HL Deb 27 June 1873 vol 216 cc1489-95

in moving for an Address for the production of Correspondence between the War Office and the Corporation of Oxford, or any other persons, concerning the purchase of a site for a Military Depôt, said, that at the end of last Session he pressed strongly upon the Government that a military centre should not be established at Oxford until the Tutors and Professors had had an opportunity of expressing an opinion upon the subject, and he understood the noble Marquess opposite (the Marquess of Lansdowne) to agree that the decision of the Government should be put off until such an opinion had been expressed. In the autumn, as soon as the Tutors and Professors assembled, they drew up a Memorial, deprecating in the strongest terms the establishment of a military centre at Oxford, on the ground that it would interfere seriously with their work and increase the difficulty of maintaining efficient discipline. That Memorial, he presumed, the noble Marquess had seen. The signatures were headed by the names of Dr. Pusey and Dr. Jowett, and included those of eminent men of every school of thought in religion and politics, and probably so many men of such widely divergent views never before signed the same document, it being signed by 24 University Professors and 89 Tutors. When the question was last before the House, it was treated as if it were a comparison between the respective merits of military and academical men. He never desired to put it in that light, or to oppose the Government in any spirit derogatory to the excellence of the discipline or morality of Her Majesty's Forces. Their barracks might be monasteries; association with them might be the one thing needed to stimulate study; and the population surrounding barracks might be distinguished by all the virtues, and, above all, by chastity; but the authorities of the University were judges of what was beneficial and what injurious to it, and for the War Office to oppose its opinion, was like an Archbishop quoting the opinion of Convocation on a question of military discipline. He should have thought no Administration would wish to incur the unpopularity of setting at naught the opinion of the great national University; and the Secretary of State for War had other reasons for refraining from this course. The Inspector General had reported against the eligibility of the site, which would jam up the centre in an extreme corner of the district. It was also curious to observe how the War Office had met another class of objectors. There was local opposition to barracks being built near two roads containing villas; and that local opposition prevailed, while the authorities of the University were disregarded. When he (the Marquess of Salisbury) suggested last year that Oxford had been selected as a military centre because Mr. Cardwell was Member for the City, the noble Lord opposite (the Marquess of Lansdowne) warmly repelled the suggestion. Last winter, however, Mr. Cardwell went clown to the meeting of the Druids, and delivered his annual electioneering speech, and he actually put forward as one of the grounds for claiming the confidence of his constituents, that he had selected Oxford as a military centre, because of the connection of the regiment to be located there with the City of Oxford. It was done by the right hon. Member for Oxford in order to please the City of Oxford, and his Colleagues seemed to think that it was quite natural that an administrative power should be employed to purchase a constituency. ["Oh, oh!"] Well, if noble Lords opposite objected to purchase, he would say to conciliate a constituency.


The regiment is connected with Oxford.


Did the noble Lord mean to say that the 52nd Regiment cared about going to Oxford? However, that might be, he could not otherwise account for more importance being attached to the representations made by the right hon. Gentleman's constituents, to which he had referred, than to the united opposition of all the teaching authority of that great University. Some years ago, it was said—whether truly or falsely no matter, but falsely he believed—that a contract was given to conciliate the electors of Dover. A change of Ministry followed, and, by a strong departure from the ordinary practice, which was for a Ministry to regard the administrative Acts of its predecessors as sacred, the contract was revoked. On the same principle he believed that act of selecting Oxford as a military centre would not be respected by another Secretary for War, should there by any chance be a change of Government; and he for one should not deem himself precluded from asking the new Government to reverse the act of its predecessors. The University was, he thought, perfectly right in keeping the question open, and if any further opportunity should be afforded hereafter for obtaining a reversal of the policy from some future Minister of War, he wished it to be understood that he should not feel himself precluded from availing himself of it, by reason of his not taking further action under the existing Government. Moved that an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty for, Copies of correspondence between the War Office and the Corporation of Oxford, or any other persons, concerning the purchase of a site for a Military Depôt.—(The Marquess of Salisbury.)


