Clause 25. — (Special provisions as to religious education in county schools.)

Orders of the Day — Education Bill – in the House of Commons on 10th March 1944.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Henry Brooke Mr Henry Brooke , Lewisham West

I beg to move, in page 21, line 1, to leave out "secondary."

The Minister has set us a magnificent example throughout the various stages of the Bill, in urging us to clear our minds of prejudices, and address ourselves objectively to what we are really trying to do. I would like to reinforce this plea. This is an Amendment which might give rise to that historical prejudice of which we want to see as little as possible in our future arrangements for the welfare of the children. It deals with a very narrow class of schools. In Clause 24 we are continuing arrangements, which have been the law of the land for some time, that parents whose children go to county schools but who desire those children to receive denominational instruction, or some kind of instruction different from that which is available to them in the schools, have a right to withdraw their children for that purpose in order that the instruction may be given elsewhere. Now the Government have inserted this proviso in Clause 25 in order to make allowance for a new situation that has arisen. We were building these new senior schools—or secondary schools as we are to call them in future—to which senior children from a number of what used to be called elementary schools were drawn. Some of those elementary schools were Church schools, and a difficulty was clearly going to arise if those children were moved from a village Church school to a splendid new county senior school which stood by itself out in the fields, so that there was no place to which parents could exercise the right of withdrawal. Therefore, it is provided in the Clause that where a school is so situated that the arrangements under Clause 24 would be nullified through there being no other convenient premises to which the children can be withdrawn, in that limited class of case denominational instruction may be given on the school premises.

But the Clause, as drafted, confines this to secondary schools, and my submission is that there is a question of principle here, and that there should be no differentiation between secondary schools and primary schools in the matter. We have to look ahead. We had to make this new arrangement for the new types of secondary schools that were being built. My anticipation is that there will be new types of primary schools built in the future. At present, all the camp schools and boarding schools are secondary schools, and therefore get the benefit of this Clause, but who knows whether some local education authority might not wish to put up boarding schools for children of primary school age? I am not arguing whether or not that would be a good thing to do, but it is a development which might quite possibly occur, and if it does we shall immediately run into this old difficulty again, that the new school may be some distance away, with no premises conveniently near, and Church of England and Roman Catholic parents will demur to sending their children to that school because they will be deprived under the law of religious instruction such as the parents desire.

There is another kind of development which I think more likely than the boarding or camp school for primary children. We have all over the country large numbers of these very small old village schools, some of them Church schools, some of them county schools, in neighbouring villages. My certainty is that in some counties the local education authority will decide that a right course is to confine some of these very small schools to very small children, keeping them for children between three and seven, with one teacher, and ensuring that there is a well-equipped county primary school for the children between seven and it in the neighbourhood. If this Amendment is not accepted, at once we shall run into the old difficulty, because parents, if they are Church of England or Roman Catholic, will say, "No, although we like the idea of getting our children into a school of that character we demur to it because it will be impossible for them to continue to receive the religious instruction which we, as their parents, think they have the right to have." That is the question of principle. It concerns a narrow group of schools and a relatively small number of children, but in matters of conscience like this we must give our attention to the rights of every child and parent. Unless this Amendment is accepted there will remain this small body of children, the only children in the country, who will be debarred by law from receiving the kind of religious instruction that their parents desire. That is the question of principle which I submit to the Committee.

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

I am glad my hon. Friend the Member for West Lewisham (Mr. Brooke) has limited the scope of his Amendment. In order that I may acquaint the Committee with what they have to consider let me give a résumé of the position and give the view of the Government. My hon. Friend is concerned lest in building a new kind of school, under a scheme for the reorganisation of a number of village schools which are out of date, the school may be placed in a locality so remote from buildings that when the children withdraw under what used to be known as the Section 13 procedure there is nowhere for them to go to receive religious instruction. If the issue is confined to that the Committee will see that there is no need for us to get unduly worried about the scope of my hon. Friend's intentions—and I trust his intentions will be regarded as strictly honourable. The position is not that which involves the abrogation of the Cowper-Temple principle. It is a practical consideration as to the balance of the secondary concession which is met under Clause 25. Having explained the matter as clearly as I can, I am not able to say that this position is likely to arise. My hon. Friend has in mind the fact that in certain parts of England the Anglicans have been very progressive and have been regrouping children in the junior grade, which is a very good idea. It means that in one village you have what amounts to a nursery school with, perhaps, an infant attachment, and that in another village near by you may get the older children in the junior grade grouped together in a school where they have three teachers and get progressive education. Any such development on the part of any denomination is very much to be welcomed.

