Postponed Proceeding on Amendment: In page 11, line 45, after the first "school," to insert:
and provided that there is not a county school available within reasonable distance the order shall direct that the school shall be a controlled school."—[Mr. C. Davies.]
§ Question again proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ Mr. Ivor Thomas
When we turned to other Business, I was on the point of explaining that my hon. and learned 1068 Friend's Amendment, while it would remove injustices from which the Nonconformists have suffered in the past, would impose on Church people an injustice similar to that which has been suffered by Nonconformists in the past. In fact, what we would discover is what Milton discovered a long time ago:New presbyter is but old priest writ large.One hon. Member objected that the Church of England has accepted the general principles of this Bill, and must, therefore, be satisfied with the controlled school. Although I cannot speak officially for the Church of England, I think I ought to say that, as is well known, the Church of England accepted the compromise in this Bill only in the same sense that it has been accepted by Nonconformists. This Amendment is an attempt to go beyond, or get behind, that compromise, in the interests, or supposed interests, of Free Churchmen. If the spokesmen for the Free Churches take that line, clearly it will be open to the spokesmen of the Church of England also to break away from the agreed compromise represented by this Bill. I ought to add, too, that a distinction must be made between the Church of England and the official Church of England—a distinction which does not exist in the case of Nonconformists. This promise has been accepted by the official Church of England, but there is a great deal of restiveness among the rank and file of that Church over it; and, indeed, it has been put across the Church of England by methods which leave nothing to be learnt from the usual channels in this House.
§ Mr. Thomas
I will give several pieces of evidence. Last week there was to have been a debate on this subject in the Church Assembly. There was a great danger that the principle of this Bill would be rejected and an altogether different principle approved. That debate was stifled. Another piece of evidence is that the Church newspaper with the largest circulation is strongly opposed to the principle of this Bill, and wants another solution, in which the dual system would be abolished and the right of parents to have their children educated according to their own desires would be carried out. 1069 These are two pieces of evidence, and I could easily add to them. The rank and file of the Church of England are not satisfied with the controlled school. I may say that a good deal of the evidence which reaches me on this subject comes from Wales and not from England. I get many representations from Wales—
§ Mr. Thomas
No, all the representations I have received from Wales are from Welshmen with Welsh names.
§ Mr. Thomas
It ought to be made perfectly clear that the controlled school is not something that is liked by the Church of England, and, even where it is accepted, it will be accepted without enthusiasm. What is wanted by the Church of England are schools in which our own children can be brought up in the faith of the Church of England. I trust I have made that clear. Let me now go on to remind the Committee of the words used by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Davies). He said that the teaching in Church schools in single-school areas was not fully acceptable to the parents of the children who are compelled to attend. If this Amendment is carried, that will be exactly the position of Church people in these areas. They will still be single-school areas in which, instead of the schools being objectionable to Nonconformists, they will now be objectionable to Church people. It is just an inversion of the position. If there is any evil in segregation, it is one that, in future, will be felt by Anglican children instead of Nonconformist children. My hon. Friends may argue that that is only fair, and that, after such a long period in which Nonconformists have suffered from this disability, it is right that Church children should suffer; but I believe the hon. Member for Montgomery is an equitably-minded man and would not wish to use that argument. I am quite certain that he does not want to create another injustice 1070 in the removal of an old one. I believe that there are ways of meeting that. I may not discuss them now, because this is a narrow Amendment before us, but he must take it from me that Church people will feel a grievance if this Amendment is carried. He may think it unreasonable, just as I find it rather unreasonable that Nonconformist parents object to their children learning the sublime teaching and lofty morality of the Church catechism. I find it unreasonable, but I accept the fact. The hon. and learned Member must also accept it from me that a very large number of Church parents find agreed syllabus religion objectionable.
§ Mr. Thomas
If the hon. Member had been listening to my argument for the past five minutes, he would have known. I cannot repeat myself.
