HC Deb 18 November 1941 vol 376 cc248-75
Mr. R. J. Russell (Eddisbury)

I beg to move, at the end of the Question, to add: But hope that steps may be taken to secure that greater recognition should be given to the essential value of religious education in our schools in the building up of national character. I think I can say with the approval of the House that there is throughout the House a supreme desire to avoid all appearance of disunity in order to bring to a successful conclusion the great task upon which we are engaged. For this reason it may be that many older Members of the House experienced feelings of some misgiving when they saw on the Order Paper a notice dealing with religious education. There would come to them, I have no doubt, some sense of old, forgotten, far off things, and battles long ago, when the Churches, led into a false position, showed a sense of tragic disunion which left within the nation damage from which it and the world have suffered ever since. In the past 40 years we have passed through times of searching trouble such as has rarely, if ever, been experienced. This has changed our outlook, matured our judgment and, I believe, mellowed our character and made us more willing to take wider views and wiser actions. The desire for unity to-day is great; the spirit of unity is ever-increasing, and it is because of that spirit of unity which pervades the whole nation than an opportunity has arisen in which a contentious question of the past can become a non-contentious one of the present.

We talk freely to-day of reconstruction after the war. By that we mostly mean reconstruction in material things, economics, finance, land, streets, houses, and labour for daily bread. I submit that none of these can be successfully fulfilled and none of them can compare in importance with the creation of a new spirit in the character of our people. Something, we all admit, has gone wrong. It is the business of this House to ask what, and how. I do not propose to enter on that question of what is wrong morally, socially, and in other ways, in the world which has led the world into such an impasse as that in which we find ourselves to-day. I think all will agree that in this matter the first field to be occupied is that of infancy, and that in dealing with the child we must have directness and simplicity. I think that, if we were to ask the question of those who have been our greatest and best in national and world affairs, they would say that the real foundation of their greatness was laid in those early years at the time when they learned to say at their mother's knees, and repeat, that old prayer: Look upon a little child. Pity my simplicity. Let me make one or two observations which may help to disarm, if necessary, any feelings of misapprehension. This is not an attack on any class of school. We all should recognise that the great work which many teachers and schools have done is beyond praise, and that in times of difficulty teachers and schools have carried on and, I think, have done wonderfully, but the powers of evolution still operate, and what has been good we desire to make better, and there are evidences that all is not well. The experiences which have come into our homes as a result of evacuation, for example, have awakened the consciousness of multitudes of people of this country as to what has happened and what may be happening at the present time in child life. After all, our experience of national education is very brief, for what is 100 years in the life of man? We have to gain by experience, and if we would reconstruct the world, we must take such action as will, in the words of that great educationist, Matthew Arnold, produce That common wave of thought and joy lifting mankind again. There is no need to cause disunion among other religions when we say that we desire Christian teaching in our schools. In our search for a common basis on which to build a finer character and a better citizen all may help. Not long ago I received a letter which said, criticising a statement which some of us had made, that we had assumed that truth and justice and freedom were peculiar to the Christian philosophy of life. We never said so. They went on to say that those ideals were shared by many non-Christians. We agree, but surely that helps our position. That the same basis is found in other religions simply widens our point of view and makes co-operation much more possible. That is not all. Not everyone is equipped with the talent or the training for imparting religious knowledge. Some masters are specialists in geography, some in science, some in mathematics, some in handicraft. On occasion the master in geography may give a lesson in science, but you would not employ him always. On every staff there should be one with the talent and training for special work, and this work is at least as important in the curriculum as any other.

We have been led astray by a gate marked "Tests for Teachers." That was the outcome of a narrow sectarianism which had the aim of training little Baptists or little Anglicans instead of little citizens and little Christians. A new day must envisage a new method by which all that shall make fine character in the life of a child shall be moulded into the life of the child, leaving to the loyalty of those who believe in the value of their own creeds the task of providing the enrichment of ornament which will adorn the character of the man. We must have teachers who are qualified for religious work and in the practical working of the school. There is no difficulty in this. It will need some modification in relation to training college work, so that a teacher wishing to specialise in this work may do so, even as to-day he may specialise in other subjects. That can be done. We must follow the lines of development already begun. Throughout the country parties and philosophers have been getting together and finding the greatest common measure of agreement, with the result that many syllabuses have been issued by the universities and the local education authorities, giving material which all can use as the medium by which training can be conveyed to the child mind. But the thing we desire is not to be attained by mere syllabus and regulations. It is too great to be confined in definitions, great as these are. It requires at least two things—an attitude of mind, a way af approach, a consciousness of something more real than apparent reality; and this is the greatest possession of childhood. Heaven lies about us, we are told, in our infancy, and it is well that the child should learn the language ere it drifts apart. The very atmosphere of the school must be allied with that spirit which puts materialism into its right relation with life and takes the shoes of custom from the feet as they approach the presence of eternal truth.

In every school, a most important place must be given to school assembly and a brief and simple act of united worship. It is the greatest condemnation of many school buildings which still exist that there is no accommodation to make this possible. That must be changed. It is essential also that the relation of religion to life should be clearly understood, that, when all is said, worship is not everything Religious exercises have no meaning unless they make it possible to bear the burden of life and to apply principles which will make that life good. It reflects the problems of the world to-day, when we struggle because of the falsehood of Nazism. Our teaching must establish truth in the individual and national life. We are at war because of the tyranny of a people gone mad. Our teaching must make a love of freedom supreme. The world is aghast to-day at injustice which is cruel beyond words. Our religious teaching must make injustice impossible in the life of man. We believe that we can do this best by following Him who said— I am the Truth, and ye shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall make you free. But we must do it definitely, fearlessly, continuously, if we are to save the world. In my judgment, the purpose of all education, so far as this House is concerned, is to train the individual so that his voice shall be complete and happy in all its relationships, and shall eliminate from the national life all that defaces or destroys. In another great King's speech these words were used: Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the hand of God. To teach the child how to do that is the work of religious education in our schools. We who through many years have been battered with the storms of life, and, through those storms, have learned the way of peace, desire that the children of a new age, facing storms perhaps greater than we have known and facing problems greater than we have understood, shall find that way, and shall so explore it that through them the whole nation and the whole world may abide in peace.

