HC Deb 06 March 1929 vol 226 cc422-32

I beg to move, in page 20, line 26, to leave out the words "Save as otherwise provided," and to insert instead thereof the words Except where for the purpose of co-ordinating the services provided by the council it is otherwise specified. This is to fulfil a pledge which was given during the discussion on the Committee stage and to make it clear that there is no intention of taking away by a side wind matters which have to be referred to a special Standing Committee. There may be occasions when it is desirable to refer certain matters to other committees. Take the case of playing fields. This subject might be referred to the Open Spaces Committee as well as to the Education Committee, but this does not in any way minimise the duty of the local authority to refer these matters generally to the appropriate committee. I understand that the Amendment meets with the approval of hon. Members on both sides of the House who raised this question at an earlier stage of the Bill.

Amendment agreed to.

The LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. William Watson)

I beg to move, in line 44, at the end, to insert the words: and the council, before exercising any function relating to such instruction shall, unless in their opinion the matter is urgent, receive and consider the report of the education committee with respect to the mutter in question. This is really to put right an omission in the Bill; an omission by inadvertence. The House may remember that in Committee we separated the question of religious instruction from other matters and put it in a Sub-section by itself, but we omitted to carry along this provision. It is necessary to put it in again.

Amendment agreed to.


I beg to move, in page 21, line 30, after the word "prescribe," to insert the words: the number of such representatives in proportion always to the number of duly constituted charges within the area, and shall prescribe. It will be remembered that this question about the representatives of the other denominations being co-opted on to the education committees—persons interested in the promotion of religious education—was discussed previously. It undoubtedly was our intention that the meeting of representatives was to elect those persons, and was to consist of all other denominations having "duly constituted charges." We intended that the number of representatives should be in proportion to the number of charges in each denomination, but that was not quite clear in the Clause as it was drawn, and this Amendment is moved to make the matter clear. Normally the representation will be one for each charge. The Amendment will give a proper weight to the particular denomination in the area according to size. "Duly constituted charge" is a well-known ecclesiastical phrase.


Let us be clear on this point. Does the importation of this word "charge" rule out such an organisation as the Salvation Army or is the local meeting of the Salvation Army held to be a charge under the terms of the Bill?


Probably the ordinary local constitution of the Salvation Army would be ruled out, but the Army might well have a duly constituted charge. It depends on the local constitution. A charge means, in effect, having a local congregation or something corresponding to it. The hon. Member for Motherwell (Mr. Barr) will check me if I am wrong when I say that in effect it means that you have a form of congregation. The Salvation Army, in my apprehension, do not normally have such a thing, but they do have it in certain localities. One cannot be absolute on the point, but I should imagine that ordinarily they would not have a duly constituted charge.


Would it not mean that where the Salvation Army have what they call a citadel, with a captain in charge, they would be included?


That is the sort of thing I had in mind, but the question has been sprung upon me, and without having definite information I cannot give a definite answer.


Would it be necessary to have a combination of these citadels or would one citadel, according to the numbers attached to it, suffice?


I hope hon. Members will not think that I am objecting at all, but it is a fact that we have passed the point of deciding what constitutes a charge. I am perfectly willing to consider putting the matter right in another place if it is now wrong. I am only too anxious to get the thing right. The Salvation Army was not mentioned in the Committee stage.


There seems to be much difference of opinion on this side of the House, and the right hon. Gentleman is not himself quite clear as to the implication of the Amendment. He has made the suggestion that if the Amendment embodies in the Bill what is apprehended by some of my hon. Friends he will put the matter right in another place. Can he not put it the other way, and reconsider the matter, and if it does not carry with it the implications that my hon. Friends seem to believe that it carries, he can then put the matter right in the other place?


