Orders of the Day — Education Bill
Mr Geoffrey Lloyd (Sutton Coldfield)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I commend this Bill to the House. Its purpose is to give voluntary schools the help necessary to enable them to play their part in the Government's plans for school building, especially for the provision of a wide range of facilities for secondary education, as set out in the recent White Paper, "Secondary Education for All". The Bill is, in fact, designed to prevent the development of a situation in which, through lack of funds, children in aided or special agreement schools have less good opportunities than those in county and controlled schools.
The Government have approached the problem in the all-party spirit of 1944, and I should like to repeat my acknowledgment of the help and advice which I have had from the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite and from below the Gangway. There has been a feeling on all sides, as there was in 1944, that religious questions should not become an issue of party politics. Among the Churches there is substantial support for the Bill and, though it does not meet all points of view, I hope that it will be accepted as a Measure which, in accordance with our national tradition, has been designed to reconcile as far as possible the differing views of the bodies affected by it.
From the outset it has been the Government's intention not to depart from the principles underlying the Education Act, 1944, and its predecessor of 1936. Rather, we have tried to apply them to the changed circumstances of today. Broadly speaking, it was the aim of the Act of 1944 to help existing denominational schools to play their part in the reforms embodied in the Act. It was accepted that with higher standards and increased costs the voluntary bodies could no longer find by themselves the sums required to bring their school buildings up to standard, to replace them where necessary and to keep them in repair. The Minister of Education was, therefore, required to make a grant of half the cost of alterations and repairs to existing schools, and he was also empowered to make similar grants towards the cost of rebuilding schools on new sites or providing new schools to replace existing schools, in whole or in part. In addition, the Education Act of 1944 re-enacted the provisions of the Act of 1936. This gave local education authorities the power to make grants to the denominations of between 50 and 75 per cent, towards the cost of providing secondary schools for children who had attended denominational schools to the age of 11.
This had two implications. First, the Churches were not expected to bear unaided the cost of raising the school-leaving age, which was one of the main provisions of the Act of 1936. Secondly, the number of new secondary school places which they could be helped to provide under the 1936 Act was limited to what was needed to match the primary school places existing at that time. In other words, the Act of 1936 photographed, as it were, the existing provision for juniors, and the Churches were to be helped to make corresponding provision for seniors.
By 1944, however, it became obvious that the existing distribution of Church schools did not everywhere fit in with local needs and wishes. Accordingly, those schools which were unable or unwilling to find half the cost of alteration, replacement and external repairs were given the option of handing over their liabilities to the local education authority and becoming "controlled". Over 4,700 schools have chosen this alternative, and the number of "aided" schools—schools which are fully denominational—is only about half what it was in 1944.
I should like to dwell for a moment on the magnitude of this change. It means that now only about one-seventh of the children in schools maintained by local education authorities are in aided schools, whereas in 1938 the proportion was about one-third and in 1902 it was more than half. This tremendous contraction in the denominational sector of the educational system has had two consequences. The first is that the old problem of the single school area—areas where the only school within reach was denominational—has shrunk to very much smaller proportions. The second is that religious tests for teachers are now applied only in a small minority of the nation's schools.
These great changes were made possible by the sincere desire of all parties to provide better educational conditions for the children and to ensure that the benefits of the 1944 Act extended to children in all schools, voluntary and county alike. The tide of educational reform lifted the Act of 1944 over the sunken rocks of old religious controversies and carried it safely into harbour. I think that we all realise that the ship was piloted with exceptional skill. I have in mind, of course, my right hon. Friend the present Home Secretary, and the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), who was then Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education, and also Archbishop Temple and, on the Free Church side, Dr. Scott-Lidgett, to whose statesmanship the country owes a great debt.
Before I come to the present Bill I should like to say something about the Act of 1953, which had a significant bearing on the problems of the dual system. Section 1 of that Act went as far as it is possible to go in helping the denominations to build schools for areas of new housing while preserving a link with existing denominational school places. It enabled the Minister to pay grant towards the provision of schools on new housing estates, provided that the pupils had moved from an area where there was an aided or special agreement school which they would otherwise have attended. That provision still stands, and the rate of grant will be increased by this Bill from 50 to 75 per cent. In that way, the new housing areas, which I know present the Churches with great problems, will receive some additional help.
I come to the present Bill. Its main provisions are two. In Clause 1 (1) it raises the maximum rate of grant on the categories of voluntary school building work eligible as the law now stands from 50 to 75 per cent. In Clause 1 (2) it empowers the Minister to offer up to 75 per cent, grant to new aided secondary schools needed wholly or mainly for the continued education of children from aided primary schools of the same denomination. The primary schools in question are those existing now or, of course, schools that may subsequently replace them.
I do not think that I need say much about the first proposal, which simply raises the rate of grant on work which can attract it as the law now stands. I believe that it is recognised by everyone, including the Free Churches, that some increase is necessary. There have been developments since 1944 which could not be foreseen at the time. These include not only the very big movements of population which I have mentioned already in connection with the 1953 Act but also the increase in the number of children of school age due to the rise in the birth rate. The need to provide new places for these additional children has led to a piling up of arrears of improvements to existing schools and the postponement of the reorganisation of all-age schools into separate primary and secondary schools. These are the tasks which now confront the Churches, and in the meantime there has been a great increase in building costs.
As the result, the Churches now have to face liabilities in excess of anything envisaged in 1943. I understand that they have already paid out about £18 million, and they will have to pay a good deal more before they start on the programme for the five years 1960–65 with which the recent White Paper was concerned. Proposals for aided and special agreement schools that have been submitted for the first two years alone of that five year period total about £37 million, and, as the law now stands, about half of this large sum would probably fall on the voluntary bodies. It is impossible to make a precise calculation comparing the financial position as it looked in 1944 and as it looks now, since so many of the factors have altered during the last 15 years, but I am quite satisfied that in raising the rate of grant to 75 per cent, we shall not be giving the denominations more help than they really need.
I turn now to the second main provision of the Bill, the grants and loans provided in subsections (2) to (4) of Clause 1 for new aided secondary schools needed wholly or mainly for children from existing aided primary schools. What we are trying to do here is to apply the principles of the 1936 Act to the present situation. That Act enabled local education authorities to make grants to the denominations for special agreement schools; that is, schools built under agreements between the promoters and themselves. These were schools for children of secondary school age who up to the age of 11 had attended voluntary schools. The 1944 Act kept alive this provision of the 1936 Act, but only to the extent that specific proposals had been made before the war, and, of course, the pre-war proposals cannot all fit the circumstances of today, especially where there have been big movements of population in the postwar years. Nor can they be made to cover the wide range of secondary schools which are now needed in place of the "senior elementary" schools which were originally envisaged in the agreements.
Subsections (2) to (4) of Clause 1 will help the denominations to build secondary schools, including grammar and technical schools, always provided that the secondary schools are needed to match existing aided primary schools, or, of course, schools built to replace existing primary schools. It substitutes an up-to-date photograph of the primary school position for the pre-war photograph, but it still preserves the principle of a limit. It is this Section of the Bill which has caused the Free Churches particular anxiety, and I am sure that the House would wish me to say that these anxieties deserve the most careful and sympathetic consideration. As the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) told the House earlier this month, the Free Churches have made big sacrifices in the interests of educational advance, and I hold myself under a very heavy special responsibility to do all I reasonably can to meet their point of view.
It was for this reason that I invited representatives of the Free Churches to meet me last week, soon after the Bill had been published, to give them any further explanations they might want and to consider how any difficulties they might foresee, particularly over the single-school areas, could, in practice, be resolved. I suggested that the best way of dealing with single school areas would be for the Free Churches to examine the problem jointly with the Church of England and I offered my good offices in arranging an early meeting. I am glad to be able to tell the House that this offer has been accepted, and that a meeting is to take place later this week.
I also suggested that if there were a central Committee of the Free Church Federal Council, like the Church of England Schools Council, I should be very willing to make myself accessible to it, to examine with it questions of joint concern and, more generally, to establish regular means of dealing with any difficulties that might arise. I am glad to say that the Free Church representatives thought this a useful suggestion and promised to give it careful consideration. For my part, I very much hope that it will be possible to establish such a body at an early date, and on a firm and authoritative basis, since many of the difficulties which the Free Churches foresee can best be resolved, if they arise, by administrative means. But while the Bill does not touch directly on the problems of existing single school areas, I should like to assure the House that it is certainly not my expectation that subsections (2) to (4) of Clause 1 will lead to the creation of new areas of this kind. I should like to repeat the assurance I gave in my statement to the House on 11th June that in dealing with any proposal under Section 13 of the 1944 Act for a new denominational secondary school I would consider very carefully the use that is made of the new grants.
I shall also make full use of my powers under Section 13 to ensure that proposals for new schools are consistent with an efficient and economical organisation of schools in the area concerned. This duty is already laid on me by Section 76 of the same Act, which requires me to have regard to the general principle that pupils are to be educated in accordance with the wishes of their parents
so far as is compatible with the provision of efficient instruction and training and the avoidance of unreasonable public expenditure.
The only other section of the Bill to which I need call attention is Clause 1 (7), which deals with the date of application. The help given by the Bill is intended to enable the Churches to tackle the programme set out in the
Government's White Paper "Secondary Education for All". This programme starts in 1960, and the Bill therefore applies to proposals in the 1960–61 and later building programmes, but not to proposals in programmes for earlier years. The building programmes, however, cover only major works; that is, projects costing £20,000 or more. Minor works, that is, projects costing less than £20,000, are, apart from very small jobs, approved individually by my Department. These minor works will benefit if approval was not given before the date of the introduction of the Bill. Where no approval is required, the criterion will be whether work started before the date of the Bill's introduction. The object of these arrangements is to avoid retrospection, to avoid causing delay in the flow of building proposals, and to make it easy to determine by reference to a decision already given whether a particular project will benefit or not.
Finally, I should like to say a word about cost. The increase in capital grants is likely to cost the Exchequer about £38 million, which may be spread over fifteen to twenty years according to the rate of school building, The increase in the amount of grant on repairs is not likely to cost more than £100,000 a year. It is not possible to say how much the enlarged power to make loans will cost the Exchequer, but there will be some saving in loan expenditure as a result of the increased grants provided for by subsection (1) of Clause 1.
The total cost to the Exchequer is, therefore, likely to be about £40 million over the next fifteen to twenty years. The benefit to the Churches will, however, be about £10 million less than this, since the new arrangements are likely to transfer most of the responsibility for outstanding special agreement proposals from the local education authorities to the Exchequer. When these schools are built, the Churches will receive the same amount of grant as they do now, but the money will come entirely from the Exchequer instead of jointly from the local authority and central funds.
I hope that I have said enough to make it clear that this is a limited Measure—
Mr Geoffrey Lloyd (Sutton Coldfield)
Speaking from memory—and the figure will be confirmed by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, later—I think that it is £20 million in respect of increased grant, as the law now stands, and £10 million in respect of the other proposals.
The Bill is designed to bring the present law up to date and fit it to the facts as they are today, without altering its general framework. As such, I hope that it will be accepted by those people—and I believe they are the great majority—whose chief concern is that the children in all our schools—county and voluntary alike—should have the same opportunities. I am encouraged in this hope by my impression that the 1944 Act has made a great change for the better in the atmosphere surrounding these questions. Certainly, in my negotiations over the past few months I have met with great good will, and I am most grateful to all those who have contributed to the shaping of the present proposals and to the House for the encouragement it has given me to proceed with them.
Mr Michael Maitland Stewart (Fulham)
On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends I join with the Minister in recommending the Bill to the House. It is the result of discussions, spreading over a good many months, in which my right hon. Friends the Members for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) and for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) and I took part on behalf of the official Opposition. We conducted those discussions with the Minister himself, with the Parliamentary Secretary and with right hon. and hon. Members representing the Liberal Party, and my right hon. Friends and I took the opportunity to see that we were properly informed of the views of the religious denominations on the various matters that have to be considered.
In those discussions we were all trying to find proposals that would enable educational advance to proceed, and which would be of such a character that they could properly, and without violence to anybody's conscience, be recommended by the political parties to their supporters in the House and in the country, and to the general public comprising, as it does, people of all opinions on both political and religious matters.
It was our view, finally, that the proposals embodied in the Bill were of that character, and if I am to explain to the House why we came to that conclusion I must say a word about the existing law on denominational education. I hope it will become clear that the proposals in the Bill follow directly from our present law and the principles underlying it, and from the educational needs of the present time.
Perhaps I may first look at the present situation. The schools with which we were concerned in the whole of these discussions are those which the Minister described as fully denominational, and which are known to the law as voluntary aided or voluntary special agreement schools. The present situation is that those schools are maintained by the local education authorities; that is to say, once the building exists, the carrying on of the school—the payment of teachers and all the rest—is made in the ordinary manner by the local education authority, and the schools' boards of managers or governors are appointed in a manner described in the 1944 Act, giving representation to the religious community concerned. The schools receive from the Exchequer a grant to cover a certain percentage of the cost of keeping the buildings in repair, and of keeping them up to standard. That, if I understand it aright, is the present position.
The essential framework of that arrangement is preserved in the present Bill. The position with regard to day-to-day expenditure, the idea of a proportion of the cost of repairs and of keeping buildings up to standard being made from the Exchequer, and the arrangement about the governance or management of the school are all preserved, but we notice that the first change that is made is that the proportion of the cost of repairs and of keeping buildings up to standard is to be raised from 50 per cent. to 75 per cent.
The reason for that change is well known to hon. Members on both sides of the House. First, it is an undoubted fact that building costs have increased since the 1944 Act was passed. It is also a fact that what is involved in keeping buildings up to standard has increased since the passage of that Act. The community as a whole has required higher standards to be observed, and it is, therefore, not unreasonable, since it is the action of the State that requires the religious communities responsible for these schools to raise their standards, that the question of the exact percentage of grant should be reopened. That fact, combined with the rise in building costs, seemed to us to make a legitimate case for the increase in the range of grant from 50 per cent. to 75 per cent.
It was gratifying to observe that this part of the proposals, at any rate, was of a nature where we could say there was agreement—with differing degrees of enthusiasm, perhaps—with the religious denominations concerned. The Anglican and Roman Catholic denominations expressed agreement with the proposal and, from the outset of the discussions, it was stated by those who spoke for the Free Churches that they recognised that there was a case for some increase in the rate of grant.
So far, it seemed that the matter was fairly simple to describe and easy to justify, but we then had to face a rather more complex aspect concerned, particularly, with secondary education. The grants that I have described as being for keeping buildings in repair and up to standard were paid, of course, to fully denominational schools existing at the time of the 1944 Act, but they were also paid, as a matter of common sense, in respect of a school that simply replaced or substituted for a school existing at that time.
For example, if an actual school building had to come down to make way for, say, a road widening project, and a new building was to be erected, in law, as in common sense, that school ranked for grant, so that the grant was paid, where that situation, or a similar one, arose, not only for the repair or keeping up to standard of an existing building, but for the bringing of new buildings—though not, in fact, new schools—into existence.
There was then the more complex matter of schools for the education of displaced pupils. I think that I may say that officials at the Ministry will have some cause to welcome the present legislation, in view of the strain that administering the law with regard to displaced pupils must have placed on them since 1944 and, further, since 1953, when the definition of "displaced pupil" was somewhat enlarged.
A displaced pupil is, of course, a happier creature than a displaced person. If my understanding is correct, a displaced pupil is one whose family has moved as the result of, say, housing projects, and of whom it can be said that if the child's home had not moved the child would have attended an aided or special agreement school.
It was, therefore, accepted in the 1953 Act that when the child goes to its new home it should not be deprived of going to such a school there if reasonably possible. Schools which came into existence wholly or mainly to provide for the needs of displaced pupils similarly ranked for grant, but only in proportion as their pupils were displaced pupils. A school 80 per cent. of whose pupils were displaced pupils would get 80 per cent. of the old 50 per cent.—in other words, a 40 per cent. grant. Hon. Members will realise that this was likely to create considerable difficulties of administration.
I am not developing this point merely through a love of administrative curiosities, but we now reach a point in the argument where it has a direct bearing on the secondary school problem and the second part of the Bill's proposals. Let us consider the position of a family who moved at a time when one of the children was at the age when it was just about to proceed from primary to secondary school. If that child, had it remained in its old home, was likely to have gone to a secondary modern school, probably it would have been a secondary modern aided denominational school and the child was, therefore, a displaced pupil.
When the child went to another school it carried its portion of grant with it. But what if the child were one for whom grammar or technical secondary education was considered appropriate? The number of grammar and technical denominational schools is very small. It could not, therefore, be argued that if the child had stayed in its old home it would have attended a denominational school. So, when the child moved it was not regarded as a displaced pupil and did not take to its new school a proportion of grant.
That resulted in a position which, stated in cold terms, no one would want. The nation was saying, in effect, "We are prepared to accept the principle of help to denominational education and, in certain circumstances, to accept the principle of aid to denominational secondary education, but not if the child is the kind who would normally attend a grammar or technical secondary school." Moreover, the surprising result which was produced in some areas was that if the child attended a comprehensive school but received there the kind of instruction normally called grammar or technical education, it was also not to be considered the kind of child who attracted grant.
The more one looked at this situation the more desirable it became to try to devise a means by which it could be said, "If this child has been receiving denominational primary education, and if it is the wish of its parents, it ought to be able to receive denominational secondary education of a kind suited to its age, aptitude and ability." That would appear to be the commonsense way out of the administrative tangle in which the nation as a whole, with the best intentions, tied itself.
That conclusion is reinforced when one looks at certain other aspects of the secondary problem. It is in the sphere of secondary education that in the years immediately ahead some of the biggest demands will be made on the religious communities. First, there is the very large increase in the numbers of secondary school children which we must expect. Secondly, there is the fact that the education policies of all political parties strongly stress the importance of getting rid of the all-age school, of getting the senior child out of an overgrown primary school and into a school where it can receive a proper secondary education.
How was that to be done without giving real cause of offence to religious communities and going against, in fact if not in name, the principles of the 1944 Act, because many of the all-age schools were denominational schools? If there was to be an end of the all-age school, and if secondary education was to be provided to those children, an increasing demand would be put on the religious denominations responsible for the schools.
In addition, it is common ground in the education policies of all political parties that the size of classes in secondary schools should be reduced. I do not think that any one would want to see that happen only in the ordinary sector of education, and not in the denominational sector. If we are to make progress in that sphere there will be an increasing demand on the religious denominations concerned. Also, all parties are concerned with the importance of scientific and technical education. Although it is ordinary local authority expenditure to provide the equipment necessary for that purpose, in planning buildings we must consider the needs of a scientific and technical age. The schools must be of a size and character that can house the equipment appropriate for proper scientific and technical education. On all counts, therefore, if one believes in advance in secondary education generally, we must face the fact that a bigger demand will be made on the religious denominations.