Major Sir Edward Cadogan (Bolton)

I beg to second the Amendment.

I realise that the first obligation which rests upon any hon. Member who raises this issue in the House is to prove that there is an appreciable demand from the general public for a reform of this nature at this moment. I believe that, although it may not be very widely expressed, there is a widely held preference that religion should be the basic factor in the moral instruction of our youth. It is very significant that, although local education authorities have it in their power to withhold religious instruction in their schools, I believe I am right in saying that not one local education authority has availed itself of this undoubted right. As local education authorities are popularly elected bodies, it is a legitimate assumption that they reflect the views of the majority of the electorate. Although we have been very solicitous, and I think quite rightly, to ensure that the consciences of those opposed to religious instruction in schools are not outraged, we have not been equally careful to provide adequately for those whose consciences favour religious instruction in schools, and who, on the evidence I have adduced, are probably in a large majority.

The approach to this subject, I am painfully aware, is beset with pitfalls and difficulties, but the recently developed collaboration between the various religious denominations, to which the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Mr. R. J. Russell) has referred, has smoothed the path and removed one of the most formidable obstacles. This obstacle is intolerance, an obstacle which was set in the way by those whose sectarianism rendered them incapable of appreciating that brotherly love is one of the first Christian virtues. It is a significant historical circumstance that the deterioration of the status of religious instruction in the school curriculum is not, as casual observers might imagine, immediately due to the growth of what we call rationalism, or to the progress of science, or to the substitution of a mechanical or material conception of human existence for the spiritual. It is the direct outcome of regrettable rivalries and internecine strife between those who hold the most extreme religious views, and whose incompatibility was so conclusive that what they had been striving for was lost in the general confusion of their religious antipathies. In my criticism of the present method of religious instruction in State-aided schools, I am in no way disparaging the teachers, but I blame the system under which no teacher, in however high a category he places religious instruction, can possibly do himself justice.

We can all of us, no doubt, adduce individual instances of school teachers who do not subscribe to any religious creed and have no desire whatever to qualify for such instruction, and who may be hostile to religion, but who are called upon to impart such instruction to our youth. I, for one, will certainly not argue from the particular to the general in that connection. Every report that I have ever read on this subject testifies to the fact that within the exiguous limits laid down by regulations, and as far as purely undenominational instruction admits, religious instruction in the primary schools is often most conscientious and with the full appreciation of its basic significance and value. I render to the teachers the fullest mead of praise for their ability and good intention in this matter and it is on that account that I want to have full play for their ability and good intention. One consideration which actuates me in supporting this Amendment is that I believe that the time is both right and appropriate for a thorough overhaul of our religious education in schools, which, in my view, is little short of derelict.

The most peculiar contrasting feature of this war is that it is being fought by ourselves on an exclusively moral issue. With the possible exception of the War of the Crusades—and I am told that modern historians now are beginning to doubt whether the Crusades were Crusades and nothing else—I suppose there never was a war which was fought so exclusive of material considerations as the one in which we are now involved. We are fighting a pagan enemy that is convinced that it is for the benefit of the State that its children should receive nothing but a secular education, and a military and a physical education at that. Although I cannot deny that there have been grave indications that England has been perhaps drifting rather in that direction, I believe the great mass of our people hold the view, although they do not perhaps give effect to it, that spiritual values in education are inestimable. This attitude of mind seems to be characteristic of democracies and antipathetic to dictatorships.

The British Government and the United States, two of the greatest democracies in the world, illustrate well enough that thesis. Now we have the curious anomaly of the United States of America and the British Empire, with religion undoubtedly inscribed upon their banners, under the leadership of President Roosevelt, who, I believe, is an intensely religious man, and our own Prime Minister, who is not slow to proclaim that the spiritual weapon is the most effective in our armoury to fight this new paganism, ranging themselves on the side of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, which in its inception had adopted a purely materialistic conception of human existence. If there was one feature in the original Soviet ideology which alienated Englishmen of all parties more than any other, it was the persecution and suppression of religious life in Russia during the actual processes of revolution. I remember Mr. George Lansbury long years ago telling me that when he was accorded an interview with Lenin in the Kremlin he told the founder of the new Russian State that he would be unable to support his views so long as religious persecution and intolerance were a declared policy of the Soviet Union, but at that time his appeal fell upon deaf ears.

