HC Deb 04 April 1944 vol 398 cc1942-55

(1) If upon the application of the managers or governors of any aided school or special agreement school the Minister is satisfied after consultation with persons representing them that their share of any initial expenses required in connection with the school premises will involve capital expenditure which, in his opinion having regard to all the circumstances of the case, ought properly to be met by borrowing, he may make to the managers or governors of the school for the purpose of helping them to meet that expenditure, a loan of such amount at such rate of interest, and otherwise on such terms and conditions as may be specified in an agreement made between him and them with the consent of the Treasury.

(2) For the purposes of this Section, the expression "initial expenses" means in relation to any school premises:

  1. (a) expenses to be incurred in defraying the cost of any alterations required by the development plan approved by the Minister for the area;
  2. (b) expenses to be incurred in pursuance of any special agreement;
  3. (c) expenses to be incurred in the construction of any school which, by virtue of an order made under Section fifteen of this Act, is deemed not to be a newly established school or is deemed to be in substitution for any discontinued school or schools;
and the managers' or governors' share of any such initial expenses shall be taken to be so much thereof as remains to be borne by them after taking into account the amount of any maintenance contribution, grant under a special agreement, or grant under Sub-section (1) of Section ninety-six of this Act, as may be paid or payable in respect of those expenses.—[Mr. Butler.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Butler

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

I have made somewhat extensive reference to this Clause earlier to-day and therefore I will not go over the ground again in detail. It may be for the convenience of the Committee, however, if I simply draw certain points to their attention. It will be noticed that the Minister is empowered to make loans to aided schools and special agreement schools in respect of initial expenditure, and the initial expenses are defined in the second part of the new Clause, which refers to those expenses as: (a) expenses to be incurred in defraying the cost of any alterations required by the development plan approved by the Minister for the area: That takes up what I said earlier, namely, that the object of this is to provide the capital advances necessary for voluntary school managers to take on the peculiar liabilities they have to undertake under the Bill and that must be tied up with the original development plan. (b) expenses to be incurred in pursuance of any special agreement. That simply refers to the comparatively few Anglican special agreement schools, and the comparatively large number of Roman Catholic special agreement schools, amounting to some 300, proposals for which were made before the present legislation was introduced. Sub-section (c) refers to Section 15 of the Bill which deals with the bona fide transfer of schools to which I also referred in my initial speech. It will be noticed that the loan can be taken out in respect of the amount over and above any maintenance contribution. That is the grant about which we had so much discussion earlier in the day. The object of the loan, therefore, is, as I said, to place the denominations and voluntary managers in the same situation as local authorities found themselves in when borrowing to carry out public work and therefore it is based on an equitable foundation.

The questions which we discussed earlier are really summed up in the phrase used in the first part of the Clause: on such terms and conditions as may be specified. The method of working the loan will be to negotiate it with the governors or managers, but it will be noticed in the early part of the Clause that the words after consultation with persons representing them have been included. The importance of those words is that in a loan of this character the Committee will wish to be satisfied that the applications and, indeed, the bargain is not a frivolous one, and therefore conditions will have to be laid down as the Clause specifies. We also trust that in the case of the denominations, we may bring in the diocesan author rifles, particularly the Diocesan Finance Committee. That will be some backing for the general view of the managers because, if this loan were to be negotiated simply with the managers, there would be no screening of the loan by the diocesan organisation. I have ascertained that both in the case of Roman Catholics and Anglicans they would be ready, so to speak, to rationalise their finances to that extent so that the loan could then be made with the additional security that the diocese is interesting itself in the transaction. A further proposal which the Government have in mind is that these loans shall not be taken out for any sum below £500 in order, to some extent, to limit the scope of the loans.

The last matter to which I promised to make reference earlier to-day was the question of the Minister's discretion. Here I shall want the aid of the Committee. This Clause is drafted in terms which we think cover what is necessary, but I am quite prepared to consider any additions or further definitions in it so as to make quite clear that the Minister shall carry out the spirit of my previous speech, namely, that these loans shall not he used in the case of Anglican schools to perpetuate the grievance of the single-school area. It really would not be in the interests of the Bill if we were to tip over to the aided list certain schools which would otherwise be on the controlled list. If that were done the object of the Bill would be lost.

