HL Deb 13 July 1858 vol 151 cc1354-69

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


said, that in moving the second reading of this Bill, he must be allowed to express the interest he felt in this question, from his personal connection with Scotland. He felt a similar interest, for the same reason, in the state of the Universities of Scotland, and all that was connected with them; and, therefore, he begged their Lordships' indulgence while he shortly explained to them the objects and intentions of this Bill. Although those Universities were each of them small, as compared with the great Universities of England, yet it would perhaps surprise their Lordships to learn that there were no fewer than six Universities in that country. There were not only the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, but there were two in St. Andrews and two in Aberdeen. It was right to say that these Universities had, upon the whole, bees eminently successful, as would be known to all their Lordships who were familiar with the history of Scotland. They had each of them produced many eminent men—men distinguished in every walk of literature and science; while the Professors also had been distinguished for the highest talents and acquirements. But although this was the general state of the Universities, and although it was undoubtedly true that to the influence of the Universities the progress of Scotland and the high rank she had attained among the nations was to be attributed, still there were various defects in the condition of those Universities which their best friends deplored, and which it was the object of this Bill to remedy. Various Commissions had to be issued to inquire into the state of those Universities, and to report upon what remedies were required. One of those Commissions was issued in the year 1832, another in 18451, and another so lately as last year, with the special object of inquiring, into the condition of the two Colleges of Aberdeen. He mentioned these facts to show that the idea of reforming the Scotch Universities was not a new idea, that it had been entertained from time to time, and that by persons who were most friendly to these Universities, the best acquainted with their internal condition, and the most solicitous for their welfare. A large and, influential public meeting was held last year in Edinburgh, to press upon Parliament and the Government the necessity of some reforms being applied to these eminent institutions; and such was the strength of the general feeling, that a Bill was prepared by the Lord Advocate under the late Government; but owing to the fall of that Ministry, it was not brought into Parliament. The defects that required reform were various. There were Professors of classes who had no pupils; but the greatest defect of all was that when Professors who, when they were first appointed were probably able and eminent men, and distinguished in the branch of science to which they, were attached, became unable, through the infirmities of age or disease to discharge their duties, no provision was made for their retirement, and they remained at their post, to the great detriment of the class. This, indeed, was the greatest defect of all, and it was one under which all the, Colleges suffered, while even in cases where a Professor retired, or rather appointed a substitute to discharge his duties for him, it could not be expected that that substitute would be very eminent is his special range of science, because the portion of his own salary that the retiring Professor could allow was necessarlly small, and there was great uncertainty about the substitute eventually succeeding to the professorship; so that them were few men of eminence who would accept a situation so doubtful. The consequence of this was, that at all times there were several Professors who were unable to perform their duties, and this was one of the points on which the various Commissions had laid great stress. Well, it was intended by the Bill to remedy this state of things. At the same time, it was considered a matter of great importance to give a certain control over the whole system—a body that should have some permanent survey and control over the professorial body. At present there was no superior body that could check them. These, as he had said, were the defects chiefly dwelt upon by the different Commissions, and to remedy these defects was the object of the Bill now before their Lordships. For the purpose of providing retiring allowances for aged or disabled Professors, a Vote would be taken in the House of Commons. It was also intended to constitute in each University a University Court, which would regulate and control the powers of the Professors, or, as their collective number in each college was called in Scotland, the Senatus Academicus. This court would consist of persons of eminence and distinction, and their duty would be to see that the Professors did their duty and carried out the system of education as it was prescribed in the University. There was another court also to be constituted, which was to be called the Council of the University. Its members would be composed of the graduates of the University; and one good effect of this court, it was hoped, would be, that it would give the students and alumni of the different Universities a deeper interest in the affairs of their college, and a greater, inducement to them to take the honours provided for the graduates. These were the general principles of the Bill, which he might mention had been received with, general approbation in Scotland, and in the Universities themselves. It had passed with general, approbation through the House of Commons; and though he did not mean to say that it had encountered he opposition, yet he would affirm that it was only opposed by persons whose local interests were affected by the changes proposed; and even they only opposed those clauses which affected their own interests. With respect to the union of the Universities, he might say that it had been recommended, or at least strong arguments