What then is the answer to the question: How are we going to get over the particular difficulty which presented itself to Mr. Lansbury and many others of all parties? I think that the answer is that Russia is going to solve the problem for us. I have been only once to Russia, and that was before the Revolution. Anyone who shared that experience with me will corroborate me when I say that it was quite evident that Russia was an intensely religious country. Surely, the very fact that it required such drastic methods to drive religion below the surface, let alone eradicate it, was proof positive that religion was inherent in that race. If religious toleration once again obtains in Russia—and the Russian authorities take very good care to assure us that it will—I believe that religion will renew its influence in that country, although upon more enlightened lines. There will be less difficulty in identifying our war aims, both present and future, with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

There is one other preliminary point that I would make before I recapitulate the reforms to which, in putting our names to this Amendment, we would like the Government to give effect. While wishing well to any movement supported by pri- vate individuals without official sanction which has for its object the moral and spiritual health and welfare of the nation, I have been careful not to identify myself with any such movement. I have always felt that, apart from occasionally achieving some sporadic success, these movements do not get down to fundamentals. Long years ago I conceived the view, to which I have ever since adhered, that it was only by making religion the groundwork of moral instruction in our schools, under the aegis of the State, that we could recapture part of that spiritual heritage of ours that we seem to have so lightly squandered. I was convinced that the Cowper-Temple Clause and the Education Act which embodied it contained within itself the seeds of failure, but so long as denominational controversy persisted I had to possess my soul in patience. I believe the time has arrived when that failure can be retrieved by the good will of those who set religion above these disputes which a more enlightened age considers of little consequence.

If I am asked whether I do not consider the home rather than the school the appropriate medium through which to impart religious instruction, I reply that a very great number of our homes have neither the time nor the space nor the requisite knowledge for the purpose. I would back that statement with a curious piece of evidence disclosed recently in a report on the evacuation of London school children. From figures obtained from a large number of schools, it is estimated that about 80 per cent. of London's school children now in the reception areas attend church or Sunday school regularly—in some cases as many as 90 or 100 per cent. Of these about 30 per cent., when in London, never attend any place of worship, but—and this is the point to which I wish to draw the attention of the House—where the children have been evacuated with their parents they rarely attend church or Sunday school. The truth is that we have reached a point in time when we have parents who in their youth were instructed under our present system, and who, as a consequence, are quite unequipped to impart religious instruction to their children. Under a more adequate system we may be able to impart religious instruction to children so that when they, in their turn, become parents they will be able to hand on the torch, but that time is not yet. Religion should be made one of the regular subjects to be taken in the examination for the teachers' certificate, counting towards the award instead of the additional optional subject which places it in a lower category than other subjects offered.

I am on the Education Committee of the London County Council, and I am glad to say that the Council's training colleges are taking an ever-increasing interest in this matter. In this connection there is one problem which deserves our most sympathetic consideration. It is recognition of the fact that there is a certain number of teachers who do not subscribe to any religious creed and are quite unwilling to qualify as teachers in this subject. I am told that they entertain misgivings that if this instruction is given the status that so many of us would like it to have in the school curriculum, their promotion to the higher grades of the profession will be prejudiced. I can only suggest that in this enlightened age they would have little to fear in this respect. I think tolerance should be of two kinds —those whose views are in favour of religious instruction and those who are against. Although this is not a completely convincing argument, I would remind the House that at one of our public schools the Provost and the Headmaster are laymen, a contingency which would have been unthinkable when I was at that school. I do not think that either of these members of the scholastic hierarchy is an agnostic. At any rate, it never struck me that Lord Hugh Cecil, when he was in this House, showed any tendency that way, but I cite this case as an example of how far religious tolerance has progressed.

There should be an agreed reformed syllabus, and although I do not pretend to be an authority on syllabuses, and prefer to leave consideration of this matter to those who are, I would like to say that for a very good reason I do not think the recent syllabus of the London County Council, which is that most commonly used in London, can be very adequate. It is a small document of two or three pages, and I do not imagine that it can be much guide to anyone. I arrive at this conclusion because for a long period of years I have been associated with a great number of school-leavers—those who have been educated in council schools. It has been my experience that hardly any of them know anything about religion at all or attach themselves to any kind of church or religious instruction. Syllabuses which produce so little result as that must surely be almost worthless. There are other syllabuses such as that issued by the Surrey County Council, which are calculated to serve the purpose. But the President of the Board knows the difficulty which confronted us in preparing an agreed syllabus when we had to be fearful not to tread on denominational toes and careful that all dogma and theology, so far as possible, should be removed, leaving us with most substantial dregs which are of no nutritive value to our children. There is a third good case to be made out for religious teaching. In any re-organisation the conscience clause must, of course, be retained. Fourthly, there is a very good case to be made out for religious teaching to be given at any time during the school day. Fifthly, I believe there is demand for inspectors of religious instruction, although I have heard objections to this in the teaching profession.

My observations apply in the main to the primary schools, but the efficient organisation of religious instruction in secondary schools is of infinitely greater importance. Our ideas on religion and on our capacity to profit by it must be rudimentary for children up to the age of 14, who do not require such expert tuition as that given to older youths who have reached a more impressionable age, when the critical faculties are more highly developed and many of whom require some spiritual guidance in the dangerous period of adolescence. One of the many evils attendant upon so low a school-leaving age as 14 or 15 is that an elementary school boy, just at the period of his life when he needs such instruction most, goes out into the world and cuts himself completely adrift from all spiritual influences, institutional or otherwise.

The expression, "secondary schools," in most recent reports on education, includes every kind of post-primary educational establishment. Some of the so-called public schools are residential, and as such have an advantage in the matter of religious instruction over those which are not. Obviously, the contact which a master in a residential school can get with his pupils out of school hours is a great advantage. Most of our public schools have a great religious tradition which boys and masters alike are solicitous to retain. They have also chapels, many of them of such exquisite beauty that the building itself and the services conducted therein are an inspirational influence. But of course, the majority of secondary schools have not these advantages. I have not the time to elaborate the matter of religious instruction in secondary schools, a matter which I regard as of supreme importance, but I would ask the leave of the House to make a brief reference to the so-called Spens Report, the report of the Consultative Committee on Secondary Education. There is in it an admirable chapter with the rather old-fashioned title of "Scripture," which is well worth the careful attention of the House. I quote the opening sentence: We believe that there is a wide and genuine recognition of the value and importance of religious instruction and that the time is favourable for a fresh consideration of the place it should occupy in the education of boys and girls of secondary-school age. But the report reveals that, although the number of secondary schools making no provision for religious instruction is small, there is a considerable number in which the subject is not included in the timetable of the higher forms. Surely, this is deplorable. Surely, it is of supreme importance that throughout the secondary school age, when the critical faculty, and indeed, all the faculties, are developing, religious instruction by the most expert teachers and on the best approved lines should be given.