I confess it is difficult to find machinery which is useful and helpful. What I have in mind is a discussion with hon. Members, and with anybody else who is interested in this matter outside, to find machinery suitable to the Free Churches and the Anglicans which will help us to avoid this difficulty. I am pleased to have this discretion laid upon me. We initiated some discussions on the single-school area problem which in any case were to be continued, and I am perfectly ready to bring into these discussions the issue which arises here, that is, to say whether the Minister, in the exercise of his discretion, should be so empowered as to give effect to the passage I read from the Church Assembly report, that these loans should not be used for purposes inimical to the general objects of the Bill.

Those are the explanations I think necessary for me to make. If the Committee passes the Clause in its present form it will still be possible for us to look at it before the next stage in company with hon. Members, because it is a difficult and important course upon which we are embarking. I wish it to be businesslike, and therefore I wish to enlist the aid of the Committee to make it so, but I think I can confidently say that in its present form it does bear the outline of the policies the Government desire.

Colonel A. Evans

In his previous speech my right hon. Friend took care to say that no particular sum was mentioned in his speech, or in the Clause as drafted on the Paper, but he gave the assurance that the money would be lent to Catholic authorities on approximately the same basis as that loaned to the local authorities and the money should be provided from the Public Loans Fund. I only rise to ask my right hon. Friend if, in the future, it is found possible to reduce the rate of interest at which money is loaned to the local authorities, the Catholic community would benefit in the same degree as the local authorities.

Mr. Cove

I gather from the Minister's statement that this satisfies my Roman Catholic friends.

Colonel Evans

It is difficult to let a statement of that kind pass. I do not wish to enter into a long argument upon it, but we are, quite honestly, placing great faith in the statement of the Minister that in negotiations with the Treasury he will endeavour to persuade his friends, particularly the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to our point of view on the question of taking 35 per cent. as the likely rise in building costs. The whole of our case is based on the assumption that the cost will not exceed that figure.

Mr. Cove

I am still of the opinion that this satisfies my Roman Catholic friends. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] Is there a categorical "Yes" or "No"?

The Chairman

Will hon. Members please address the Chair?

Mr. Loftus (Lowestoft)

It satisfies us if it is not more than 35 per cent.

Mr. Cove

Well, I gather that it satisfies my Roman Catholic friends in the main, but in fairness to the Minister it ought to be stated unequivocally whether or not it does satisfy them. My impression is that it does. But I want to know whether it satisfies my Church of England friends and my Nonconformist friends. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] The answer from my hon. Friends on this side who represent the Nonconformists is that it does not, and I agree with them. I must tell the Minister, frankly, that it makes me very uneasy about the whole situation in the single-school areas. Is this meant to preserve, or not, the Church schools in the single-school areas?

Mr. Butler

I made two speeches and quoted the view of a prominent Anglican leader indicating that it was not the desire either of the Government or, it appears, of Anglicans themselves, that this loan procedure should be abused. I further offered to try to discuss the matter with hon. Members before the next stage of the Bill in order to see that the terms are satisfactory. My desire is dear, and whether we shall be able to carry it out or not depends on how clever I am and how clever the Committee are.

Mr. Cove

The general opinion of Members—[An HON. MEMBER: "How do you know?"] Well, of those to whom I have spoken, is that the Minister has been very clever to-day.

Mr. Muff (Kingston-upon-Hull, East)

We are paying him to be clever.

Mr. Cove

The reality lies in this Clause. The right hon. Gentleman may say this, that or the other, but another Minister will eventually succeed him and what will operate will be what we put on the Statute Book. I do not impugn the Minister's good intents; as a matter of fact, he has been very adroit during the whole of the Committee stage and I give full marks to him; but here is the Clause which pro- vides loans for Church schools, special agreement schools and other aided schools. Why not give a full-blooded 100 per cent.? In effect, this is 100 per cent. grant, although the Minister does not provide it direct, because he might meet a lot more opposition if he did. This is a more adroit Parliamentary way of doing it. What schools is it meant to preserve? Only the Roman Catholic schools? Is that it? This is meant to preserve more than the Roman Catholic schools.

Commander Sir Archibald Southby (Epsom)

What is wrong with that?

Mr. Cove

I will tell the hon. and gallant Member.

Sir A. Southby

Then do not take so long about it.

Mr. Cove

It is meant to preserve more than the Roman Catholic schools [HON. MEMBERS: "Say it again."] I am waiting for the Church of England response. It is meant to preserve the Church of England schools throughout the villages of this country.