had been brought forward in its favour by the Commissioners, when the whole matter was inquired into. He had always considered that that would be a very proper mode of dealing with the matter; but at the same time he did not wonder at persons connected with that part of the country, or who had taken degrees in either of the Universities, feeling some sort of jealousy at the idea of their particular University being merged into another. With respect to Aberdeen, he was extremely anxious that there should be a faculty of Arts still kept up both in King's and Marischal Colleges. The intention at present was that there should be only one Professor of each branch of education when the two colleges were united. There was this advantage in the union, that each University had several professorships, which the other did not enjoy, and by combining the two, there would be a Professor of each branch of education. But the Bill gave very great powers to the Commissioners, because they might, if they thought it advisable, institute a double professorship in the faculty of Arts, so that, in fact, the elementary branches of education, with Greek, Latin, and mathematics, might be taught in both of the colleges, which would no doubt be a very great convenience to the persons resident therein; whereas, by confining the teaching of that branch to King's College, considerable difficulty might be felt. Inasmuch as the Commissioners possessed the power, he was inclined to think that if they went to the extent of that power, almost the whole of the objections still felt to the Bill would be removed. He repeated that the powers of the Commissioners were extremely great, and subject only to the approbation of the Queen in Council; and he conceived they would be very much inclined to exercise them in the direction he had indicated. There was only one other point in the Bill with respect to which objections had been raised, and to which he would refer, namely, that which had reference to the patronage—the appointment of Professors in the Edinburgh University by the corporation of that city. He did not wish to detain the House by entering into a lengthened detail of those objections which would be more properly discussed in Committee, when that clause was considered. It was agreed to only after considerable discussion in the House of Commons, and it was regarded very much in the light of a compromise between the two parties, one being anxious to denude the corporation of that, patronage altogether, and the other to retail it in its entirety. This clause, however, addressed itself to a practical solution of the difficulty. The power of the appointment of the Professors was still left in the corporation, only it was put under a better system and more stringent control. It was given to seven curators, four of whom were appointed by the Town Council, and three by the University; so that the Council would at all times have a majority in respect to the medium through which the appointment of Professors was made. The other three would act merely as a check upon the former. It was true that the appointment was taken away from the Council as a body corporate; but it was done in such a manner as to retain their influence, while it put an end to the complaints of those who thought that it was in reality a very objectionable thing that candidates for Professorships should be obliged to canvass individual members of the Town Council for those appointments. As far as the power of appointment went, it seemed to him that it was essentially the same in this Bill as at present. He admitted that the Bill interfered very much with vested rights and interests; but at the same time he reminded their Lordships that it was difficult to pass any Bill without interfering with vested rights more or less, and he did not conceive that any sound objection could be urged to the measure upon that ground. There was just one more point to which he would address himself before he sat down, and that was with reference to the grant which it was proposed to make for retiring allowances to Professors, and for the general expenses which the Commissioners might think proper to authorize in carrying out the Act. The amount which it was pros posed to place on the Estimates far this purpose was £10,000. He must confess that he thought that was a very small sum indeed. It might perhaps be sufficient far the immediate wants; and the first objects which the Commissioners had in view was to do what was necessary and proper in the first instance; but he could not say he thought it would be sufficient after the new system had been established,—especially when he compared it with the large sums voted for educational purposes in Ireland, both as regarded Maynooth and Queen's Colleges. He was convinced that this small sum of £10,000 would not be found sufficient for Scotland, and he alluded to the subject now because he knew how difficult it would be, when such a Vote had once been granted, to increase the amount in the House of Commons in succeeding years. He had now explained the general principles of the measure, which, as he conceived, was all that was necessary for him to do on the present occasion; it being the second reading of the measure, and having had the earnest consideration of all the Scotch Members in the House of Commons. Although he did not pretend to say that some of its provisions were not objected to, yet it was the fact that a very large number of persons approved not only of the Bill itself, but of this particular clause, in the localities in which the Universities were situated. He trusted that their Lordships would pass this Bill in the form in which it had come up to them from the other House, because, although it certainly was a great interference with the Universities, and introduced an entirely new system of government, and although the Scottish Universities had been a success in past years, yet there was every reason to hope that under this measure their continued prosperity would be ensured.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.