If the schools so reorganised are denominational or auxiliary there is no need for this Amendment, because there the children have the form of worship and instruction they desire. So we come up against the rare situation where there would be a new primary school, a county school, in which children would be deprived of proper facilities. On the information before me it appears that the structure of many of these village schools is adequate and that, if there is to be this sort of reorganisation, it is much more likely that the existing structure would be adapted for this purpose. In that case it would be in the middle of the village and the normal withdrawal procedure would be able to be applied. Unless the Government receive more information as to the likelihood of the difficulty arising I think it would be unwise to enlarge the scope of the provision of Clause 25. I would be glad to consider any information in my hon. Friend's possession which would lead the Government to think that the contingency he envisages would be likely to arise but, meanwhile, I do not advise the Committee to accept the Amendment because I do not think that at present it would be likely to cause undue concern to the Churches.

Photo of Mr Ivor Thomas Mr Ivor Thomas , Keighley

Those who have put their names to this Amendment must be grateful for the way in which the right hon. Gentleman has met it, but his argument cuts both ways. If it is likely to be applied to a small number of cases then why not grant it? There is no big question of principle involved; it does not raise the whole Cowper-Temple principle, otherwise I should speak at length. It is a question of logic and fairness. If the fairness is conceded in the case of secondary schools why not concede it in the case of primary schools?

Photo of Mr Henry Raikes Mr Henry Raikes , Essex South Eastern

I would like to reiterate what has been said by the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. I. Thomas). It may be that these cases will not arise, but one's experience on so many matters has been that small things which were not anticipated at the time they were being considered do arise. Why not, by accepting this minor Amendment, ensure that we give a small number of primary schools which have not accommodation for religious instruction an opportunity for that instruction to be given in those buildings? It is a small matter, and if it is accepted it will mean that there will be no trouble whatsoever in the future if that occasion happens to arise. The acceptance of this Amendment would give confidence and hope to a number of parents who may be a little anxious, and it could not do the structure of the Bill one little bit of harm.

Photo of Mr William Gallacher Mr William Gallacher , Fife Western

The hon. Member for West Lewisham (Mr. Brooke) said that Anglican and Catholic parents would not send their children to primary schools because they could not get the education they wanted for their children.

Viscountess Astor:

Ought Scotsmen to speak so much on this Bill?

Photo of Mr William Gallacher Mr William Gallacher , Fife Western

The hon. Member for West Lewisham said that Anglican and Catholic parents would not send their children to primary schools because they could not get the religious instruction they desired. That is further proof of the fact that very few people are interested in collective worship.

Amendment negatived.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

Photo of Captain Edward Cobb Captain Edward Cobb , Preston

There is a small point I want to raise, which I know is considered by a number of teachers to be one of some importance. This Clause allows teachers from outside to go into a school to give religious instruction and I think it is of first-class importance that these visitors should not interfere with the harmonious working inside the school. It is of first-class importance, to my mind, that it should be made abundantly clear that visiting teachers who are introduced into the schools for this specific purpose should be under the control and direction of the head teacher for so long as they remain on the school premises. The head teacher, whether he is a good or a bad one, must be master in his own house.

Photo of Mr Ivor Thomas Mr Ivor Thomas , Keighley

I cannot let the Clause pass without some words on the very important principle that it raises. It is in some ways the most fundamental Clause of the whole Bill. The Bill includes an attempt to extend and give statutory authority to undenominational religious instruction. We have had 70 years of undenominational religious instruction and the results are not very satisfactory. If the deliberate object of the Cowper-Temple principle had been to drive people out of the Churches it could not have been more successful. It has been said with truth that not more than 15 per cent. of the people of the country are now practising adherents of the Churches. That is not something for which we can take any credit. But I invite the Committee to consider this point. Which are the empty churches to-day and which are the full churches? Not every church is empty. The conclusion to be drawn from what we see around us is that the empty churches are those where there are vague half-believers in casual creeds.

The Chairman:

I do not think the hon. Member's last remarks have any relevance to the Clause.