Sir A. Southby

Hear, hear.

Mr. Cove

Now I think I have got it. It is meant to preserve the Church of England schools throughout the villages of this country.

Mr. Leach

The hon. Member has said it again.

Mr. Cove

I repeat it. It is meant to preserve the Church of England schools throughout the villages of this country.

Mr. Leach

How many times is that?

Mr. Cove

I say it with much more sincerity than the hon. Member has shown in supporting his colleagues to-day. The fact is that this is a loan to maintain the dual system. We may as well face it. There are no conditions attaching to this loan. I am not against the principle of schools which are directly related to religious teaching, but I am directly opposed to schools which are contrary to the religious and political feelings throughout these villages. My Nonconformist friends should rise and say, "This loan is a first-class offence to the Nonconformist conscience." It is a free loan.

Mr. Ivor Thomas (Keighley)

Does not the Clause say: …a loan of such amount at such rate of interest and otherwise on such terms and conditions as may be specified.…

Mr. Cove

Yes, I know, but all that is subject to political pressure and so on. It is a loan by the State to religious teaching and maintenance of the dual system, and it is more fundamental from the Nonconformist point of view than a straight percentage grant. I regard this Clause as a very dangerous Clause, a Clause which more even than a straight grant of 75 per cent. will keep the dual system intact in this country. I am not opposing the dual system on the ground of religious feeling, but I am definitely opposed to it because throughout the villages of England it runs contrary to religious, political and social feeling.

Mr. Colegate

I listened with some surprise to the speech which we have just heard, and I rather wonder if the hon. Member is going to press the matter to a Division. When we hear the President of the Board of Education accused of adroit manoeuvres, what are we to think of the manoeuvres which we have just heard suggested? These loans are for the improvement of schools to bring them up to the new standard, and what is the suggestion? The suggestion is that no facilities should be given for improving these schools, that the schools should be allowed to go on getting worse and worse, so that at last they can be forced into the one system. That is the clear meaning of the opposition to the Clause. Everybody interested in these denominational schools is anxious that they should come right up to the very best standards which we hope are going to be brought about by this Bill. That can only be done by adequate finance, and we have been discussing whether that finance should be provided by a 75 per cent. grant or by loan.

Most of us have come to the conclusion that there is no chance of bringing these schools up to the prescribed standard unless cheap finance is provided. To say that you are not going to let that finance be provided, but that you are going to enforce this standard, is simply a trick for forcing these schools away from the denominations which wish to maintain them. Therefore, I think the accusation of adroitness on the part of the hon. Member comes very badly in the present circumstances. I shall be greatly interested to see whether he does or does not press for a Division. I am sure that everybody interested in the real thing, that is the provision of good schools, will welcome this Clause and will think that it reflects a reasonably fair and generous attitude on the part of the President of the Board of Education.

Mr. Hughés

The reference by the hon. Member to providing good schools is completely irrelevant to the purpose of this Clause. He is not concerned with providing good schools for the country but with providing schools for the Anglican and Catholic denominations. Therefore, it is right and proper that we should see what the effect of this Clause is going to be. I said at an earlier stage that if my Roman Catholic friends desire a denominational school, a Catholic school for Catholic children, I have every desire to asist them. If their desire is to provide a strictly denominational school by Catholics for Catholics, that is perfectly proper. But let us turn to the Anglican position. I support the Anglican position that they want Anglican schools for Anglican children, but I am not in favour of a Clause to give them money to provide those schools or to lend them money at much easier rates than they could otherwise get.

When we come to Anglican schools, we are concerned with a vastly bigger range of schools than those which are purely Anglican. I take my stand on the words of the Minister when discussing the Amendment, on which we spent some time earlier in this Sitting. He gave an assurance that regard would be had, in exercising his discretion under this Clause, to the matter of the single-school area. In moving this new Clause, he went further and said he would welcome any suggestions that would make the Clause work in the direction of, as I put it, helping Anglican schools which are Anglican schools, but not preserving Anglican schools in single-school areas. How is that point to be satisfied? According to the framework of this Bill, the Minister will be presented with plans from different parts of the country. They will be separate plans for separate areas, but they will all find their way to his table, and when they come to the table of the Minister he can collate them and look at the whole of the plans for the whole country. He will see the schools which the Roman Catholics want extended, and the new ones they want to be built, and the same position will arise with regard to the Church of England schools. Then he will have regard to the requests made from the Roman Catholics and the Church of England for financial assistance under the terms of the new Clause.