It is at this point that it is important to consider the Act to which the right hon. Gentleman referred in addition to the 1944 Act, namely, the Education Act, 1936. In many respects, that was a rather sad little Act. It purported to raise the school-leaving age in what appears to me, having recently looked again at the debates on the Bill, to have been a rather half-hearted and dispirited manner. The point about the Bill which is relevant from our point of view is that it was universally accepted when it was being debated that in so far as the school-leaving age was raised, and in so far as a bigger demand in the education of senior pupils was imposed on the denominations, we should be prepared to give increased help to meet that demand.
The principle that if a child in its earlier years received a denominational education there should be provision for it to continue that denominational education in later years was accepted. If one reads the debate on the Bill, it is interesting to find how little argument or discussion there was on that point. Most of the controversy—there was quite a lot on the Bill—turned on what I call the half-hearted and dispirited nature of the proposal to raise the school-leaving age. I cannot resist reminding the House of the remark made by the gentleman who was then the hon. Member for Hampstead—he is no longer in the House—that it was not desirable for many children to stay at school beyond the age of 14 because if they left school and went into industry at an early age it would increase their chance of becoming great industrial leaders of the future. I do not think that that view is widely held in any quarter today.
However, the 1936 Act, as I say, because the State was saying to the denominations, "You must make increased provision for the education of senior pupils", accepted that increased help must be given. Similarly, today, if we want secondary education to be improved substantially, as we all do, we must recognise that that imposes an increased burden on the denominations. It appeared to us, therefore, that there was a legitimate case for the idea now embodied in the second main proposal of the Bill, that grant should be payable for secondary schools serving wholly or mainly the needs of pupils attending existing primary denominational schools. I am sorry if that phrase sounds a little ponderous. The trouble is that if one leaves any word out of it, the nature of the proposal is profoundly altered.
I recognise, as the Minister himself has said, that on this proposal—and I regret this very much—it was not possible to secure the unanimous agreement of the religious denominations. It was not a proposal that was at all welcome to the Free Churches. We ought, however, to notice these points. First, it is a proposal of limited application. What one might call the primary base of denominational education remains the same. On that primary base, today there is constructed a rather ragged pyramid of secondary denominational education giving very varied opportunities in different parts of the country or in different circumstances to children whose parents wish them to attend a denominational school. Broadly, over the years, the effect of the Bill will be to turn that ragged pyramid into a regular column but without widening its primary base.
Secondly, those who are concerned or troubled about this proposal in the Bill should notice that Section 13 of the Education Act, 1944, still stands. It neither is now, nor will be, possible for persons interested in denominational education to establish a denominational school wherever and whenever they please—far from it. It is necessary for the persons making proposals for a school of that kind first to submit them to the local education authority for its comments and then both the proposal and the local education authority's view must come before the Minister for his decision. He has to give the decision on educational grounds and be satisfied that there is need for a school of that kind before the idea can even proceed any further, much less attract grant.
Thirdly, I am sure that Free Churchmen generally will notice with much interest and approval the part of the Minister's speech in which he described the recent steps he has been able to take to increase the amount of general good will with which, we trust, the Bill will be welcomed. The right hon. Gentleman is much to be congratulated on having taken those steps and on the success that has so far attended them. I particularly liked the suggestion of some kind of permanent link between the Free Church communities and the Ministry of Education. In the past, the discussion of questions like this may have suffered from the fact that no such permanent link existed.
We have sought and obtained agreement among all the parties in the House on the Bill. We have sought and gone a long way, although, unfortunately, not the whole way, to obtaining agreement from the religious denominations. There is, however, one other party to the matter whom we should consider, a body less formally organised than the political parties or the Churches. I am speaking of the large body of the general public who do not themselves send their children to denominational schools and, indeed, do not wish to do so.
Some of them will be people who do not profess the Christian faith. Many of them will be people who do profess it but who do not consider that a denominational education at school is the best thing for their children. That is, after all, what the great majority of people do. They profess the Christian faith but they do not send—indeed, they do not want to send—their children to denominational schools. But it is, I am sure, true that the great majority of those people desire good education for their own children and, as a matter of public spirit, for the children of all people in the nation. They want to see education improved. What they expect of us is that we shall find a way of improving it that, as far as is humanly possible, will do violence to nobody's conscience.
That is what we have all tried to do in the Bill. It is rightly called an Education Bill. It comes into existence, not because of special pressures from this or that denomination, but because of the educational needs of the time. It is an inevitable corollary from policies about education to which all parties are committed. The Minister and I have frequently argued in the House as to the form which secondary education should take in the future and, I dare say, we shall argue again, but it would not be appropriate at this moment to reopen that controversy. I am, however, gratified to observe that the nature of these proposals is such that whether secondary education proceeds either on the lines in which we on this side believe or on the lines foreshadowed in the Government's White Paper, the Bill will make it possible for such advance to be made without awakening again bitter controversy or doing violence to anyone's conscience. For all these reasons, it seems to me that we may all properly commend the Bill both to the House and to our constituents.
Mr Clement Davies (Montgomeryshire)
I should like to state my reasons for expressing the hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading. The Act of 1944 marked the beginning of a new era and epoch in our educational system. The people and Parliament of that day demanded that there should be brought into existence a national system of education and a national standard of education, a national system for primary education, secondary education and further education. Until that Act was passed, primary education had been provided for all, secondary education for some, and further education for very few.
That Act was not imposed upon the country by any party or any party Government. It was introduced into the House of Commons by an all-party Government towards the end of the war. Although one desires, naturally, to pay the fullest tribute to the wonderful work that was done by the present Home Secretary and by the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), the Act was a response to a demand made by the public generally throughout the whole country.
As has already been said by the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart), there was not complete agreement between the denominational people concerned about that Act. On the whole, however, the main structure of the Act was accepted ultimately by us all. The Free Churches had always objected to the grant of money to denominational schools. They have always taken their stand upon the principle that there should be no religious test for teachers and that public money voted by this House should be controlled by the public and not by anybody else.
Even in 1944, there were many of us—there are few of us now—who remembered the tremendous controversies at the beginning of the century, especially over the Balfour Act, of 1902, when there were thousands, especially among my own fellow countrymen, who became known as passive resisters. But the passage of time, of over forty years and, much more than that, the fact that the people had been through the furnace of two world wars, when men of various denominations and men of no denomination lived, fought and died together, had brought us nearer to one another.
Therefore, we accepted as the dominating principle that every child should be given every assistance so that it might make the fullest use of its talents and develop those talents in the best form. What we felt was that a child should not be deprived of the opportunity, or handicapped in any way by poverty or the lack of any facilities; that the child should not be handicapped by anything outside of himself or herself. That was, to my mind, the dominant principle which we in this House felt at that time, and which, indeed, was felt throughout the country, should be applied throughout the land. That is why we accepted it.
Not without a struggle; many of us did take part in it, and did ask for further and better protection, as we considered it necessary, in that Act. But that was the dominant reason why we accepted in 1944 the dual system. If parents demanded a school of a certain denomination for their children, then regard had to be paid, by the assent of the whole of this House, to the wishes of those parents, subject, of course, to the proviso which has already been mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman, and to which I shall refer later, and which is contained in Section 76. In furtherance of the main principle we meant, by the Act of 1944, that denominational schools should have as good facilities and as good teachers as the children in non-denominational schools. If we did not intend that, then we were failing to adhere to the principle which, as I have said, guided us.
The Act has worked well. The situation today is far superior to the situation as it was prior to the coming into effect of that Act. However, there is still very much to be done, as has been pointed out by the Government's White Paper, "Secondary Education for All." There are still a great number of bad schools. I am not at all sure that all the schools which, in 1944, we knew to be dangerous to the health of children have been actually wiped away. There is still insufficient room and there are still very inadequate facilities. There is still a need for more teachers.
I wish that we could create the necessary room, the necessary schools, and have the necessary teachers, so that we could fully implement that Act and raise the school-leaving age to 16. I wish, also, that we could have established already—I think it would make a very great difference to our young people if we had—the county colleges, as was intended by that Act. The sooner we set about the task which we set ourselves in 1944 the better it will be for the whole country.
However, several events have happened, as the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned, which have made it very difficult to carry out the intentions of that Act. It has been difficult for the local education authorities and, of course, it has been difficult for the denominations. The building of schools has had to be postponed because there is a general shortage of builders and a general shortage of building materials. They were wanted for houses, they were wanted for factories, they were wanted for offices as well as for schools. There has been a greater movement, I think, of population than in any other fourteen or fifteen years. There has also been an unexpected and rather greater increase in the number of children. Coupled with that, there is, very rightly, the need for a better standard of building and better facilities than were even envisaged by us in 1944. Finally, of course, comes the enormous increase in costs.
I know the anxieties of the Free Churches. They have been very well expressed in a letter last Thursday in The Times, signed by the Moderator and the Vice-Moderator and five of the general secretaries. The main objection that is expressed, I think, in that letter is the paragraph where they state that these proposals are a departure from the Act of 1944 in detail as well as in spirit. Of course, there is a departure in detail: naturally, for 50 per cent. has become now 75 per cent.
Much more important is the question: has there been a departure in spirit? I think not. I think that all will agree that, the cost having gone up and the standards required also having become higher, there is a bigger burden upon the denominations and the local education authorities. Can the denominations meet that extra cost? They have already found about £18 million. They will have to find, according to the figures given by the right hon. Gentleman in the White Paper and repeated in his speech, about another £18 million in the next two years. I do not see how they can possibly do it. Then, if they do not, and we leave them in that position, the principle of the Act of 1944 will not be adhered to and not be carried out.
If the principle in the Act of 1944 was that there should be a proper system of education giving equal opportunity for every child whatever the denomination of its parents, then, if there was an objection to the dual system, that was the moment to object. That was the moment for a fight. But once that has been accepted I cannot see that there can be any principle whatsoever in percentages. If the principle has been conceded on 50 per cent. there cannot be a principle when that 50 per cent. is raised to 75 per cent.
I agree with the hon. Member for Fulham that probably it is Clause 1 (2) which creates the greatest difficulty. As he very rightly said, this was accepted in 1936 and what had not been completed in 1936 was reinforced again in 1944. I can see the argument there is for this extension, which has already been very well explained by him. If the circumstances therefore fully justify it, then I think that this extension will still be in accordance with the principles of 1944.
There is one matter, of course—that applications will come pouring in without any real justification and be backed by very strong representations. Reference has already been made to the protection which is already there. There is full protection in Section 13. The Minister has been given powers such as were never given to any of his predecessors in the office of President of the Board of Education, and he has got statutory duties placed upon him which were never part of the functions of the President of the Board of Education.
Further than that, there are the words he has already quoted, and which I think it well to refer to again, in Section 76:
In the exercise and performance of all powers and duties conferred and imposed on them by this Act the Minister and local education authorities shall have regard to the general principle"—
and these are the important words—
that, so far as is compatible with the provision of efficient instruction and training and the avoidance of unreasonable public expenditure, pupils are to be educated in accordance with the wishes of their parents.
Therefore, the parents' wishes are to be regarded and followed wherever possible, but there is the proviso that in following those wishes the instruction given to the child shall be proper instruction and there shall be no unnecessary expenditure of public money.
I should have thought that taken together, and especially Section 105 (3), where, again, the duty is placed upon the shoulders of the Minister of deciding whether an inquiry shall not be held before a loan is made, these provisions are such as to give complete protection to the public. I am grateful to the Minister for the assurance which he gave last Thursday and which he repeated today. I am grateful to him for taking the initiative in meeting the Free Churches last week and for suggesting a joint meeting at which he offered to preside, a suggestion which has now been accepted by all. The meeting is to take place this week. I hope that all will consider with very great care and accept the suggestion which the right hon. Gentleman has made for the setting up of a Free Church Council similar to the Church of England Schools Council so that at the higher level all can discuss these matters before any real trouble arises and thus get rid of difficulties which, in fact, on examination, are often found to be nonexistent.
The real principle is the care of the child. We of my generation have seen the greatest changes ever seen by people at any time since the beginning of man. We have come through tremendous ordeals. We have had to face extraordinary problems, but it is my belief that the problems which will be facing the country within the next forty years will be far greater than any that we have had to face. If that is so, it is a duty incumbent upon us to equip the present generation in a way in which they can answer the tremendous responsibilities which will fall upon their young shoulders. This is necessary not only for their own sake and for the sake of this country, but for the sake of the world. Although military power has largely passed away from it, this country is still in a position to give the leadership which the world needs. For all these reasons, I commend the Bill to the House.
Mr Gilbert Longden (South West Hertfordshire)
After what the House has heard from representatives of all three parties, it would seem that there is not very much need for me or anybody else to say much more, and I shall not keep the House long.
We owe the existence of this Measure to the fact that in this country we have a dual system whereby, on the one hand, there are the county schools which are provided and maintained by the State through the local education authorities, and, on the other, there are the voluntary or Church or denominational schools, in part provided by the State and in part provided from funds voluntarily raised by denominations, but maintained wholly by the local education authorities.
That is the dual system and I would entirely agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) that those who have accepted the dual system must surely accept the Bill. If one does not accept the dual system it is understandable that one should be opposed to the Bill, but I had hitherto believed that in 1944 the dual system was accepted by all parties in the House and by all the denominations, too, that is to say, that the Church schools should continue side by side with those of the State.
I had always supposed that the reason for this was that all parties agreed with Section 76 of the Education Act, 1944. That Section has been repeated verbatim twice already in the debate. It is sufficient for me to say that it provides, as a general principle, that children should be educated in accordance with the wishes of their parents. If that is so, we must face the fact that many parents, and not by any means only Roman Catholic parents, prefer that the kind of Christian teaching which they have begun to give to their children in the home should be continued in the school.
This is the only point on which I would disagree with the admirably clear and brief speech by the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart). I believe that there are more parents who so wish than he seemed to think. In other words, there are more parents for whom the agreed syllabus is just not good enough.
It was felt, I suppose, and I would certainly feel, that parents should be able to have this wish fulfilled and not only by paying the fees at some private school which they might not be able or willing to do. Therefore, it was agreed that the Church schools should continue, and because it was important that the children who were educated in them should enjoy material benefits not inferior to those enjoyed by the children educated in State schools, Sections 102 to 104 of the 1944 Act provided for a 50 per cent. grant from the State for certain purposes, on certain terms, which are familiar to us all.
Churches which are ready to make the effort to raise their share of the funds necessary to maintain or, in some cases, to provide "aided" and "special agreement" schools are able to control the religious worship and instruction given in them. In 1958, there were 5,587 such schools in England and Wales, which is rather under 20 per cent. of the total number of 29,000 schools. Of those 5.587 aided and special agreement schools, 1,976 were Roman Catholic, that is, rather under 7 per cent. of the total number of schools; and those numbers include the primary schools which are not affected by this Bill.
Today, however, as has been said, the standards demanded of the facilities for secondary education are higher, and the cost of providing them is much higher, than in 1944. Therefore, if we genuinely mean to help the Churches, the 50 per cent. grant is no longer enough. For example, if a secondary school in 1944 cost £50,000, the Church would have had to find £25,000. Today, such a school would probably cost £200,000 and the Church would have to find £100,000, or four times as much. Even if the Bill is agreed to, the Church will still have to find £50,000, which is twice as much as was envisaged in 1944.
Equally logical, to my mind, a consequence of honouring the 1944 settlement is to provide, as the Bill does, that if a denominational primary school is not "matched" by a convenient secondary school of the same denomination to which the children can go on, the State will grant 75 per cent. towards the cost of providing one. Therefore, I support this Measure for the following reasons.
First, I strongly support Section 76 of the 1944 Act, which specifies that where-ever practicable—and it is certainly so here—children shall be educated in accordance with the wishes of their parents. From this, it follows that I am in favour of Church schools. Indeed, I think that seldom has it been more necessary that sound and sufficient Christian teaching should be available in our schools to those who want it.
Secondly, the offer was originally, and is still, open to all denominations; the concession, if it be one, is open to all who care to pay for it.
Thirdly, the State is responsible for providing the requisite number of schools for all pupils, irrespective of their religion, and would otherwise have to pay the whole cost of all schools. Therefore, this is not only a case of the State helping the Churches, but also of the Churches helping the State.
Fourthly, Section 25 (4) of the 1944 Act enacts that
if the parent of any pupil in attendance at…any voluntary school requests that he be wholly or partly excused from attendance at religious worship or instruction, or both, in the school, then…the pupil shall be excused from such attendance.
So conscience is protected in the few remaining single-school areas.
In conclusion, I confess that it distresses me that the Church schools should cause so much disquiet in the minds of those who are neither Church of England nor Roman Catholic. I agree with the late Archbishop William Temple that "the difference between Catholic and Protestant is very small as compared with the difference between Christian and non-Christian." I cannot envisage, even as a remote possibility, that the Protestant Reformation in this country is endangered by this Measure.
Even though the spokesmen for the Free Churches, whose letter in The Times has been mentioned by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, think otherwise and do not agree with these proposals, I must in all fairness say that they are not justified in ascribing them to political expediency. As I understand that term, it means something unprincipled. It means doing something one knows to be wrong, or, at any rate, something of whose rightness one is not convinced, to appease, placate or win someone over to one's side. But in this case the Government believe what they are doing to be right: and in any case it would not be a very profitable "expedient" to do something which both the other rival parties agree that they would do, too. I must regretfully say that I consider that charge to be patently unjust and unworthy of those who made it.
For the reasons I have tried to express, I shall support the Bill, and I respectfully congratulate all those whose efforts and collaboration has brought it about.
I would not wish to depart in any sense from the tone and the spirit of the four speeches to which I have listened this afternoon. I find myself able to accept what my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) said, namely, that the vast majority of the people, whether they believe in denominational schools or otherwise, would wish that all children should be given the very best in facilities and school buildings that the country is able to afford. I would say a very loud "Amen" to that thought.
I have heard my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) speak about the shocking conditions which obtain in many denominational schools, and I concur with him that no enlightened community can look on equably when we see the disparities in the conditions as between State and denominational schools.
It is a strange thing to do, for me an unusual thing to do, and in the House of Commons a dangerous thing to do, but I am going to indulge in a prophecy which I am certain will be vindicated by history. Within twenty years another Minister of Education will be standing at the Box opposite, and as the result of—some do not like the word "pressure" and one can use whatever word one wishes to describe the elements which are mixed up in this type of situation—announcing to the House that the 75 per cent. is to be increased to a higher figure, and this will go on until, finally, the 100 per cent. will have been achieved.
I will not argue now the merits or the demerits of these increases. An hon. Member taking part in a debate twenty years hence will be able to say whether the hon. Member for Abertillery spoke the truth or not when, on 22nd June, 1959, he ventured to make this prophecy.
I fully agree with the concluding remarks of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. G. Longden) and thus, of course, with the remarks made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, when he spoke recently after the Minister had announced the proposals of the Bill. My right hon. Friend said, quite rightly, that this is not, and should not be, a matter to be thought of in terms of party political differences, but should be completely above party. I thoroughly agree. The worst thing that could happen today or at any time would be for this issue to be a question for bargaining as between one party and another.
