HC Deb 20 May 1935 vol 302 cc29-41

The Minister in approving schemes for slum clearance under the Housing Act of 1930, or any other Act, shall not include the buildings of a non-provided school.—[Mr. Bailey.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

3.27 p.m.


I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

The specific object of the new Clause is that no clearance order made under the 1930 Act or any other Measure should include the buildings of a non-provided school. I should not be in order if I were to attempt on this occasion to develop the obvious corollary to this proposal, namely, that in the arrangements for the re-housing of the population, pro vision should be made by the Minister for the erection of new schools. I do not pro pose to say any more on that aspect of the question. As I say, it would not be in order now to press that point, although it is one about which many of us feel very strongly—more strongly perhaps than we do about the new Clause which is actually on the Paper. We feel, however, that it would be something if the Minister could see his way to give us some concession on the basis of the proposal in the new Clause, namely, that there should be no demolition. When the Minister replies I hope he will make clear the attitude of the Government on this matter and that he will also bear in mind that it is not merely this proposed new Clause to which he is replying. It represents the only way in which we can raise the question in Parliamentary form on this occasion but it deals only with a part of a. subject about which the deepest concern is felt by many persons in the country. I ask him therefore to indicate if he can to some extent the Government's general attitude to the position.

We have introduced this Clause because some of us are rather afraid that the Bill may aggravate a position which is already by no means satisfactory. I think these few observations indicate clearly both my own feelings and those of my hon. Friends on this matter but I hope the Minister will not mistake the shortness of my observations for any lack of very deep concern on, the subject on the part of those of us who are interested in it. This is a matter which we regard as of prime importance. It is a matter which touches very deep principles which some of us hold, and therefore I hope my right hon. Friend will be able to indicate that our feelings will not be violated in this Bill.

3.32 p.m.


I beg to second the Motion.

I do so on account of the deep interest taken in the schools by the people of the North of England, particularly in the densely populated area in and around Manchester. In these schools we get religious education, and as probably at the present time religious education is not so popular as it was some years ago, I should regret anything being done to pre vent this education being given in our schools. If any evidence is required of the interest taken in these schools, and in the Sunday schools, in the North of England, I would refer hon. Members to what will take place three weeks to-day in the city of Mancester, where thousands and thousands of children will rally under their respective Sunday-school banners and walk in procession through the streets. I welcome this procession be cause an effort is being made by this means to provide children with much needed clothing.

I understand that in the provided schools the Board of Education have paid something like five-sevenths or six-sevenths of the expense of maintenance, and the remainder is found by the people of the denominations which originally built the schools, and it would be a great pity if these schools were to be included in any demolition order. I therefore appeal to the Minister to see if he cannot do something in connection with this matter. May I suggest that where a clearance is made and a Sunday school is left high and dry, without any population round about it, it would be very hard lines, and indeed impossible, for people to build new schools without the assistance of the Government, and as these schools are used for five days out of seven for secular purposes, I feel that it would be economy on the part of the Government if they could be assisted. I think it would be asking too much for the Government to rebuild them, but some measure might be devised, even a generous measure, which would preserve these schools from falling into disuse. I put this suggestion forward to the Minister, hoping that he will see his way to make some proposal in regard to this matter.

3.36 p.m.


I am very pleased that the Mover and Seconder of this new Clause have mentioned this matter, but I hardly think it is possible for the Minister to deal with it in the manner proposed. I am fully aware, with regard to the congested areas of great cities where demolition may take place, how essential it may be that from the point of view of non-provided schools assistance should be given to those receiving religious education, and I am aware also, as to the possibilities of going elsewhere, of the trouble that that may be to many local authorities. I feel that the two hon. Members who have spoken must be complimented on bringing in a Clause on a subject which is causing so much trouble to those interested in church schools, but when I look round at the various areas that are being cleared, the problem that arises in my mind is not so much that of keeping a particular non-provided school in a particular area, but of the opportunity that there may be of the whole of the environment being changed and the people having a chance of getting schooling away from the neighbourhood which has been demolished. If the people have to go, certainly a difficulty arises with regard to the responsibility and cost that must fall upon the governors of these schools.