Photo of Mr Ivor Thomas Mr Ivor Thomas , Keighley

There is a most fundamental principle raised in the Clause and I should like to be allowed to challenge the whole principle of the first paragraph. The great objection that we feel to the undenominational religious instruction which receives statutory authority in this Clause, as I see it, is that it does not attach the child to any worshipping community when he leaves school. When he gets out of the school he will not find in the Churches the kind of religion that he had at school. The consequence is that he will inevitably drift away from religion, and that is one reason why there has been such a fall away from religion since the operation of the Cowper-Temple Clause. Another objection that we feel to the kind of religious instruction that is made statutory in this Clause is its synthetic nature. It has been referred to as "canned religion." But I want to be serious on the point. It is a challenge which Christianity has had to meet before. It had to face it with the Caesar worship of the Roman Empire and, to go outside Christianity, Buddhism has had to face it against Shintoism. It is a prevalent phenomenon. What we are up against is whether we are to have a vague undenominational teaching in our schools or definite religious instruction such as has come down to us from the early days of the Church. The agreed syllabuses are not in themselves evil. What is in them is nearly always good. I would rather have the religion that is envisaged in this Clause than no religion at all, but it does not fill me with any enthusiasm and it is not going to help the cause of religion. There are many agreed syl- labuses. I have brought with me that issued by the Surrey County Council, as that is probably the best in the country in the judgment of the Parliamentary Secretary.

Photo of Mr Ivor Thomas Mr Ivor Thomas , Keighley

I am well content to abide by his decision. If that is the best agreed syllabus that we have, what are we to think? I open it at the first year's course for juniors. Under the heading "What we should be and do" I find a whole medley of examples—

The Chairman:

The hon. Member is not entitled to quote from an agreed syllabus at this stage.

Photo of Mr Ivor Thomas Mr Ivor Thomas , Keighley

I am objecting to agreed syllabus religion in general and using the Surrey County Council's agreed syllabus as an illustration of what I mean.

The Chairman:

Yes, I appreciate the hon. Member's point, but he is not entitled to go into details of the syllabus, as he was about to do.

Photo of Mr Ivor Thomas Mr Ivor Thomas , Keighley

The Parliamentary Secretary might try to counter my objections by saying that it is approved for use in certain dioceses. If he does that, he will overlook a very important fact. In the Church schools in those dioceses, in addition to the agreed syllabus it is possible to put into the hands of the children the Prayer Book and the Catechism. That is what makes denominational teaching so valuable and that is the main reason why undenominational instruction is something for which we can feel no enthusiasm. We are deprived of the opportunity of putting those two liturgical works into the hands of the children and when they go out into the world they will be going out into something that is foreign to them. The Parliamentary Secretary has said that the great truths of denominational instruction are something that children cannot grasp.

Photo of Mr James Ede Mr James Ede , South Shields

I did not say anything of the kind.

Photo of Mr Ivor Thomas Mr Ivor Thomas , Keighley

If I have misunderstood or misquoted my hon. Friend I am very sorry, but he will know what I mean. I had no intention of doing it deliberately. The child is more likely to grasp these truths than adults who are choked with the cares of this world. Jesus Christ said: Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein. Children can, in fact, grasp these things. There is no educational reason why they should not be taught to children. The objection may also be made that instruction in definite religious principles is the work not of the schools but of the home. That is a view held by a number of Members. May I say why that cannot be acceptable to us? When I wish to have my children's teeth attended to, I do not attempt to do it myself. When I want their shoes soled, I do not attempt to do it myself. Why should I think that I am capable of doing this far more important work of giving religious instruction to my children? I know that I cannot do it, and I have the advantage over the Noble Lady of having gone through a professional course in theology, which she has not.

Viscountess Astor:

Has the hon. Gentleman the advantage over the Noble Lady, of having been healed from sickness by the Word of God?

Photo of Mr Ivor Thomas Mr Ivor Thomas , Keighley

Fortunately, I have not as yet needed that operation. Religious teaching is a matter for those who are especially trained in this work, which even the best parents cannot be.

Photo of Mrs Mavis Tate Mrs Mavis Tate , Frome

Is the hon. Gentleman really suggesting that religion is a matter of theology, and not a matter of daily life and that it can only be taught by words?

Photo of Sir Richard Denman Sir Richard Denman , Leeds Central

On a point of Order. I understand that the Question you have put to the Committee, Major Milner, is that the Clause stand part of the Bill. I do not know whether you are in a position to inform the Committee whether any of the arguments hitherto addressed to us, are in favour of or against that Motion. I, certainly, cannot say.