That is why, having indulged in one prophecy, I will now perform the most magnanimous political gesture that has ever been seen in the House of Commons. I read with alarm, indeed with abhorrence, that the London Baptist Association, in declaring its opposition to the Bill, asked its members not to vote for the Government at the next General Election.
Well, that intervention has spoiled a very good reply I was going to make. I was about to beg the London Baptist Association not to vote against the Government on that issue, and I was going to give 12 good political reasons why they should vote against the Government at the next General Election.
The Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham referred to the fact that the political parties unitedly accept the proposals of the Bill, and that two at least of the three major religious bodies concerned in it accept it. The other, the religious body to which I am affiliated, the Free Churches, cannot accept the Bill, except with serious reservations. I believe that the Free Churches, by and large, would accept the first part of the Bill. They would be much more critical, of course, of the second part of the Bill.
The House must not minimise the opposition of the Free Churches. I do not want to magnify it unduly, but there is opposition. My hon. Friend the Member for Fulham did one great service—and I wish to follow him in this respect—by suggesting plainly that a somewhat exaggerated picture has been painted in Free Church circles of the provisions of the Bill. Indeed, to judge from the correspondence I have been receiving from Free Church correspondents from all over the country, one would think that one might go to sleep on a Sunday night and on Monday morning find new Roman Catholic schools springing up all over the country.
The Bill is rather limited in scope. While I cannot support it—I might as well make my personal position perfectly clear—I shall not try to elevate my opposition to the realm of first principles. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) dealt with that point very effectively.
There is a belief in Free Church circles that the Bill will do very much more than it can do. I was particularly encouraged by the remarks of the Minister and by the way in which he has tried to meet Free Church objections. He met the Free Church leaders last Thursday and he gave them some assurances. Obviously, the letter referred to by the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery, which was published in The Times of Thursday, 18th June, was written before the Free Church leaders met the Minister. But even though their anxieties must have been somewhat allayed by what he said and what he promised to do, they, that is, the Free Church leaders, surely cannot go back on one part of that letter.
Referring to the assurances of the Minister, the letter says:
…such assurances—welcome as they are—are not the equivalent of legal or statutory safeguards, nor do they abolish single school areas, which in our view is what should be done. Moreover, Mr. Lloyd admits that religious tests for teachers, which we also believe to be undesirable, are 'inseparable from the dual system'.
No matter how we welcome—and we do welcome it—the sincerity of the Minister and his obvious desire to meet as far as he can the Free Church point of view on these things, he surely will not expect us to think of those friendly and personal assurances as being equivalent to, or as powerful as, statutory safeguards for the Free Churches and for Free Churchmen.
I wish now to refer to my own personal objections and the objections of many Free Churchmen to the Bill. The first objection can be expressed very simply. I believe that it will have the effect of strengthening the dual system. It either strengthens it or weakens it. The dual system was accepted, of course, in 1944 and, from my own point of view, I believe that a very important principle was abrogated by the Free Church leaders themselves at that time. I know that their justification is that we were all then in the middle of a war, that our backs were against the wall and that it was no time to quarrel about the furniture when the house was on fire.
I make some allowances for their attitude, but I believe that the general principle was abrogated then so that, in one sense, we cannot now turn back the clock. However, I am still entitled to pose this question in the House of Commons today. Is the dual system any stronger or weaker as a result of this Bill, or does it just remain exactly as it was in 1944? In my belief—I may be wrong, and it is for hon. Members to enlighten me if I am—the dual system has taken a step forward. I am not very happy about the outcome of further steps in that direction.
I wish to address my next few remarks not only to the Minister, but to my hon. Friends who are Roman Catholics, and with whom I have had very friendly and amicable discussions on these points. I wish to ask my hon. Friends whether, since we Free Churchmen have yielded on some points—willy-nilly, perhaps, but we have yielded—the Roman Catholic authority would, at least, be prepared to consider doing what the Anglican community has done. The figures were given by the hon. Member for Hertfordshire. South-West.
Since 1944, the Anglican community has allowed the larger part of its denominational schools to become controlled schools. In Wales there are now no aided denominational schools at all, except, of course, the Roman Catholic Church schools. I believe that there would be a much more settled attitude in the minds of Free Churchmen generally if now, or at a later stage, the Roman Catholic Church showed a willingness to do this. I know that some of my hon. Friends on this side who are devout and loyal Roman Catholics accept this point of view, but I wonder whether the official Roman Catholic hierarchical authority would allow some adjustment on this question of aided and controlled denominational schools.
Without trying to avoid the gist of the question, I will say we would be more likely to accept the Scottish situation. I cannot, of course, speak for anyone officially. My hon. Friend will understand that. Since his question was directed to me, I now speak purely in a personal capacity. I think that we should be more likely to accept the Scottish system if we saw evidence forthcoming from the Roman Catholic Church that it, for its part, would be prepared to accept controlled status rather than aided status.
Mr David Logan (Liverpool Scotland)
In view of the anxiety which my hon. Friend the Member for Abertillery (The Rev. LI. Williams) is expressing, would he be prepared to give back to the Roman Catholics of this country all the property and churches which they had and make moral restitution so that he might have a moral cause instead of a debating one?
I do not want to enter into this debate. I have been in every one on this particular problem for twenty-nine years. My hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Mahon) will be speaking, and I do not, therefore, wish to interfere with his speech. However, I will say to my hon. Friend that the sooner he and those like him begin to achieve unity in other Christian bodies and leave the Catholic body alone, the better. The moral lesson to learn is that they must unify as the Catholic Church has done. In that way, we shall achieve better results.
That is a very difficult interruption to deal with. The strength, and, at the same time, the weakness, of the Free Churches is that we cannot be united and undivided. Some, perhaps, would regard this as weakness and others, perhaps, as strength.
I have another reservation to which I should like to draw the Minister's attention. I feel that there is some ambiguity still with regard to the displaced pupil when the provisions of the Bill come to be administered. I should be very grateful if the Parliamentary Secretary would deal with this query. Would the displacement or transfer of a pupil, who for various reasons is now in a State primary school, possibly because there is not a denominational primary school available, and who is moved on after the age of 11 to a secondary denominational school bring with it a grant? I am sure that an answer to that question would clear some ambiguity which is in the minds of many Free Churchmen.
The only possible justification for the Bill is the increase in costs. No one can deny the importance of that issue. I have here a document prepared by an educational expert, whose name I cannot mention because I have not his authority to do so, in which he questions very much whether school building costs have increased, as the Minister would suggest to us today? I will read part of the letter:
Figures can be produced to show that the cost of building schools on the basis of per sq. ft. superficial area has, in fact, only increased by 10 per cent. or 15 per cent. per sq. ft. since the outbreak of the war. In the meantime, however, the Ministry has altered its building regulations substantially since the passing of the 1944 Act. This has been done specifically for the purpose of reducing the cost and the economical effects which have resulted from the change in these building regulations more than offset the small increase in the cost per sq. ft. to which reference has been made above. This is true of both primary and secondary schools.
Would the Parliamentary Secretary deal with that?
I have nothing but the highest regard for the financial sacrifices which the Roman Catholics have accepted. The figure of £18 million was quoted by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery, and even with the passage of the Bill a further £18 million commitment will be incurred. I repeat that I have nothing but admiration for people who are prepared to make sacrifices for their religious beliefs, and the most cogent test of sacrifices at all times is whether one is prepared to pay for it.
I have, however, this reservation: do not my Catholic friends, whose loyalty to their faith is undoubted—a thing which always earns respect—think that during the last ten years there has been a danger for the Roman Catholic Church in willingly, of course, and of its own volition, accepting financial obligations which have been greater than it has been able to carry and which has made it inevitable for such a Bill as this to be presented to the House; and should not, therefore, a greater sense of responsibility be developed with regard to the incurring of these very heavy burdens and commitments?
I have spoken as a Free Churchman. I can also speak as a Welshman. I have been toying with the idea—but I am afraid that, like many other ideas I have toyed with, it will never be accepted—of the possibility of Wales being exempted from the provisions of the Bill. Why not? Wales is predominantly a Nonconformist country and we are proud of that fact. I am not pushing that idea very far because not only do I know that the Minister will not accept it, but it is doubtful whether I shall be able to carry my hon. Friends from Wales with me.
I accept my hon. Friend's feeling. I cannot, with my hand on my heart, support this Bill, but, at the same time, I cannot push my opposition to the extent of making it a matter of cardinal principles. The 1944 Act makes it impossible for me to do so because this Bill is the inevitable logical consequence of that Act. I regret the 1944 Act, but the step has been taken and the clock cannot be turned back. It is, therefore, with very halfhearted feelings of sorrow and regret, that I have made this speech on behalf of at least one Free Churchman.
Sir Cyril Black (Wimbledon)
I am glad to have the opportunity to make a very brief speech immediately following the speech of another Free Churchman. I am quite sure that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Abertillery (The Rev. LI. Williams) and the House will understand that, as an Englishman, I should be foolhardy to enter into discussion of whether any special arrangements ought to be made for Wales. It would be very much better for me to leave that matter to be fought out among the Members representing Welsh constituencies.
Reference has been made to a fact which overshadows all our debate today. Although there has been a very wide measure of agreement, both among political parties and the church bodies, there is still a lack of enthusiasm for the Bill on the part of important Free Church sections of opinion. From the many letters and resolutions which I have received from fellow Free Church people and from Free Churches, I think that there exists a good deal of misunderstanding about the Bill and what the Minister and the Government are trying to do. I should, therefore, like quite briefly to touch upon this matter as a Free Churchman myself and to examine some of the points that have been made in those letters and resolutions. Some, I think, are based upon a misunderstanding, but one at least seems to me to make a valid point.
In the first place, we must recognise that we can only usefully examine the proposals of the Bill in the circumstances of 1959 and not in the circumstances of 1902. That appears to be something which some Free Church people have so far failed to realise. Any attempt to revive and recreate the bitter controversies of 1902 would be utterly unrealistic and could have no relevance in the entirely different circumstances which now exist. The banners under which Free Churchmen marched and fought in 1902 bore the slogans, "No State money for denominational teaching", and, "No public money without public control".
That root and branch opposition to the dual system in 1902 could be logically sustained and may at that time have had much to commend it, but it has to be recognised that the White Paper of 1943 and the Education Act, 1944, provided that the voluntary schools should be neither ignored nor eliminated and that the dual system should continue. It is in that context that we have to view the proposals of the Bill.
It seems to me that the indignation of some Free Church people at the increase in the grant from 50 per cent. to 75 per cent. and to the new limited category of aided secondary schools which will qualify for grant has been very considerably overdone. These concessions, as other hon. Members have suggested, do not seem to go beyond the spirit of the 1944 Act, but are designed, after fifteen years' experience of the working of that Act, merely to meet drastic changes in conditions during that period.
I cannot see that any case of high moral principle can be made out in these regards. I suggest that it cannot be morally right to make a grant of 50 per cent. and morally wrong to make a grant of some other percentage. This is a matter of arithmetic. It is a matter of expediency and of what is reasonable in the conditions which now apply.
I now come to the point on which the Free Churches have a strong case and on which every effort should be made to meet them. That is the difficulties of the single school areas, with which we are all familiar. The grievances of Free Church people in regard to the single school areas are of long duration. They have been the cause of much bitterness and ought to be remedied to the utmost extent possible. The problem, as has already been pointed out today, is confined to Anglican schools and does not affect the Roman Catholic schools. The Bill is based on a recognition of the right of Anglican and Roman Catholic parents to have reasonable provision made, if they desire it, for their children to be educated in Anglican and Roman Catholic schools.
Personally, I am prepared to recognise that right as being reasonable and just to the parents concerned, but I am bound to point out that if that right is conceded in the case of Anglican and Roman Catholic parents, Free Church parents have an equal right to say that they do not wish their children to have to attend Anglican or Roman Catholic schools, preferring that they should be educated in the ordinary local authority schools. That seems to be the whole crux of the grievance of the Free Churches. I regard the claim of the Free Churches in this matter as being reasonable and I consider that every possible effort ought to be made to meet it and to overcome the difficulties.
For that reason, I welcome the statement which the Minister made this afternoon about his further meeting last week with the Free Church leaders and the steps which he proposes to take to seek means, in consultation with them and the Anglican authorities, to find a cure for this festering sore of the single school areas. I hope that the Minister may find his efforts rewarded in this respect and that he will be able to find some solution to what seems to me to be the only serious remaining problem with which we are confronted.
In conclusion, I hope with all my heart, as I think all hon. Members hope, that sober counsels will prevail in this matter and that the Bill may not prove to be the starting point of bitter controversies such as occurred in 1902 and in the years that followed. Whatever the rights and wrongs and merits and demerits may have been, those controversies were bad for education, bad for politics, and bad for church relations. The present century has seen a great and welcome improvement in church relations and if organic Christian reunion is, as I think, still a long way ahead, the churches are rapidly moving into an era of increasing friendship and understanding.
Let us never forget that the main battle of the forces of Christianity is against apathy, unbelief, and Communism. Let our resolve be to try to find some solution to this problem which all can accept with honour and which will avoid Christian people wasting their strength in fighting among themselves while the enemy is at the gate.
Dr Horace King (Southampton, Itchen)
Apart from a few remarks towards the end of his speech, I agreed with practically everything the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Sir C. Black) said. I say only in passing that when he referred to Communism he meant revolutionary materialist Communism and was forgetting that the earlier Christian Church was a Communist body.
I think that most people in the country will accept the Bill as a reasonable and just Measure and as one which does not depart fundamentally from the basic principle of the Education Act, 1944. In the debate I want to appeal to my fellow Nonconformists, whose views I understand and respect, to accept the Bill with good will and to do their utmost to see that the whole country accepts it in a generous and non-controversial way.
The contribution of Nonconformity to British education has been like the contribution of my right lion. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) to the British Labour Party—massive. What Nonconformists are asked to do under the Bill is something much smaller, but something which can be of significance for some of the nation's children.
It has been said that from 1800 to 1870 Parliament was the cemetery of deceased education Bills. Sectarian differences killed them all, from the first one of Whitbread in 1807, which was destroyed on a Motion by the then Archbishop of Canterbury. However, while we were busy killing education Bills, for instance, all those of the great reformer 13rougham, the country began to give subsidies to the voluntary schools and the first Education Act in 1870, while setting up State schools for the first time, had to continue to subsidise the voluntary schools. The dual system as we know it is as old as the first Education Act.
The dual system has never given to any religious group just what it wanted. Each new Education Act has seen the revival of acute religious and nonreligious differences. To me it is a tragedy that we might have had secondary education for all way back in 1931 by a Measure which came before the House in that year if we could have solved the financial problem of the denominational schools. I believe that it is for ever to the credit of the present Home Secretary and of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) that the 1944 Act ended—and I would hope for all time—the bitterness of the struggle, to which the hon. Member for Wimbledon has just referred, between the various faiths in this country over education, because that bitterness checked educational progress for nearly a century.
It is against that background that I hope that all who want to see real equality of opportunity for our children will avoid reviving old deep issues. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Abertillery (The Rev. LI. Williams) for the speech which he made, knowing as I do his deep Nonconformist faith, and I would urge all to look at this question practically and generously.
In a letter to the Press, the secretary of the Southampton branch of the Free Church Council writes:
The Free Churches have always believed that the dual system of education is fundamentally wrong and had hoped that, as a result of the 1944 Act, time would see its end. We in the Free Churches have looked forward to the time when all schools would be run by the State and that in such schools the basic teaching of the Christian religion would be given.
He ends by enunciating the classic principle that there should be no use of public money without public control. I
am quite certain that many hon. Members have received letters from Free Church councils more or less in the same vein.
In a more moderate letter to The Times, the leaders of the Free Church state that the Bill
will result not only in the continuance of the dual system, which we do not believe to be in the best interests of the nation, its educational system or its children, but also in the strengthening of that system.
Again, the letter of the Free Church to The Times emphasises the principle of no public money without public control.
I respect the views of my fellow Nonconformists—indeed, I advocated them up and down the country until the passing of the 1944 Act—but I would ask all Free Churchmen to realise that the dual system, ancient in origin, is firmly embodied in the 1944 Act, as it is in each of the previous Education Acts. It would be a disservice to education to attempt now to rewrite that Act by destroying the dual system. Moreover, I would say to Free Churchmen that there are other parents in the country whose religious views Nonconformists do not share, but whose rights to hold those views are as precious to this House of Commons as our own right to hold Nonconformist views.
I understand, too, from the reference in the letter to The Times, that the Free Church leaders were prepared sympathetically to consider
some increase in the building grants for denominational schools.
Indeed, in my wanderings up and down the country, I have heard mentioned the figure of 65 per cent. so that on the increase of grant the issue is not one of principle but of the amount of money to be conceded.
If the Bill offends against the principle of giving public money without public control, so does the 1944 Act. Whether one approves it or not, that battle is over. When we include the whole of the education costs we are already contributing out of public funds something like 90 per cent. to every voluntary Church school.
To a Free Churchman the great achievement of the 1944 Act, from the Christian point of view, was that it wrote the act of worship—the broad Christian teaching that we know as the "Agreed Syllabus"—into all our schools and into the law of the land.
Here may I say how much I regret that some Anglicans and Catholics have suggested that it is only in their schools that education is Christian in concept. Let anyone who is foolish enough to think that visit morning assembly in any of our State schools, see at lesson-time the work that is being done in the non-Church schools, see throughout the day the ethical and spiritual training that is common to all our schools, whether State schools, or Anglican or Catholic. Nonconformists and people of all religious faiths have every reason to be happy with the Christian work now going on in our State schools.
But the Catholics and the Anglicans have always stood by the view, which made an Archbishop of Canterbury vote against the first Education Bill of 1807, that their own form of Christianity is an integral part of the education of their children. I respect that view, even if I do not share it, just as I ask them to respect the majority opinion which non-Anglicans, non-Catholics and even many Anglicans, hold about the Christian education which they can receive inside the State system.
The simple issue is just how great a burden we place on the shoulders of those parents who opt out of the State schools for conscience sake. I believe that there must always be some burden. I hope that my hon. Friend is here in twenty years' time to see the non-fulfilment of the prophecy which he has made—I am afraid that I shall not be with him. I think that a 100 per cent. subvention of any faith would of necessity involve a 100 per cent. subvention of all faiths, and of no faiths, and would disintegrate the whole State system of education. If people are to opt out for religious reasons they must be prepared to make a sacrifice.
We fixed that sacrifice in 1944 at 50 per cent. of the cost of providing adequate school buildings. For the Catholics, that meant something like £18 million to £20 million for new schools. They were to borrow that at a low rate of interest. Despite what my hon. Friend the Member for Abertillery has said about the expert view which he has had on the none rise in the cost of school buildings, I would ask him to get in touch with any member of any education committee in any part of the country when he will find that just as inflation affected everything else, so it affected the cost of building schools.