Is it possible for the Minister to envisage, when people have to leave a neighbourhood and remove three or four miles away, so that a particular school is no longer required in the neighbourhood, the question of rebuilding and rehousing under better conditions for school life? I should imagine that it would be possible, when church school managers, in consultation with the Ministry of Education, find that it is no longer essential that a particular church school should remain in an area that has been demolished, that arrangements might be made for the responsibility of rebuilding in a new area to be one of the functions of the Ministry in arranging its housing proposals. I am going, not into the problem of the schools, but only into the question of housing, and if the Minister would look at that aspect of it, I think my two hon. Friends would be able to say that they had achieved something. So far as school managers are concerned, this is a problem that is hitting them very heavily, and if the Minister would give this matter some consideration, I am sure it would give much satisfaction.

3.39 p.m.


I would like to ask the Minister what is the practice at the present time with regard to non-provided schools which fall within a scheduled area. That would help us, I think, to see a good deal better where we stand. I suppose that there would be some form of compensation granted by agreement with the local authority, but there does not seem to be any general practice in the matter. In one of my areas there is a considerable institution, which is not exactly a church school but is a combination of welfare, mission, creche and a few other things. It falls right within the area of a clearance scheme, but some arrangements have been made with the local authority which will enable it to be carried on. I do not know what those arrangements are, and that is why I ask if any guidance is given from the Minis try in such cases. The non-provided schools are in a difficult position. A clearance scheme not only removes the scholars but, far worse from the point of view of keeping the school going, it re moves the church communicants who paid for it when it was built and who must look after the building outside the ordinary wear and tear clause. Many people actually live in slums solely in order to allow their children to attend a school of a particular religion which is their own. That may seem rather strange, but it is true. Therefore, if the school re mains within a clearance area these people will have to go back to the school and the church if they are to be carried on as they have been in the past.

The whole subject is such a highly important one, particularly in Lancashire, that we would be very obliged to the Minister if he could tell us what the position of these schools is under clearance schemes. I have spent a good deal of time with the different churches and schools, but I have not yet discovered any regular practice to guide me. In consequence, I have made one or two mistakes in adopting a course which I should not have adopted if I had known more about it. I have gone to one authority after another, to the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education and the City Council, but I have not yet been able to ascertain what is the regular practice. I feel that the proposed Clause is hardly sufficient to convey to hon. Members the importance of the subject. Its narrow ness would preclude us from dealing with the whole question in the way in which we would like to deal with it. In Manchester there are many churches and schools which are deeply concerned, and some sympathetic reference by the Minister would be received in that part of the world with a great deal of joy.

3.44 p.m.


I support the object of this new Clause. I can only conceive of two reasons why a school of this description should be included in a clearance area. The first is that the building is not in an adequate condition for the proper housing of the children, and the other is that it is a bad neighbour inasmuch as it would be impossible to develop the area as it should be developed if the school remained. With regard to the first reason, nobody is more desirous than I am that the children should be housed in a proper manner, and the object of the school authorities is to see that the schools are in such a condition and so constructed that the children are able to benefit in health as well as in other ways when they are attending school. That, however, is the function of the local authority as an education authority and not as a housing authority. Consequently, the question of the condition of schools is adequately safeguarded by the powers which are held by the local authorities. With regard to the question of a school being a bad neighbour, I support the new Clause because' one of the greatest difficulties which local authorities have is to provide a site for a school within reason able distance of the housing accommodation which they give. Consequently, if a school is already in a clearance area it should not be demolished and taken away without some provision being made for an alternative site for a school. As worded, the new Clause may not be such as the Minister can accept, but, if the principle were accepted, he would be able to provide suitable wording in order to carry out the object which many of us have in supporting it.

3.46 p.m.