thought that every friend to education in Scotland must feel grateful to the Government, and especially to the late Lord Advocate, who had introduced this measure into Parliament, and had carried it through the House of Commons. The Bill was one which met with general approval. No doubt that some of its provisions had met with very great opposition, and he was sorry to say that the opposition had come principally from that part of the country, and had reference principally to the provisions connected with the University of Aberdeen. He must say that he did not recollect ever having witnessed any degree of exitement so great in intensity, or feelings so strong, or so perfectly unanimous in the public mind as with regard to this measure. He must say that he shared in some of those conflicts; but he thought that which had been mentioned with re- spect to the great powers the Commissioners would possess, would tend to allay that excitement; for, in his opinion, the proper exercise of those powers would effect all that alteration, and modify all those operations of the Bill to which so much objection had been expressed. The persons connected with the University of Aberdeen did not object to the Bill generally; they only wished to preserve to each College that system of tuition which at present existed. It was a great many years since he was Chancellor of the University of Aberdeen; but he had never ceased to feel an interest in its prosperity. Both Colleges had been eminently useful in the north of Scotland; they had accomplished great good; and he should view with deep regret any alteration consequent on this Bill which would have the effect of destroying the system of education which at present prevailed in the University of Aberdeen. As far as he was concerned, he approved of many of the principles contained in the Bill, and even of the union of the two Colleges; but only in the hope that such alteration would be made by the Commissioners as would obviate the objections felt, and conduce to the interest of the University. They would scarcely believe the excitement which the questions had created in a city of 70,000 or 80,000 people, who felt, almost to a man, that they were being deprived of an ancient institution, under which their forefathers had lived, and from which they had received the greatest benefits. It could not be the wish of their Lordships to destroy a system that had worked so well, and proved so beneficial to the whole of the country. He did not wish, by any means, to throw any opposition in the way of passing this Bill, for he was one of those who had recommended a measure which, in principle, was similar to the present. Some years ago, when he was at the head of the Government, he projected a Bill something similar in character to the present; but he found the opposition so strong in the district to which he had alluded, that he thought the good which would result from it would not counterbalance the evil that it might give rise to. He felt, at that time, the necessity of having one general University for Scotland; but yielding to the feelings, or as they might choose to term it, to the prejudices of the inhabitants of the cities in which the Universities were situated, he did not persevere in a measure which he believed, as far as he recollected it, to be very similar to the one now lying on the table. He, therefore, saw no objection either to the principle or the details of this measure, because he thought that the Amendments which had been introduced during its passage through the Commons were sufficient to enable the Commissioners to obviate the objections felt with respect to the Aberdeen University clause. He had had, however, a petition entrusted to him, which he had presented, by the Provost and Corporation of Aberdeen, praying that, as an act of justice, they might be heard by themselves or their counsel at the bar of the House; and he thought, considering the interest felt and the strong feeling which had been excited, the prayer of the petition was a reasonable one.


said, he thought the Government entitled to the greatest praise for bringing in this measure, and great credit was especially due to the Lord Advocate, who, it gave him great pleasure to see, had just been chosen by Her Majesty to fill a high official post, and who, he had no doubt, would be found eminently deserving of that honour. He desired to express his cordial approval of the principle of the measure; but at the same time there were some points in which he, in common with a great many persons in Scotland, could not but think some amendment necessary. The Scotch Universities were quite differently situated to those in England, where the advantages of a first class University education were not extended to persons of the same rank in the social scale as was the case in Scotland. For that reason he should be very sorry to see such a fusion of the Universities as would make the Colleges difficult to enter. In respect to the great benefit resulting from the present system, he would read to their Lordships the extract of a letter he received from a minister of the Church of Scotland, in a parish near Aberdeen, dated July 9, 1858, accompanying a petition against the fusion clause in the Bill. In the petition their Lordships would observe that there were numerous signatures from servants. The extract was:— I take the liberty of informing you that many of my servants availing themselves of instruction from the minister and schoolmaster, after the labours of the day, have qualified themselves for entering the lists as competitors for the bursaries for King's and Marischal Colleges, and it comes within my personal knowledge that not a few of this class are now occupying situations as clergymen and teachers with very great success. He could not help thinking that facts like that were quite sufficient to induce their Lordships to provide the best possible means for continuing so admirable a system, and one which had been productive of so much good. This Bill had received, since its first introduction, very considerble amendments during its progress through the House of Commons, and he would mention one thing, namely, that provision which left the election of Lord Rector to the students. It was also his profound conviction, that the clause introduced by his right hon. Friend (Mr. Gladstone), giving to the Commissioners the power under the Bill of establishing a general University for Scotland was a most valuable one. He was rather surprised that the noble Duke (the Duke of Montrose) had not made that a great feature in his general exposition of the measure, for he thought it was one which had received general assent, provided it could be carried