Dr Horace King (Southampton, Itchen)
I would refer to the experience of any hon. Member who, like myself, is a member of an education committee, that the rise in school building costs is infinitely more than that. There is the increased cost of materials and of labour, the new standards that we continually impose on local authorities and Church authorities alike, and the crushing burden of interest which Tory financial policy has laid on local authorities and on Churches alike. All these give the Catholics a financial load to bear which has been estimated as being nearly four times what it was thought to be in 1944. For the Anglicans, the figure must be something on the same scale.
I share the admiration of my hon. Friend the Member for Abertillery for the sacrifices which Catholic parents make for their children. I think that they should be an inspiration to all of us who seek to persuade the whole nation to be prepared, as it must be prepared if Britain is to survive and flourish, to make even greater sacrifices in rates and taxes for the whole of our children. But I believe that the extra load which the Catholics carry in addition to rates and taxes, for every Catholic has to pay an education rate and his education taxes, has turned out to be much heavier than they can carry or ought to be asked to carry. If we do not do something about it Catholic children will suffer.
Without this Bill, there are two alternatives. Either the denominations will hand over some of their schools to the nation or some of the denominational schools will remain inferior to the State schools. For this reason the majority of our poorer school buildings have always been Church schools. The Anglicans have given up many of their schools to lighten their own financial burdens. I believe that the Catholics, whose conviction on this issue is much more fundamental, will never give up their schools. This means that, unless further financial aid is forthcoming, Catholic building programmes will be whittled down in quality, standards will be as low as they can get by with, and Catholic children will suffer thereby and not have equal opportunity with other British children.
A Catholic secondary modern school has been opened in Southampton this year. Until then almost all the Catholic children in Southampton were in an all-age school. All the other children in Southampton have been in reorganised primary and secondary schools for the past twenty years. It was grand and exciting to visit a school where for the first time Catholic children are to partake of the great advances that we are making in our other schools towards secondary education for all, and to talk to a Catholic headmaster, or an enthusiastic Catholic body of governors not about religious differences, but about education and how we should cooperate in doing all we can so that these children shall have the best education possible.
If we are to get all Catholic children out of all-age schools, it is necessary to provide, as the Bill does, that the grants which apply to primary schools should apply to the new secondary schools for Catholic children which are essential if we are to carry out the 1944 Act. An all-age school is bad whether it is a Church school, a Catholic school or a State school. Just as the Minister in his five-year plan hopes to get rid of some of the all-age schools that still blot the educational picture on the State side, so this Bill—
Dr Horace King (Southampton, Itchen)
The Minister says all of them, and I hope that is true. I hope that the Bill will enable the Catholic community to do the same.
I am troubled about the lack of facilities for grammar school education for Catholic children. I have often used my influence as an educationist to try to persuade Catholic parents, and often very successfully, to let their children go to the grammar school to which they have won a place, even if it is not a Catholic school, rather than lose the opportunity of a grammar school education.
I should like to see the Catholic community set up grammar schools of their own up and down the country to give their children real equality in secondary education. On the other hand, it may be that some of the new secondary schools will turn out to be pioneers in secondary comprehensive education.
I, too, was sorry to read the report in the Press that some Free Churchmen had said:
Vote against the Tories because of this Bill.
I was very glad to hear the hon. Member for Wimbledon say that the report in the Press was a mistake. I know of a hundred good reasons for voting against the Tories, but this is not one of them.
Dr Horace King (Southampton, Itchen)
Britain has learnt to separate religion from politics more so than any other country in the world. That separation has been good both for religion and for politics. There are Anglican, Catholic, Free Church, and no church, Tories, Socialists and Liberals in this House. There are all creeds on both sides of the House and in all political parties. To spark off old and deeply felt religious points of view and make party politics of them would do harm to politics and education and to religion itself.
To say this is not what the Free Church in their letter unkindly thought, that this is political expediency. It is a recognition by both sides of the House that the dual system is the law, and that it ought to work justly and efficiently. If it is creaking in any way, if it is imposing burdens which impair educational advance, unless we are prepared to scrap the law, we have to play honestly by the dual system and give all children outside State schools the chance of equal opportunities with those inside. I ask my fellow Noncomformists to accept the Bill in the spirit in which it is proposed.
Most people in this country have what they want as Christians inside State schools. Let us be glad about that. Let us do what we can to build up the ethical and spiritual training inside our State schools, but let us at the same time respect the consciences of those who do not share our satisfaction with the State system. Let us temper the load that they carry for their faith. They will still be left with a burden of many millions of pounds to carry even after the Bill is passed.
Joseph Chamberlain attacked the 1870 Act and said that its author, Forster, had thrown education into the hands of two ecclesiastical organisations which had been foremost in obstructing the advancement of the nation. He was a Unitarian like my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields. That was one view of the 1870 Act.
Dr Horace King (Southampton, Itchen)
On the other hand, Shaftesbury, an Anglican, attacked the 1870 Act for the opposite reason. He called it:
Everything for the flesh and nothing for the soul, everything for time and nothing for eternity.
It is between those two extremes that in the Education Acts of 1870, 1902, 1918 and 1944 Britain has established the dual system. Whether or not it should have been done may be arguable, but there is no point in arguing about history. The law is the law, and our task is to interpret it generously.
I congratulate the Minister on grasping this nettle, and I congratulate my hon. and right hon. Friends on helping him to hold it. Perhaps it may be too much to expect complete agreement. In this Education Bill, probably uniquely, the people of my own Christian sect are opposed to the settlement. In the words of their own letter to The Times, I urge them to think again. This Measure is going through. Let it have the good will of all who have the welfare of our children at heart.
Mr Lawrence Orr (South Down)
I should like to make it clear that I am not speaking on behalf of my Northern Ireland colleagues, and that I am in no sense speaking as a Northern Ireland Member, because the Bill rightly excludes Northern Ireland from its provisions. The provision of education is one of the matters which this House devolved on the Government and Parliament of Northern Ireland. We have our own system over there. We have our own problems and difficulties. We have to deal with them as our Parliament thinks fit, and it is not for us in this House to discuss whether the arrangements are good or bad. It would be improper if in any sense I became a spokesman for Northern Ireland opinion in speaking on something which peculiarly affects England and Wales.
I happen to be in a difficult position because this year I am chairman of the United Protestant Council, which is a federation of twelve of the principal Protestant societies in the United Kingdom. It is the view of the Council as well as my own conviction that I want to express rather than any Northern Ireland view of the matter.
When my right hon. Friend the present Home Secretary introduced the Education Act of 1944, he quoted with approval the saying of Plato that the principle to which our laws are directed is that of making the citizens as happy and as harmonious as possible. Such, he said, was the modest aim of the Bill. The Education Act of 1944 was a great advance. It was a milestone in our educational history. Whether or not it has made the citizens happier. I am not sure, but it has obviously made the children happier, in their better-appointed schools with better provisions of every kind. Whether universal and better education ultimately makes man happier is a matter for philosophers and not for politicians. At any rate, all will accept that the Act was an advance in the matter of education.
The question of harmony is one upon which we can be more positive. Since 1944 there has undoubtedly been a greater degree of harmony on educational matters among the churches. There is no doubt that prior to that date, especially in the early part of the century, there was considerable religious strife, bitterness and difficulty in the matter of education. The 1944 settlement or agreement certainly mitigated much of this difficulty and strife, and to the extent that there has since been harmony in the educational field the 1944 Act has fulfilled one of its modest aims.
The point should be made, however, that it was not the Act itself which created the harmony. The harmony was created by a considerable concession, upon a point of principle, by many people who thought that the dual system was wrong. Let us take the two most extreme opposing views before the settlement. Members of the Roman Catholic Church took the view—and take it now, I believe—as a cardinal matter of conviction, that their children ought to be educated in schools over which they have control and that it would be wrong for them even partially to submit to the control of anyone else. They believe that teachers should be approved and selected by themselves. That that is a sincerely held belief they have demonstrated by the way in which they support their schools, and nobody would deny them the right to hold that view.
I hope that, in turn, they will not deny that those who hold the opposite view do so with equal sincerity. That view has always been that denominational education in itself is wrong and undesirable; that it is not a good thing to take a section of our young people and educate it, from the moment it is able to learn, completely separately from the rest of the community; that it is wrong to erect a community within a community, and is also wrong in principle to provide public money without at least some measure of public control.
Mr Robert Mellish (Bermondsey)
We had better get the record right. The system of teaching in every one of these denominational schools is decided by the education authority, as regards the three "Rs". The whole question of control is a matter very much for the State. It does not depend upon a weird idea of certain people who might want something quite different.
Mr Lawrence Orr (South Down)
I accept that, but I was talking primarily of control over the appointment of teachers, because it is the teacher who ultimately gives the lead in putting into a child's mind the kind of traditions to uphold and the way in which history is taught, and everything else. There is a danger that this will mean taking a group of young people from the community and educating it apart from its fellows, in a different tradition.
Mr Robert Mellish (Bermondsey)
Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman please take it from me, as one who has been to one of these schools, that that is not true? History and the three "Rs" are taught in no way differently from the way in which they are taught in State schools.
Mr Lawrence Orr (South Down)
I said that there was a considerable danger of that happening. It may not happen in schools of which the hon. Member has knowledge, but it is by no means unknown throughout the world.
Mr David Logan (Liverpool Scotland)
I cannot help intervening, but I shall not say too much. It is a little strange that a man from Northern Ireland—a Catholic country—should argue in this House on a point which is likely to break down all that we have been doing. He had better get back to Northern Ireland and get that country straight.
Mr Lawrence Orr (South Down)
I will reply in the words of the hon. Member for Abertillery (The Rev. LI. Williams) who earlier said, "That is a difficult intervention to deal with." It is arguable whether or not Northern Ireland is a Catholic country.
But, to continue, before the 1944 Act there were two strongly opposed views, which I have tried to put as fairly as I can. How were those two views reconciled? They were reconciled by a sacrifice on the part of those who believed that the dual system was wrong, and I hope that that fact will be remembered.
That sacrifice was made then because it was difficult to see any reasonably fair and justifiable alternative. Nearly one-third of our schools at that time were voluntary schools, and in setting up a great edifice of State education we were faced with the question whether we were going simply to abandon one-third of our schools and allow them to become derelict, as they would have become, or take them over by the State and violate, in an extremely violent manner, the consciences of those who thought that that would be wrong. The agreement reached has become known as the 1944 settlement, but it was a concession on a point of principle, with very clearly defined limits.
We must now examine whether the Bill destroys or goes beyond the 1944 settlement. We are told that, having made a concession on a point of principle, it would be wrong to draw the line any further as to the amount of State support. In other words, the concession which we then make is being used against us in this argument. There may be a case for raising the aid to the primary schools from 50 per cent.—
It is for the existing primary schools. There may be a case for raising the grant from 50 per cent., but it would be interesting to know just how the figure of 75 per cent. was arrived at. What would be the case against a figure of 100 per cent.? The hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King) produced an argument against the figure of 100 per cent. At what point exactly, and by what criterion, are we to fix this figure in the future? The hon. Member for Abertillery prophesied that the time would come when a Minister would announce another rise. Where exactly is the line to be drawn in the future? It is that sort of consideration which lies behind a good deal of the disquiet among those who are unhappy about this Bill.
When we come to the entry into secondary education, there is more objection than to the raising of the grants in the primary field. There is a strong feeling that we are now to extend and perpetuate the dual system right through the whole scale of education, from the cradle to the university.
Mr Robert Mellish (Bermondsey)
The hon. and gallant Member must not be allowed to get away with that. If I had my way, we should be discussing quite a different Bill, but the hon. and gallant Member must not think that, because that is my opinion, it means that everyone else thinks the same. I wish I were as important as that.
Mr Lawrence Orr (South Down)
Let us get it right. The hon. Member says that that represents his personal view. I think that I am right in thinking that it is the view of the Church to which he belongs.
Mr Lawrence Orr (South Down)
I understand that is the belief of the Roman Catholic Church about what ought to happen.
We who think that the dual system is wrong would deplore that happening and we think this Measure represents a further advance towards it. It may be "turning a ragged pyramid into a regular column", but we have to add something to the ragged pyramid in order to do so. We think this a move in the wrong direction and as such it is upsetting the general understanding which underlay the harmony produced by the 1944 Act and the harmony which followed its implementation. If that harmony be destroyed and ruptured, which heaven forbid, the fault will lie with those who disrupted it.
I am sorry that this Bill is being hurried through its stages in this House. Were it a fair and proper Bill I think it could have stood a more prolonged examination. I am sorry that the Government have rushed it through and particularly that this should have been done by the Government and by the party of which I am a member. Many of my best friends in this House are in favour of the Bill but nevertheless, in the position which I occupy, I feel it my duty to register my objection and opposition to it.
Mr Simon Mahon (Bootle)
The House will forgive me if I do not follow in detail the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr). I wish to make my own speech.
I welcome this Bill in so far as it makes a necessary and substantial contribution towards the building and maintenance of voluntary schools. To say that I am completely satisfied with its provisions would be untrue. To say that I am not gratefully appreciative would be equally quite false and ungracious, for I am indeed most grateful, and I speak on behalf of and with the authority of the Catholic people of this land who voiced their warm appreciation of all that is being done and has been done for them to relieve them of the financial burden of the education of their children.
In a recent speech in Liverpool at the opening of the Cardinal Allen Grammar School, His Grace the Archbishop of Liverpool, Dr. Heenan, said that Catholics did not want education to become a subject of bitterness. He said that he hoped that when this Bill was debated it would be done without rancour. Up to now I think that has been so, and I am most grateful. His Grace went on to pay a most generous tribute to the non-Catholic and Nonconformist people of this country for bringing the negotiations to finality with so great a measure of good will and moderation.
As one who is aware of that good will, I hope that what I have to say today will be received in the same way. I hope I shall not be considered too repetitive if I offer sincere thanks to the Minister, the Parliamentary Secretary, the Leaders of the Labour Party, the representatives who engaged in the negotiations and the Liberal Party for their patience and understanding in their treatment of this most complex problem.
In the presentation of a Bill of this nature to the House of Commons, certain considerations must always be borne in mind. I am sure the House will agree that the statement of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition on 11th June expressed those requirements to the fullest possible extent.
My right hon. Friend said that there were three such requirements. The first was that there was a need for all-party agreement. As he said,
…we do not want religion or religious questions to come into our party political battles."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th June, 1959; Vol. 606, c. 1188.]
Secondly, there is the need to ensure that those educated in Church schools do not suffer in comparison with others regarding the quality of education which they receive. Thirdly, so far as possible the proposals should be acceptable to all denominations. However, in the complexity of a society such as ours to
achieve these three requirements would be truly miraculous. Therefore, while all the denominations concerned are not fully satisfied, some agreement within this framework has been made, and I express the hope that as time goes on better understanding will be possible.
In recent months, the Minister has made two statements which outlined the needs of the Churches. In the White Paper on Secondary Education he said that the Government recognised that the Churches might need further assistance. On 11th June, he underlined this in the House by stating that the Government would press forward to implement the 1944 Act further and that the Churches would need financial assistance to provide the facilities to achieve the Government's aims. Thirdly, he pointed out—this is very important and is the crux of a great deal of what has been said today—that the White Paper of 1943 and the Education Act of 1944 had already provided that the voluntary schools should neither be eliminated nor ignored and that the dual system, while being radically adapted, should continue in existence. That battle has been won or lost, according to one's point of view, and the dual system is now part of our education law.
To say that the Church schools of the different denominations are in need is certainly not to overstate the case. Anyone who has been concerned in the great redevelopment of our cities, particularly in the North, must be aware of the efforts of the denominations to fulfil their educational obligations under present legislation. Whilst tributes have been paid to Roman Catholics and to the Church of England, I am aware that this has been a great personal responsibility for those concerned. Hon. Members have been talking today of Catholics wanting 100 per cent. assistance; I would remind them that I come from a family which, like many others, has made the maximum sacrifice for this country. We have done everything that the country has asked us to do and have been patriotic to the last degree. In view of this fact I do not think that 100 per cent. assistance would have such a detrimental effect on the future of this country. Why is it such an abnormal and unreasonable request?
People try to stigmatise us, but we have made sacrifices for our freedom. We are most appreciative about this country. As Catholics, we think it is the finest country in the world, and we are prepared to make any sacrifices to maintain its position. That is the way I regard this country, and it is the way that this country should regard the Catholics. Why should we be regarded as 75 per cent. citizens? I thought that those prejudices had all gone at Caen and Tobruk.
The whole concept of education is changing. The Churches are facing liabilities that they could not have foreseen in 1944. All these things have been said by the Minister. The cost of school buildings has increased; there have been movements of population on a scale hitherto unthinkable, and there has been a large post-war birth rate in many districts. Any one of these things would have caused any Administration at least to consider granting further aid to the denominations. When those things all happen at once, or over a relatively short space of time, educationally speaking, the responsibility is very great indeed.
People will say that this should have been anticipated in 1944, but one would have had to be very clever to say precisely what would happen in 1959. The Parliamentary Secretary came to my constituency some time ago to open a grand new school, and he made a very favourable impression. He was good enough genuinely to admire some of the houses that surrounded this new school, and we were very pleased about that. The point about it was that a town of 80,000 people was building 1,000 houses a year. While the housing committee was very pleased, the education committee was not so pleased as all that, because it had its own worries. There was a very simple theory in the mind of the director of education—and this is something that I learned as chairman of the housing committee—that very often a new house means a new baby. Some of us will have to consider moving our address in the next few months, but I hope we shall not become unduly alarmed about that.
The point is that the Education Act, 1944, thought it was very clever in anticipating the requirements of the transferred child. Without going into the old troubles, I would say that there is no such thing as a transferred child but only the child of a transferred family. That word "transferred" has caused a great deal of trouble in educational administration.
The Bill makes two main proposals. I want to ask the Minister a question. I do not believe in being ambiguous. In learning to respect my own conscience I have learned to respect everybody else's. One proposal of the Bill is to raise the maximum grant for eligible schools from 50 per cent. to 75 per cent. Secondly, the Bill offers a maximum of 75 per cent. for new aided secondary schools which are needed wholly or mainly for the education of children from aided primary schools of the same denomination. Here the Minister makes a very important proviso, which is that the primary schools are those which are in existence now or are replacements. How I wish that he would offer a maximum of 75 per cent. for the new aided secondary schools without reservation.
How I wish we had been able to take the whole of this matter out of politics by offering 75 per cent. on all schools. A final settlement of 75 per cent. was offered by the bishops of England and Wales for the building of primary and secondary schools. That would have been good and would have finalised the matter in our generation; but I must not appear ungracious or ungrateful, for there have been great difficulties for people in connection with the Bill and I appreciate them. The Bill costs £40 million. What the special agreement in the 1936 Act was, I do not know, but I suppose the sum in the 1936 Act was £10 million. That means that the Bill will relatively cost £30 million. I know the denominations will be appreciative of it.
