HC Deb 16 March 1931 vol 249 cc1820-30

I beg to move, That, in accordance with the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act, 1919, this House do direct that the Ecclesiastical Commissioners (Loans for Church Training Colleges) Measure, 1931, be presented to His Majesty for Royal Assent. This Measure is perhaps of greater importance than that which was dealt with in the previous Motion. If passed, it will enable the Ecclesiastical Commissioners to make or guarantee loans for the purpose of reconditioning and extending Church of England training colleges. For some time past the Church authorities have been aware of the problem that their training colleges present to them. They had the misfortune to be pioneers, and I see that it was stated that the average age of the Church training colleges was some 40 years older than that of the colleges provided by public authorities. Naturally, they need a great deal of improvement to bring them up to modern conditions. Much has been done in this matter since the War. In another place, Lord Grey stated that no less than £600,000 had been spent on this process of reconditioning. Clearly the well-trained teacher is the foundation of a good educational system, and I can assure the House that money spent on improved training colleges is money well spent in the interests of the community. One or two hon. Members, however, have expressed the fear that the unfettered right of lending, as this Measure allows the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, might result in an undue expansion of Church training colleges and the upsetting of the present balance between them and the colleges provided by education authorities.

I think, in fairness to them, I should say a few words as to the very real safeguards that exist against that danger. Those safeguards are three, and each one of them is substantial, and collectively, I think, they form a body that should satisfy even South Shields. The first safeguard is the Board of Education. The Church training colleges are dependent for their finances upon capitation grants from the Board of Education, and any policy that went beyond what the Board was prepared to tolerate would be quite impracticable; and the Board's policy is controlled by this House when the Estimates annually come before it. The second safeguard is also important, and that is the modern temper of the Church. It is quite out of keeping with contemporary Church thought to antagonise public opinion by raising fresh claims in the educational field. Those who took part in the recent negotiations relating to the School Attendance Bill will know that that was true then. It rests not merely on the gifts of statesmanship of the present leaders of the Church, but also on the more permanent foundations of a sympathetic understanding of the views of other workers in the cause of education. In the cause of education, we are so much bound together that there is no danger that the Church would attempt to aggrandize its powers and to antagonise public opinion.

The third and final safeguard is as effective as any of the others, and that is the business capacity of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. They are the trustees of a large capital fund, and it is their tradition to do nothing in the way of investment that is likely to depreciate that fund; and can anyone suppose that the security of an exaggerated scheme for enlarging Church training colleges would be an adequate safeguard for a trust fund? Really, if there were any attempt at any such grandiose scheme, the Ecclesiastical Commissioners would be the last kind of body to lend money for a project of that character. Therefore, I suggest that the risks that my hon. Friends fear are quite imaginary. They depend for their reality upon a simultaneous attack of lunacy on three separate public bodies, and that seems to me to he a, risk that we may safely invite the House to take. The Measure has an appreciable though small employment value. On the Ecclesiastical Committee we were asked to hasten the progress of the Measure in order that work on these colleges might be commenced at once, and if this Measure is now passed, in the course of this summer there will be considerable building work begun.


I beg to second the Motion.

This Measure passed through the Assembly unanimously, and was regarded as so urgent and non-controversial that it passed through all its stages during one session of the Assembly—a very unusual proceeding. There has been a certain amount of misunderstanding in reference to the intention and meaning of the Measure. The ultimate object is very simple. It is solely to increase the number of teachers Available for the elementary schools, and to improve the conditions under which those people are trained. Many of the training colleges have been in existence for a large number of years, and long before the State undertook the training of teachers. The result is that many of them require modernising. The object of the Measure is to enable that to be done in order to improve the conditions under which the teachers are trained. In spite of what has been suggested, not one penny of public funds will be involved in this Measure. If the House refuses to give permission for it to go forward, however, a considerable expenditure of public funds will be involved, because, if the Church is not allowed to improve its training colleges, the State will have to do the work, and will thereby be involved in considerable expenditure.


I oppose this Motion, and I am bound to say that, if I had not been inclined to do it before the speech of the Second Church Estates Commissioner, I should have been after it. Let us understand what this means. During the past 27 years, the number of Church schools in the country has decreased by 2,010, and the number of Church departments has decreased by 4,285. During the same period, the number of council schools has increased by 3,545, and the number of council departments has increased by 4,731. I have held in this House during the past year or two that, where you have a Church school, you are entitled to apply a religious test to the head teacher. This is not, however, a Measure to apply a religious test to a head teacher, but a Measure to apply a religious test to a teacher seeking admission to a training college. The figures which I have quoted show that since the passing of the Act of 1902, the demand for teachers who would have to undergo this test has considerably fallen.

