HL Deb 04 March 1898 vol 54 cc589-96

My Lords, I beg to move the Second Reading of the London University Commission Bill. I regret very much that I was prevented by rather a severe cold from being present in the House to move the Second Reading of this Bill on the day on which it was put down, and I also regret that no explanation was given, as I expected it would have been, as to the cause of my absence, because that absence I find has led to some rather extraordinary and, I think, unfounded speculations as to the cause of my not being here. Your Lordships are aware that this Bill has already been before your Lordships' House for three Sessions, and most of you are very familiar with the Bill. As, however, I see that the subject seems to be receiving a little more attention out of doors than it has hitherto met with, it may be desirable that I should repeat, and perhaps extend a little, the explanations which I have had to give upon previous occasions as to the position of this question. My Lords, in consequence of the repeated failure of the attempts either to reconstitute the existing London University upon lines which would make it a teaching University for London, or, on the other hand, to create a new University for London, side by side with the existing London University, the question was remitted by the Government in 1892 to a fresh Royal Commission. Strictly speaking, the reference to that Royal Commission, which was presided over by my noble Friend Lord Cowper, was a petition which had been presented to the Government for a charter for the Gresham University, and they were directed to consider the petition and to report the result of their inquiries to Her Majesty's Government. The Commission, however, went—I think very rightly—beyond the strict terms of that reference, and having taken a great deal of evidence, and being themselves mostly gentlemen who were very well qualified to give an opinion on such a question as this, they reported upon the general subject, and there are two paragraphs in their recommendations which I think, if I am permitted to read them to your Lordships, will explain the scope of the present proposal more clearly, accurately, and fully than anything I could say, or anything which your Lordships could find out even from a perusal of the Bill. In the two recommendations I refer to the Royal Commission says— We are of opinion that there should be one University only in London, and not two; and that the establishment of an efficient teaching University for London will be best effected by the reconstruction of the existing University, on such a basis as will enable it, while retaining its existing powers and privileges, to carry out thoroughly and efficiently the work which may be properly required of a teaching University for London, without interfering with the discharge of those important duties which it has hitherto performed as an examining body for students presenting themselves from all parts of the British Empire. In view of the failure of previous attempts to settle this question, and of the difficulty and delay which must inevitably attend an alteration of the Constitution of the University through the action of the University itself, we are of opinion that, in accordance with the precedents followed in other cases of University reform, the changes which we recommend should be effected not by Charter, but by Legislative authority, and by the appointment of a Commission with statutory powers to settle, in the first instance, arrangements and regulations in general conformity with the recommendations which we are about to submit to Your Majesty. My Lords, there is only one other passage in the Report of the Commissioners appointed to consider the draft charter for the proposed Gresham University in London which I desire to call your Lordships' attention to. Forseeing the objection, the only substantial objection which can be, or ever has been, taken to their proposal—a proposal to combine the functions of teaching and examining in the same University—they say, a little further on— We agree, therefore, in the conclusion of the Commissioners of 1888, as expressed in paragraph 36 of their Report, that the two functions of teaching with examining and examining without teaching, may be combined in one University without injury to either class of student, and with benefit to both classes. Such difficulties as present themselves are not so formidable as to lead us to disregard the grave disadvantages which would result from the creation of a second University in London, and the manifest advantages to be gained from uniting the teaching institutions of London with a University of acknowledged standing and reputation. My Lords, those were the recommendations of the Royal Commission on which both the late Government and the present Government have founded their legislative proposals. They are recommendations which are supported, not only by the authority of a Royal Commission itself, great as that was, but they are supported, I believe, by an overwhelming majority of the opinions of those who have any knowledge of, or who have any practical acquaintance with, higher University teaching in London; and I think I may say that those authorities are almost unanimously in agreement with the recommendations of the Commission which I have read. Only a few weeks ago I received a large deputation, urging on the Government the reintroduction, and, if possible, the passing into law in the course of the present Session of Parliament, of the Bill which has been so often already presented. On that deputation was represented the Senate of the University of London itself. The deputation was introduced by the Vice-Chancellor of the University of London, Sir H. E. Roscoe, and it included the President of the Royal College of Physicians (Sir Samuel Wilks), the President of the Royal College of Surgeons (Sir William MacCormac), Dr. Frederick Taylor (Chairman of the Delegates of Medical Schools), Lord Reay, Principal Rendall, of Liverpool University College, and Dr. Crosby (representing the Corporation of the City of London). The Technical Education Committee of the London County Council was represented by Mr. Sidney Webb, the City Guilds of London by Mr. Ralph Palmer, and the Institute of Civil Engineers by Sir Wolfe Barry. The deputation also included a very large number of eminent scientific gentlemen not so directly connected with any teaching or other institutions. My Lords, acting on these recommendations, as I have already said, the late Government introduced a Measure for the creation and appointment of a Statutory Commission to carry out these recommendations. That Measure lapsed in consequence of a Dissolution, but in order to show the opinion which had been formed by those who were well qualified to form an opinion on the subject, I may remind your Lordships that in the very short Session which took place after the Dissolution, in the month of August, 1895, I was urged by Lord Cowper (the late Chairman of the Royal Commission) to re-introduce the Bill, and he stated it as his opinion that all the practical objections to it had been disposed of by the Commission, and that it would be possible, in the very short remnant of the Session, to carry it into law with general concurrence. My Lords, I was unfortunately unable to concur in the very sanguine view taken by my noble Friend Lord Cowper. I knew there existed a certain amount of opposition, the extent of which I could not entirely gauge, but it was sufficient to make it impossible to hope that the Bill could be passed through both Houses of Parliament in so short a period. However, in the following Session the Bill was introduced in your Lordships' House. It was passed by your Lordships with very little discussion, but in the course of those proceedings a question affecting the position of King's College under these proposals did arise, and at one time threatened to cause some difficulty. That question, however, has, to the complete satisfaction, I believe, of all parties, been settled by a compromise, and I do not anticipate that either here or in the other House we are likely to meet with any difficulty on that score. The House of Commons had no time, in consequence of the late period at which the Bill reached them, to pass the Measure, and it unfortunately lapsed there, and had to be abandoned without any discussion on it at all. Last year the Bill was again introduced in this House, but it was introduced with some modifications and amendments. Those amendments were introduced as the result of some long negotiations which had taken place between various persons concerned, and they were introduced with the intention and in the hope of conciliating certain conscientious, but, as I believe, unfounded, apprehensions which were entertained that the proposed changes in the constitution of the University might tend either on the one hand to lower the existing high standard of the University of London Degree, or, on the other hand, to place difficulties in the way of access to it by external students who were unconnected with any of the teaching institutions contained in the University itself. My Lords, the effect of the direction of those modifications was to limit in some degree the discretion given to the Statutory Commission, and to make provision in the schedule of the Bill itself in regard to certain fundamental matters, such as the constitution of the Senate of the University, and the regulation of its examination, which should place the opinion of Parliament on those important matters beyond doubt, and not leave them entirely to the discretion of any Commission, however eminent. Those amendments were successful to the extent that they removed a very large part of the formidable opposition which had existed to the Bill. Those who had been its most active supporters were to a very great, extent satisfied with those concessions, and one who had been a, prominent opponent of the Bill expressed his willingness to accept a position on the Statutory Commission. I cannot even now assert, my Lords, that opposition to this Bill no longer exists. But it is very difficult indeed to understand upon what grounds the Bill is still opposed. I have endeavoured to show your Lordships by what an overwhelming amount of scientific and technical opinion and experience this Bill is supported, and I am utterly unable to discover any weight of opinion on the other side which can for one moment be brought into competition. I am inclined to believe that such opposition as may still exist to the proposals of the Commission, as embodied in this Bill, proceeds from, a certain number of people who have taken their degrees at the London. University at more or less remote periods, and who have not been directly brought into contact with higher University teaching, or who have not been able to obtain much knowledge of the progress which has been made in University teaching, either in London or elsewhere in the country, and who entertain some vague—I think utterly groundless—suspicion that any change in the constitution of the University will, in some way, tend to disparage the value of that distinction which they obtained formerly and of which they are justly proud. It has been possible for the Government this year to present the Bill to your Lordships at an earlier period in the Session than has hitherto been possible, and if it passes through this House without any protracted discussion I hope it may be at least possible for it to reach the other House of Parliament in time for it to receive what I believe to be the infinitesimal amount of time and attention which will be required to discuss it, and to dispose of any remaining opposition which may exist. That opposition has never, in this House, had any tangible expression. If it does exist still to any degree, it probably will find expression in the other House; but I am very strongly convinced that if it is possible for those who have charge of the business of the House of Commons to devote but a very small portion of the time of that House to the consideration of this Measure it will be found that any opposition which remains is very infinitesimal, compared to the great budget of opinion by which it is supported. The Bill which I am asking your Lordships to read a second time to-day is substantially the same Bill as that which was passed through this House last year, the only amendments being so small that I do not think it necessary to detain your Lordships on them now. They are in the same direction as those which were introduced in the Bill last year, and they have been introduced with the object of removing any possible grounds of opposition. They are in the direction of restricting the power of any future Senate to alter the statute or regulation which may be made by the Statutory Commission in accordance with the provision contained in the schedule of the present Bill. My Lords, I do not think there is anything in these amendments which can excite the objection of any noble Lord who has hitherto supported the Bill, and I ask your Lordships to give it a Second Reading, in the confident hope that we may now at last be approaching the solution of a question which it is not, I think, to the credit of Parliament should so long have remained in the condition in which it at present is.