There are one or two myths I want to try to dispel. It has been said over and over again, and will continue to be said, that to give further financial aid to denominational schools such as this Bill envisages giving is unreasonable for taxpayers generally. I have never held that view. I have been in this business of denominational schools almost since I was a child, and the whole of my family had a long history of educational service in Lancashire. I think the position has been rather—I say this quite truthfully to the House—that, had it not been for the vocationalism of teachers in denominational schools and the sacrifices of those who require denominational education for their children, the Exchequer would have been bearing a greater responsibility than it has borne over many years.
I am not alone in this view, because it would appear that the Manchester Guardian on 12th June supported my view. The Manchester Guardian said:
If there are enough children of a particular faith in one area to sustain a new school, and if people of the same faith are willing to contribute a quarter of the cost of building in order to guarantee the character of the teaching there, then the denominations are contributing to costs which would otherwise have to be met from public funds.
As a man from Merseyside where this great denominational problem and responsibility of the Church of England and Roman Catholics is so great, if I tried to assess the contribution which the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church have made in the City of Liverpool and the Archdiocese of Liverpool I should be sorely put to it to give a figure. It must be remembered that the contribution we have made denominationally in Liverpool to this country's greatness has been very considerable indeed.
The Times is a newspaper we can quote. It said:
As these schools are part of the national system, it would be utterly wrong to condemn their pupils to a second-class education merely because the churches could not keep up the pace of the general national reform.
That statement is very well worth repeating.
I do not want to keep the House too long, but I want to say one or two things about the Bill. It does not anticipate the need of great areas where primary education is the first consideration, but it does take full notice, as the Minister said, of secondary education. For the first time in the history of educational legislation, it gives denominations assistance to build grammar and technical schools. I think that impresses me most. During my lifetime I have seen in my constituency the percentage of school places of this sort growing from almost nil to nearly 18 per cent., but there are still too many blind alley jobs and too many dead end jobs. They are the sort of jobs which oppressed the boys of my generation, as they did me. To fight one's way through, even into this House, never mind anywhere else, is a test of anyone's character and guts. We have plenty of that on Merseyside, but the point is that these new provisions will open new avenues.
Without exaggerating the position, I should say that half the industrial unrest in Liverpool is due to the fact that when they leave school children go into jobs which bring unrest to the person concerned. That unrest they carry throughout their industrial life. The greater opportunity this Bill will provide will prove to this House one day how wise this sort of provision is. As has been mentioned, a common mistake is made in thinking that Catholics and the Church of England can build schools as, where and when they will. I say clearly and bluntly that we are subject to control, and rightly so, by local authorities, by our own disastrous financial position—that certainly controls us—and also by Section 13 of the 1944 Act.
This Bill is full of the basis of controversy, but it has been debated today with the maximum of charity. The paramount point which all of us in this House must keep in mind is that it is the child that matters and the education of the child that matters most of all. Education to me is not only for the benefits it will undoubtedly bring to our great British industrial, technological, scientific society. That is necessary and desirable, but education for me has always had a deeper and greater significance. As has been mentioned by the Minister, when we consider the condition of the world, the rivalries which sometimes come into the efforts of our society seem very small indeed when put alongside the problems which confront all who wish fervently in their hearts to see Christian principles progress in the contemporary world. It is my contention that the passing of this Bill will make a notable contribution to this end. It will not only do that, but in my heart I hope it will give to other nations an example of moderation and toleration which they might well emulate with profit.
Sir Peter Kirk (Gravesend)
I hope that the House will forgive me if I spend a few moments on the past. It is to a certain extent a feeling of filial piety which brings me to my feet because, as the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) will remember, my father was one of the strongest opponents of the settlement reached in 1944.
I should, therefore, like to recall, in connection with some of the words that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) used, the opposition that he then expressed. My hon. and gallant Friend said, very rightly, that a big concession had been made by the Free Churches in 1944. I think what he overlooked was that an equally big concession was made by the Church of England at the same time, a concession which my father opposed and which I personally at the time regretted. We should not overlook that fact, because it has a considerable bearing on the subject we are discussing today. The 1944 settlement was a settlement which demanded sacrifices from all, not from just one side. It is in that light that the change the Government now propose, and which I fully support, should be considered.
We are not merely asking our friends in the Free Churches to make a further sacrifice; we are asking them to realise that sacrifices have been made all round. Mention has been made of the very great effort made by the Roman Catholics to raise money for their schools. That is appreciated by all, but equally great efforts have been made by the Church of England to raise money to keep their schools going.
It is true, as the hon. Member for Abertillery (The Rev. L1. Williams) and the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King) mentioned, that the Church of England has allowed some of its schools to pass into the control of the State, but that has not been done with any lightness of heart. I can assure hon. Members it has been done out of grievous necessity and, in many cases, with a great feeling almost of shame on the part of those who let them go.
One of the aims of the Church of England, as well as of our friends in the Church of Rome, has been to raise money to keep as many of their churches as possible in existence, because we believe very strongly that denominational education is something which we have to offer to the life of the country and we wish to keep it going. We do not demand a particularly privileged status. We may have had that in the past in the Church of England and it may have been wrong. What we demand is (hat where we are doing a job well the consideration of the State should be given to the fact that we are doing it well.
Although we agree that this change is undoubtedly upsetting to some of our friends in the Free Churches, we feel that it can be justified by the increase in costs through the passage of time. Like the hon. Member for Itchen, I was surprised by the figures given by the hon. Member for Abertillery about the increase in educational costs since 1944. I shall be very surprised if the figure is anything near 75 per cent.
Concessions were made all round in 1944 and an agreed settlement was reached. That settlement has worked very well but has proved to be deficient in this one respect. This afternoon we are reviewing the position after a period of fifteen years and putting right this deficiency.
Two problems, which were raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Sir C. Black) in, if I may say so, a magnificent speech, are the core of the matter. The first is the question of the dual system. I do not want to go into that today because it is fundamental, but it is not touched by the Bill. The Bill works on the principle that the dual system has been accepted, and I suggest that there is not very much point in anyone arguing against the dual system when discussing the Bill. There may be arguments against the dual system but this is not the time for them. It was accepted on all sides in 1944. I will not go into why it was accepted or the circumstances in which it was accepted but will merely point out that in fact it was accepted. This Bill is within the framework of the dual system, and the system itself is not in argument at the moment.
The second point which I think is important, and which my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon raised, concerns the single-school area. This is a very difficult question for the Free Churches, as is fully recognised. My right hon. Friend, in introducing the Bill, referred to the fact that he was encouraging the Church of England and the Free Churches to have discussions on the point. This is very welcome, but such discussions have been taking place for the last eighteen months on a large number of points, including this, and I hope that I shall not be out of order if I draw attention to a statement which the Church
of England Schools Council released to the Press on 19th June. In it the Council said:
In the course of the friendly negotiations with the Free Churches over the past eighteen months, the Church of England made suggestions to meet any hurt of conscience still felt by them"—
That is, still felt by the Free Churches—
in respect of the dual system. In particular, concerning single school areas, we suggested that in such schools further facilities, over and above those which already exist, should be given for children to receive religious instruction in accordance with the agreed syllabus.
That means without Church of England teaching.
Perhaps I may mention, in passing, that I know for a fact that in a large number of dioceses and areas in the country that is already being done. On the request of any parent no child need be compelled to receive teaching which its parent does not want it to receive. That is right and proper, because there are areas, particularly rural areas, where the only school is a Church of England school, and nobody in the Church of England wishes to ram down the throat of any child teaching which is conscientiously repugnant to its parents.
A second suggestion which the Church of England made is that the local Free Church community should be enabled to appoint to the managing bodies of such schools. I attach very great importance to this and I hope that in the discussions which take place there will be agreement about it. Particularly in areas where there is a large Free Church community, it is surely right and proper that if we, in the Church of England, have the only school, the Free Churches should have a large say in the management and control of that school. That is a most important point which should be put on record in the debate. I am glad that the Minister has encouraged further conversations and I am sorry that those which have been held so far have not yet been successful. Perhaps in the future there will be a happier result.
Those are the only points which I wish to make in welcoming the Bill. I regard it, first and foremost, as a step forward in education and also, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon said, as strengthening the Christian basis of this country, which we should all have at heart. I hope that there will be no bitterness as a result of it, because feel that it is a moderate and, I might say, a modest Bill towards something which we all want and which is worthy of the support of all of us.
Mr James Ede (South Shields)
I am glad that the hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Kirk) made reference to his father at the beginning of his speech, because, as one who was closely associated with the negotiations over the 1944 Bill before it became an Act, I can bear testimony to the line which the hon. Member said this afternoon was that of his father in those discussions. I think that it was because he took that line that we saw him only once in any of the conferences which we held with the hierarchy of the Established Church, and I am bound to say that I thought that the treatment which he finally received in the Church Assembly was the kind of treatment which can be meted out only by one theologian to another.
As the hon. Member knows, my views did not very closely approximate to those of his father, but, on the only occasion on which we met in conference, his father gave me an invitation to stay with him so that we might talk the problem over. It was a matter of regret to me that I was unable to accept that invitation.
I regard some of the arguments which I have heard this afternoon as just fantastic. There is nothing more fantastic, however, than the Financial Memorandum which was attached to the Education Bill. 1944. I have a bound copy of it here. The Financial Memorandum laid it down that the total expenditure from public funds in England and Wales when that Act came fully into operation would be £203 million a year. It is fantastic that in 1944 we could have believed that the implementation of the Bill would cost the country only £79·8 million more than it had been spending in the year war broke out. It has been very kind of people in the interval since never to remind either the present Lord Privy Seal or myself of the prophecies which we laid before the House.
One of the astounding things about education is that for the year 1958–59 the estimates were not £203 million, but £617 million. This is in spite of the fact that we have done nothing worthwhile about county colleges and we have not raised the school-leaving age to 16, although the more enlightened parents are raising it for us, which I think is a great triumph of the Education Act of 1944.
Mr James Ede (South Shields)
We have done fairly well with playing fields. In any event, with the Act not fully implemented in any way, we are spending three times as much as the Financial Memorandum laid down.
At almost every education conference I attend there is a standing resolution calling for the immediate full implementation of the 1944 Act. We have had no revolt on the part of the chairmen of finance committees of local education authorities, and if we could have seen what the cost of education to the country would be I do not think that any of us would have dared to prophesy that in 1944. When we begin to talk about changing from 50 per cent. to 75 per cent., which is going back to what was provided in the 1936 Act, we are living in a world of complete unreality if we try to elevate that into a matter of principle.
Do not let us forget that the Act of 1936, as the right hon. Gentleman reminded us today, imposed on the local education authorities the duty of making arrangements with the denomination, and gave them the option of paying anything between 50 and 75 per cent. Nearly all the agreements that were reached when the local education authorities had to deal with the arrangement of the finance were for the full 75 per cent. they received part of the 75 per cent. back in the annual Government grant, which at that time was about 60 per cent. of the expenditure, so that what happened then was that the State paid 45 per cent., the local authority paid 30 per cent., and the denomination raised the other 25 per cent.
When that was freely entered into by the local education authorities everybody accepted it, except Liverpool, which had a special Act of its own and where the position was reversed. There the Government paid the grant, and the local rates had to reimburse them for their share of it. When we recall that that happened in 1936, we realise that, in the very much altered costs of today, to elevate a movement to 75 per cent. to a principle cannot be justified.
Let us face this. There was no settlement in 1944. The first time that I heard the Lord Privy Seal ever use the word "settlement" was last Saturday, when I was with him at Bedford, where he said that we had arranged a sort of a settlement. What we always called it was an arrangement. It was an arrangement made in this House, and that is another thing that has to be remembered.
The Education Bill, as it left this House after going through Committee and Report stages, was a very different Bill on this point from what it was when it was introduced. I hope that it will be realised, and I hope we all realise, that we cannot shelter ourselves behind conversations between the Minister and religious denominations, or between my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson), my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart), the Minister and the denominations, or even my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), engaged in these similar private conversations. We in this House must either accept, modify or reject the Bill. There will be a Committee stage, and I hope that there will be opportunities for showing that we are responsible people who accept arrangements that are entered into for us by trusted leaders; but we cannot put the blame on them if afterwards we do not like them.
I mentioned the way in which that Bill went through the House for this reason. At no time did either of the two denominations concerned think that it would be able to meet the obligations which it was undertaking except by the most tremendous efforts. The last thing that was done in this House, after agreeing to the 50 per cent. grant, was to bring in a system by which the remainder of the capital cost to the denomination could be met by a loan arranged in a business like manner. There was very considerable discussion about this, and this brings me to the single-school area problem.
When the Bill left the Committee, loans for the remainder of the capital cost to the denomination could be arranged at what was then computed to be 4½ per cent. annual repayment, which would wipe out the loan in a period of approximately forty years. Owing to a discussion which took place late in the Committee stage, when the new Clause to incorporate that provision in the Bill was being given its Second Reading, the Nonconformists—and I speak as a Nonconformist, and not as a Free Churchman; I am a Nonconformist, and I generally manage to non-conform with anybody, both in this House and outside—objected to loans being made available in single school areas. Section 105 (3) of the Education Act directs the Minister, when he has an application for a loan from a single school area, to give consideration to that matter and to consult other people in the neighbourhood who may be regarded as feeling a grievance if a denominational school is established in an area in which there is no provision for a county or controlled school. The Minister can hold a local inquiry, and he has to consider the result.
Last Thursday, I asked the Minister how many such grants have been applied for, and I gather that the Ministry has at last received one, and I understand that the right hon. Gentleman has it under consideration. That was what the Parliamentary Secretary told me in a Written reply. I mention that because I want the House to realise that one of the things that was done in the closing stages of the discussion on the Education Bill of 1944 in this House was to give some recognition to the Nonconformist problem that arises in the single school area.
I speak with some feeling on this matter, because I was brought up in a single-school area. The lords of the council in those days were the national education authority, and they condemned the school in which I was being taught as being insanitary. A public meeting was called to decide how this situation was to be met. My father went armed with a resolution that we should have a school board in Epsom, but the meeting opened by the chairman saying, "I shall not ask you for any money, because all that is required to meet what the lords of the council want has been provided for us by the Epsom Grandstand Association". At that time, and I am talking now about 1890, the railway companies would support any denominational school, and, indeed, Crewe never had a school board, because the railway company would make a grant to any school so that there should not be a school board rate in the area. It was because of that that Lord Hugh Cecil, as he then was, said in the debate in 1902 that that Act of 1902 would be the necropolis of the voluntary school.
As long ago as that it was realised that the problem of keeping voluntary school buildings up to a satisfactory standard in competition with State and rate-supported council schools, as they were called, would be beyond the capacity of the denominations. The real issue in this matter was settled not in 1944, but when the House of Lords threw out the Bill that was introduced by Mr. Birrell in this House to correct the 1902 Act. That was when this matter was settled.
I rejoice that feelings are not as bitter now as they were then, but I ask the House and the Minister to realise that in the villages, the feeling about the single-school area is very strong. Nowadays, it does not matter in the towns All the big towns have such a variety of county schools that if a child goes to a voluntary school there he does so because it is nearest to his home, and his mother wants him to run errands in the dinner time, or for some other reason the nearest school is the one that counts.
Let us be clear on this. I do not believe that there is a single non-Catholic child in a Catholic school unless the parents let him go there for reasons of convenience. After all, the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wimbledon (Sir C. Black) and I—though he is a Free Churchman and I am a Noncomformist—have, nevertheless, been appointed by the Surrey County Council, for a considerable number of years now, to be its representative governors of a Jesuit college, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) will send a succession of pupils for a good many years to come and of an Ursuline convent school.
What is the problem facing the governors of the Ursuline convent school? It is to keep the non-Catholic child out of it, because there are a number of non-Catholic parents who think that if they can get a girl in there she will acquire a polish, a sauvity and a general demeanour that will fit her, no matter what her brain power may be, to be either a good lady's maid or a lady's hairdresser.
I say quite frankly, as a Nonconformist, that I do not regard the Roman Catholic schools as proselytising, but the problem of the single-school area, as was recognised by the hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Kirk), is that, even where the school is controlled, what this Act said should happen in a controlled school very often does not happen. According to Section 26 of the Act, the religious instruction to be given in a controlled school has to be the agreed syllabus, except for the children of parents who ask for instruction according to the trust deeds.
I get complaints from all over the country that in controlled schools steps are not taken to ascertain the wishes of the parents. I would urge those who are to attend these conferences over which the right hon. Gentleman is to preside to see that it is made clear to the managers of controlled schools that the law with regard to religious instruction therein is as I have stated. I hope, too, that the Church of England, through its diocesan authorities, will take steps to see that that provision is carried out, for I am quite sure that that would do a great deal to soften the feelings that now undoubtedly exist in a good many villages where Nonconformist children receive church instruction, although the law says that in a controlled school the normal system of religious instruction shall be the agreed syllabus.
Another question mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman was that of managers. Last night, I rang up my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery to remind him of a meeting over which he presided in a Committee room on 26th April, 1944, when the Noncomformist Members of the House met the four leaders of the Federal Free Church Council, headed by Dr. Scott-Lidgett, to consider what we should do on Report—the Committee stage had been completed.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman reminded us that we could deal only with matters of great importance, and Dr. Scott-Lidgett said that there was only one thing that remained, and that was the problem of the single-school area. He said, "We accept the controlled school. That is a solution." That was on the assumption that the law would be obeyed by the people who allow their schools to become controlled, and I hope that the hon. Member for Gravesend will agree with me, that if they opt for controlled status they have to obey the law, even if it is a little irksome. They should know the law before opting.
Dr. Scott-Lidgett said, "There are three things that the Church of England has offered us. The first is that we should be able to appoint a Noncomformist teacher. We object to that because it is against our principles. We do not believe in religious tests for State servants, and do not want our people to get in through a religious test when we object to others doing so." The second offer was that there should be a discussion at diocesan level to see whether something could be worked out. The third offer was the appointment by the Free Churches of a foundation manager.
We are not now talking of something that happened last week, but of something of which we heard on 26th April, 1944. Since then, there must have been thousands of schemes for the management and governorship of voluntary aided Church of England schools. I should have been a little more ready to believe that something is to happen next week if something on those lines had happened between 1944 and 1959, because every time the issue is raised this is something that is put up as one of the things that might be done.
I say to the Minister that if the Church of England would agree to an arrangement by which a person not of the faith prescribed in the trust deeds of the school could be elected a manager or governor of a voluntary aided school it would give a very great deal of confidence to the Free Churches. It would wipe out nearly all the bitterness about the single school area. Steps should be taken to ensure that the foundation still has a majority on the board of managers or board of governors. I hope that it may be possible for that to be done.
I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham on the lucid way in which he explained to the House the very complicated matters raised in the Bill. I think that he made a convincing case for the line which he has taken on it and I unhesitatingly align myself with him. There is only one thing one which I am bound to express uneasiness. As I understand the arrangement, any voluntary denominational primary school that is built from now onwards does not confer on its pupils the right to a denominational education of the same sort when they pass on to secondary school.