We have passed that stage. The pertinent words occur in an earlier part of Sub-section (1), and we are at line 30 now. We have passed the stage at which we can possibly put it right in the way suggested. The "charges" ought to be represented according to their strength, according to the total number of charges. The larger church ought to have a greater number of representatives. The whole purpose of the Amendment is to make that clear. It occurred to us that there might be cases in which, if you had one representative for every charge, the meeting would be too large, and that it would be much more convenient to prescribe for a smaller meeting by providing that there should be, for instance, one representative for every three charges. The purpose of the Amendment is merely to make clear that in settling the number of representatives the proportionate size of the different denominations concerned shall be taken into consideration. The point raised now is what are the denominations concerned? We have passed that stage. Therefore, all I can say at the moment is that we undertake to consider the matter further and, if necessary, to have some talk with hon. Members opposite about it. If we find it preferable to alter these provisions the only way in which we can do it is in another place. I cannot make a better offer than that. So far as the Amendment is concerned, surely the House will agree that it is the intention of us all that the representation at the meeting shall be in proportion to the size of the denominations concerned, whatever the denominations may ultimately be?


I trust that the Secretary of State and the Lord Advocate will not press this Amendment. It has created in the minds of some of us the greatest suspicion yet created on this matter. Two Members on this side of the House carried through most of the successful negotiations in connection with an Amendment which was ultimately accepted by the Government. I happened to be one of those individuals. In discussing the question with Dr. Whyte and three other representatives of the Churches I pointed out definitely that there were Members on this side of the House who were determined to do everything possible to safeguard religious instruction in our schools in Scotland, but that they were not prepared to fight merely for the Church of Scotland having representation. The complaint on the part of the Church of Scotland and the Churches generally was that the Act of Parliament safeguarded the religious instruction of the Catholics, and the demand was that there should be on these constituted committees direct representatives of the Protestants. As an individual I have repeatedly said in this House, and say again without any shame, that all my religious connections have been with the Salvation Army. Why should I, for a moment, yield to any Dr. Whyte or anyone else associated with the Old Kirk, that they are greater Protestants than I am? They are not. All that they were fighting for, all that they were anxious to get was direct representation of the Christian Churches and the Christian brotherhoods and the others who were associated with the Protestant form of faith in Scotland.

In discussing this matter with Dr. Whyte—no one has tried to let us down worse than the same individual—the particular claim was made that the Salvation Army was as much entitled to have representatives at the meeting convened to appoint representatives to the Education Committee, as any other organisation. The same claim was made on behalf of the Baptists who, after all, have churches. The same claim was made on behalf of the other religious denominations in Scotland that are associated with the Protestant form of religion. Now we have the claim being made by the Amendment that the more numerous the charges are, not the more numerous the members of the churches, the greater shall be their representation. In Kirkcaldy, where I live, if it was a question of membership the Old Kirk has not the same membership as the Salvation Army. In fact, if all the charges of the Old Kirk were put together, I question whether they would have the same membership as the Baptist organisation. Now the Government are going to throw into the melting pot what was an agreed Amendment, merely because a communication has been received by one Member of this House and by the Secretary of State from Dr. John Whyte. That is really the position; I am stating the fact. I know the communications that have been sent.

It is most regrettable that after we had had a most harmonious Debate in this House and that after our proposal was accepted with practical unanimity, Dr. Whyte should come along again for the purpose of demanding on behalf of the Old Kirk the maximum representation, not for the purpose of getting representatives who will be prepared to see that religious instruction is given in our schools, but because he is determined that it shall be an Old Kirk representation if it is possible by numbers to carry the matter. I trust that the Government will not press the Amendment, but will go further into the question of charges. The hon. Member for Tradeston (Mr. T. Henderson) and myself were the two individuals who carried through the negotiations and ultimately managed to get a formula accepted by the Government. For it we received no credit whatever; the Moderator or ex-Moderator was prepared to take all the kudos. I trust that we are going to get a further explanation as to what "charges" means, because Dr. Whyte and the other three representatives made it quite clear that the word "charges" would include organisations such as the Salvation Army, the Baptists, the Brethren and the other properly constituted religious organisations that we have in different parts of Scotland. That was made clear so far as I was concerned. I hope that the learned Solicitor-General for Scotland is now making it clear to his colleagues that the word "charges" does include these particular denominations.