My Lords, I have nothing to add to what the noble Duke has said. The question has been fully discussed already, and I have expressed my opinion upon it. All that I desire to say on the present occasion is to heartily echo the hope expressed by the noble Duke that this matter will really be dealt with by Parliament during the present Session. I agree with him that the merits of the Bill and the objections taken to it do not provide a field for any prolonged discussion, and I sincerely trust that the present Session may see the question happily disposed of.


My Lords, I wish to express a strong hope that this Bill will now at last become law. It has been most gratifying to the members of the Cowper Commission, of which I am the only representative present, that their Report has received, as the noble Duke has said, the overwhelming support of those who are competent to judge. At this moment the teaching institutions of London are practically united in their desire that this Bill should become law. In order that the teaching institutions of London may maintain and develop a high standard of teaching, they must give satisfaction to the growing demand which now exists for specialised knowledge, especially in the faculties of Science and Medicine. That cannot be done without reorganising the existing University of London; and in order to secure a high degree of efficiency they must be able to offer the best terms to the most eminent men of science to fill the professorial chairs when they fall vacant. The institutions I referred to must be able to give them a position at least as good as that offered by other Universities. Otherwise those men will not remain, but will accept offers which they may receive from Universities established on a more solid basis. I wish to state most positively that there is no foundation whatever for the assertion which has occasionally been made that it is the aim of the teaching institutions of London to lower the standard of the degrees of the University of London. On the contrary, it is recognised that, in order that those degrees may have even a higher value than they have now, it is necessary to increase and to co-ordinate the opportunities for scientific work and to give the students of the University more scope for individual research and originality. I believe that the University of London is destined to occupy a prominent place among the seats of learning, and I sincerely trust that this Bill will become law this Session.

Read a second time.

The House adjourned at 4.58 till Monday, 4.15.