out consistently with the preservation of the rights of the existing Universities. He looked upon this as one of the vital points of the Bill, and gave his right hon. Friend the greatest praise for having introduced it. He did not deny that there would be immense difficulties to overcome in the way of patronage, but he thought that if properly worked out nothing would prove more advantageous for Scotland. Learning had advanced with rapid strides in Scotland, but had not yet reached its full development. A central University would be a great gathering point, and it might exist in intimate connection with the present Universities. Believing that the Bill, as amended, was an extremely good one, he viewed with great regret the opposition to which some portions of it had given rise in Scotland, and he thought he should satisfy their Lordships that a very small alteration in the Bill should be all that was necessary. The noble Duke had not quite accurately stated the feelings of the people of Scotland with respect to the measure. He said that there was a feeling of objection with respect to the friends of the two Colleges in the University of Aberdeen. So far as he could understand there was a unanimous feeling in favour of the union; everybody agreed that it would be a great improvement, the only difference being whether or not the Faculty of Arts should be fixed. On this point he had received a letter from one of the principal functionaries of the northern University—a man held in the highest respect by the entire community of Aberdeen. He wrote under date the 10th July,— The excitement in Aberdeen, and in the north generally, is very great on this subject. Even if I had held the opinion that there should be but one College, I should deem it highly inexpedient to force the measure against the deliberate and expressed desire of the inhabitants of the north of Scotland. I humbly and respectfully submit that it would be better at present to do what all are agreed about, namely, to endow the University with the higher faculties of theology, law, and medicine, and to leave the Colleges separate, which I think would give great satisfaction. The question, then, was really this, whether there should be one or two faculties in the University of Aberdeen. Now, he did not at all mean to say that arguments might not be adduced en the one Bill as well as on the other in that case. He readily admitted that there were arguments of considerable weight in favour of the establishment of a single faculty in the University of Aberdeen, and he only maintained that there were also arguments of considerable weight in favour of the double faculty. He could at all events state, without any doubt or hesitation, that the feeling in Aberdeen, and throughout the north of Scotland generally, in favour of maintaining a distinct Faculty of Arts, was of the strongest and most decided character. Upon that point their Lordships had already heard the statement of his noble Friend (the Earl of Aberdeen); and although he could not of course pretend to possess the same amount of local knowledge as his noble Friend, he had reason to know, from the communications which he had received, that there was no exaggeration in the language of his noble Friend, and that there prevailed a very determined opposition to that proposal. The question that their Lordships had to consider was whether it would be worth their while to run counter to such a feeling, and thus to endanger the popularity and the success of the whole measure The Bill, as it stood, would give the Commissioners pewee to keep the two faculties distinct if they should so think fit; and the assent of the people of the north of Scotland would be attained, if, instead of giving that permissive power to the Commissioners, it were made obligatory on them to maintain the two faculties. He believed that, under such an arrangement, all traces of dissatisfaction in that matter would disappear, and that only one feeling would prevail throughout Scotland; of cordial satisfaction with the Bill, and of deep gratitude to Her Majesty's Government for its intro- duction. That change in the measure might not, indeed, be as much as the Town Council of Aberdeen had asked; but he had reason to believe that a mere provision of the kind he had stated, making that obligatory on the Commissioners, which by the Bill was left permissive, would answer every necessary purpose. He confessed that he did not think it would be worth while to persist in the proposal contained in the Bill against the strongly pronounced wish of the great majority of those whom it would immediately affect. A measure of that kind, if it were very unpopular, could not work well. There were, no doubt, cases in which coercive legislation was absolutely necessary, and it might even happen when outraged justice was to be vindicated, that the more unpopular a measure was the more would it be becoming and effective. But a Bill of the present character stood in an entirely different position. It could not be carried successfully into effect unless the public sympathy was enlisted in its favour. He really believed that in such a case a less perfect measure which received the popular support would work better than a more perfect one which excited popular opposition; and they ought not to look for legislation which would be unexceptionable in theory, but for the legislation which would be most successful in practice. He had himself no wish in that matter except to render the measure as efficient as possible, and he was glad to find that a Bill for the settlement of this important question had been brought forward by Her Majesty's Government. They could be influenced by no personal or political feeling in the course which they were pursuing; their only object must be to promote the welfare of the people of Scotland, by providing the best possible system of public education in that country. And he would ask them what advantage they could expect to derive from the most perfect theoretical measure, compared with that which must result from their securing for their scheme the goodwill of those whom it immediately concerned? He did not wish to oppose the Bill. On the contrary, he should be sorry to do anything to endanger its passing; and he would give his cordial assent to the Motion for its second reading. He hoped, however, his noble Friend at, the head of the Government would allow him to direct his attention to the point to which he had been spe- cially adverting, and to ask him to reconsider it in the interval which was to elapse between the second reading and the Committee, with a view to render the measure as acceptable as possible to those whose interests it would specially affect.