§ Mr. Thomas
I have given some evidence already. There was the debate in the Church Assembly last week and there is the attitude taken by the "Church Times," which are two pieces of evidence. Hon. Members may dislike them, but they cannot deny the facts. At a later stage of the Bill I hope to explain precisely why it is that we do not like the agreed syllabus, but at the moment I must leave it. Under this Bill, it is quite certain that a large number of Church schools will become controlled schools in any case. I should be as hesitant as the President to give any prophecy about the number, but we all realise that quite a considerable number will become controlled schools. It will be without any enthusiasm on the part of the Church, for sheer lack of funds, but it will go a long way to meet the objections of my hon. and learned Friend. Ought we to go further and insist that every Church school in a single-school area becomes a controlled school, which is what the Amendment seeks? That, I suggest, would be an Amendment that would undermine the compromise on which this Bill is based.
§ Mr. Thomas
I am repeating well-known facts. It was not a compromise to which I was any party, but it is well known to hon. Members, and I would suggest that, if this problem is left to the healing balm of time, we shall be able to deal with it much more happily than if this Amendment should be carried. The younger Nonconformists are very different indeed in their outlook from the men who fought the battles of 1902, and indeed, if I have any criticism to make of the way in which the President has handled his negotiations on this matter, on which he has been so justly congratulated, it is that he rather tended to deal with the older generation of Nonconformists and not with the younger generation, who are so much closer in their relationships with the Church. For these several reasons, I hope this Amendment may be withdrawn.
§ Mr. Jewson (Great Yarmouth)
The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. I. Thomas) has rather deprecated the bringing forward of this Amendment, but, although I agree with him that the Bill, as it stands, has been accepted by us who are Nonconformists, and those who are members of other communions, I take it that we are not precluded from trying to improve it and from making any suggestions that we think will do that. It is, of course, evident that, so long as the dual system exists at all, there will be certain anomalies and what we consider certain injustices, from which we cannot escape, but the chief difficulty with which we have to deal is that of the single-school area. Over these anomalies I am personally the less perturbed, because I want to see in our educational system as large a variety of schools as is possible. So long as there is a choice of schools for parents it is a very good thing and no real injustice can arise. When we come to the single-school area, the case is, of course, different. The hon. Member for Keighley has put his case, and thinks that if we were to make the change suggested in this Amendment we should only create a new injustice instead of an old one, but surely, if you are to have only one school in one area, the way to have the Least injustice is to provide a council school, which is what those of us who are Nonconformists would desire. I think we should be satisfied, at any rate under this Bill, if the Amendment which has been proposed 1072 could be accepted. We should feel that our views had been met to a very great extent.
I ought to say that the hon. Member for Keighley is mistaken if he thinks that the younger generation of Nonconformists take any less strong views on their principles than the older. That is most certainly not my experience. It is rather contrary to that. I myself, of course, well remember the unfortunate time of passive resistance, in which I had, as a a very young man, some share myself. My views since then have changed to the extent that I would much rather see religion taught in the schools, even if it is not taught on the particular lines which I myself favour. When I mention that I am a Baptist, hon. Members will understand that the agreed syllabus does not teach the particular tenets which. I myself hold. I think it would be found that the younger men of my denomination were considerably stiffer to deal with than those who have had the experience I have mentioned. I hardly expect that the Minister will be able to accept the Amendment, but it would certainly go a very long way towards removing the difficulties which we feel about these 4,000 single-school areas. What I would like best of all would be an arrangement that there should not be any single-school areas and at least two schools in every area, but that cannot be done, and I suggest that the Amendment makes a very fair compromise in dealing with the situation.