I have already occupied more than my fair share of the time of the House, and I should like to conclude with this final observation. In an official capacity it has been my duty to examine innumerable case-histories of young delinquents between the ages of 16 and 25. In addition to this, I share an experience with many other hon. Members doubtless of sitting on the bench of a juvenile court. These two experiences give me the excuse to say that, in examining these case-histories and learning the histories of those who appear before the juvenile court, I am appalled at the complete absence of spiritual background which characterises the histories of these young men who break the law. I will refrain from ending on a note of peroration. One can find perorations in most of the speeches delivered on this subject by our leading statesmen, from the famous speech delivered at the Sheldonian Theatre by Disraeli many years ago to the recent utterances of the Prime Minister. The subject no doubt lends itself to peroration, but we want something more than lip-service now. I prefer that we should present our case in a calm and dispassionate manner, trusting that the Government will examine it from a common-sense point of view and effect such reforms that we shall no longer come within the range of that reproach of hypocrisy levelled at us by those States we have criticised as being lacking in a sense of spiritual values.

Mr. Cove (Aberavon)

I should like, if I may, to congratulate the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment on making two uncontroversial speeches about what is in reality a very controversial subject. They have made uncontroversial speeches because they have not touched the realities of the situation. They have not faced the difficulties which the Government would have to face if they met this position. It is not for me to-day to outline any constructive proposals, and I would not enter into that realm. I can be as courageous and as careful about this matter as the Mover and Seconder, because the moment I enter into constructive proposals controversy begins. I repeat, most respectfully, that neither the Seconder or the Mover faced the real problems which are involved in this question. But I should like to say this, and I say it most solemnly, that the movement behind the Mover and Seconder is creating perturbation in the minds of a number of people. They are not quite clear as to what they really want or mean.

As a matter of fact I have had private letters from prominent leaders in the Nonconformist movement who are not only disturbed, but—and I think I can frankly use the expression—suspicious of what certain religious bodies really desire. For instance, I received a letter from a prominent leader of the Free Church Council which asked this question: Can you tell me, Mr. Cove, whether the people who are leading this movement are in favour of a single system of education in this country? Are they really in favour of the abolition of the dual system of education; or are they out to cash in and get, from their point of view, during this time of trial and difficulty some denominational advantages? The speeches which we have heard to-day are no answer to that question, because the realities and difficulties of the situation have been avoided. But I am glad to note that neither the Mover nor the Seconder subscribed to the old charge that council schools are godless. I am glad to note it was freely admitted that council schools have, so far as their limitations, particularly in buildings, are concerned, a basis of Christian teaching.

The Seconder referred to delinquency. I did not know that this. Debate was to take place until a short time ago, and if I had had the time, I would have brought with me two or three surveys by Sir Percival Sharp which were published in the official organ of the local education authorities. I am not saying this in criticism of any denomination, but it was shown that the highest number of juvenile delinquents were attached to the Roman Catholic Church and the second highest to the Church of England. The lowest number of juvenile delinquents are those who have passed through what have hitherto been called the Godless county schools. That does not amount to a reflection on the Christian teaching in the Catholic or Church schools. It meant that there were other factors involved as far as the creation of juvenile delinquency is concerned. The Roman Catholic children were taught in these schools in areas of slumdom and poverty and, if the problem is to be tackled, it must not only be tackled from the point of view of religious teaching. It is a big, broad social problem and it cannot be tackled merely by saying that you must have more emphasis on the Christian teaching in the schools. Instead of creating unity and agreement on this matter by forcing this issue during the period of the war you will create disunity, disagreement and violent opposition.

I know it has been felt that the embers of denominational strife have died down and that there is now a disposition to agree. I think I can say without boasting that I was one of the factors in the agreement over the 1936 Act. I made a rather helpful contribution—I will not put it any higher than that—to the settlement. I am not disposed to make interim settlements during the period of the war which may be to the advantage of any particu- lar Church or any denomination, particularly as there is no accusation on the Floor of the House that Christian teaching has not been effectively done throughout the length and breadth of the land. There is not a single council school which does not give particular attention to Christian teaching. The council schools are positive agents for Christianity. I believe we can make constructive proposals at the proper time. I believe there can be a settlement of the matter under the right conditions, but there can be no settlement during the period of the war and apart from the reconstruction and advance of the whole educational system. If there is to be a settlement it must be a broad national settlement associated with an advance in the educational service of the country. I hope my hon. Friends will agree to that. I plead with my right hon. Friend in charge of reconstruction not to wait until the war is over in order to get a reconstruction of the educational system. Let us get that Education Act now while the war is on. Let us get the educational proposals on the Floor of the House. Let us have a Butler Act or a Greenwood Act or an Ede Act, just as we had a Fisher Act. I do not mind all three of the Ministers being associated with it. Let us have a positive statutory contribution. Then, with that advance in education, I am certain that neither the teachers, the local education authorities, nor the free churches will stand in the way of a settlement.