There can be no grounds, therefore, for the argument of my hon. Friend that this is necessary from that point of view. He says that one of the safeguards against the Church overstepping the mark is the Board of Education. I am surprised to hear that from him, for he has had a long experience in this House, and must have watched the Board of Education in its relations with denominational bodies. When a new denominational college is proposed, the Board of Education will be entitled to say, "We have a proposal to provide training college accommodation out of private funds, and therefore we shall not sanction the spending of public money." Therefore, the area within which teachers clan be recruited into the profession, irrespective of all religious tests, will be narrowed by the extent to which the policy of this Measure succeeds.

We were told that we should have to rely on the business capacity of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. I trust more to that than to the other safeguards he suggested. I was really astonished to hear the hon. and gallant Member who seconded the Motion say that not one penny of public money is involved. Today we have had quotations from John Bright and Mr. Bryce, dating back to the 80's, and I intended to quote something that Mr. Gladstone said in 1869, but after the way in which John Bright and Mr. Bryce have been alluded to I have some hesitation in doing so. In 1869 Mr. Gladstone laid it down in this House—and no greater son of the Church has ever stood in this House—that the funds of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners were public funds. The hon. Member for Central Leeds at least can have no doubts on that score. During the past few weeks I have been taking part in the Durham County Council elections, and the only question hostile to the county council that I heard asked was this: How is it that the sons of Nonconformist miners are unable to get seats in the training college that exists near Durham? The answer was that the county council does not control the college; has nothing to do with it. The figures that my hon. Friend gave me this afternoon show that in my own constituency, where very few of the miners would be regarded as communicants of the Church of England, their work produces for the Commissioners an income of £9,000 a year. They will have the pleasure of knowing that they are digging coal to enable funds to be provided for the improvement of training colleges to which their sons will be unable to secure admission unless they are prepared to be apostates to the faith of their fathers. The hon. Member may shake his head, but as an ex-Liberal he will recall the fights that took place from 1902 to 1906.

The Parliamentary Secretary of the Board of Education and myself were both Nonconformist teachers, and we both evaded going to a Church training college by going to a university college. He went to Reading, and I went to Cambridge. Although I passed high enough to secure admission to the Cambridge University Day Training College, I did not pass high enough to secure admission to Borough Road, which in those days was the only Nonconformist College apart from the universities. The door of admission to the training colleges is still too largely opened only to communicants of the Church of England, and yet, in an age when the control of the Church over the elementary school is lessening quite appreciably every year, this Measure will enable them still to control admission to the teaching profession and secure that the majority of the entrants shall be members of one Church. I suggest that these reasons are quite sufficient for the House not to pass this Measure; that so far from increasing the capacity of any denomination to control the entrants to the teaching profession it is very largely a matter of State service and Civil Service in the undenominational schools. We should take the earliest and the speediest opportunity of providing more undenominational training colleges, so that the avenue into the profession shall be free from any test at all. I realise that it is difficult to discuss these matters at such a late hour, and it is not possible to elaborate the arguments as fully as one would wish, but I think that the arguments which I have used are sufficient to make anyone who wishes to see the teaching profession gradually relieved of religious tests resist this Measure.


My position is somewhat difficult inasmuch as the task involved in defending the principle of this Motion is not primarily the task of the Board of Education. It is, of course, the task of the Church Commissioners to defend the proposition that they should have power to increase their right to lend money to the Church Assembly or any other ecclesiastical body. An issue has been raised in the interesting speech of the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) with which I think I ought to deal before I proceed with the general case in favour of this Measure. The House will agree that in the main the case of my hon. Friend rested mainly, but not entirely, upon the subject of religious tests for entering these particular Church colleges. I think he was under the impression that only Church teadhers—that is Communicants of the Church of England—can enter those Church colleges. It is well for us to be perfectly clear on this point, because it is a matter of vital importance. The late President of the Board of Education issued in 1926 certain Statutory Rules and Orders concerning training colleges, and on page 8, in the Schedule, of those Rules and Orders, Section (2), appear these words: In the selection of candidates for half the number of places which will be vacant, the authorities of the college must not reject or invite the withdrawal of the application of any candidate not belonging to the denomination of the college on the ground of religious faith or by reason of his refusal to undertake to attend, or abstain from attending, any place of religious worship, or any religious observance or instruction in religious subjects in the college or elsewhere. Nor may they require any candidate not belonging to the denomination of the college to enter for any examination in religious knowledge. That is the first paragraph. Paragraph (b) also provides a Conscience Clause. In point of fact, that particular proviso did not originate with the late President of the Board of Education. It is something like 20 years old, and I think it was originated by Mr. McKenna when be was President of the Board of Education. It is therefore not strictly true to say that all the entrants to these Church colleges must be Communicants of tine Church of England, because half of the places referred to are reserved for people of any denomination or no denomination at all.