§ Mr. Gallacher
I support the Amendment very strongly. When I was listening to the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) I was struck by one thing. He said that 42 years ago there was terrific heat when this question was discussed and now we discussed it in a calm atmosphere. But in referring to religion in the schools, the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham and Worthing (Earl Winterton) said that the number of those attending religious service in the churches was from 15 to 20 per cent. That is the explanation of the calm atmosphere. Yet the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery regretted the fact that this decline had taken place in the attendance at religious services. I have been round many parts of England, week-end after week-end, visiting places and talking with people, and hearing stories of places where there is an English Church school to which 1073 all the children go, and yet not a parent goes to the English Church—because the parents are sensible. We have had a discussion here on a Water Bill with the Tories demanding nationalisation and now we are having a discussion on education and a Socialist is opposing nationalisation. He wants private enterprise in education. The one thing above everything else which should appeal to every Member of this Committee no matter what his particular creed may be is that in every locality there should be a school directed by the State and the local authority. We have to educate our children to become proper citizens of the country and the way to do it is by means of schools controlled by the State.
§ Mr. Ivor Thomas
Does my hon. Friend favour the Scottish system? I at least would strongly like to see the Scottish system in this country.
§ Mr. Gallacher
We cannot get the Scottish system because the Church of England has masses of schools which it ought not to have, but I will leave that matter. In each locality there should be a State school with State control; that is very important for the education of the children.
§ Mr. Gallacher
I have no abjection to speaking up, but I am certain that no matter how loudly I speak or how intelligently I talk it will have no effect on the hon. Member.
§ Mr. Gallacher
The hon. Member does not have to tell me that I am correct, I know that I am. The proposal put forward in the Amendment is a simple proposition which should be accepted by every Member of the Committee, and all these talks about dividing up our innocent children into Anglicans, Baptists, the "Wee frees" and split peas and all the rest of it, should not be allowed to enter into a question of this kind. Those who have taken up the question of introducing religion where education is concerned do not seem to understand what religion is. Religion is not a "sublime morality"; it is the correct way to salvation, and if 1074 it is the right way to salvation they should not be tolerant of those who are going the wrong way. It is not education which makes the hon. Member opposite a Baptist or my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Canmarthen (Mr. M. Hughes) a Welsh Calvinistic Methodist. Education is for fitting our children to become well educated. There is education of a character which distorts the mind as it develops. Education is for producing well-educated, clean-living, moral citizens of this world. I will hazard the remark that if we, through State-owned or controlled schools, make the children well-educated, clean-living and moral citizens of the world, we need have no fear of their chances in any other world. You can give them Anglicism, Methodism or any religion you like, but if you do not make thorn good citizens of this world I question whether they will be accepted as good citizens in any other world. Every Member of this Committee is responsible for deciding this question. In every part of the country, particularly where there is one school, it should be a school under the direction of this House and of the Board of Education and the local authorities who represent the wishes of this House. That is the position. We should not leave the schools or the children as the playthings of the various promoters of Paradise. We should control and direct the schools in such a way that they produce the best citizens.
§ Professor Gruffydd
I have one or two things to say on this very thorny question, and I suppose I should be very unpopular in my own country if I allowed the Debate to pass without saying a word from the Nonconformist point of view. Though I support the Amendment, I would rather that it should be lost than that this Debate should introduce into the national life of this country any more sectarian bitterness than there is at present.
I agree with some hon. Members who have spoken that this old sectarian bitterness is a thing of the past, but I also agree with the last speaker that a good deal of it is not due to conviction but rather to the fact that we do not care quite so much about these things as we used to care in the past.
It has been suggested that the single-school area problem could be solved partly by transport, by taking children 1075 who do not wish to be educated in a Church of England school to another school in the neighbourhood. I do not know about England, but in Wales that simply would not work, because if you were to take these children from the single-school area in Wales there would be no children left in many of the schools. It is not a question, in many of the single-school areas, of a large proportion of Church of England children and a small proportion of Nonconformist children in the same area. The problem in rural parts of Wales, and most schools are in those rural areas, is that of a Church of England school in an area which is not only predominantly Nonconformist but practically 99 per cent. Nonconformist, and transport would not settle that. Those areas have certainly a very great claim to get consideration on the lines of this Amendment. My second point is this. The difference between the Nonconformist parent and the Church of England parent with regard to the education of his children is not merely a difference of theological creed. I do not think that mere theology and mere creed are going to trouble us very much. The doctrine of the Church of England—
§ Mr. Pickthorn (Cambridge University)
As one university Burgess to another, may I interrupt to ask the hon. Member if he remembers that in university tradition, theology is the queen of the sciences?