The speeches we have heard have had very little relation to the new Clause. Its effect would be exactly the opposite from that which hon. Members have in moving it, and it would be against the interests of denominational schools. It would mean in many cases that schools would be left high and dry and isolated and without any child population. There would be no compensation and more harm than good would be done to the denominations concerned. In some cases, too, it would spoil the unity and the form of the remodelling of the area. I would remind hon. Members that if a denominational school were in the way the local authority would have to buy it out on its market value, because it would not come within the definition of a house. Hon. Members who support this Clause would not earn the gratitude of the de nominations concerned if they were successful in carrying it.

3.48 p.m.


I do not doubt that the hon. baronet is right when he says that this Clause is unnecessary and possibly undesirable in itself. I do not think that is the spirit in which it was put on the Paper. What we really want is an assurance from the Minister that nothing can be done under this Bill, with all its great aims and intentions, to add to the difficulties of non-provided schools. If that assurance is given, I have no doubt that the proposed Clause will not be pressed. There is great anxiety in the North about the position of the non-provided schools under slum clearance, clearance areas, re-development areas, and so on, and a comforting word from the Minister would be of great value to them.

3.50 p.m.


I have great pleasure in supporting this new Clause, not that I have the slightest hope that my right hon. Friend will accept it in its present form, because I am inclined to agree with the hon. Baronet for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) that in its present form it might do the cause of the hon. Member for Gorton (Mr. Bailey) more harm than good. Nevertheless, he has undoubtedly done a great deal of good by raising this topic here, because through out the North, and particularly in Lancashire, there is a great deal of fear, perhaps groundless, that injury may result to non-provided schools. I think that fear has arisen in these circumstances. Clearance orders have been passed in respect of certain areas in which there is a non-provided school. Examination by independent architects and surveyors has shown the school to be of such durability that it has at least 25 or 30 years more life in it. If the clearance order were carried out, that non-provided school, which has been provided to a great extent at the cost of the religious denomination which supports it, would be lost. The supporters of that denomination would then have to follow that population to wherever it was moved and erect another non-provided school because in the industrial areas of the North of England people who are keen on non-provided schools have the greatest reluctance to send their children to a provided school. There is that feeling; whether it is wise or not I am not going to say, but it exists; and we ought, as far as possible, to meet the wishes of people who have so nobly provided these so-called non-provided schools.

But I do not agree with the hon. Baronet when he says that the school might be left high and dry by the clearance order, because I think this suggested new Clause refers to areas where it is the intention of the Minister of Health to rehouse the people on the site. If that is the intention—and it is so, I have been led to believe, as regards sites cleared in Manchester—and the non-provided school were left there, when the population was rehoused on the site the school would again be in demand and there would be no need to build another one. I do not go so far as the hon. Member for Gorton in saying there ought to be no demolition order at all, because I agree that in some cases which I have seen myself the schools are beyond repair. I am referring, however, to schools which have a certain number of years of ser vice left, and if there is such a school in a clearance area where the Minister intends to rehouse the people on the site I think a case has been made out for that school to be retained. We are not allowed by the ruling of the Chair to touch on the financial aspect of the question, but if the Minister could give some reassurance on the points raised it would go a long way towards allaying the fears which do exist in the North?

3.53 p.m.