I suggest to the Minister that as a first step he should assess the claims denominationally. He should ask what is the total amount which the Roman Catholics want by way of loan. Then he should ask what is the total claim for loans by the Church of England. As far as the Roman Catholic claims are concerned, he will have no great difficulty in sorting them out. They will not have to be sorted into Catholic and partly Catholic schools. But with regard to the Church of England, the claims can be divided into those for purely Anglican schools and those in respect of schools in single-school areas. Therefore, I suggest he should divide the claims of the Church of England for assistance into two categories, those from the non-single-school areas, and those from the single-school areas. Then, when he has decided how far he is prepared to give assistance to the Church of England, he should say that it must all be exhausted on the non-single-school areas before he recommends a single penny to be spent in the single-school areas.

That is the first suggestion I have to make to enable him to work it out. The second is this. If there is a request for a loan to enable an Anglican school to become an aided school in a single-school area, I think the Minister ought to reinforce himself before he exercises his discretion by an inquiry into the area of the school. My first suggestion cannot he embodied, in terms, within the Bill, but I think the second can. I do not want to limit myself, or to suggest that the Minister should be limited, as to the inquiry and the manner in which it should be conducted, but there ought to be some method of ascertaining what is the exact position of the school in the area which it seeks to serve.

There are two further matters on which I would ask the Committee to press for an assurance. These are loans which will be made upon terms which the Minister and the Treasury together will agree. One of the things which I suggest ought to be embodied is that there shall be a term upon the loan. It ought not to be within the discretion of a Minister and Treasury combination to grant a loan redeemable upon indefinite terms. There ought to be express terms in the Bill. It should be something corresponding to the projected life of the school. Again, as the Clause stands, there is no default provision. The default provision in Clause 92 is an elaborate and cumbersome thing which involves the Minister going to the High Court—not to the county court on a judgment summons—to get a mandamus to compel the managers to carry out their duties. What is the duty which they have to carry out under this Clause? It is to pay interest and sinking fund. What is the good of the Minister wasting time and spending money upon lawyers and going through the elaborate procedure of a mandamus to direct the managers to do something which ex-hypothesi have been unable to do before he started on his legal journey? That is really a grave deficiency in the Clause. I am ready to assist Roman Catholics and Anglicans, and Parliament is making very generous provision for them, hut there ought to be a default provision to say that, if they do not carry out the provisions of the Bill, the school must become either a controlled or a council school. With those reservations I welcome the Clause.

Mr. Ede

My right hon. Friend desires me to thank the hon. and learned Member for the speech he has just made. It is an answer to his offer made in the spirit in which it was tendered. During the negotiations which led to the Clause appearing on the Paper, my right hon. Friend commissioned me to see the leaders of the Free Churches. I am not a Free Churchman. I am a Nonconformist and there is a substantial difference between the two. As a Nonconformist I reject the authoritarian conception of religion. We have two Churches here with whom we are engaged, who in different degrees are authoritarian [Interruption.] The more anarchical the more authoritarian, but I do not want to get involved in the unfortunate schisms which may be held to exist there. Therefore, if I challenge the right of this Committee to pass an Act of Uniformity contrary to my religious belief, I must be very careful that I do not attempt to impose my views uniformly on other people. That is the philosophy on which I have based my attitude to the religious Clauses of the Bill, and I speak as one who was a Nonconformist child in a single-school area [Interruption.] Think where I should be if I had had a board school in my parish.

We were very gratified when we approached the Free Church leaders on this issue to find that they desired that the arrangement made with the two Churches—because after all that is really what this is—should in fact be implemented. There could be nothing worse for the future of education than that my right hon. Friend should hold out fair hopes to denominational schools, and then that they should find themselves administered out of existence. That is not our intention. Let us face up to this, that if we said to the local education authorities, "There shall be no future loans for county schools; every time you want to build a new school, every time you want to bring a school, on which a loan has been repaid, up to the new standard, you must do it out of revenue," the council scheme for building schools would come to a sudden end. They could not afford to do this work out of revenue. As far as the poorer authorities are concerned, for this and for other purposes the Government have provided a Public Works Loans Board, which makes grants to the poorer local authorities, and they are able to get better terms than they would be able to do if they were forced into the open market, where the big, wealthy authorities can sometimes command very good terms.