I have studied this problem for years, and I have come to the conclusion that if proposals to meet the difficulties and inefficiencies of the dual system are made in conjunction—there can be no other way—with a great step forward educationally, agreement can be found. I hope, therefore, that my hon. Friends on the other side will not merely press for an advantage here and an advantage there and so create suspicion that they are out for denominational advantages—. [Interruption.] Hon. Members may dissent, but I am in close association with this problem and I tell them again that there are uneasiness and suspicion. I do not want that uneasiness and suspicion. I repeat that no one did more than I did to get the 1936 settlement through, and I am prepared to take the same line again, but I warn my hon. Friends opposite that if that attitude is not associated with a great advance in education and with a realisation of the difficulties of the dual system, the Government will do more harm than good. I hope that the Government will not to-day make any pronouncement associated with the promise of legislation, and that they will not go out of their way to appease, but that they will stand solidly by their position and then invite us to get a great big Education Act on the Statute Book as quickly as may be.

Mr. Edmund Harvey (Combined English Universities)

I am glad that the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove), in spite of his criticism, ended his speech on a positive note, with the hope in the future for a great educational Measure which will mark a great advance for the community and an opportunity for a settlement of difficulties which lie, I believe, already largely in the past. I do not think that the suspicions of which he spoke are in any way well-grounded, at any rate so far as any Members who are associated with this Amendment are concerned. There is no idea of denominational privilege or advantage. There is the thought that at this time we might realise more fully the great things we have in common, as we have done during this war, and that we might emphasise the great spiritual basis of our national life at a time when so much of Europe is dominated by a philosophy which subordinates everything to the idol of the State, that makes the State itself supreme over morality and over the lives of all its citizens, refusing to recognise any obligations to any law higher than the law which it lays down itself. At this time of crisis we are standing together, surely, for a nobler ideal, the ideal which a thousand years of Christian training has implanted in the hearts of our people, the ideal that the State does not exist for itself but exists for the lives of its citizens and is itself subject to those great moral and spiritual laws which alone can mould the lives of its citizens aright. As we recognise that, surely we can feel that we have great things in common, even though there be things on which we must differ. It is, therefore, right that at a moment of national crisis we should spare the time to consider the place of religious education in national life—the supreme place, if religious education be truly considered.

I believe that the very modest suggestions that have been made to the House represent practical proposals for a fuller development of religious opportunity for all our citizens. There is no thought of imposing religion upon unwilling minds by force. There is an old story of Doctor Keate saying on one occasion to his boys, "Boys, be pure in heart. If you are not pure in heart, I'll flog you." That represents a point of view which, I hope, will wholly disappear from our midst. We know that we cannot impose the best things in life by compulsion. The State cannot impose a religion worthy of the name upon the lives of its citizens, but it can give facilities for its development. It can give encouragement in the school life period as well as in the rest of life, and it is that for which we ask. It is surely of the greatest importance that nationally we should recognise the place of religion and spiritual values in education, and we can do that without division, I believe, if the subject be rightly approached. I am very glad that the false accusations which have been made about godless schools have been exposed as they have been to-day. I do not believe there is a Member of this House who is prepared to make those foolish charges. We can recognise that council schools and voluntary schools alike are in need of improvement and that they can all benefit by better methods, and in many cases by fuller facilities for religious teaching. In particular we know that at the heart of all the life of a school is the personality of the teacher.

The training of the teacher, therefore, is a matter to which the State needs to give its thought. It has been pointed out that at present a teacher who is working for his certificate may, if he chooses, have an additional option of taking a course in religious knowledge, but it has to be superadded to all the rest of his training. It cannot be taken as an optional subject along with the compulsory subjects. We ask that the Board should make the improvement which has already been indicated of turning the additional option into an optional subject, so as not to compel any teacher when undergoing his training to take training in religious instruction and knowledge if he does not wish to do so. The teacher could do it if he wished, and add to his qualifications in that way. If that change were made—

Viscountess Astor (Sutton, Plymouth Division)

Does my hon. Friend mean that teachers should have a special course in religion?

Mr. Harvey

There are training colleges now where courses are available in Biblical history and the teaching of religion, but the subject need not be taken at all for the teachers' certificate. It is purely additional, a work of supererogation.

Viscountess Astor

A course of different religions?

Mr. Harvey

Knowledge of the Christian religion, most of us feel, is of supreme importance, but the course would not be complete unless it carried with it some knowledge of other great religions. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to give very serious consideration to this suggestion. I hope also, although no decision may be possible at present, that the Department will not put aside the possibility of allowing inspectors, where educational authorities or school managers desire it, to give friendly help in the matter of religious instruction. At present they may go to secondary schools and give advice, but when they go to primary schools their eyes must be shut, so far as religious instruction is concerned. I do not want to see any hard, uniform control on the part of the State in this matter, but the value of the inspector is largely in the friendly help and counsel which he gives, and in the informal part of his work. I believe that informal help of this kind is of importance in the work of religious instruction in our schools.

I hope that some of the other suggestions that have been made will receive consideration, even though a definite answer may not be possible now. In regard to the syllabus, it is important to remember that it should not be a single national syllabus imposed from above, but should be worked out co-operatively by teachers and others interested in religious education in the different localities. We already have admirable examples in the Surrey syllabus, the Cambridgeshire syllabus and elsewhere. I hope that the Board will use its influence to see that that kind of work is extended. I am glad to see that they have taken a great step forward recently by making provision for a holiday course in religious knowledge and teaching for teachers, which is to be purely voluntary. That is one of the ways in which the State can help and is helping. Above all, the outlook of the Board will help in this matter far more than will any mechanical Regulations. In the present President and in the Parliamentary Secretary I believe we have men with a deep sense of the spiritual values which are of supreme importance in our national life, and that we may look to them with confidence to guide us towards the great measure of educational reform which we need if the life of our country is to go on developing as it should.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education (Mr. Ede)

The Government welcome this Debate. I should like to express my thanks to those who have participated in it for the way in which they have approached the subject. We can at least be certain, that, during the last 100 years, this has been the least exciting Debate on religious instruction and that we have also had the smallest audience. When I recall sitting in the Gallery of the House 40 years ago watching the crowded benches, when this matter was discussed with very great heat, I realise that we have taken a great step forward.