I should like to reinforce the remarks of the hon. Member opposite with a practical illustration drawn from just outside my own division. A few months ago the Minister made an exhaustive tour of the housing estates of Sheffield, which I admit are a credit to the authorities, and perhaps he will re member a large estate known as Wood thorpe, rehousing more than 3,000 people who had been moved from the over crowded centres of the city of Sheffield. For almost two and a half years the children of that new estate have received their religious teaching through the action of certain mothers in taking classes of half a dozen or a dozen children once or twice on Sundays, because there was no school within easy reach of the estate. As soon as the corporation authorities got to know about it, and following a disastrous accident at Liverpool, they banned any such teaching in corporation houses, and there being no alternative accommodation the vast majority of the children are absolutely denied religious teaching—there is neither provided nor non-provided Sunday school. Under demolition orders there is a danger of a repetition of that state of affairs, and I do not think the House or the Minister would desire that it should happen any where. I am inclined to agree that there is a possibility of a non-provided school which is left becoming high and dry, as explained by the hon. Baronet; but there is the other side of the question, the danger, if a school is displaced under a demolition order, of there being no school whatever, and it is the business of the House to see that facilities are provided in any rehousing scheme for such form of teaching as parents desire their children to have. The industrial areas would give a unanimous verdict in favour of the principle embodied in this new Clause. If the wording is not suitable the Minister could alter it to suit the convenience of those areas which are most desirous of obtaining this concession, and it would also be in the interests of the spiritual well-being of the country as a whole.

3.56 p.m.

The MINISTER of HEALTH (Sir Hilton Young)

I think the hon. Member for Gorton (Mr. Bailey) and the hon. and gallant Member for Ashton-under Lyne (Colonel Broadbent) have raised a subject which it was very desirable to consider on this Bill, and one on which the House is entitled to have a statement showing the general attitude of the Government towards the matters raised. It is clear from the discussion, which has been a- most illuminating one, that there are two points with which I have to deal, the first concerning the actual wording of the Amendment and the second the wider aspects of policy. As to the wording of the Amendment, I think I can set at rest the apprehension expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for the Platting Division (Mr. Chorlton) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir J. Lamb), because it is a fact that the Amendment would not do anything to the existing law. It is the fact, and I would particularly direct the attention of my hon. Friend the Member for Stone to this point, that under the law as it will be when this Bill is passed it will be impossible to include a school in a clearance order so that it could be expropriated on site value terms. That is secured by Clause 60 of the present Bill, which rules out the bad neighbour from the site value basis of compensation.

The Amendment, however, goes a little farther, and would prevent non-provided schools being expropriated even on the market value basis of compensation. I think that would be a mistake, both from the point of view of the general position and the point of view of the schools. The situation was clearly analysed, and I followed it with appreciation, by the hon. and learned Member for Withington (Mr. Fleming). The situation would be this: either the population moves away, or it does not move away, but is rehoused on the existing site. If the population moves away, clearly it is in the interests of the managers and others concerned with the school that it should be bought out, because then they would have the purchase price to help towards rebuilding on a fresh site. It would be a great mistake if the law were to prevent them from being expropriated on a market value basis of compensation. In the other case, where the population is not going away, but is to be rehoused on the existing site, what is most in the interest of the school is that it should be left alone, allowed to remain there without interference.

This second case brings me to what I have to say in reply to my hon. Friends on the general aspects of this question. Let me make it as clear as I can that I am perfectly in agreement with my hon. Friends on the difficulties which confront managers and others interested in non-provided schools When there is a shifting of population which may make their school of comparatively little local value, while, at the same time, there has grown up elsewhere a corresponding need for similar schools. It is a most difficult situation, which needs, and deserves, the sympathy and consideration of His Majesty's Government. The situation is, of course, one which may occur under the Act of 1930, before the coming into operation of the present Measure, and undoubtedly under the operations of the two Acts those conditions will occur in some cases. As my hon. Friend has pointed out, the difficulty is the expense of providing new schools. Now we begin to see the way towards a practical solution of the difficulties, in which the Government can help. Let us preserve, as we have preserved under existing legislation, the power, and indeed the obligation, of the local authority, if they desire to move a school out of its present place, to pay for it at the full market value, so that, in the event of the population shifting and changing, those interested in the school will have the price to assist them in providing a new school.