said, that as it had been his good fortune to have been educated at one of the Scottish Universities, he wished to say e few words upon the subject. He could not but feel with the noble Earl who had last addressed their Lordships, that great thanks were due to Her Majesty's Government for having prepared a measure likely to be so beneficial. But he would observe, that there was one provision in the Bill of which the noble Earl had spoken in terms of the highest commendation which appeared to him to be of very doubtful advantage. The establishment of a central University for the whole of Scotland was proposed by one of the clauses and the noble Earl seemed to think that such a measure was likely to be productive of great benefit to the people of Scotland. That clause, as it at present stood, was merely permissive. For his part, he had felt that it was not probable it could ever be carried into effect, and he had therefore thought that it would not be necessary to take any notice of it. But as the noble Earl was himself one of the Commissioners for carrying out the Bill, it become much more important after his statement of his deep conviction that this was one of the most valuable provisions in the measure. Now, his first objection to the clause was, that he could not understand from it what was meant by a "central University for the whole of Scotland." It was not, he presumed, to be a local University to which the students in the different Colleges would have to go for the purpose of obtaining degrees. One of the greatest advantages of the Scottish system of education was, as he had always understood, that, by the extent of the sphere which it embraced, it enabled persons in a very humble condition of life to receive a university education not far from their own homes. He was sure that there could be no intention of establishing a central Scottish University, which would interfere with the individual life of the existing Universities; and if any such intention were entertained, he should consider that the scheme would be attended with the greatest possible evils. But then was it to be a mere beard of Examiners, who were to be called a University? He could not but think that such an establishment would he repugnant to our ideas of a University on this side of the border. It was true that we had such an establishment in the London University, of which he wished to speak with every respect. But still our old Universities from which we derived our general ideas of such institutions were not mere examining bodies; they were actual places of education; and most of the advantages they offered were derived from their associations, and from the actual education they communicated. He thought, therefore, that it would be a great mistake to interfere with the individual life of the existing Universities in Scotland in order to establish a central University institution, which would in truth be no University at all. There was another very important point involved in the measure to which he wished to take that opportunity of adverting, although he would not express any decided opinion with respect to it. By the third clause of this Bill, as it now stood altered, the connection which had hitherto existed between the Universities and the Established Church of Scotland, seemed to be seriously interfered with. The principals of the different Colleges had been, he believed, from time immemorial, Divinity Professors connected with the Established Church of Scotland; and it was proposed by the clause to which he was then referring, that the principals might hereafter be persons not members of the Established Church, nor in any way connected with it; and as the duty attached from ancient times to their office was to give instruction in divinity to the students, that must be considered, at all events, as a very serious alteration in the Bill, as it had been originally introduced by Her Majesty's Government.