§ Professor Gruffydd
I have always regarded theology as the old lady of the sciences, because we always give her our seat. Anyway it is not so much a matter of theological creed as the atmosphere of the Church school. The atmosphere of the Church school is definitely different from that of the ordinary country school, and I think my friends in the Church of England would say that they welcome that difference, that they have worked for that difference, that they wish that difference to persist. The Church of England school has a certain atmosphere which the others have not. It is very much like the famous answer of the person who was asked in the Divinity examinations at Oxford "What is the difference between the Gospel of St. John and the other Gospels?" He said, "In the Gospel of St. John there is a note of piety which is entirely lacking in the others." There is in the Church of England schools 1076 —I say that to their credit—a certain note of piety which is entirely lacking in the county schools, and we want it to be lacking. Our view is not the sacramental view of religion which the Church of England, especially the high Anglicans, take of religion. We do not wish our children to be brought up with that sacramental view. We wish them to be brought up in the clear and wideswept realm of conscience alone, and it is only right that our children should be allowed to be brought up in such an atmosphere. To quote the same argument that has been given so often here by my Roman Catholic friends, because we pay the rates towards education we want our children to be educated in the way we wish.
§ Mr. Furness (Sunderland)
These matters which concern religion in the schools are difficult matters for a Member who certainly cannot claim to be an expert. There are all sorts of technical questions involved which others understand better than myself, and there are also very deep and fundamental feelings which I am sure it is a good thing should exist in this country. It is a good thing that Members of Parliament and parents should feel strongly about their own particular religious beliefs. I can speak as one who has some family connection with Nonconformity. Nonconformists feel vary strongly about this issue, and so do Roman Catholics and Church of England people, and it is right and proper that we should. I understand, too, the point of view of those who say that you cannot separate religion from other teachings. You cannot say you will have a quarter of an hour every morning to deal with religion and then the rest of the day you will have nothing at all to do with it. I cannot understand how you could teach English history unless you have some religious outlook upon it. The whole history of Henry VIII and the Reformation, for instance, must be coloured by your view of whether you believe the Reformation was good or bad.
This Amendment, which seeks to deal with the single-school area and to lay down that there the school shall be, what I might call without offence, neutral in religious matters and not be affiliated to any particular Church, has, I think, a corollary which I hope I may venture to point out. In this country, where we have so many different Churches, some 1077 near together, others far apart—there are many organised religious bodies in this country, a dozen or possibly more, all branches of the Christian faith, to say nothing of the Jews—we cannot in a single country village have a school which will suit all particular religious beliefs. It is really quite impossible. You cannot have a Baptist, a Church of England, a Raman Catholic and other schools to suit everybody living in a village of some few hundred inhabitants. So I feel there is great force in that argument which says that as you cannot suit everybody, you should try to have something which does not offend the belief of any particular person. The corollary is this, that where you do have enough people of a particular branch of the Christian Church, there those people should be entitled to have their own school. That is a corollary which I think I may say to my Nonconformist friends hangs with this Amendment, if the principle is conceded that where there are not enough children of one particular faith to fill a school, there the school should be neutral. The corollary that should be accepted is that, where, as in towns, there are enough Church of England people, Nonconformists, or Roman Catholics—I also speak for them as I represent them in the North of England, where they have so large a community with so many children, many of them very poor people who cannot do much to help themselves—the State should provide the whole cost of the school.