Let us recognise, as a supplement, in order to assist those responsible for non-provided schools, that the way in which the Government can assist in the matter is when the population is not to be shifted away, but remains on the site, that it shall be most careful and sympathetic in its administration in order to protect the school against any unnecessary interference. I believe that when we have those two practical points before us, and when, as I hope, I have convinced my hon. Friends that it is not only right but necessary and within our intention that we should assist non-provided schools in this respect, we shall really have given in the most practical manner those assurances which my hon. Friends can rightly expect to hear from the Government on this occasion. I would sum up, in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham (Mr. Crossley), by saying that I accept, as it were, the very phraseology of his own invitation as being very well calculated to express what is the Government's intention in the administration of this matter, and that we shall do nothing to add to the difficulties of non-provided schools by our administration under the Act.

4.4 p.m.


My right hon. Friend has made a most sym pathetic reply, of which I hope I may infer from the cheers those who have taken the initiative in this matter are fully appreciative. There are, of course, as my right hon. Friend says, two quite distinct problems. There is the problem of the population which is moved, and which needs a school near. There, I agree with my right hon. Friend, and, I think, other hon. Members who have spoken, that it is to the interest of the school to be expropriated and to follow the population which it serves. But, I think I am more personally or immediately interested in the case of areas which, though they may be cleared and rebuilt, will still house a population who have been accustomed to use, and still desire to use, the non-provided school. There are not a great many of them in my constituency, but those who are associated with them cling to them with traditions of great affection, and with a sense of obtaining there something of the highest value to man which they feel they do not obtain in the council school.

The case that I want to put to my right hon. Friend is this: An area which is to be replanned and rebuilt, but still to house, perhaps not as large a population, but as much at it can of the old population who are attached to the district by ties, or who are bound to the district by the conditions of their work. What exactly does my right hon. Friend mean by the "most sympathetic administration" of the case of those schools? I venture to think he might go a little further, because if you have a school in one of those areas destroyed as part of a replanning scheme, is it not almost certain that it will be unable to obtain an alternative site within that area at any price which renders construction of a substitute school possible? I think my right hon. Friend means that in a case of that kind he will take care that the school shall not be included in the order. If that be so, I have nothing more to say, and if he can tell me that I am right in interpreting his mind, shall be perfectly happy. If he is not prepared to go as far as that, perhaps he can say one word more as to what he means by "sympathetic administration" in a case where the district will remain with much of the old population, perhaps the whole of the old population, if buildings are raised higher and the ground plan is re-made, or, at any rate, with as much of the old population as possible, and where the old need for the school, and the desire for it, will remain. Will he say how he means to treat that case, and to secure that the school shall be able to continue its existence?

4.8 p.m.


Before replying, will the Minister take into consideration also the point of view of the school where there is rehousing in the matter of tenement dwellings? The right hon. Gentleman is aware that from the city of Liverpool many thousands of people have gone to the outer areas, but the fact remains that inside the city the problem of the re housing of people still remains, and the question of the schools is still a problem. I would like to know, with regard to these cleared areas, where the school forms a part, what view the Minister takes in regard to the school on the site already cleared, but on which the population can again be rehoused?

4.10 p.m.


My right hon. Friend put to me a question in a form to which, if I understand it, my answer can be unhesitatingly yes. We are dealing here with the position of the non-provided school in an area which is to be rebuilt, and it is therefore in the interest of the school that it shall remain undisturbed on the existing site. As to that, when I say "sympathetic administration," what I mean is that we should look upon it with the strongest possible presumption that in that case the school should not be disturbed. But my right hon. Friend will understand that I must protect myself and my successors. It would not be possible for me to give a promise in the House to-day, on behalf of myself or my successors, that in no single case, however absolutely pre-eminent the need for re-adjustment of lay-out and so on in a particular area, should a non-provided school ever be included in a compulsory purchase order. What I can and do say, after listening to the Debate, is that I am confident it would be the desire not only of the present, but of any, Government which administers the Act, that we should look upon it with the strongest possible presumption in favour of leaving the non-provided school in those conditions undisturbed.


In view of the very sympathetic attitude of the Minister, and appreciating the fact that it is far more important that the Act should be interpreted in that spirit than in any paricular Clause, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Clause.

Motion and Clause, by leave, with drawn.