The Chairman:

That is not infrequently the case.

Photo of Mr Ivor Thomas Mr Ivor Thomas , Keighley

In order to relieve any doubts in the mind of my hon. Friend, I will say quite plainly that every argument I have used is against the Motion that the Clause stand part. I do not propose to press it to a Division, but I cannot allow it to pass without expressing the views that I conscientiously hold upon it. In my judgment, the method proposed in Clause 25 is not the right method of dealing with this problem. The right method is that in our schools we should see that children are brought up in the manner desired by their parents. Fundamentally, the Minister has accepted that principle. What I am asking him to do is to give practical effect to it. He has not done it, and the result is that those who want it will have to go outside the State system and at great expense will have to bring up their children as they would wish them to be brought up.

Viscountess Astor:

Does the hon. Gentleman really mean to tell the Committee and the country that we must have our children taught religion by experts, and that they do not get the fundamental principles of religion through example and environment? Does he not know that religion is spread by contagion and that the only possible way of spreading it is to feel it and to live it in our own lives?

Photo of Mr Ivor Thomas Mr Ivor Thomas , Keighley

I agree with the Noble Lady that parents have a great part to play in this work, but I would not regard her as a suitable teacher for my children. I am trying to say that in my judgment, the principle of this Clause is fundamentally wrong. Sometime or other, the House of Commons will have to give legislative expression to the view that children ought to be brought up in the religious instruction desired by their parents. We cannot do it now, but we should certainly come to it more quickly than may be imagined. It is the solution in Scotland and in Eire. It is, above all, the solution adopted in the Netherlands. Theirs is a real model because they have great difficulties over religious minorities. The successful working of the system in the Netherlands offers a great example to us. I could not let this Clause go without giving expression to these beliefs, which are widely shared throughout the country. I realise that we shall not get what I want on this Bill, but we have to look ahead. If we are to get a satisfactory solution of the religious question we shall have to abolish the dual system and give legislative expression to the desire of parents to have their children brought up in their own faith.

Photo of Mr Richard Stokes Mr Richard Stokes , Ipswich

I want to join with my hon. Friend in desiring the abolition of the dual system, but I want to protest against his idea that religion can be taught in schools regardless of the home.

Photo of Mr Ivor Thomas Mr Ivor Thomas , Keighley

My hon. Friend and I cannot be in disagreement on this point. The parents have a great work to do, but he knows perfectly well that there must be a great deal that must be done outside the home as well.

The Chairman:

At any rate, that question does not really arise on this Clause.

Photo of Mr Richard Stokes Mr Richard Stokes , Ipswich

In view of what my hon. Friend has said, may I support his suggestion that there should be denominational teaching in State-provided schools? What we seek to perpetuate is that the wishes of parents in regard to religious teaching shall be observed in State-provided schools. We believe that the foundation of religion is in the home, but we wish to have provided in State schools the kind of religious teaching that parents desire.

Photo of Sir Godfrey Nicholson Sir Godfrey Nicholson , Farnham

This Clause is of fundamental importance and I do not think it should be allowed to be retained in the Bill without a protest. I differ from my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Ivor Thomas) for I do not object to the Clause from a denominational or even from a religious point of view. We are bound in this Bill to approach all questions fundamentally from the point of view of the State. This Clause has led the State to adopt a neutral attitude—it may have been changed in this Bill to benevolent neutrality—with regard to religion, and I ask the Committee to consider whether this State, a democracy or a free State as distinct from a slave State, has made a good bargain in adopting a neutral attitude to religion in matters of education. I do not believe it has. I believe that it has made a very bad bargain, because the very existence of a free State depends on the general acceptance of the thesis that man is the child of God, that every individual man must be treated with dignity as a soul precious in the sight of God. All the rights of man, all liberties, all law, all justice depend upon the acceptance of that, and I do not believe we can get it if the State adopts a neutral attitude to religion and religious education.

Photo of Mr Robert Boothby Mr Robert Boothby , Aberdeenshire and Kincardineshire Eastern

I would not have intervened had it not been for the observations of my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. G. Nicholson).

Photo of Mr Richard Stokes Mr Richard Stokes , Ipswich

May I ask my hon. Friend whether he is speaking as a Front bencher or a Back bencher?