I should like to express my thanks to the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Mr. R. J. Russell), who opened the Debate, for making it quite clear—and it must be made clear—to all concerned that this demand with which the Amendment is associated cannot be used as the ground for any extension of religious tests. After all we are in this war to see that people shall have the right to exercise their legitimate occupation without any test applied to them on the ground of opinions, and I was very grateful to him for making that point quite clear from the first. I cannot follow my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bolton (Sir E. Cadogan) into all the stages to which he took us, because I should hesitate to comment to-day on his remarks with regard to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. I am not at all sure that it would greatly help the war effort if I expressed my opinion about the views he expressed.

I was rather sorry to hear him say that religious instruction in the schools was derelict and that some of the agreed syllabuses dealt with the unsubstantial dregs. After all, I am the chairman of the Committee which drafted the last agreed syllabus, which has received some favourable comment this afternoon, and I am quite sure the members of my committee would be horrified to hear that the result of their labours was to present to the children in the schools the unsubstantial dregs of the subject.

I believe the great movement during the last 20 years has been away from the negative and towards the positive view of this matter. The two great clauses that govern our religious instruction in schools are the "conscience clause" and the "Cowper-Temple Clause," both of them largely negative in form—you may not teach religious instruction except at certain times, you may not teach any formulary, His Majesty's inspector may not inspect, etc.—a purely negative attitude. Now in the Act of 1936, during the proceedings on which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove) has reminded us, we had some Debate on this issue, we proceeded to the positive side by Clause 13, under which a child may be withdrawn from a school to be given denominational teaching outside the school premises. I think that the agreed syllabuses have very largely helped in getting this positive attitude adopted.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon said he was going to be courageously careful. I think he started off by being courageous and ended up by being exceedingly daring, because his speech, I thought, improved greatly in quality as it proceeded. I do not think there will be very much difference between us with regard to the final words that he used. I am sure that we all welcome the contribution that was made by my hon. Friend the Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. E. Harvey) because he did give to us a series of constructive suggestions in a temper which was exceedingly helpful to the House and to the course of the Debate.

Now as I have said the Education Act of 1870 laid down that the giving of religious instruction in the schools should be governed by the conscience Clause and the Cowper-Temple Clause. Both those are negative in form and the first contained certain regulations for the conduct of the school and those regulations have to be conspicuously exhibited in the elementary schools. The only way in which you can tell the best elementary school from a secondary school is that the elementary school exhibits the conscience clause and the secondary school does not. The best-known of these regulations prohibits the authorities of the school from making it a condition of attending school that a child shall attend some Sunday school or be associated with a particular religious denomination. I have never heard of any proposal to modify that regulation. I assume it stands. The second statutory regulation lays down that the time or times during which any religious observance is practiced or instruction in religious subjects is given at any meeting of the school shall be either at the beginning or at the end, or at the beginning and the end of such meeting. This is a matter that has been alluded to in the course of the Debate and is a matter to which, with the agreement of the House, I will return later. The next regulation lays it down that the school shall be at all times open to the inspection of His Majesty's inspectors, but that it shall be no part of the duties of such inspector to inquire into any instruction in religious subjects given at such schools or to examine any scholar therein in any religious subject or book. That has been alluded to this afternoon. I heard one Member refer to Matthew Arnold, the most distinguished man who ever acted as one of His Majesty's inspectors of schools. In spite of the praise that was given to him in this Debate I very much doubt if the bishops and other church men of his day would have regarded him as a competent person to inspect religious instruction.

I should be very reluctant myself to do anything that might lead to the imposition of a religious test on a member of the Civil Service. Once one made it a part of their duties to inspect religious instruction in the schools, I am certain it would be followed by a suggestion that there should be proof that the inspector was a willing and competent person to do it. The final Sub-section of the conscience Clause imposes on the local education authority the duty …to report to the Board of Education any infraction of the provisions of this Section in any public elementary school within their area which may come to their knowledge and also forward to the Board any complaint which they may receive of any infraction of those provisions. By Article 2 of the Code the Board have laid it down that they will very carefully inquire into any report of infractions and will take such steps as are necessary.

The Regulations with which I have so far dealt apply to all public elementary schools. The Cowper-Temple Clause applies to provided schools, now called council schools. It decrees: No religious catechism or religious formulary which is distinctive of any particular denomination shall be taught in the school. Except for certain criticisms of the Clause by the hon. and gallant Member for Bolton I have not, in the course of this discussion, heard any suggestion that the Clause should be amended, and I believe that the passing over to the positive in handling religious instruction has made any alteration of that Clause now quite unnecessary. I believe that Clause 13 of the Education Act, 1936, which enables children to be withdrawn from a council school to be given denominational instruction off the school premises has to a very large extent reconciled the Church of England to the continuation of the Cowper-Temple Clause in the Council schools. Section 12 of the Education Act, 1936, has done away with one grievance in the single school areas, because it enables any parent who desires a child to have religious instruction in accordance with the provided school syllabus to have it given. If the managers are unwilling to give that instruction, the local education authority has the duty imposed upon it of giving the instruction. I think it has been very largely due to the altered atmosphere as a result of those two Clauses of the 1936 Act that we have been able to conduct recent discussions without some of the heat that formerly was generated on this subject. That, as briefly as I can put it, is the legislative framework within which Parliament has ordained that religious instruction shall be carried on.