I venture to say these things—I hope I have not hurt or offended any one's feelings—because it seems to me the common-sense view of it and we must get away from all this idea of teaching religion in schools at certain hours to some children and other children entering at different hours. That must be most embarrassing to teachers and hurtful to the children because, when one was at school, one felt how agonising it was to stand out as being different. We must get away from all that, and recognise the plain simple principle that you have to deal with this matter on quite a commonsense basis, that you cannot provide a school for every child according to his or her religious belief—there are all sorts of small communities with only two or three adherents—but that where you have large communities of one faith there you should provide for the religious teaching which their parents desire.
§ Mr. Stokes
May I say a word on the Catholic attitude towards this Amendment? In order that we shall not be misunderstood may I first correct a false impression that was given—quite unintentionally, I am sure—by the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Jewson)—who said that this Bill has been generally agreed. I do not want to be controversial about it, but the fact is that the Bill was agreed between two main bodies and that the Roman Catholics were left out, in the first instance. If there is an impression that we accepted this Bill in toto that is not the case.
§ Mr. Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)
Is the hon. Member speaking as an individual or for Catholics generally?
§ Mr. Butler
I think that for the sake of the record, I ought to correct the hon. Member's statement that the Catholics were left out. That is not the case at all. I do not desire that they Shall say that they agree, or anything else, but I do say that the schemes and discussions were conducted with absolute fairness to all denominations. All received our schemes and all saw them. There was no intention whatsoever of leaving anybody out.
§ Mr. Stokes
I accept that explanation. We, having so strongly in our minds the rights of parents in this matter, naturally have great sympathy with the Nonconformists in the difficulty in which they find themselves. We are in the difficulty of not knowing, generally speaking, what concessions we shall get. But in regard to our attitude on the single-school areas we would be quite prepared to hand over our single-schools—I admit they are only a handful, some 13 or 14—provided adequate provision was made for proper religious instruction for our children. If they could be transferred where possible, to other Catholic schools not too far distant, that should be done. We see the difficulty and are perfectly prepared to make that contribution in order to assist.
§ Mr. Butler
I am very much indebted to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) for raising what is a big issue in our consideration of the Bill. While it has been mentioned in our previous Debates, this 1079 is an occasion when it comes to the front and, I do not doubt, it will be mentioned again before we have finished. I am glad to take this opportunity of answering the arguments which have been put forward and explaining why the Government could not accept the Amendment as it has been put down on the Order Paper. The atmosphere in which our discussions have been proceeding to-day differs very much from that of the Debates of 1902, and while I have never claimed that the general outline of the plan as set out in the Bill is ideal, or that it solves a problem such as this, I claim that we are to-day considering educational problems and the problems of religious instruction in a favourable atmosphere and in a calm mood. That, at any rate, is one achievement we have managed to reach in our own generation.
The plan stands together as a whole, and although, as has been said, the Government are relying on the Committee to help them to improve the Bill, certain Amendments would cause so violent an overturn of the balance that it would be impossible to maintain the general plan. The reason this Amendment would cause such an overturn of the balance is not so much that it is unjust—indeed, the claim is perfectly reasonable—but because the whole basis of the plan as set out in the religious Clauses we are now approaching, gives to the managers or governors of a school the option of choosing between aided or controlled status if they are an auxiliary school and, in certain circumstances, of becoming a special agreement school by the resuscitation of the 1936 Act.
That is the basis of the scheme but this Amendment suggests, again perfectly reasonably, that it shall be the Minister who by order decides whether the scheme is to be controlled or aided. Therefore at one stroke the Amendment would result in the balance of choice which is given to the managers or governors being removed and the Minister deciding himself by a definite order at the centre. As we believe that this question of the ownership of schools and religious instruction is an extremely difficult one the Government would hesitate very much, taking the impartial view that we try to take, before we take away from managers and governors the option they have and we should not like to lay it down that the Minister 1080 shall himself decide to make a certain school controlled.