5.0 p.m.


It seems to me that there are two questions here. The first is as to whether the word "charge" is the best word. I thoroughly corroborate what fell from the Lord Advocate that it is the usual word in the case of what we know as the ordinary church, but it is doubtful whether it is comprehensive enough to include the various religious bodies that should be represented. Reference has been made to the Salvation Army, and there are other bodies, such as the Society of Friends, which we should wish to have included. I have no doubt that the Government will consider whether there is a better word, and it seems to me it might avoid dispute in the future, even though the Solicitor-General is of the opinion that the matter would be covered, if we had words to make this perfectly clear. The second question is as to the new form of this representation. As it stands, it would simply mean that each Church in Scotland would have—I will state my own opinion—separate representation and that might not be equal to the exact proportions of the various churches.

I saw this Amendment yesterday and said, on the first sight of it, that I did not think it was one to divide against, and I am not taking up a position antagonistic, but I must say that the more I consider the Amendment the more I think the new form is very clumsy. I take it from the Lord Advocate himself that the idea they had in their minds was one representative for every three charges. In the City of Glasgow, we have 192 charges. That means that we are going to have 65 men trying to represent the Church of Scotland—something like 50 from the United Free Church, and you have the congregationalists represented by perhaps two and the Methodists represented by four or five. I think that is a very clumsy arrangement, and I would point out that there has never been any dispute as to the particular form of religious instruction. They are united, and therefore it seems that it does not matter so much from what quarter they come. I would also point out that, supposing each church was only represented by one, the fact that the Church of Scotland and the United Free Church have that numerical preponderance would secure that representation. Therefore, while I have been very much adverse to anything like opposition in this matter, and, while I should be sorry if this were carried to a Division by this side or the other, yet I must say, when I look at it, that it does seem to me a somewhat clumsy arrangement. I think the mutual trust that should obtain between the churches should be sufficient without every church grasping at exact numerical proportions. Surely the one object in view should be unity.


Throughout Scotland there has been an extraordinary feeling of unanimity in approaching this question of the continuance of religious instruction in our schools, and that unanimity in Scotland was reflected in this House a fortnight ago when the Bill went through the Committee. Nothing that my hon. and learned Friend is doing this afternoon is in any way detracting or subtracting from that spirit. This Amendment is a very small Amendment. I originally had a little band in drafting it. I submitted it to my hon. Friends opposite, and they thought, as I thought, that it was a means of assisting the putting into practical shape of findings which were unanimously arrived at when the Bill was in Committee. Therefore, this Amendment in no way desires to reopen or to alter the agreement arrived at. The hon. Member for Midlothian and Peebles (Mr. Westwood) suggested that this Amendment might have the effect of preventing the Salvation Army from being recognised as one of the bodies coming into this scheme. The Amendment in no way takes away any rights from the Salvation Army. Recognising as I do that we want to enable all our denominations, including the Salvation Army, to come into this great work of facilitating religious instruction, I say my right hon. and learned Friend is only moving in accordance with an agreement already come to and is assisting in a practical way the working of the scheme. I do not think the Amendment would have any great effect if it were put in, but it is put forward in good faith, and that is what I am anxious for my hon. Friends to recognise.


I should not have risen at all, because I could very well have left it to those who have spoken, but I certainly did not think that this Amendment would have annoyed anyone. If I thought for a moment that the Salvation Army or the Society of Friends or any Christian denomination were to be prevented from getting fair play, I would vote against the Amendment; but I do not see for the life of me, and I have looked at it from every angle, how it will prevent the Salvation Army more than now from coming into it. Everyone will agree that it is democratic. We know that the Church of Scotland and the United Free Church of Scotland are democratic, and I never thought any hon. Member would take exception to it or impart heat into it. I welcome all Christians to take part in the work that lies before us in the education of our youth in Scotland, and I think we could easily be content with the promise of the Lord Advocate that, if there is any dispute regarding those who are to be called together to elect the representatives, he will see that it is put right in another place.