Captain Strickland (Coventry)

With reference to the right of a parent to see that the child shall receive religious instruction, my hon. Friend will agree that during the war, when children are sent to school at 10 o'clock in the morning, the only subject cut out is religious instruction. The children are not able to get the religious instruction. Does not that give the child the idea that arithmetic and geometry are more important than religious instruction?

Mr. Ede

I would not agree that religious instruction is cut out. In many schools, in spite of the shortened hours, religious instruction continues to be given; I should very much regret to hear that it was excluded from the curriculum. It might be necessary—I will be quite frank —instead of having a lesson every morning in religious instruction, to have it only on three or four of the five mornings of the week. But it is the attitude of the Board of Education that continued instruction of this kind should not be prevented either by the teacher or by the authority.

Immediately 'after 1870, some school boards, who were then the local education authorities, declined to give any religious instruction, but at the present moment and for some years past every one of the 316 local education authorities in England and Wales has given religious education in the provided schools, subject, of course, to the provisions of the Cowper-Temple Clause. In the exercise of this discretion, local education authorities have differed widely. How many authorities have an official syllabus is not known. An officer of one of the societies interested in religious education told me that he had 120 syllabuses in his library. The process of formulation has varied not merely from place to place but also from time to time. The earlier syllabuses were compiled when the denominational controversy was acute and the negative policy of the Cowper-Temple Clause governed the task. The composition of the bodies drawing up the syllabuses has also varied widely. Some syllabuses have been drawn up by the authorities concerned, with the assistance of their own officers. The movement towards unity of effort in many parts of the country by the Church of England and the Free Churches has resulted in several syllabuses that are known as "agreed." The range of parties to the agreement has not always been the same, and it some places the primary aim of the work appears to have been forgotten. The document being compiled is a syllabus to be taught to children mostly under the age of 14, and unless its suitability for this purpose constantly occupies the minds of the compilers a satisfactory syllabus is hardly likely to result.

I had the task of being chairman of the last such body to make a report, which embodies what has since become the Surrey Agreed Syllabus. That Religious Advisory Body, as it was called, consisted of members of the county education committee, representatives of the Anglican Dioceses of Guildford and Southwark, representatives of the Free Churches, a representative of the University of London, and representatives of the county teachers' association. The work of this body was spread over 50 months. In the course of that time many interesting discussions took place, in which erudite views on fine theological points were enunciated. Time and again we were recalled to reality by the teacher reminding us that he was expected to make the matter under discussion part of a lesson to a child of 12, or possibly fewer, years. The best agreed syllabuses —and there are several—have been drafted by such bodies, and I understand and sympathise with the feeling of teachers who have been called on to teach syllabuses in the compilation of which no part has been taken by those having a knowledge of the difficulties of the classroom teaching involved. A genuinely agreed syllabus brings an additional advantage, for, generally speaking, it is used not only in the provided schools but for the Bible instruction given in the Church of England schools of the area covered by the agreement.

The syllabus, whether it be an "agreed" syllabus or one formulated by the authority or, in default of either, as may be the case in some areas—drawn up by the teacher himself, has to be taught normally by the teaching staff of the school. Competent teaching of this subject is of the highest importance, and competence extends beyond mere technical skill. That would, I am sure, be rightly accepted by my colleagues in the teaching profession. Theological and ecclesiastical attachments are notoriously less close among the mass of the nation to-day than they were in Victorian days, but where the child is not withdrawn from religious instruction—and very few are— the parent still rightly expects that in the schools the Christian way of life shall be taught and practised with sincerity and reverence. From long and intimate experience I know that their high responsibility in this matter is recognised by the teachers in the schools and that failure to discharge it adequately would be regarded as a serious shortcoming.

Recently both the Archbishops' deputation and the memorial of Noble Lords and hon. Members have suggested that the preparation of the teacher for giving religious instruction would be more efficient if the subject received higher status in the teachers certificate examination. That point has been made in more than one speech this afternoon. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Education is reviewing the whole of the arrangements for the training of teachers and considering what reforms can be made. In any such consideration of the whole subject, religious instruction cannot escape prominent attention. At the best, however, this process must take time, and even if alterations are made they will only affect future teachers. My right hon. Friend has decided that opportunities to improve the technical competency of the teaching shall not wait for the result of these investigations, nor be limited to prospective teachers. He has invited local education authorities to send teachers and others interested in the training of youth to a course in religious instruction which the Board will hold early in 1942. He has also encouraged local education authorities to establish refresher courses of their own at which assistance will be given to teachers in acquiring more knowledge of the matter and more skill in imparting the spirit of the local syllabus.

An alteration in the teachers certificate examination and the institution of the courses just mentioned involves no alterations of the law, but the opportunities for using the additional competency that may be expected to result will be limited by the prohibition which prevents any teacher, however competent, from giving religious instruction except during a very restricted period of the school day. The Act of 1870, under which we still work in this respect, was passed at a time when the effective school-leaving age was 10 years. To-day in our senior schools some pupils stay till 16, all till 14, and this House has enacted that the normal leaving age shall be 15. The disaster of pouring new wine into old bottles would overtake our efforts if we were to attempt for too long to apply this particular and artificial restriction to a system which has developed to the extent which the upper parts of elementary schools have in the last 70 years.

The spiritual experiences and questionings of a child of 16 are altogether different from those of a child of ten. Their needs are greater and their inquiries more profound. If religious instruction is to be of value to the intelligent senior pupil, the teacher must be able to deal reverently, sympathetically, courageously, and with a deep knowledge with the problems that perplex the child. All schools will not wish to handle this matter in the same way, but some large schools would now like to employ a specialist to teach the more difficult parts of the subject and assist less qualified members of the staff. Such an appointment would be difficult to justify while the present statutory limitations remain. When an amendment of the Education Acts is undertaken the removal of the existing restrictions in the light of modern conditions will have to be considered, but it must be expected that withdrawals under Section 13 of the Education Act of 1936 would continue to take place only at the beginning or the end of the school session.

