experienced in his own person. With respect to fellowships, however, the case was different; the Fellows were the governing body, and should be selected from the most capable men, without regard to their pecuniary means. In the intermediate step of scholarships be thought poverty ought not to be taken into consideration.


thought it was extremely desirable that foundations should be maintained for the encouragement of persons of small means to reside at the Universities, and complained that poverty was specially excluded in the words of the ordinance.


considered that they were greatly indebted to the Parliamentary Commissioners for having done that which was found fault with by the noble Earl. If these colleges could carry out that which was required, and in every examination were to admit candidates on equal terms, and then at a future period to consider how much Greek was to stand against how much poverty, he thought the examination would be greatly injured. He did not mean to say that poverty should be altogether excluded from consideration, but what he contended was, that they ought to endeavour practically to carry out the intentions of the founders, and not by slavishly following the mere letter lose the whole spirit of the injunctions. The object of the founders was, no doubt, that poor young men should be enabled to study in their early youth, and the Parliamentary Commissioners having those intentions in view, founded some exhibitions in which poverty would be assisted. The colleges, it should be remembered, had grown up to a position never contemplated by their founders; they had become the governing body of the University, furnishing the teachers and instructors; the Commissioners, therefore, were wise, as it appeared to him, in deciding that they would not permit teachers to be selected on the ground of property but only on the ground of merit.

After some remarks from the Earl of HARROWBY and the Earl of DERBY,

Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly; and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Thursday next.