Just as the local authorities are our partners in the educational enterprise on which we are embarking, so are the managers and the governors of the denominational schools. What we do for the ones we should do for the others. That is why we welcome the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hughes). He made some constructive suggestions which will have to be borne in mind by us when we proceed to elaborate this new Clause. We shall be happy to discuss them with him and other hon. Members—

Sir J. Lamb

The hon. and learned Member said that you should not spend money on lawyers.

Mr. Ede

We shall not consult him as a lawyer. He once offered to stake his reputation as a lawyer against us, and he lost. Therefore, we treat him as a brother layman. We are grateful for these constructive suggestions for we cannot contemplate this Clause being used to perpetuate the single-school area grievance in the 4,000 parishes where it exists. I want to assure my hon. Friends, especially in view of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove), that there is no doubt as to what the views of Non-conformists are. I know of no body that expresses the extreme Non-conformist view with greater force and sincerity than the National Educational Association. They wrote to my right hon. Friend before we interviewed any of the parties to these negotiations on 28th February, in these words: I note that you are to meet Roman Catholic representatives, but I trust that no further financial concessions will be made to them. All the discussions with Free Church representatives were on the basis of a 50 per cent. Exchequer grant and no more. You will recollect that we ourselves suggested the possibility of loans to ease the situation for those who were called upon to raise large sums within a limited number of years, but the suggestion of loans was based upon business principles such as would apply to a local authority raising a loan for large capital expenditure. I feel confident that any plan to grant loans free of interest or at any rate lower than that which might be payable by a local authority would be very keenly resented. I feel that that was made plain at several Free Church deputations. It is clear that the proposal for loans set forth in the new Clause comply with the requirements that are set out in the last sentences of this letter. This will enable the denominations to play their proper part in the expansion of their education service to which are all looking forward. I welcome the attitude which the official spokesmen of the Free Churches have displayed on this issue, and I trust that it may be met by the Anglican communion in the same spirit as has been shown by these people who have, in writing the kind of letter I have read, made the task of getting this Bill properly administered a great deal easier than it otherwise might have been.

Mr. Ivor Thomas (Keighley)

Before we part with the Clause a few words of realism ought to be said in order to redress the balance of what has been said so far. There is no definite guarantee in the Clause that loans will be made or that, if they are made, they will be made on the advantageous terms that have been suggested. I have complete trust in the bona fides of the President of the Board of Education, but in view of what has been said, that ought to be pointed out. We have an undertaking from the Minister, but it may be that if we had a different President and a different Treasury, the new Clause would not result in any advantageous terms for the churches. We accept this Clause in complete confidence, but I would point out that we are really accepting it in faith, in hope and in charity.

Mr. Brooke

The Parliamentary Secretary made an appeal to which I want to respond. In connection with this Clause I feel rather like a duck that laid an egg and had it taken away from her to be hatched elsewhere, and later unexpectedly met her surprisingly grown up offspring. In those long-ago days when we were debating the Second Reading of the Bill I believe I was the first to throw out a suggestion that a loan scheme might be adopted. Few of our remarks in Second Reading speeches perhaps deserve to see the further light of day, but this is a case where I seem to have been successful. I want to be the first in this discussion to say heartily, "Thank you" to the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary. I am certain that I speak on behalf of all my Church of England friends when I say that we wish to play a constructive part in helping to get this Clause administered with the objects which the President described and so as to avoid any exacerbation of grievances. The Minister knows that I am not prepared to accept any statement that a grievance exists in each of the 4,000 single-school areas. Having established that, I wish to say that we all want to help and not to hinder, and to say "Thank you" unreservedly.

Several hon. Members


Hon. Members


Commander Bower (Cleveland)

I have sat through this Debate and have not spoken, and I promise I will not take more than two minutes. This Bill will affect many millions of people for many years and a short speech will not have a great effect on it. The hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove) talked about the Roman Catholics being satisfied. There are degrees of satisfaction, and on the particular issue our point of view was expressed extremely well by the President himself. He appreciates that this is not for us, and cannot be, a final settlement. We shall never be satisfied until we get fully into the national system on equal terms with everybody else. As regards this particular proposal, we are satisfied, with one or two reservations, the most important of which is this. The Minister's calculations being based on a 35 per cent. increase in cost between pre-war and postwar, we feel that, if that estimate turns out to be inaccurate and the additional cost is much higher, the Treasury should shoulder the additional burden.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.