HL Deb 06 July 1896 vol 42 cc757-60

rose to present a Bill to make further provision with respect to the University of London. He said: It may be convenient to your Lordships that I should make a short statement as to the circumstances that have led to the introduction of this Bill. This is a subject which has been under consideration for a very considerable time. In 1886 a petition to the Queen in Council was presented by University and King's Colleges praying for the establishment of a teaching University for London. Notices were published which gave an opportunity to those who were interested in the subject to be heard. Whilst the petition was supported by a very large number of persons of great educational authority and eminence, it was strongly opposed by the London and Durham Universities. In the same year a petition to the Queen in Council was also presented by the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Surgeons asking for incorporation and the power to grant degrees in medicine and surgery. The consideration of these petitions was not proceeded with because it was decided to refer the whole question to a Royal Commission, over which the late Lord Selborne presided. The Commissioners recommended that a reasonable time should be allowed the Senate and Convocation of the University of London to consider whether they would apply for a new charter. Accordingly, what was held to be a reasonable time was given to the University of London to apply for a new charter, and after two years the Senate of the University informed the Privy Council that they had drawn up a scheme in accordance with the suggestions of the Royal Commission, but shortly afterwards the Convocation of London University declined to accept the scheme. It became necessary to refer again to the petitions, and those who supported and those who opposed them were heard by a Committee of the Privy Council. The result of that proceeding was the draft charter for what was called the Gresham University, which was laid on the Tables of both Houses. This step, however, also proved abortive, for a hostile address on the subject of the draft charter was moved by Mr. Bartley in the House of Commons, and carried. In April 1892, the question was referred to another Commission, my noble Friend Lord Cowper being the Chairman. The Commissioners reported two years ago in favour of making London University a teaching as well as an examining University, and recommended the appointment of a statutory Commission with powers to carry out the details of the scheme which they recommended. A Bill dealing with the question was introduced in this House by Lord Play-fair in the last Session of the late Parliament, but it was not proceeded with in consequence of the Dissolution. The scheme proposed by Lord Cowper's Commission has received the formal adhesion of all the colleges and institutions concerned, and the Senate and Convocation of London University have passed resolutions in its favour. Your Lordships must not, however, suppose that complete unanimity exists, as might be inferred from the bare statement of these facts. I believe that neither University College nor King's College is altogether satisfied with the scheme as sketched out in the Commissioners' Report. But still more formidable opposition has manifested itself, not on the part of the Convocation of London University as formally constituted, but on the part of a considerable body of members of Convocation residing for the most part in the provinces. These members possess the power under the existing charter of expressing their views on certain occasions by means of voting papers, and a majority of those who have voted upon the question have shown by their choice of representatives upon the Senate that they entertain considerable objection to the scheme. This opposition, I believe, proceeds from an apprehension that under the proposed constitution of the University the teachers of the affiliated institutions and colleges will exercise a large and perhaps undue influence over the examinations of the University, and that students who have prosecuted their studies in independent colleges or privately will in future be placed at some disadvantage. The apprehension is that either the high standard which, it is admitted, has always been maintained by the London University will be lowered, or else that in the examinations arranged by the new body external students will compete on unfair terms as compared with students in the recognised teaching institutions. To meet objections of this kind we give in this Bill a somewhat wider discretion and larger powers to the proposed statutory Commission than were proposed to be given in the Bill presented by Lord Playfair last year. While the Commissioners will be directed, as in the Bill of last year, to proceed upon the proposals of the late Royal Commission, they will also be directed to inquire into and have regard to the requirements of both the internal and external students. Following the precedents on similar questions, power of appeal will be given to the Privy Council by any body or institution concerned. Power will also be reserved to either House of Parliament to address the Crown against the statutes which may be framed by the Commissioners, or against any part of them. My Lords, I think I have now said enough to explain the circumstances under which this Bill is introduced, and the modifications which we have thought it necessary to make in a similar Bill which was introduced last year. I cannot, of course, form any opinion whether it is possible that such a Bill as this can pass the other House in the course of the present Session, but I trust it may, at least, pass your Lordships' House, and that an opportunity will be afforded, by presenting this Measure in a definite shape to those who are concerned, of ascertaining the real character of any opposition which may be offered to the proposed change in the constitution of the London University. Personally I am insensible to the motives which have actuated some graduates in offering considerable opposition to those proposals. After all it is the Senate of the London University which is charged with the duty and on which rests the responsibility of watching over the interests and upholding the character of the University, and this Bill and the proposals of the Commission which it seeks to carry into effect have, I am assured, the warm approval of a large majority of the Senate of the University of London. This is a Measure which practically has been recommended by two Royal Commissions, each of which was composed of men highly competent to pronounce an opinion on such a question as this. It is, I believe, supported by a very large majority of the most eminent scientific and educational authorities in the country, and it is, in my opinion, a very great anomaly, almost approaching to a scandal, that the great City of London should alone of all cities in the United Kingdom—and I believe I may add alone among the great cities of Europe—have remained up to this time without a teaching University. ["Hear, hear!"] The experience during the last ten years of abortive attempts—which I have briefly recounted to your Lordships—shows that almost insuperable difficulties exist to the establishment of any such teaching University in any other way than that which has been proposed by the late Royal Commission. It has been almost conclusively proved that the intervention of Parliament through the appointment of a statutory Commission is necessary, and is the only means by which this desirable end can be effected. Of course, I am not asking your Lordships to express any opinion on the proposals I have submitted at the present time. I thought it might be convenient, before moving the Second Reading of the Bill, to make a short statement as to the circumstances which have led to its introduction. ["Hear, hear!"] I therefore beg to present a Bill to make further provision with respect to the University of London. ["Hear, hear!"]

Bill to make further provision with respect to the University of London presented accordingly; read 1a, and to be printed.—[No. 182.]