I do not think that such an arrangement can be permanent. The difficulty does not arise today; it will arise in about six or seven years' time, when the children pass on from the denominational voluntary school where they have been brought up, and of which their parents and religious leaders approve, and then may be expected to fit into a local arrangement which deprives them of the religious instruction which their parents want them to receive.
That was why we in Surrey brought into the county system the Jesuit college and the Ursuline college, to which I have referred and of which the hon. Member for Wimbledon and myself are governors. We had cases like the one alluded to by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King) where children of great promise passed the dreaded 11-plus examination with great credit and then there was no place available for them in a Catholic school.
Whether we like it or not, the Catholic says. "My child shall not be educated unless he is in a Catholic atmosphere". One may think that that is narrowing, but that is the Catholic parents' belief. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Mahon) said, the Catholic is not a second-class citizen. We are all equal citizens, and the Act of 1944 laid down that the wishes of the parents were to have overriding consideration when it came to matters of this sort.
I therefore regret that there is in this arrangement what The Times called some impermanence. Frankly, I hope that we shall in the not too distant future be able to reach an agreement, not merely between the political parties but between all the religious denominations, by which we shall be able so to arrange matters that in accordance with Section 76 of the Act most children will not be in a school which may involve conflict between the school, the home and the Church. There can be nothing worse, either for the school or for the pupil, than such an atmosphere as that should exist.
I regret to say that this impermanence seems to me to be self-evident on the face of the Bill. Someone will have to meet the situation that it will create if it persists. Apart from that, I think that all those associated with the political negotiations on this Measure should be congratulated on the results which they have achieved. I sincerely hope that it will not be long before we shall have an atmosphere where such bitterness as remains in a single-school area can be eliminated and where we shall not have to worry about what will happen to the religious education of a child when he moves on to a secondary school. I wish the Measure well.
Mr Joseph Reeves (Greenwich)
I am sure that we have all listened to the debate with considerable interest, particularly to the contribution of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). So far, however, we have heard only about the interests of various religious bodies. It may surprise hon. Members to know that there are citizens in the country who cannot accept the religious interpretation of the Bill. There are members of our community who cannot accept the Christian faith. They may describe themselves as humanists or rationalists, but they are certainly not in agreement with the arrangement arrived at in 1944. Although the Bill which we are discussing is entitled the "Education Bill", in my view it is more concerned with financial grants to religious organisations than with education as such.
The first criticism that I should like to make of the Measure is that it is one for which no hon. Member has received a mandate. The people have not been consulted about its provisions. I may be told that it is no more than an amendment to the Education Acts of 1944 and 1953 and that no new principle is involved. It is my view, however, that certain interests are obtaining every ounce of advantage from a very highly disputable principle.
Previous Acts were not expressions of the popular will of the electorate. In 1944, when the war was nearing its agonising close, a Bill was produced with the object of making a fundamental change in our educational system at a time when it was felt that the children of the common people were entitled to more equitable treatment than they had previously received. Before 1944, the great majority of children had no hope whatever of any form of higher education. Their education stopped dead at 14 years of age. The Bill of 1944 was designed to abolish this grave social injustice. When it was decided to provide a limited measure of secondary education for all children, the problem of religious instruction in the schools had to be tackled. It was decided that as this issue was of such a controversial character, not only would it be right to seek agreement amongst the religious bodies concerned, but with the political parties as well. The 1944 agreement resulted from those consultations, except that the Free churches were reluctant parties to the agreement.
Members of Parliament at that time had no mandate whatever to depart from the previous practice. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Randall Davidson, himself had admitted that the result of the election of 1906 had established that the nation had decided in favour of the popular control of its schools. In my view, the nation has never given its assent to a departure from that principle.
The Education Act, 1944, was a grave departure from that clear-cut principle. The Free Churches were never happy about the compromise, as it was called, and the humanists were totally opposed to it, because the public were called upon to pay most of the costs of denominational schools without having any control or any measure of control.
Children are entitled to understand the history of Christianity, and their knowledge would be gravely lacking were it not revealed how mankind embraces a considerable variety of religions. I therefore say that this Parliament has no mandate to force taxpayers and ratepayers to go further than this by paying for the instruction of children in an outmoded moral and ethical concept of life, depriving them of the educational advantages which would be made possible by the release of this time for instruction in less controversial subjects.
When the present Home Secretary, who was the Minister involved, discussed with the Committee of the whole House on 10th March, 1944, the question of the collective act of worship which should open school activities, he said:
the … provisions of the Clause indicate that a parent who desires his children not to join in this act of worship, is not obliged to cause the children to attend. Therefore, it is not a compulsory act of worship, or a compulsory church parade, as some people imagine."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1944; Vol. 397, c. 2401–2.]
It is, however, compulsory for the education authority to provide such a period of attendance at a collective act of worship and virtually compulsory for teachers to participate in one way or another. It is true that parents may withdraw their children from such an assembly. Indeed, they may also withdraw their children from lessons involving religious instruction. This right, however, is an unjustifiable demand on parents. Many may not wish that their children should be segregated during this period.
Roman Catholics withdraw their children when they cannot provide school places under their own control. Indeed, in all probability, this is the reason—it may be even the main reason—why they have asked for the increase in the grant of from 50 to 75 per cent. so that they can provide for more of their children. Jewish parents withdraw their children and many humanists do the same. Is it right that such segregation of children should be the outcome of a State system of education which uses compulsion on one of the most debatable issues of our modern life?
The situation embarrasses an increasing number of parents who wish to make their own arrangements regarding the moral, ethical and even religious instruction of their children. Free Churchmen as well as humanists are opposed to this provision, to which they have not given their complete assent and, in many cases, upon which they have not even been consulted.
I have with me a circular which I received only a few days ago from the London Baptist Association. This circular makes the assertion that
the Minister of Education did not at any time call together all interested parties around one table to discuss the difficult issues involved in his proposals.
Mr Joseph Reeves (Greenwich)
If the Minister had done so, he would have met the objection at least of the London Baptist Association. The Association also states that it is
not assured that sufficient consideration has been given to the opinion of the large number of people who are not associated with any church.
I wonder whether the House realises the significance of that. I am not saying that, but I would have said it if the London Baptist Association had not said it for me.
It is true that my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) referred to a growing body of people who cannot accept the Christian philosophy and to a larger body still who are completely apathetic on this issue. The truth is that there is a growing body of opinion which cannot accept in any way the Christian philosophy. The Minister has not invited us at all to talk with him on our attitude towards the Bill. It is true that we met the Parliamentary Secretary, but it was not at his invitation. It was at our request.
Finally, the London Baptist Association states
the proposed increased grants strengthen the already privileged position of denominational schools.
There is no doubt about that. Those who have listened to the debate this afternoon must realise that the position of the denominational school is being strengthened, particularly in the second field.
It is right that the leaders of the political parties and of some of the denominations should give their approval to a scheme of such a controversial character involving disputed dogmas, both within and without the Christian community? I am sure that it is not. With the passing of the years the people of the country will regret this truly opportunist alliance.
Let me read—[Interruption.] I have no doubt that I shall be taken to task for putting forward this point of view. I hope, however, that hon. Members will be tolerant and give me one or two more minutes. Some time ago, the Free Church Council issued a document on denominational schools. At the end of a critical analysis of the Bill, I was surprised and delighted to read these words:
The privileged position of the denominational schools is introducing a clerical and anticlerical struggle into our country compared with which the old antagonisms of Church and Chapel will seem child's play.
The Minister has said that everything in the garden is lovely, that we have almost got 100 per cent. agreement and that we are going to have further conferences with the Free Churches. No doubt he feels that his difficulties will be overcome. That, however, as I have read, is what the Free Church Council had to say on the situation.
May I introduce a personal note into this debate? I have three daughters. The two elder daughters went to school and participated in the collective worship and attended lessons in religious knowledge. They are now humanists in spite of the fact that I am against propaganda at home in these matters which are, in my view, matters which a person has the right to decide at a period of maturity. The third child asked to withdraw from religious lessons because the teacher of religious knowledge said to her that she was an atheist. Of course, I had no alternative on that account but to comply with her request.
But I hate this segregation of our children. They have to go into a back room while the religious lessons are being given. I should like my child to know something about comparative religion. I should like my child to know all about the great religions of the world. I do not want her to be bothered with the multiplicity of doctrinal conflicts which occur in the British Christian Church. I am not in any way interested in those things. My child has no right at all in this matter; she is segregated, and she is put into a back room with Jews, Catholics, and a number of other children who are withdrawn. It is my view that such subjects are only appropriate for full discussion when years of maturity and understanding have been reached.
Certain of the Churches are not so tolerant as we humanists are. Headmasters and headmistresses, and in many cases teachers, are forced to participate in collective worship and the teaching of a subject in which they do not believe. In many cases, in spite of the conscience clause, their future would be in grave jeopardy were they to reveal their true beliefs.
Dr Horace King (Southampton, Itchen)
Surely my hon. Friend knows that no teacher is compelled to take part in an act of worship, and it is against the law of the land to interfere with the professional prospects of a teacher because of his religious views?
Mr Joseph Reeves (Greenwich)
I did not say anything otherwise. I said they could take advantage of the conscience clause, but woe betide some of those in certain of our schools were they to take advantage of the clause.
In our modern life it is the duty of the State, acting on behalf of its people, from whom it derives all its power, to provide a complete system of education upon the basis of equality of opportunity for all. Indeed, as a humanist I would go further and say with the Master of Balliol in the Report of the Commission on Adult Education in 1919 that
Education should be both universal and lifelong".
This can come about only when the State confines itself and its activities to the provision of educational facilities for its people, leaving to the religious bodies and the non-religious bodies freedom to carry out their work in their own way and of making known their deeply held views on such subjects. Because the State is composed of non-religious as well as religious citizens, it is violating the principles upon which our political democracy is founded if it denies to what it may think to be a minority the rights it concedes to numerically more articulate groups in the country.
The Act of 1944 provided that if schools under denominational authority were to concede a considerable measure of public control they could become controlled schools, in which case the problem of building standards would become the responsibility of the community. On the other hand, those who stood out for complete denominational control were granted 50 per cent. of the cost of reconstructing schools so that they might be brought up to modern standards. They had the right to appoint their own staffs and teachers, and no teacher, unless of a particular denomination, could hope to find an appointment in these schools; the whole cost of the educational and religious activities as well as half of the cost of building improvements and the rebuilding of unsuitable or black-listed schools being provided out of public funds.
It would be intolerable if we were to go farther along this disputed path. The proposed increase of grant is unacceptable to a growing body of the public which resents religious domination. Anglicans accepted controlled status for many of their own schools and thus lost denominational management. The Roman Catholics stood out against such an agreement. None of their schools was allowed to become controlled. They thus accepted 50 per cent. financial responsibility for the reconstruction of unsuitable schools, but reserved their control.
This dual system of education is educationally inefficient, and unfair to those who cannot accept denominational Christian doctrines. If public money is to be forthcoming for the school building programmes, the public has the right to control the activities of the schools. The 1944 concession to denominational teaching was more than generous. It was dangerously partisan. If a Church wishes to control a school and appoint its teachers it should be prepared to pay at least in part for the privilege.
Humanists, and Free Churchmen, for that matter, have been most tolerant over the 1944 agreement, but if the dual system is to be extended—we have heard today how it is to be extended; it is going to be extended in the secondary schools from an uncertain pyramid to a column—as is envisaged in the Bill, a new attempt will have to be made to divorce the State and its education system entirely from religious controversies, controversies which are now brewing. In my view, this Bill is a legislative Measure to break the 1944 agreement in favour of a minority religious interest.
In the Government's White Paper a large scale development of our secondary school system of education is envisaged. May I ask the Minister whether the increased percentage grant is to be paid for new denominational secondary schools? If it is, then assuredly it is a further departure from the 1944 agreement. I should like to ask the Minister how many schools are likely to be involved in this programme.
This dual system is one of the greatest political errors of this century. It will increasingly divide our people into conflicting groups as the demands of the authoritarian elements in the State gain concessions. The Government should never have truckled to these elements. The Government's job is to provide a comprehensive and efficient system of education holding widely varying religious and non-religious views.
Those like myself who believe that the discoveries of modern science have made supernatural religion an anachronism demand the right to ensure that their children are not taught doctrines which cannot stand up to the challenge of modern criticism. But we wish to concede to religious bodies the absolute and uncallenged liberty to disseminate religious doctrines out of school according to their needs.
I was reading—[An HON. MEMBER: "The hon. Member still is."]—only the other day the debate on the Education Act, 1944, which dealt with this issue, in which my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove) said:
I do not want to exaggerate, but this Bill can be pretty fairly described as a Bill for compulsory religious teaching throughout the whole State system of education. Not only does it do that, but it preserves and extends religious denominational teaching through the schools. This is a revolution in British educational history … I am not so sure that State compulsion will lead in the direction which hon. Members opposite desire. It is possible to make religious teaching very unpopular."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1944: Vol. 397, c. 2402–3.]
I would say that the way to do that is to start to teach the children when they are of an immature age.
How do the Government, how do the political parties and the religious bodies, feel about the results of religious teaching in the schools? Are our people more religious as a result of this sustained effort? Every hon. Member knows the answer to that question. The trouble facing all of us is that we have ignored the trends of our times. We have failed to deal with the vacuum caused by the lack of belief in supernatural religion. We have proceeded blindly to enunciate notions which today are not accepted even by well-known churchmen. Prior to 1944, the Cowper-Temple Clause was at least a way of reconciling public control with religious susceptibilities. Cannot we find a new formula more in keeping with our age, agog with new scientific discoveries, but needing the teaching of the best which moral and ethical principles can provide?
Religious people, and the growing army of unbelievers as well as the many millions who are completely apathetic upon such matters, need the inspiration of the good life and the unselfish cause. Communal co-operation in such a cause would do untold good in an era of scepticism. It serves little purpose to be told by a well-known bishop that we are a nation of pagans. Are we not concerned about the precipitate fall in attendances at churches and in Sunday schools? I will refrain from mentioning the Gallup poll figures on church attendances, because I should only hurt the susceptibilities of my friends and colleagues.
Religion speaks to the people of this country through all the media available, through the Press, through television, through the radio, and yet much of it falls on deaf ears. We pay a high price for our bigotry. History may have hard things to say of our blindness to perceive the impact which science has made upon current philosophical thinking. Those like myself who believe that the great gifts of science have enabled man to throw off many devotedly-held superstitions want to see the joining together of all the progressive forces of the land to conquer disease and the remnants of poverty. We want to see the abolition of overcrowding and of slums, and indeed of all social injustices and inequalities. Above all, we want to banish the incalculable possibilities of war from the face of the earth. If this could be our mission in this nuclear age, surely we could accord to one another the right to equality of treatment for all children in our schools.
Our parties are demanding our loyalty to this new political and partly religious agreement. I am permitted to invoke the conscience clause and refrain from voting. To walk through the "No" Lobby would be a mere convention. I raise my voice instead against the Bill. I am sure that this way is far more effective.
Mr Thomas Jones (Merionethshire)
My intervention will be very brief. First, I am very pleased to disagree with everything that my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Reeves) has said. I have never believed in denominational schools. I believe that education is a matter for the State and the State only, but provision, of course, should be made in every school for religious instruction.
I am a Protestant and a staunch Nonconformist. I say that I am a staunch Nonconformist, Mr. Speaker, because I am a member of a small religious denomination known as the Scotch Baptists. Paradoxical as it may appear to you, as a Scotsman, there are no Scotch Baptists in Scotland. They are confined to North Wales, and were you to ask me tonight to explain just what we stand for it would take me a long time.
Briefly, I would say that we are the very antithesis of Roman Catholicism. All that we teach is absolutely contrary to anything taught in the Roman Catholic Church. We disagree fundamentally with Roman Catholics, and they disagree fundamentally with us, but I have good friends among Catholics in the House and outside. Indeed, I am on good terms with the Bishop of Menevia, who virtually is the bishop of the whole of Wales. I hope, therefore, that my good friends in the House will not think me unkind towards them in anything that I am about to say, because it will be said in the best of spirit and because I want to have it off my Nonconformist conscience.
Britain is still a Protestant country, and I would maintain that it is only in a Protestant and democratic country that one would be presented with a Bill such as this. They would not have this Bill in Colombia, in Spain, in Italy, or in France. Therefore, I hope that our Catholic friends will appreciate and reciprocate the toleration and the great measure of magnanimity shown by non-Catholic people in this country.
Let us face frankly the fact that if any hon. Member of the House opposed the Bill he would be denounced from every Roman Catholic pulpit throughout his constituency. I know from my own experience that what I am saying is true. In a free country this should not be. It is unworthy. So my appeal is that I hope with the Second Reading of the Bill—because there will be no Division this evening—the spirit of toleration shown by the Protestants, and the Nonconformists in particular, will be reciprocated.
I should also like to believe that the Bill will finalise the question of grants to the denominational Churches. The 1944 Act embodied proposals which had been agreed by all denominations, Protestant and Roman Catholic. The 50 per cent. for the schools was accepted and it seemed at the time that everyone was satisfied with it, but before fifteen years have elapsed there has been a great agitation, of which our mail is the proof, over the last two or three years for the grant to be augmented. Indeed, this Bill is a direct result of that agitation.
What worries us as Nonconformists is: will this be the end, or shall we hear in a few years' time that the grants should be increased to 80 per cent., to 90 per cent. and eventually to 100 per cent.? I believe that if any member of the Roman Catholic Church who is also an hon. Member of this House could assure us this evening that this will be the end, it would bring great satisfaction to Nonconformists. If no hon. Member is authorised to do that here, then I appeal from the House to the Roman Catholic leaders of the country to make such a declaration in the interests of the Bill and in the interests of true education.
Mr Robert Mellish (Bermondsey)
At least this can be said, that if I can catch Mr. Speaker's eye I can show him clearly that we missed a chance here tonight in not arriving at a settlement which would take this question out of politics for the rest of the century.
Mr Leslie Lever (Manchester Ardwick)
I have listened to every minute of this important debate today and I am sure that all of us have been impressed by the temper and the good feeling and the mutual tolerance expressed on this important subject.
I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, that I cannot answer the question of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Merioneth (Mr. T. W. Jones), but I can tell him that he has shown, as have his Nonconformists colleagues, a sense of tolerance and good will today which reflects credit not only on their faith, but on this great country. I wish the world could listen in to the spirit and the temper of the debate, because I am sure that not only have we made an educational advance by giving fuller scope to the denominational schools but, in addition, have shown great tolerance.
As a Jew I also am deeply interested in denominational schools. I do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Reeves) that we ought to have a uniform system of education divorced from denominational schools.