Photo of Mr Robert Boothby Mr Robert Boothby , Aberdeenshire and Kincardineshire Eastern

It does not matter in what capacity I am speaking. I would not have intervened but for the observations of my hon. Friend. It might be as well to remind him and the Committee of the observations made by perhaps the greatest democrat who has ever lived, in fact, the man who can claim to be the founder of modern democracy. I refer to James Jefferson. I would like to remind my hon. Friend of his observations on the subject of religious freedom and tolerance. Jefferson would not have agreed with any one of the statements my hon. Friend has made.

Photo of Sir Godfrey Nicholson Sir Godfrey Nicholson , Farnham

I wish to contradict the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale

I would like the Committee to appreciate the self-restraint that many of us have exercised in view of the complete nonsense we have heard in this Debate.

Viscountess Astor:

The hon. Member has not been in the Committee long enough to hear any nonsense.

Photo of Commander Sir Archibald Southby Commander Sir Archibald Southby , Epsom

Had it not been for the speech which we have just had from the Front Bench opposite, I certainly should not have risen, but I do not think it would be right for anybody to allow that speech to go by without some comment. I support what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. G. Nicholson). If there has been one lesson which has been taught us in the last 50 years, which is about the average life of all of us in this House, it is this, that unless we found the home, the country and the world on some system of Christian ethics we shall go wrong. In the same way, if we are to start a new system of education, unless we do it on some system of Christian ethics it will fail.

Photo of Mr Robert Boothby Mr Robert Boothby , Aberdeenshire and Kincardineshire Eastern

Does the hon. and gallant Member rule out the whole of China?

Photo of Commander Sir Archibald Southby Commander Sir Archibald Southby , Epsom

Certainly not. I mean some system of Christian ethics in this country. After all we are not discussing a Bill for China. As regards the hon. Gentleman opposite, I would say, as Robert Louis Stevenson said in "The Dynamiter": The touching confusion of the gentleman's mind completely disarms me. I must give expression to my opinion. I believe that this Bill will only succeed if it is based on Christian teaching and some form of Christian religious ethics.

Photo of Mr William Cove Mr William Cove , Aberavon

I want to refute the statements which have been made by the hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. G. Nicholson) that the Bill is neutral, so far as religious teaching is concerned. It is most positive, in that respect. I do not want to go into it in detail, but it is completely untrue to say that the Bill is not concerned with religious teaching in the schools. I said earlier to-day that the main content of the Bill was religious, and I say that again. Hon. Members are never satisfied. What do hon. Members want? As I understand it, the Church of England have accepted the agreed syllabus. Not only does the Bill provide for the agreed syllabus right throughout the State system but for the very denominational teaching which hon. Members want. They want to open the gates of the Cowper-Temple Clause and to have religious tests for every teacher. The right hon. Gentleman has avoided that. If there are to be religious tests for every teacher in this country, the Bill will go down. We will not stand for it. We will not have it.

It has been obvious as the Debate has proceeded that the Committee has to stand by the arrangement made in the Bill. I have watched the discussion, and if the right hon. Gentleman moves right, left or anywhere else, all this arrangement is gone. I am now going to say, because I am forced into saying it, that the forces at work are trying to push the right hon. Gentleman much further than it is expedient for him to go. I would say to the right hon. Gentleman that he should stick to the arrangement that he has made in the Bill, and I believe that the good sense of the Committee will be with him.

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

I think I ought to say on behalf of the Government that I do not propose to answer all the arguments that have been put forward, because in so many cases they cancel each other out. We have duly noted the sincerity with which those arguments have been put forward. The speech to which we have just listened by the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove) represents, in my opinion, the common mean of understanding of these differences. On all sides of the Committee hon. Members are now saying that we have gone far enough, or that we have not gone far enough. There is a great deal of what may be described as religious content in the Bill. I am proud to have it in the Bill, but it is clear that to push the matter too far will arouse antagonism. I accept that position, and I think in that atmosphere we can say that we have had a useful day's Debate. I hope that we may now proceed with our further business in that atmosphere.

Photo of Major John Mills Major John Mills , New Forest and Christchurch

I want to assure my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove) that I do not want to see religious tests for teachers. I want it to be put on record that the wishes of the parents should be consulted as much as possible in regard to religious teaching of their children. A very large number of parents however are only too indifferent to the religious teaching given to their children. I only wish that, through this Bill, we might educate them.

Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.