The Government announced in the White Paper, Command 604, that they proposed in the next five years to press forward with the implementation of the Education Act, 1944, and, in particular, to provide full secondary education for all. They recognised that the Churches might need more help if the voluntary schools were to play their part. The Government have, therefore, been having discussions with the interests concerned, and also with representatives of the Labour and Liberal Parties; and I would now like to inform the House of our conclusions.
The White Paper of 1943 and the Education Act of 1944 provided that the voluntary schools should neither be ignored nor eliminated and that the dual system, while being radically adapted, should continue in existence. Developments in recent years, and the large new programme now projected will, however, confront the Churches with problems and liabilities of a kind and size that could not have been foreseen in 1944.
There have been big shifts of population; building costs are much higher; and, of course, the whole concept of secondary education has been greatly enlarged.
The Government have thought it right to approach these problems in the all-party spirit of the 1944 Act. This, naturally, has meant close consultations with representatives of the Labour and Liberal Parties and we believe that together we have found a solution by applying the principles of the Act of 1944 and of the earlier Act of 1936 to the needs of today. Accordingly, we intend, within the next few days, to introduce a Bill which will
Proposals on these lines have been accepted by the Church of England and also by the Roman Catholics, although they fall short of what the latter have asked.
Under the Government's proposals grant will not be available for new primary schools, nor for new secondary schools except where they match existing primary schools. I would also emphasise that in considering any proposal for a new denominational secondary school I should use my powers under Section 13 of the 1944 Act to control very carefully the use that is made of the new grants.
I hope that these explanations and this assurance will help to reduce the anxieties which have been expressed to me by the Free Churches.
In brief, the Government's object is to enable the intentions of the Act of 1944 to be fulfilled in the altered circumstances of today and thereby to ensure that the children in aided schools have as good facilities for education as those in county and controlled schools.
The problem of voluntary schools has always been a difficult one, but I believe that there will be general agreement that in dealing with it three considerations in particular must always be borne in mind. First, the need for all-party agreement, because we do not want religion or religious questions to come into our party political battles. Secondly, the need for ensuring that those who are educated in Church schools do not suffer as regards the quality of the education provided in comparison with others. Thirdly, that as far as possible the proposals should be acceptable to all denominations.
I do not think that one can claim that these proposals will satisfy everybody fully. I doubt if any proposals could do so. To us they appear reasonable, our representatives have taken a full part in the discussions, and we willingly accept our share of the responsibility for them. Therefore, I also accept the proposals which the right hon. Gentleman has explained.
I agree, and I should like to endorse what has already been said by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. The principle of the dual system was accepted by us all in 1944 and it would be wrong if, at this stage, we failed in making the administration and even the intention of that Act incapable of fulfilment. Undoubtedly, there have been very great changes in the way of increased costs, increasing population and, of course, the still greater one in the scope of education and, therefore, it is right that provision should be made to meet that increased cost and these increased difficulties. The paramount question, without a doubt, is the welfare of the child and his future, which depends upon his education.
As the right hon. Gentleman, in his statement, has already recognised, the Free Churches have made, individually and collectively, probably greater sacrifices on behalf of education than any other body. They have been not merely financial sacrifices, but sacrifices of principle, because they have always taken the view that the expenditure of public money should he subject to public control. That being so, they place great reliance on the assurance which the right hon. Gentleman has given about Section 13. May I ask him whether, if any question arises under that Section, he will receive representations made to him by the Free Churches and consider them as I am sure he will, sympathetically?
I fully understand and agree with what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said about the contribution of the Free Churches to our problem. I hold myself under a very special responsibility to be always available to help them in any difficulty that might arise.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that most denominations, at any rate the Church of England, will be very grateful for the statement that he has just made? Furthermore, is he aware that all those who are closely concerned with this vital aspect of education will be glad that the negotiations leading up to his statement have been conducted with the object of obtaining the broadest possible agreement with the least possible controversy, whether political or religious?
As one who was associated with these discussions, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he will use his influence to try to remove whatever remains of a very old grievance of the Free Churches, namely, the disability they have sometimes faced in what is called the single-school area? If he gives that assurance, he will have gone a long way towards meeting their apprehensions.
I always hold myself ready to help in the case of any difficulty that arises in regard to a single-school area, and I know that the authorities of the Church of England are only too ready to co-operate in helping to remove any grievances.
I should like, if I may on behalf of hon. Members on both sides of the House, to congratulate the Minister on having succeeded in getting another agreement on this subject. At one time there appeared to be danger of a very serious split about it in the country. We must be most grateful to all who have worked together to get agreement. While it is concerned with the whole spirit of the 1944 Act, it makes it quite clear that the situation is really back where it was and that the ambit of complete denominational education remains exactly where it is today.
Yes, it is true that these proposals involve no enlargement of the denominational base because, traditionally, secondary schools will only be eligible for grant if they deal with the continued education of children who are already in primary schools of the denomination concerned.
I have often heard hon. Members say, "I am sure that the whole House will agree with me when I say …" I think that I have heard the hon. Member himself say that.
As all those who have studied this problem are aware, the religious tests for teachers are inseparable from the dual system. The enlargement of the system is very marginal in the proposals which I have put forward.
May I, on behalf of one of the Christian bodies in this country, namely, the Roman Catholics, who number about 5 million of Her Majesty's loyal subjects, congratulate my right hon. Friend on introducing these proposals? I am sure that my right hon. Friend does not claim the whole of the credit, hut shares it with the support which has been given from many quarters of the House and from many bodies.
May I mention that there still is a considerable burden upon the religious community, but that the proposed Measure will undoubtedly alleviate the greater part of the burden?