Mr Leslie Lever (Manchester Ardwick)
Whatever my lion. Friend likes to call it, I believe that every denomination is entitled to retain its own conscience in a free and democratic society, and as a member of the Jewish faith I fully support the Bill and my community fully supports it. I believe that the country is not worse for denominational teaching, but is the better for it. I think that a nation which believes in God will be a better nation than one which is atheistic and agnostic and indifferent to the sacred verities of religion, whatever that religion may be and whatever the conscience of the individual concerned.
I am glad to see that in this country we are showing a proper spirit of mutual respect and tolerance, each retaining his own conscience yet working together as members of the great British family. I have been a member of a large education committee for eighteen years. I was chairman of -its finance committee and I was nauseated by the arguments that went on in the 'thirties as to whether this item for the school was the financial responsibility of the local education authority or that item belonged to a denomination.
For instance, if one wanted to have a toilet outside the building, it was the responsibility of the denomination; if one wanted it inside, it was that of the local education authority. If one wanted a new chimney pot, it was the liability of the denomination. If one wanted to have the flue put in order, it was the responsibility of the local education authority. Those conceptions befogged our educational system and I am very glad indeed that we are gradually but surely getting away from that narrow conception which clouded our education in days gone by, and are showing a spirit worthy of the age in which we live.
A great deal has been said about the denominational schools. I believe that the dual system has come to stay, I hope that it will stay, and that it will become stronger if people wish it to be stronger. It is wrong for a denomination to have to pay not only for its primary schools, but also for its secondary schools, and to fulfil obligations which should not devolve upon it. After all is said and done, those who want denominational teaching should have a right to it. Every parent should have the exclusive right to have such religious education for his child in a school of his own denomination.
One would sometimes think that those who are members of the denominations are just recipients from the common pool. The members of the denominations contribute to national taxation and they contribute to rates. If they feel that, in conscience, they wish their children to be educated at particular schools, they have every right to say so. They do not deny the right of those who do not want denominational teaching to have such education as they want. Neither should those who do not want denominational teaching deny it to those who want it.
A great deal of play has been made about control, that the denominational schools are not under anyone's control. We are all under the control of Parliament. We are all under the control of our democracy in our schools as in any other matter. Under Section 13, the members of the denominations cannot build a new denominational school unless they have the approval of the local education authority and of the Minister for it.
Even if they have established their school, the school is subject to constant inspection not only by Her Majesty's inspectors at every stage of the curriculum, but, in addition, the local education authority, even though in a minority, sends representatives to the schools of the denominations. If things are not up to standard in a particular denominational school, is it to be thought that the representative of the local educational authority, who, in many cases, may not be of the same faith, will not faithfully report back to the education committee about how things are going? It is sheer nonsense to say that denominational schools are not under the aegis of some supervision.
Today, we have taken a great step forward in showing greater justice towards the denominational schools than we have shown hitherto. I am glad to think that children of different denominations, whether they be Anglican, Catholic, Free Church, or whoever they may be, will have this advantage. I respect the Free Church conscience as much as I respect the conscience of anyone. When I was Lord Mayor of Manchester, I used to accept the invitations of all the denominations. I should continue to do so, although I belong to the Jewish faith. I respect them all. They are all doing very valuable work according to their conscience, whether in their Churches or their schools.
I affirm that that is the spirit in which we should approach the problem, the spirit of conscience within ourselves and the spirit of botherhood towards each other. It is that temper which has today been shown to be one of the great features of this country, greater than one could find in any other part of the world. I hope that it will continue. I have seen it in this country very often. If one is conscientious towards one's own faith and tolerant to the faiths of others, that is the way to achieve the future progress which we so sorely need. If we bicker with each other, as we did in days gone by, we shall not create a happy atmosphere that is so desirable.
Every credit is due to those denominations, such as the Roman Catholic community, who are very keen on their own faith and having their own schools. They are very fine citizens. They have done their duty in peace, in war and at all times. When I was the chief citizen of a great city, I was very glad to welcome their co-operation as I was to welcome the co-operation of Nonconformists, Anglicans and those of my own faith. There should be nothing to divide us in these matters. I hope that the Bill will receive the wholehearted and unanimous support which it deserves in a free and civilised age in the greatest country in the world.
Sir Eric Fletcher (Islington East)
We have had a great variety of opinion expressing many points of view. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. L. M. Lever) has expressed a point of view not previously put forward, but he expressed also the feeling which other hon. Members have had about the spirit of tolerance in this debate.
I was very glad, too, that my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Reeves) had an opportunity of putting his point of view. Although I did not agree with what he said and I do not agree with his outlook, I feel it to be most important that in this debate in the House, which is concerned primarily with religious teaching in schools, we should hear from one who, I think, described himself as a humanist or rationalist and who spoke on behalf of those—a growing number, one must admit—who do not accept the Christian philosophy.
My hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich was totally opposed to any kind of denominational teaching in schools. It seemed to me that the arguments he addressed to the House put into focus much of the somewhat narrower field we had been covering during the debate. He reminded us that we are now living in a country in which, although there is a great deal of diffused Christianity, there is a very large number of people who not only do not conceal the fact that they do not accept Christianity but who tend to boast of not accepting it.
All of us should bear in mind this important fact as the background of what we are discussing. As I see it, we are very fortunate in this country to have a system which has been evolved and hammered out by consent, a system in which there is an agreed measure of religious teaching in all schools, an agreed religious syllabus in State schools as well as the dual system which permits denominational teaching in the denominational schools. I am not sure whether this country is unique in this respect. It is certainly very different in the matter of religious teaching from most other countries. There is nothing like it in the United States of America, in France or in most Continental countries. I do not know whether Sweden is an exception. I feel that we can congratulate ourselves on having worked out a system which, in accord with our long national traditions, enables the Christian virtues and the Christian philosophy to be put before all schoolchildren throughout the country.
Like other hon. Members, I have received a good many communications from those who feel strongly about this Bill, notably Free Church Ministers and those representing Free Church organisations. I regret that this Measure is not a fully agreed Measure between all the Churches in the same way as it is fully agreed between the political parties. As carefully as I can, I want to say something about the representations which I have received from Free Church people in my constituency.
The first observation I would make was touched upon by the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. G. Longden). Whereas I can understand my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich, a non-Christian, from his point of view objecting to all denominational teaching in schools, I regret that during the last few weeks the spearhead of the opposition to the Bill, such as it is, has come not from non-Christians but from Christian bodies, namely, the Free Churches.
I believe that in itself to be a matter for regret, and I was very glad to hear the speeches made by such respected leaders of the Free Churches as the hon.
Member for Wimbledon (Sir C. Black) and certain of my hon. Friends who spoke, including the hon. Member for Abertillery (The Rev. L1. Williams). If I may say so, I think that they dealt with all or nearly all the criticisms of the Bill which were expressed in the letter to The Times of 18th June signed by a number of distinguished members of the hierarchy of the Free Church Council.
I would have thought that the first of their arguments had been effectively disposed of by a number of speakers in this debate. As my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) pointed out, there is nothing in the argument that the Bill is a departure in any way from the spirit of the 1944 settlement. I regard it as an essential Measure bringing up to date in the conditions of 1959 what was implicit in that agreement.
However, we must also face the question asked, particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for Merioneth (Mr. T. W. Jones), my hon. Friend the Member for Abertillery and others, as to whether, in twenty years' time, the matter will be carried a stage further and there will be a demand for an increase from 75 per cent. If I had to answer that, I would say that just as there is no magic in 50 per cent. so there is no magic in 75 per cent., but I hope that we will regard this as a purely academic question. I hope that the Roman Catholic Church will be able to recognise that it has received a very generous measure of treatment in this Bill. I speak on these matters as an Anglican, and, therefore, it is perhaps easier for me to speak than for a Roman Catholic or a member of the Free Church, because in this debate the position of the Anglican community is relatively simple. It entirely approves of the Measure and has no criticism of it. It has, however, one suggestion to make, which has already been made, and which I will venture to repeat before I conclude.
As I have said, I hope that the Roman Catholic community will recognise the generous measure of treatment it is receiving. I hope that the Free Churches also will be ready to discount what seems to me a quite unreal fear expressed in that letter to The Times of 18th June. One must face the fact that underlying this attitude of the Free Churches is a fear of the growth and revival of Romanism. It has been expressed, not perhaps in those words, in some of the letters I have received. One of my correspondents from the Free Churches tells me that it is the duty of the Opposition to scrutinise every Bill in the interests of the minorities concerned. My correspondent rather suggests that I should be failing in my duty if I did not look at this from the point of view of the Free Church minority. I would point out that the Roman Catholic Church is also a minority interest in this country, and until the last century a minority deprived of a great many privileges. As an Anglican Member, I readily acknowledge the right of all minorities. It seems to me that in some of the publications which I have seen—and I think that the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) rather gave expression to the same attitude—it has been suggested the Free Churches have a duty to act as the opponents of a revived or an increasing Roman Catholicism. I hope that I am not doing him an injustice.
Mr Lawrence Orr (South Down)
I think that the hon. Gentleman is doing me a slight injustice. I am an Anglican and I was speaking for those opposed to the dual system and not specifically for the Catholic Church.
Sir Eric Fletcher (Islington East)
I think that we must recognise that since 1944 this country has accepted the dual system and that it has come to stay. That being the case, we have a duty to accept it not only in the interest of education but also in the interest of Christian tolerance. Granted the dual system, the Roman Catholics have the same right as anybody else. They make great sacrifices to maintain their denominational schools. I am glad to think, with my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), who gave us a wealth of history about Education Bills from the early days of the century, that we can all rejoice that religious tolerance both in the field of education and generally is much greater than it was 50 years ago and, indeed, in most of our past history.
We can congratulate ourselves that in this country in the last generation or two—in my lifetime, at any rate—there has been a much greater degree of religious toleration than ever before. I think—the words of Archbishop Temple have already been quoted—that the real division in the nation today is not between Catholics and Protestants or between one denomination and another, but between Christians and non-Christians. I do not think the Free Church bodies need be so alarmed about the growth of the Roman Catholic population.
Unfortunately, in this country, as one knows as a matter of history, the fear of Papism is almost ingrained in our people. It dates from long before the Reformation, long before Henry VIII; it existed in the time of King John and earlier. It is not entirely a religious bias. Long before the Reformation it was grounded in political emotion. We have however long emerged from the sixteenth and seventeeth centuries, when people still remembered the fires of Smithfield, and read little but Foxe's "Book of Martyrs." I think that this debate and the general outlook of tolerance which has been manifested by most speakers and—I am glad to recognise it—by so many Free Church speakers, contrary to some of the Free Church literature which we have been receiving, is very healthy and very wholesome.
I conclude by stressing one other matter. It has been recognised that the Free Churches have a grievance, or think that they have a grievance, in what are called the single school areas. As I am a London Member, I am not very familiar with the details of rural single-school areas, but I would remind the House of the very sympathetic and encouraging statement put out on behalf of the Anglican Church one day last week in a release to the Press quoted in The Times, and other newspapers.
As there stated the Anglican Church is prepared to do everything it can to meet the legitimate grievance—if that is the right word—or legitimate representations of the Free Churches in these single-school areas. The Anglican Church thinks that the problem has been exaggerated and is not aware that there have been more than a very few specific complaints and difficulties in single-school areas. But in so far as such problems arise, the Church of England has said that it is prepared to see that in single-school areas there are facilities over and above those which already exist for ensuring that children receive religious instruction in accordance with the agreed syllabus. It has also agreed that the local Free Church communities should be invited to appoint managing bodies for some of these schools.
Conditions vary from one district to another according to the conditions of the trust deeds, but the Anglican community puts this offer forward not as part of a bargain, but unconditionally, in an attempt to meet genuine Free Church difficulties in single-school areas. It is very heartening to know that the Minister is to participate in forthcoming conversations in that respect. I put that as one further indication of the growing degree of tolerance, understanding, mutual sympathy and harmony in the relations among all the Churches on this subject and it is in that spirit that I, like so many others, commend the Bill to the House.
Mr James Griffiths (Llanelli)
We have had an interesting, temperate and moderate debate, and hon. Members who have taken part in it have spoken with deep conviction and with an almost unanimous desire to approve the efforts which have been made to reach an arrangement which would commend itself to the House and the country.
When, earlier last year, the Minister announced that he felt that the Government's education programme and other considerations had convinced him that further aid would have to be given to denominational schools if we were to make the educational advance which we all desired, I at once approached him—and I thank him for his courtesy. I asked him whether it was his desire that in 1959, as in 1944, we should seek to reach an arrangement which would commend itself to all parties and which would unite Parliament as far as possible on this matter and receive at least the acquiescence of all the religious organisations. I thank the Minister for having invited representatives of my party and of the Liberal Party to those discussions.
As one privileged to represent my party at those discussions, I pay my sincere thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart). My hon. Friend came to that task, as to all tasks in education, with knowledge and experience which were of very great benefit. I also express my thanks to the representatives of the Liberal Party.
We all approached this problem desiring to achieve three ends. First, it was desirable to prevent the matter becoming the subject of party controversy and a Dutch auction for votes among the parties at an election. Secondly, it was desirable to secure the agreement of the representatives of all the religious organisations, if that was possible. Thirdly, we felt that to seek to ensure agreement among the political parties and the religious organisations in our approach towards a new arrangement there was one thing which was very important, indeed, essential, and that was to bring any new arrangement within the framework of the Education Act, 1944. All the time, our paramount consideration was the child.
I want now to speak for myself as a Nonconformist, proud of that tradition, proud of having been nurtured in a Nonconformist home and in a Nonconformist atmosphere and paying my tribute to what that tradition has meant, still means and, I hope, always will mean for this country. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) and the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) have spoken of their personal experience, and I shall speak of mine.
In my early youth, I became a member of the Independent Labour Party, a Socialist, and all my life I have been an active trade unionist. Early in my active life as a trade unionist I was given the very great privilege of representing my trade union at an international conference on the Continent. I was very young, very innocent and, I confess, very ignorant. I had left school at 13 to go to the pit. I am none the worse for that, although I should have been gratified to have had the chance of further education.
I was shocked to find that on the Continent there was more than one trade union movement. The trade union movement there was split and divided. There was a Christian movement and a non-Christian movement. The Social Democratic parties in Europe were divided on religious grounds. I then made up my mind that I would do all I could to prevent that sort of thing spreading to my country. I believe that I was right to take that view.
I shall not prophesy; I shall dare to say something about the past and I ask the indulgence of hon. Members opposite when I say something to my hon. Friends. But for the fact that trade union and political movements on the Continent are divided on clerical and anti-clerical grounds, we should have had a Socialist Europe long ago. I made up my mind to prevent these explosive matters becoming the subject of political contention in this country.
I make no apology whatsoever for being firmly convinced that in the interests of our political life it was desirable to find an arrangement acceptable to all parties, an arrangement which would not become a matter of political controversy at any time and, in particular, at an election.
We approached the discussions, as the House has approached the debate today, with the further knowledge that in 1944 the parties and the religious organisations had come to a very important decision. I do not want to "pass the buck" to anybody. I accept my part of the responsibility. In the 1944 Act we agreed that we would not legislate the dual system out of existence, and not only that we would not legislate it out of existence but that we would not starve the denominational schools out of existence.
That was accepted in 1944. I was not in the Government of 1943–44. I was in Parliament. My colleagues were in the Government. At that time the Leader of the House was a friend whose memory will always be cherished, the late Mr. Arthur Greenwood. For the purposes of organising party work we had an administrative committee of which I was a member. Discussions took place and all the parties had to make the fundamental decision, which was incorporated in the 1944 Act, to accept a dual system.
For a number of reasons I prefer a single State system. But in 1944—not only because we were in the midst of a war; we faced the problem whenever we came to it—had we decided, as a Parliament, to insist on a single State system it would have raised the kind of bitter controversy which we are now trying to avoid. Had we agreed on a single State system we should have compelled all parents to send their children to a State school, or, alternatively, pay for their children's education.
What would have happened then? The only people who would have been able to give their children the education they desired them to have would have been those able to pay for it; which would have made a distinction between the child of the rich man—be he a member of the Church of England or of the Roman Catholic Church—who could afford to pay, and the poor man who could not afford to pay. What Socialist, what citizen, could accept such a system? Therefore, it was clear that if we accepted a dual system, aid would have to be provided.
I wish to stress this, because it is important. The dual system was accepted. I do not blame the Free Churches for accepting it, I accepted it myself and I think that it was the right thing to do in the circumstances. I do not regret the decision I made in 1944. But, having accepted the dual system, we had a duty to make it work. The worst thing of all, having accepted a dual system, would be to allow it to work under such arrangements that the worst form of duality resulted; a State system of education provided entirely out of public funds, continually advancing and improving, and a denominational side which would be far behind. That would be to have the worst of both worlds. It was, therefore, essential to make the dual system work once it had been accepted and it was in that spirit that we approached the problem and sought to make the right arrangements.
First, we had to consider whether we should increase the grant from 50 per cent. to 75 per cent. and I am glad that there is general recognition, including that by my friends in the Free Churches, of the strong case for increasing the grant from 50 per cent. Since we were increasing the grant I had to satisfy myself that to raise it to 75 per cent. was right. I agreed to that.
Now I come to the second provision regarding secondary schools and I wish to explain how I approached this problem. As has been said in the debate, all parties in the House are committed to the expansion of our system of secondary education as rapidly as possible. Indeed, the 1944 Act specifically laid down as one of its major proposals that secondary education should be provided for every boy and girl of 11 years of age and over. That was decided fifteen years ago, but we have not carried it out. If my information is correct, there are still about 530,000 children who are in all-age schools. I believe that the figure is correct. It is taken from the Ministry figures. That includes those of primary aid. Of that 530,000, about 300,000—about four out of seven—are in denominational schools. I believe that there are about 150,000 of these children in all-age schools who ought not to be there. Had we implemented the provisions of the 1944 Act, they would be in secondary schools.
The Government announced their programme for advancing secondary education in a White Paper which was published some time ago. We on this side of the House produced our proposals and our plans for expanding secondary education and they are embodied in our policy statement, "Learning to Live". We have had differences, about which we will riot argue now, about the right way to reorganise and expand the secondary education system. But at least we are of one mind on one thing, that as quickly as possible we must find the resources necessary, the human resources, the number of teachers, and the buildings and equipment, and all that is required to make a reality of the provisions of the 1944 Act in order to provide secondary education for all our children. And as soon as we can we must raise the school-leaving age to 16. On that, we are all agreed.
We must face the problem that if we are to work together to ensure the final implementation of the 1944 Act, and provide secondary education for all, we must have not only State secondary schools, but denominational schools. I am convinced that unless we make such provision as is made in the Bill—which I support and commend to the House—we shall have the worst kind of dual system.
We have attempted to keep within the 1944 settlement, for it is laid down clearly in the Bill that a 75 per cent. grant will be made instead of 50 per cent. for replacements and repairs in accordance with the basis of the 1944 Act, for primary schools existing at the time when the Minister made the announcement. We have also provided a grant at a maximum of 75 per cent. to secondary schools to accommodate children in primary schools.