It is not my task to defend the proposal involved in this Measure, but I think it is well that we should be clear about one or two points concerning the circumstances which make desirable some simplification of the business transactions involved in the raising of loans by training colleges. It has been explained why large sums are required. Briefly, the money is required, as I understand it, for the modernisation of old out-of-date buildings. The hon. Member who seconded the Motion and the hon. Member who moved it made it abundantly clear that there are Church of England colleges which are not only 50 years old, but some of them are 70 years old, and some are approaching a century old. In these days it must be obvious, especially now that the local education authorities themselves have embarked on the policy of building training colleges for themselves, some of which are very up-to-date, that the Church colleges, too, ought to be brought up-to-date and compare in facilities with those offered by the local authorities. The purpose involved in this proposal is not so much to embark on a vast scheme of extending tile number of places available in these colleges, as to modernise them, particularly so as to get rid of the old dormitories which still exist in some places and to equip them in such a way that study-bedrooms and other facilities shall be provided.

I think that is a long overdue provision desired by all, whether Churchmen or people of other denominations. Some may say that this kind of provision should be made by the local education authorities. It is perfectly true that some provision could be made, but the provision of colleges nowadays is not a simple proposition financially. I believe a new training college costs between £750 and £1,000 per place to build, and that means a very substantial sum in these days of financial hardship. If you have 200 places at £750 per place that means the provision of £150,000, a very big sum to provide. Everybody knows that in the financial stringency of recent days the local education authorities look somewhat askance at finding money in this way, especially when they have been providing places not only for students in their own areas, but for students outside and educating them at some expense to the ratepayers. From the point of view of accommodation what is intended is roughly this. Six years ago the Departmental Committee on Training colleges reported that in their judgment the minimum number of places in a training college should be between 150 and 200. As I understand the proposal involved in this Measure, it is not to extend the accommodation of a training college beyond 200, but rather to bring up the accommodation to something like between 150 to 200 places. There is no intention to enlarge the colleges beyond the figure of 200.

There is one other point which I think ought to be made. The hon. Member for South Shields said he was not quite satisfied with the guarantee that, if these places are provided, later on the local education authorities might not find themselves refused any requests that they might make, on account of the fact that there might be an over-supply of teachers through the medium of this Measure. I should like to make it clear that we have a firm understanding between the Board and the Church authorities. It is that The revised numbers for which each college will be recognised on the completion of the proposed alterations will be subject to any modification that may be decided upon at any time as necessary in the case of all recognised training colleges. If the President of the Board of Education feels that there is danger of surplusage of teachers, he can call upon the Church training colleges to reduce their accommodation in the same degree in which he can call upon the local authorities to do so. When the proposals of the Church authorities have been realised, they will not provide for as great a permanent increase in the number of students as the existing temporary increase, and in normal times in the future the number in the colleges will not be as great as it is now, because we have asked them to make special arrangements for temporary increases due to reorganisation and so on. I hope I have made it clear to the House that the denominational test is not as firm or as rigorous as my hon. Friend, perhaps inadvertently, led the House to believe, nor is the safeguard really so lax as he seems to fear, and I hope, therefore, that the House will allow this Motion to be passed.


I cannot allow the speech of the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) to pass with the very moderate comment made upon it by the Parliamentary Secretary. The House should realise exactly the hon. Member's suggestion. He objected to this Measure because, as I understood—I apologise if I misunderstood him—it was going to increase the facilities for the training of Church teachers; it was not going to give them an increased number of places, but was only going to see that the existing colleges, which would go on anyhow, did their work better. [Interruption.] I understand the hon. Member to say that he did not say that, but that was the effect of his speech. The effect of this Measure is to do just that.


I would draw attention to the words in Sub-section (1) of Clause 1: belonging to or to be provided. That does enable them to build new training colleges.


Are we to understand that the hon. Member only objects to that part of the Measure?


I object to the lot.


That is the point I was trying to make, that the hon. Member objects to the improvement of existing training colleges, which will go on whether this Measure is passed or not.


I do not object to the improvement of Church training colleges provided the Church does not build new ones.


The hon. Member now says that he only objects to the provision of new training colleges. He did not say so in his original speech. Are we to understand that he thinks that a teacher is any the worse because he is Church-trained?




Then I have only to say that, if there is an hon. Member of this House who really believes, after I do not know how many years' experience of the teaching profession, that a teacher is definitely the worse for being Church-trained, he does, by such a speech, no service to the system of education in this country, which has been built up by Church teachers and Church training.

Resolved, That, in accordance with the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act, 1919, this House do direct that the Ecclesiastical Commissioners (Loans for Church Training Colleges) Measure, 1931, be presented to His Majesty for Royal Assent.

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.

It being after Half-past Eleven of the Clock upon Monday evening, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at One Minute after Twelve o'Clock.