said, the noble Marquess opposite (the Marquess of Salisbury) appeared to have forgotten that the War Office, in selecting sites for these depôt centres, was bound to search for certain conditions which were requisite to the carrying out of the scheme—conditions which were not easily found within a limited area. It was, in the first place, necessary that the site selected as a depot centre should be central in respect of the population from which the troops attached to the district were to be recruited; secondly, that the railway communication between it and the rest of the country should be ample; thirdly, that the locality itself should be healthy, and generally suitable; fourthly, that it should if possible be a place in which the head-quarters of a Militia regiment had already been established. In Oxford every one of those conditions had been satisfied. It was upon those grounds that it had been selected, and it was not until the arrangements of the War Office in the matter had been somewhat matured that the opposition of the University had to be encountered, for it was late last year when the Memorial quoted by the noble Marquess had reached the Government. Nothing could be further from his intention than to say a word which was disrespectful towards those who had signed the Memorial, but it was a fact that, out of 25 Heads of Houses, only five had appended their signatures to it; and he might besides add that if, as the noble Marquess said, a military officer could not be a good judge as to what was suitable to academic discipline, a Professor of Moral Philosophy would be likely to have very crude ideas as to the result of the establishment of a military depôt under a system of which no experience existed, in a particular locality. As to the Report of Prince Edward of Saxe Weimar, although he had pointed out various difficulties with respect to obtaining a good site within two miles of Oxford, yet he had said nothing against the selection of Oxford as a depôt centre on general grounds, and the difficulties which had been raised in anticipation in the Report, with respect to the water supply and other matters, had been satisfactorily overcome, for the most part by arrangement with the Corporation of Oxford. He would remind the noble Marquess, too, that he had made no alternative suggestion as to where a depot centre for the district might be established on the present occasion, as he did on a former one, and that while disapproving Oxford he had not suggested to their Lordships another place in which the requisite qualifications were to be found. He had, he might add, no objection to the production of the Correspondence.


remarked that Prince Edward of Saxe Weimar had not to discharge the duty of reporting whether Oxford was or was not, in his opinion, a suitable site for a depôt centre, but whether a suitable place for the purpose could be found in the neighbourhood, and he found himself unable to recommend any site in the vicinity of that city except one at Woodstock. As to the objections raised on account of the want of a proper supply of gas, water, and the absence of an outflow for sewage, he found that "provisional" arrangements were to be made to meet those objections; but provisional arrangements, when the case was one concerning a large body of men, were most unsatisfactory, and he hoped the negotiations on the subject would end in their being of a more complete character.


said, he felt it his duty to declare that there was no foundation whatever for the odious imputation which the noble Marquess opposite (the Marquess of Salisbury) had made upon his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War—that in his selection of Oxford he had been actuated by a desire to conciliate his constituents at Oxford, and that when a Conservative Ministry should be in office he would endeavour to obtain a reversal of the policy.


explained that his meaning was, that whenever a Conservative Minister of War should be in office he should humbly approach him on this subject precisely as he would the present Minister for War. As to the odious motives spoken of by the noble Earl, they existed only in his own imagination. He did not impute any. Politicians did not generally regard it as an odious thing to conciliate their constituents. At the same time, he thought that a certain degree of reserve should be imposed in such a matter on a War Minister who also happened to be Member for the City of Oxford.


repeated his opinion that an odious and disgraceful imputation had been made on his right hon. Friend, in suggesting that it was to curry favour with his constituents, and unmindful of the duties of his position, he had made a selection of Oxford as a military centre.


said, he was of opinion that the noble Earl opposite (Earl Granville) had taken his noble Friend (the Marquess of Salisbury) to task with undue severity. He understood his noble Friend to have spoken of that, which, after all, was not an uncommon practice—namely, the natural interchange of what were termed good offices between a constituency and the person who represented them. However, he deprecated a question of that kind, so important to the University, being diverted into that channel. Even assuming Oxford to be the best military centre, the Government were also bound to take into account the representations of those who were responsible for the teaching and the discipline of the University. There never was a Memorial, in which men representing so many different departments of learning concurred in expressing with one voice a more decided opinion, than that in which the conviction was stated that the establishment of a military centre at Oxford was calculated to interfere with the discipline and conduct of the University.


as a near resident, must say that the proposed military centre was a subject on which there existed the most complete unanimity, as far as he knew, among the University authorities against fixing its site so near to that great institution. He regretted that no pains appeared to have been taken to answer the objections made on behalf of the University. As a matter of common sense and ordinary experience, he thought the immediate proximity of a military centre was not, on the whole, favourable to morality, or to those interests which a great educational body had at heart.


explained that the opposition to the establishment of that military centre seemed to be based on the idea that Oxford was about to be turned into a garrison town, whereas in fact there would be there only some 15 officers, 50 or 60 old soldiers, and about 200 recruits under severe training.


held that a representation coming from either of two such great national institutions as Oxford or Cambridge ought to have received the utmost attention from the Government.


pointed out that there were other Universities in the kingdom besides those of Oxford and Cambridge, which were near military centres, and no harm had come of the connection. He had never heard that Trinity College, Dublin, had suffered from the presence in the Irish capital of a garrison of even some 4,000 or 5,000. A more fantastic notion had never entered the head of any man than the misapprehension entertained by the learned Professors who had signed that Memorial, and he would remind their Lordships that not very many years ago the University of Oxford had an extreme objection to the making of a railway to that city, being persuaded that it would put an end to the discipline of the University.

Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at a quarter past Eight o'clock, to Monday next, Eleven o'clock.