My right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) asked about the permanency of this arrangement. We discussed it very fully and decided on the proposals, which we submitted to the House. We did so because we were anxious to make our provisions as generous as possible, particularly with a view to implementing fully the programme for secondary education, and also because we knew that especially among the Free Churches there was a desire to preserve the basis of the 1944 settlement. I say to my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields that in my view, while it is true that at the moment the Free Churches are unhappy about these proposals, particularly about the proposal regarding secondary schools, had we departed from the 1944 basis the controversy would have been greater. It might have reflected itself in the House and wrecked the Bill.
For that reason we were particularly careful to try to retain that basis. We have endeavoured to provide an arrangement by which we shall keep the basic principles of the 1944 settlement and apply them to the changing circumstances. In particular, we have sought to make an arrangement which will enable us to carry out our programme for advancement in secondary education. The case for the Bill on educational grounds is unanswerable. I am absolutely satisfied, and I think I am doing no injustice or injury to the Free Churches.
We have had a very good debate, in which Members representing various professions have taken part. I am particularly glad that we have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Reeves). We have had speeches from hon. Members who belong to the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church, the Free Churches, the Nonconformists, and the Jewish faith. I was particularly glad that the views of what is, after all, a representative section of the community, was being heard in the debate.
The view expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich is what we used to call in the old days a belief in "secular" education, the belief that education ought to be the responsibility of the State and be provided out of public funds for all our children. We have heard all points of view expressed, and I pay my respects to those views. I am satisfied that we have carried out our duty to the best of our endeavours and I commend the Bill to the House as an attempt to translate the 1944 Act to meet the needs of today. That is what I claim for it.
I understand the concern and the anxieties of some of my hon. Friends. We have sought in our discussions to remember those anxieties and to bear that concern in mind. The Minister knows that on more than one occasion we have discussed these matters together very frankly. I thank the Minister for the statement that he made today, and particularly for recognising that there is still, although not so much as in the old days, some disability remaining on Nonconformists in Church schools. There is a sense of grievance. I remember those very early days in politics in Wales, but we hear very little about it now.
One of my hon. Friends, the Member for Abertillery (The Rev. LI. Williams), wanted Wales to contract out of the settlement. I hold the contrary view I wish that England would contract into Welsh disestablishment. As a Nonconformist, I believe that there are disadvantages about belonging to the established Church of England and that since we have had disestablishment in Wales our religious life has been better. The Church in Wales has been a better Church since disestablishment. I believe that our relations with the Nonconformists are better.
Mr James Griffiths (Llanelli)
Sometimes I think our friends in Scotland might have a word with our friends in England, and look to Wales for guidance in these matters. I understand the disabilities and the sense of bitterness of the Free Churches, but I hope very much indeed that those Free Churches will accept the offer made by the Minister. There will be opportunities for them to bring their grievances before the Minister and the Government and even before Parliament, so that those grievances can be met and removed.
I would say a word to my friends who belong to the Roman Catholic Church and whom I respect, as we should all respect each other. The Free Churches feel very deeply about this matter, but I say quite sincerely that I am glad that we live in a country in which the Roman Catholics, who are the minority, enjoy tolerance. Many churchmen are conscious of the fact that some of their fellows in other countries where the Roman Catholic Church is in power do not enjoy that tolerance. I am sure that it is their desire that Free Churchmen, Nonconformists and people of all faiths in other countries should enjoy the tolerance which I, as a Nonconformist, want them fully to enjoy in our country.
Mr Robert Mellish (Bermondsey)
Speaking as a member of the Church to which my right hon. Friend refers, I would say that none of us would condone the sort of intolerance that my right hon. Friend has mentioned.
Mr James Griffiths (Llanelli)
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention, which is what I would expect from him.
Now I would speak to my friends of the Free Churches and the Nonconformists. I believe that they will make a very great mistake if they now oppose the Bill. They have had assurances that their grievances will be removed. As a Free Churchman I am sure that there is no principle at stake in the Bill. All those principles were settled, and my hon. Friends agreed to the settlement. I thank them for agreeing to it, as I did as a member of my party, in 1944. All that is now in issue is the question whether the Bill applies to modern conditions the agreement made in 1944. I believe that it does.
If this issue were introduced into the General Election those who did so would be rendering a great disservice to religion in this country. Large numbers of our people would think that religious organisations were entering into political controversy and putting their own partisan interests before the interests of the people. I may be quite wrong about that reaction. I hope that the Bill will commend itself to the House.
Of course, it is a compromise. I do not know whether it will last, but I hope it will. I do not propose to give hostages to the future. I would say to all denominations of churchmen that I hope they will not push this matter so far as to relight old torches that one thought would never be lit again. I hope they will remember that. I am convinced that the Bill and its provisions are essential if we are to carry through the big reforms and changes we want in our educational system. I believe for that reason it will commend itself to the majority of people in this country.
We are on the threshold of a new age. We are at the beginning of a new industrial revolution. Most of our life has been taken up, most of our time in Parliamentary time has been taken up, in trying to remove the consequences of the failure adequately and sensibly to meet the demands of the first Industrial Revolution. We are now on the thresh-hold of a new industrial revolution and it brings great opportunities to us, but this second industrial revolution will make great demands on the boys and girls now in school and the young men and women now in college. The future of our country is in their hands; their future is now in our hands.
I believe that in passing this Bill, as I hope we shall unanimously, we shall be showing a spirit of tolerance towards one another and, more than anything else, remembering that our paramount interest must be that of the children of today, who will be the citizens of the Britain of tomorrow.
Sir Edward Boyle (Birmingham Handsworth)
I rise to thank the House for the reception it has given to this Bill and for the speeches which have been made in the course of this debate. I have had the pleasure of listening to them all, and no one could have wished for a better-tempered or more fruitful debate than we have enjoyed.
The sole purpose of the Bill, as has been said on many occasions, is to ensure that all children, including those educated in denominational schools, should benefit from the rise in standards in education which all of us in this House are fully pledged to promote. I wholly agree with the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) and the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) that this Bill does not in any way mark a new departure in principle, nor does it go outside the framework of the 1944 Act. The longer I remain at the Ministry of Education, the more convinced I become that the 1944 Act—which established the principle of secondary education for all children in accordance with their age, ability and aptitude—was one of the two or three single most important pieces of social legislation we have passed in this House during the present century.
Besides the provisions for secondary education in the 1944 Act, there was also enshrined a religious settlement. That religious settlement took this form. On the one hand, the State did not guarantee that every child of Anglican or Roman Catholic parents should have a place in a denominational school at the public expense, but on the other hand the principle was established that those children who were at denominational schools should be well educated. It is exactly in accordance with that principle that we put forward these proposals today.
I should have thought there was one overwhelming reason why this was a principle which all of us would wish to endorse, because, after all, it is not the fault of any child into what home or religion he is born. Therefore, of whatever faith a child's home may be, it is our duty to see that that child enjoys the best education in his school; and to ensure, also, that the denominational part of our national schools system does not in any way fall behind what is provided in the county schools.
It is now some months since my right hon. Friend started his negotiations. I hope the House will forgive me for saying that I think he has conducted his negotiations with great skill and patience all through. We had from the very first the great advantage of close discussions with hon. and right hon. Members opposite and hon. Members below the Gangway. I should say, in particular, how much we have owed, not only to the very great interest which the hon. Member for Fulham has taken in the subject, but also the very great deal of time and effort that he has put into studying the details; I am sure this must have been very evident to the House when he spoke on Second Reading this afternoon.
We have also done our best to obtain full agreement with the religious denominations. As the House knows, we have obtained agreement from the Roman Catholics and the Church of England. I hope that some of the things I shall say in winding up this debate may possibly answer some of the points that were made by the Free Churches in their letter to The Times a few days ago.
I wish to say this about our negotiations with the Free Churches. No one who has any knowledge of the educational history of Great Britain can be in any doubt as to the very great part which the Free Churches have played in the development of our educational system. It must therefore be a matter of very great regret to any Government and to any House of Commons that we have not so far been able to bring the Free Churches entirely along with us. We do not regard today's debate in this respect as in any way the end of the story. We shall do our very best in the weeks and months ahead to keep in close touch with the Free Churches and try to show that their fears as to the operation of the Bill may not prove quite so justified as they have supposed.
In this connection, I wish to make two points before I come to the details of the Government's proposals. The first is that we decided in 1944 to preserve the dual system. In so far as some Free Church protests have been directed against the dual system itself, therefore, I would point out that this is a matter which the House has already decided. In fact, I agree with the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) that in effect this issue was decided as long ago as 1906 when the Birrell Bill was thrown out by the House of Lords. There is a great deal of truth in that. In any case, the point was finally decided in 1944.
We shall certainly go on as patiently as we can in our negotiations and discussions with the Free Churches on all those points concerning which they have expressed anxiety, but I do not think there is any truth in the suggestion that these negotiations have been rushed. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr), of whose speech I took careful note, suggested that we had rather hurried these negotiations. I do not think that that is true. The first discussions with the Free Churches took place as long ago as last February. We have already had no fewer than four meetings with representatives of the Free Churches and, as I think the House is aware, we intend shortly to have another meeting with both members of the Free Churches and of the Church of England. I do not think that there is any justice in the charge that these negotiations have been pursued at too rapid a rate.
It was natural enough—and I believe that the whole House will agree—that we should want to get the Bill passed during this Session of Parliament. At the same time, we are very keen indeed to remove all legitimate grounds for anxiety as to the working of the Bill.
I come now to the details of what the Government propose to do. The first of the Government's proposals is to increase from 50 per cent. to 75 per cent. the maximum rate of grant on all kinds of work which can attract Exchequer grant as the law now stands. I think that hon. Members on all sides have agreed that this proposal is not very controversial. As the hon. Member for Abertillery (The Rev. LI. Williams) referred to changes in the cost of school building, I can give some figures to the House which I think are striking. At the start of the century it cost about £12 to provide a place for a child in a primary school. By 1943 that cost had risen to £50 a place in a primary school and £100 a place in a secondary school. Despite the close attention to cost limits, the cost has now risen to £154 a place in a primary school and £264 a place in a secondary school. I do not think that it can be seriously disputed that the cost of providing school places has risen substantially in recent years.
Furthermore, as the hon. Member for Fulham fairly said, in so far as higher standards have led to the increase in costs, surely that of itself is a perfectly good reason why there should be some increase in the amount of public money spent in aiding voluntary schools.
The second of the Government's proposals, which has, I think, created more controversy, is the proposal to pay 75 per cent. grant to new aided secondary schools which are needed to match existing aided primary schools—that is to say, existing on the date when the Bill was introduced. This proposal has been fully explained to the House by my right hon. Friend and I will not weary the House by giving the full details all over again. At a time when we want to see a general rise in secondary school standards, and at a time when, over a course of five years, we want finally to get rid of all-age schools in both the country districts and in the towns, surely it cannot be right that—as the law now stands—it should be virtually impossible for Roman Catholics to build a new grammar school.
It is easy to understand how this situation has arisen. As the hon. Member for Fulham lucidly explained, it has arisen from the provisions which we have concerning displaced pupils—that is to say, children who would have attended an aided school in the area from which they have moved. If Roman Catholic children had previously been attending, not an aided grammar school, but a direct grant or a county grammar school, then it is unlikely that they will attract sufficient grant for a new grammar school to be erected in the area to which they move.
It seems to me that the proposals which the Government are introducing are wholly in line with that rise in standards which we all want to see. May I add, for the comfort of the hon. Member for Fulham and of all those who take an interest in this question of the organisation of secondary education, that, they they probably are aware, the Roman Catholic community are showing very great interest in the variety of types of secondary schools which can be built, and certainly we at the Ministry have by no means frowned upon experimental proposals for Roman Catholic comprehensive schools.
It is fair to say that the anxieties which have been felt by the Free Churches can all quite fairly be met on the lines which the hon. Member for Fulham mentioned in his speech this afternon. In the first place, as he rightly pointed out, the Governments' proposal is of limited application. It does not in any way, as it were, widen the denominational base. It is important for the House to realise this, because there is quite genuinely a certain amount of misunderstanding about it outside. Suppose we had not introduced the Bill. Suppose we had left the law as it was, or had suggested a straight increase from 50 to 75 per cent. without the proposal for new secondary schools needed to match existing requirements. No children would have ceased to go to Roman Catholic schools as a result.
I am glad to have the approval of the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King). May I say, since he has caught my eye, just how grateful we were for his contribution, and for those of my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Sir C. Black) and of the hon. Members for Abertillery and Merioneth (Mr. T. W. Jones), both from the Free Church point of view, which they put very fairly and in a most moderate and good-humoured manner. It is important to realise that we are not as a result of this Bill making it possible for children to go to a denominational school who would otherwise have gone to a county school. We are merely saying that it will be more likely that these children will receive their education in a good Catholic school rather than, possibly, in an all-age school or in an inferior Catholic school.
We all have our preferences in matters of faith. May I say for my part, although I do not want to become too personal, that I have a good many points of strong dissent from the Roman Catholic point of view, as have many of my hon. Friends. What I cannot see, however, is that anyone could possibly gain from a badly educated Roman Catholic population. I simply fail to see on what possible standard there could be any gain either to the nation or to any religious denomination from a system of education which condemns one section of the community to a less good education than the rest.
The second point in this connection to which I should like to refer concerns Section 13 of the 1944 Act. The powers which my right hon. Friend enjoys over the approval and location of schools remain totally unaltered by the proposals now before the House. No voluntary aided school of any kind can be erected without the local education authority being at the very least consulted, without full provision being made for the hearing of objections, and without my right hon. Friend having the fullest opportunity to approve or reject the proposals in the light of the evidence put before him. We shall continue to discuss this question of the single school area, and any case referred to us will he considered with very great care by the Ministry.
Discussions on these matters will certainly continue, though I must say frankly that I do not think that, in the last analysis, anything can replace the judgment which the Minister of Education of the day must exercise. I do not think it is any good approaching this question in an attitude of mistrust. Ultimately, we are in the region of political decision about which my right hon. Friend can be questioned at Question Time, and concerning which he is responsible to this House. All I can promise is that in the new conditions we will operate Section 13 of the 1944 Act every bit as fairly, and in as discriminating a manner, as we have tried to do hitherto. May I add that this applies not only to schools which attract the new grant, but also to those which do not attract any rate of grant at all. My right hon. Friend's powers apply every bit as much to these schools. We shall continue to watch every such case just as carefully as we have always done.
Thirdly, I would refer briefly once again to the announcement made by my right hon. Friend this afternoon, that we propose to see whether it would not be possible to have a central committee of the Free Churches so that we may have the same easy relations with the Free Churches as we have with the Church of England and the Roman Catholics. These relations are difficult to describe exactly, but I think that anybody who has worked in a Government Department knows how much easier things are when those in the Department know exactly whom to ring up and at very short notice can get into contact with someone in close and regular touch with the Department. It is in that very spirit that we propose to go forward.
I should like now to answer a few points of detail that have been raised in the course of the debate. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields asked whether the law relating to religious instruction in controlled schools was being flouted. I must say that we have no evidence of any very frequent flouting of the law, but if he has any particular cases in mind—he has referred us to one in correspondence—we shall, of course, be very delighted to investigate. I think that this must be a matter where we investigate any individual case that is referred to us.
The hon. Member for Abertillery asked whether the Roman Catholic child who is being educated at the moment in a county school, but who moves to a new area and attends a new denominational secondary school, can attract grant in accordance with the provisions of the Bill. The answer, surely, is this. The only children who can attract displaced pupils grant are children who would have attended a denominational or voluntary aided school in the area from which they have moved—
Sir Edward Boyle (Birmingham Handsworth)
We can judge from the pattern of the schools in the area from which the children have come whether or not they would have attended denominational schools there. It is only common sense that if the denominational school has not yet, perhaps, been quite completed, and the children have to go to the county school for a short time they should not be disqualified from counting for grant. But there is no question of a child who has been attending a county school, and who could not have attended a voluntary aided school in his area being able to secure the benefit of the provisions of this Bill, or, for that matter, those of the 1953 Act.
The hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Reeves), to whom reference has already been made, spoke, and spoke rightly, on behalf of those who have no religious beliefs. Perhaps I may say that while today we are primarily considering the denominational schools it is right that we should bear in mind that section of the public which has not any beliefs. Do not let us forget, by the way, that at least three highly distinguished Presidents of the Board of Education of this century have been men of no religious belief, so if we are to exclude men of their way of thinking, we should have had to exclude Augustine Birrell, H. A. L. Fisher, and Sir Charles Tevelyan. Therefore, it is only right that children should not be put to disadvantage in the schools for that reason.
My only other detailed point is this. We must not forget that a very considerable burden will still rest on the churches even after this Bill is passed. As I think my right hon. Friend mentioned, in the first two years—1960–62— of the five-year programme, aided school building to the value of £37 million is to be carried out. The fact that the churches will still have a very considerable burden should be remembered by all critics of the denominational schools.
Here, let me say how much I agree with what was said by the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Mahon) on the value of toleration. The hon. Member was kind enough to refer to my visit to Bootle. It is true that I was very impressed by what had been achieved in housing. I was also much impressed with the Warwick Bolam Secondary School. I can therefore assure the House that, however keen the hon. Member may be on denominational schools, that has not prevented great work being done for county schools in his own constituency and county borough.
There are only two final points with which I should like to trouble the House. First, let us remember that this is a subject on which many people have strong and conscientious feelings. Do not let us underrate how much value many Roman Catholic people, and Church of England people, too, put on their schools. This is a difficult matter to estimate precisely, but I have no doubt about how much time, money, and effort many people put into denominational education today.
There is a particular reason why we should remember this. Since the war we have lived in a period of very considerable economic advance. I have always thought that one of the strongest arguments for economic advance was precisely that it widens the range of choice and opportunity, particularly for the poorest in our community. But do not let us forget, that it is not only material choice and material prosperity which people value. I believe that freedom of choice in the context of our schools is greatly valued by countless people in this country. That is something which we should not allow ourselves to forget.
It is difficult for anyone with any knowledge and interest in the educational history of this country not to feel some emotion at winding up a debate of this kind. After all, this is a subject which has occupied a great deal of our history. At the start of the century it caused great controversy, and it still causes very great and acrimonious controversy in many countries of the Western world. I believe that one of the reasons why we have had this debate in such an extremely happy and agreeable atmosphere is because of the powerful weight of public opinion in this country today which demands educational advance on a wide front. The great majority of the British public, whether they believe in denominational schools or not, take the view that all children are entitled to gain from the educational progress which is the aim of all political parties today.
I hope that we shall pass the Bill unanimously without a Division. As I say, it will be our aim from now on to do all we can to meet the reasonable fears and objections of all those who have commented in public on the Bill. I suggest that the House will have acted wisely, not only for the present, but also for the future, in giving a unanimous Second Reading to this Bill, of which all of us, when we look back, will have every reason to feel proud.