The only point here is the interpretation of the word "charge." As I understand the Lord Advocate, he intends to make that interpretation cover any religious body. From the statement the right hon. and learned Gentleman made, I felt that he had given us an undertaking to avoid misinterpretation and misunderstanding. We do not want to have any misunderstanding when it is too late, and, if we have a definite undertaking and it is scheduled, that is all that is required. The word employed in the Bill is "body."


May I ask one question? I received the guarantee on the Committee stage and I only want to have it repeated here. I, as everybody knows, represent a constituency which holds the largest proportion of Jews in Glasgow. I do not know whether the word "charge" is suitable. The Government bring in a thing in good faith, and then somebody of a quibbling type of mind goes to the Court of Session and upsets it. I am anxious, not to safeguard the honour of the Lord Advocate, which is not in danger, but the legal interpretation of what may become a dangerous thing, apart from the legal aspect of it. Would it apply to the Jewish community? Once you proceed on democratic lines, they must be thoroughly democratic. Nobody would deny that to-day charges have altered completely. There are some charges that are packed to the door, and others that are empty. I do not say it in depreciation of other religious bodies, but, if it came to the actual numbers of membership, which ought to be the truly democratic way in charges—like the membership of trade unions—I would say that it must rest on the basis of a great amount of give and take.


I assure the House that I had no intention or idea, that, by this Amendment, I was likely to disturb any settlement or agreement which had been reached on this subject. There are two questions directly affected by this Amendment. As to the first one, I may read what the hon. Member for Midlothian and Peebles (Mr. Westwood) said during the Committee stage discussion: The Churches themselves, as a result of the discussion which took place either on Tuesday or Wednesday, agreed that these representatives were to be not merely representatives of the Churches but representatives of the other denominations which have charges in the respective areas, so that under the Amendment which has been submitted by the Lord Advocate not only will representatives of the orthodox Church—the Free Church, the Established Church and the others—but also representatives of the Salvation Army or of any other constituted denomination having a charge in a particular area be called to the meeting from which the nomination is made of representatives on the education committee."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th February, 1929; cols. 2008–2009, Vol. 224.] I still maintain, with some confidence, that if the representatives of the Salvation Army or any other constituted denomination have a charge in a particular area, they come within the terms of this Clause. Doubts have been raised as to this matter, however, and all the Government can undertake to do is to look carefully into it and to make sure that we are covering every one that we wish to cover. In the case of the Salvation Army, if they have a station or a post—[HON. MEMBERS: "A citadel!"]—or a citadel, or any kind of fixed centre from which they are working in the district, I think it is the intention of the House that that should be included.

The second question is the question of whether the representation at these meetings is to be one for each denomination or is to be in proportion to the number of charges. I think there is no dispute that what was intended was that the representation should correspond to the size of the church as shown by the number of charges. But when I came to look again at the actual wording, it seemed clear to me that that wording left it open to draw the scheme either way—either as allowing one representative for each church, or as allowing representation in proportion to the number of charges. The purpose of the Amendment is that the intention should be defined more accurately. If, however, the present Amendment is going to raise any doubt or difficulty about the settlement which has been arrived at, I certainly am not going to press it. I would prefer to leave the wording as it is. I think it a pity that we could not have a clearer definition on this point but, as I say, I have no desire to create any difficulties and as I understand it is not the desire of the House that the Amendment should be pressed, I would, on behalf of my right hon. Friend, ask leave to withdraw.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made:

In page 21, line 32, leave out the words "including also."

In page 23, line 4, leave out the words "not less than two-thirds," and insert instead thereof the words "a minimum number."—[Sir J. Gilmour.]