said, it was very satisfactory to Her Majesty's Government to know, that on the whole, a Bill of very important character, for the improvement of the Universities of Scotland had been found generally acceptable. He believed, that not only in the two Houses of Parliament, but throughout Scotland, the general principle of the measure had been regarded as satisfactory. It was also very, gratifying to the Government to find that the objections made to the Bill reduced themselves within the narrowest possible compass. One clause to which the reverend Prelate had adverted, was not contained in the measure as it had been originally pro- posed by the Lord Advocate. That clause had been opposed by Her Majesty's Government, but contrary to their wish and their opinion, it had been passed by a majority of the House of Commons. With respect to the case of Aberdeen, he had to observe that his noble Friend (Earl Stanhope) was quite correct in saying that the objection was to the union of the colleges in that town. He should also say that his noble Friend was quite right in stating that Her Majesty's Government could have no other wish in that case than to produce a measure which, in the judgment of those best acquainted with the subject, would be the most conducive to the welfare of the people of Scotland. Now, the only objection he had heard urged to the union of the two colleges had been founded not on the injurious character of the proposition, but on the general hostility entertained to it by the inhabitants of Aberdeen. Both his noble Friends opposite seemed to think that the proposal was not in itself of an objectionable character, and they rested their opposition to it solely on the ground of the strong feeling of disapproval with which it had been met among those whom it would immediately affect. Under these circumstances, the point which their Lordships had to consider was whether the feeling—perhaps the not unnatural feeling—of the people of Aberdeen and of its neighbourhood—ought to be allowed to preponderate over the calm judgment of those persons who were best acquainted with the subject, and also over the discretion of the Commissioners who had formerly inquired into the question, and who had invariably expressed their belief that it was a matter of the greatest importance that there should be a union of the two colleges. He confessed that he attached more importance to those recommendations than to the feelings of the people of Aberdeen. However much he might be disposed to respect those feelings, he was the more inclined to adhere to that view of the subject, when he remembered that the Bill contained—as his noble Friend had remarked—a clause giving the Commissioners a permissive power to retain the two Professors in the Faculty of Arts. His noble Friend seemed to think that in order to allay the discontent which prevailed upon the subject, it was only necessary to convert that permissive power into an absolute injunction. But the feeling among the parties most interested did not appear to be altogether unanimous upon that point, for he had himself presented a petition from the Senatus Academicus of Marischal College, in which they stated that the only clause in the Bill to which they objected was the one which gave the Commission that permissive power. When he remembered who were the persons who had been selected Commissioners, their connection with Scotland, and their intimate knowledge of the question to which that clause referred, he could not but think that such a subject which was not a very extensive or important one, had much better be left in their hands than be decided absolutely by their Lordships. It should also be borne in mind that any conclusion at which the Commissioners might arrive was subject to the sanction of the Queen in Council; so that any person who might object to it would have an opportunity of memorializing Her Majesty in Council against its adoption. On the whole, therefore, and not having any personal interest or predilection in the matter, he was inclined to adhere to the Bill as it had been drawn by his right hon. Friend the late Lord Advocate, whose retirement from Parliament no man could regret more sincerely than he did, because no one was more fully aware of the value of his services. His right hon. Friend, however, with many other distinguished personages, would be a member of the Commission; and he believed the question of the union of the two colleges of Aberdeen might be safely left to their consideration. With regard to the proposal that the Town Council of Aberdeen should be heard against the Bill, he would put it to the noble Earl (the Earl of Aberdeen) whether he really thought the body whom he represented upon that point stood a chance of being benefited by such a proceeding. In the first place, it was extremely doubtful whether they had any claim to be so heard. His noble Friend the Chairman of Committees had expressed great doubt whether, according to precedent, the House ought to grant that request. But he should further say that he had never known a petitioner who had obtained leave to be heard by his counsel at the bar against any particular measure, derive the smallest advantage from the lengthened speech which was delivered on his behalf; and he believed that no address of the kind had ever changed the opinion of a single Member. If, however, their Lordships should be determined on hearing counsel in that case, the result would be that they should meet for the purpose at four o'clock instead of five o'clock, and he had no doubt but they would aferwards in the Committee on the Bill, give their best consideration to any arguments that might have been addressed to them. He hoped that under all the circumstances of the case, the noble Earl would not think it necessary to press that request, but if he should do so he (the Earl of Derby) would not oppose the Motion.


said, that after the statement of the noble Earl, he should not press that request. He had thought it right to state the views of the petitioners, although he confessed he did not think they had established their case. He had himself been placed in a false position, for he had been advocating a cause of which he did not approve.

Motion agreed to.

Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the whole House on Monday next.

House adjourned at a quarter to Eight o'Clock, to Thursday next, half-past Ten o'clock.