The manner in which, and extent to which, the local education authority tests the teaching of religious instruction vary very widely. In some areas a rigid formal annual examination takes place. Some authorities employ the diocesan inspectors in the provided schools, where, to comply with the Cowper-Temple Clause, their inquiries must be limited to teaching in accordance with that Clause, Others employ a diocesan inspector or some other representative of the Established Church one year and a representative of the Free Churches the next year Others have dropped the idea of formal inspection and have arranged for advisory visits by competent and qualified persons who discuss with the teachers the problems both of matter and method confronting them in their work and suggest solutions.

Before leaving this part of the subject, it may be well to ask those who want formal and routine inspection what they desire to inspect. At an inspection can be tested the ability to repeat from memory certain selected passages of scripture, knowledge of the history of the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel, and of the apostolic wanderings of St. Paul. Proficiency in these is not of necessity proof of a training that will find its effect in a Christian character. In no subject more than this do we need to remember the warning uttered by Montaigne to teachers: We toil only to stuff the memory and leave the conscience and the understanding void. Here more than anywhere else in education mere knowledge is not wisdom. It is perhaps easier in days like these in which we live than in less strenuous days to understand another saying of Montaigne's, succinctly summarised thus: The true educators were the Spartans, who despised literature, and cared only for character and action. At Athens they thought about words, at Sparta about things. At Athens boys learnt to speak well, at Sparta to do well. In the one system there was constant exercise of the tongue, in the other of the soul. Religious instruction as the training of character, to which my hon. Friends have referred in the words they have put on the Paper, is not tested by the answers given by the glib children who shine on examination day. I was always first in the religious instruction examination.

Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)

Is the hon. Gentleman extolling the Spartan method of education?

Mr. Ede

That, again, is a very large subject, which I could deal with if I had time. Some of those who desire inspection urge us to raise religious instruction to the status of the other subjects. My fear is that in the schools where this instruction is given conscientiously and with enlightenment we may lower rather than raise the subject by such a treatment.

A corporate act of worship forms part of the daily life of most schools. Those which do not have it in the main are those in which the premises make it physically impossible. They will be found, in the majority of cases, not to be provided schools. The act of worship differs very widely in scope and value. In some schools it consists of a hymn and prayer; in others a form of service in which the children take an active and intelligent part is used. Most of these more elaborate services are so arranged as to secure appropriate changes from day to day to prevent formal repetition which too soon becomes meaningless.

My right hon. Friend, since his appointment to office, has taken an active and constructive interest in the whole range of this subject. On four points raised in recent discussions legislation would be necessary to secure what is asked. They are, first, a statutory requirement that religious instruction should be given; secondly, a daily act of worship to be included in every school; thirdly, the removal of the limitation of the hours during which religious instruction may be given; and fourthly, the employment of His Majesty's inspector on the inspection of religious instruction. Soon after his appointment to office, my right hon. Friend received a deputation headed by the Archbishops of the Established Church and by Dr. Scott Lidgett and other Free Church ministers. Some people who were not present have expressed themselves with an old-time bitterness about the results of the gathering. I do not rely on my own impression only for thinking that the deliberations served a most useful purpose. Sir Robert Martin, the experienced chairman of the Leicestershire Education Committee, was present, and from the width and depth of his administrative knowledge spoke with clarity and conviction of the work now being done. He has since given over the wireless his account of what transpired. As his version owes nothing to prompting from or editing by the Board, I give it as accurately describing my right hon. Friend's answer to the deputation and the spirit in which it was uttered and received: In the middle of August, a deputation, led by the Archbishop of Canterbury, met the President of the Board of Education in order to bring these proposals formally to his notice. The members of the deputation—both Anglicans and Free Churchmen—were all experienced in educational work, and several of them spoke on different aspects of the subject. The President, in his reply, assured them that he was wholly sympathetic with their general object of ensuring that effective Christian teaching should be given in all schools, though he naturally was careful to make it clear that before he gave any formal answers to their specific suggestions he would have to consult the local education authorities and the teachers. At the end of the interview, the Archbishop, at the invitation of the President, offered up a prayer for guidance and right judgment for all who have to deal with this question. That was in truth a moment that will not soon be forgotten by those who were privileged to share it. May I say that it has been in that spirit throughout that my right hon. Friend has approached this subject?

On the issues where an alteration in the law is required if effect is to be given to the representations made to us, I have endeavoured in my remarks to examine them in the light of a lifetime's experience as a pupil, teacher, and administrator in the elementary school system. I hope my hon. Friends will feel that I have dealt with the points they have raised with sympathy and with as earnest a desire as theirs that this instruction as a builder of character may gain in efficiency. I believe that in practice some of their aims have already been substantially achieved within the permissive form of the existing law. May I, in conclusion, say that I hope my hon. Friends will feel that in this matter we do desire to take advantage of any real underlying unity that there is in the nation, but we hope, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove) suggested, that this spirit will be prepared to tackle even greater difficulties and that, as a result of the feeling that now pervades so large a section of our community, we may be able to make a substantial advance that will considerably increase the opportunities now enjoyed by the children of this country.

Mr. R. J. Russell

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question again proposed.

Motion made, and Question, "That the. Debate be now adjourned," put, and agreed to.—[Major Dugdale.]

Debate to be resumed upon the next Sitting Day.