Hon. Members will desire to know, therefore, how we propose to allay the anxieties about the single-school area which is one of the classical problems of the world of education and which has been under consideration. First, the Government would welcome any conversations that proceed between the interested parties. There has been much greater coming-together between Anglicans and the Free Churches than has been seen for a generation in the course of the last two years. I myself shortly after taking office received probably the most imposing joint deputation of Anglicans and Free Churchmen, including representatives of Wales, that any President has ever received, and only during the last month there have been meetings in this City organised on a joint basis by Anglicans and Free Churchmen. Forty years ago that would have been impossible. So we can add to the modest claim that I have made that, in the next few months, I hope, the Bill will remove that poison from the relationship between the Free Churches and the Anglican Church and the Church in Wales. I cannot claim that it has removed every problem and I must appeal to the representatives of these great denominations to continue with their contacts because, if the basis of the Bill is to be an option in this religious question, and there is to be an element of freedom and diversity, which is our British way of doing things, probably the most effective way of solving the problem will be by agreement between the parties. I appeal, therefore, to the denominations and the leaders of the Churches to keep together and, if they reach any sort of understanding, the Government will at any time be ready to give it proper consideration. But we have not been willing to rely solely upon the coming together of these parties who have been separated for so long. There are in the Bill certain Clauses which I think will help to ease this position.
In considering Clause 14 itself, I must state it as the Government's Opinion that many auxiliary schools will, in fact, become controlled. I am not so uninitiated as to attempt to give an exact estimate but, taking the situation in Wales as referred to by the representative of the University of Wales, I think it is certain 1081 that in some of the smaller schools controlled status will be found most convenient, and in that case, the problem will be very much eased. As regards for other parts, the hon. Member for Montgomery mentioned the percentage in the English counties. I understand that in many cases the schools will find the control offer is such a good one that they will find it worth accepting. I think the device of controlled schools is one of the features of the Bill which should commend itself to the Committee, because it is through that feature that people may feel that we are trying to ease some of the administrative and teaching problems which centre round the dual system as we know it now.
Quite apart from that, there will be some 4,000 schools which may remain aided, and we have therefore in Clause 27, to which no one has made reference, to insert a proviso making it possible to re-enact Section 12 of the 1936 Act, by which parents of pupils in attendance at an aided school, can obtain syllabus instruction if they so desire. If the managers do not provide the syllabus instruction, the authorities have power to provide it in the school. That means that one of the first difficulties of Free Church parents is removed, because, even in an aided school in a single-school area, it is possible for them under the Clause to obtain the syllabus instruction they desire. Although the Committee may want to discuss that Clause, to amend it and to improve it, that does mean that there is a provision that helps to remove one of our major difficulties. There is another Clause—Clause 53—which deals with transport. I am not going to rely solely on that Clause to solve the single-school area problem, but when we come to that Clause it will be possible to say that there is provision in the law of education which will enable the Minister to come in and help make arrangements for transport in certain areas. It will not take children from one valley to another in Wales, because that would be impossible locomotion, but in England it will enable children in contiguous districts who want to attend a county school to do so.
These are some indications of what the Government have in mind for dealing with this problem. We shall be discussing it, and I have no doubt that, with the ingenuity 1082 of hon. Members, we shall be discussing it more than once, in the course of the passage of the Bill. I therefore ask hon. Members not to press the Amendment but to realise that the Government feel that we have, at least, made some progress in education if we can consider this matter in a reasonable atmosphere, and that we have already, through the controlled schools and these other devices, taken several long steps towards the solution of a time-honoured British problem.
§ Mr. Edmund Harvey (Combined English Universities)
I think the President is entirely right when he says that we have to-day a far more reasonable atmosphere than Parliament has ever had within living memory when discussing this important question. For that we must be profoundly thankful. I do not hold with my hon. Friend the Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) that this atmosphere has just come about through indifference. I believe that there has been a real deepening of understanding among Christian people, in spite of all differences in denominational outlook, and not only among Protestants; I think that this also applies to the deeper respect that a great number of Protestants feel for their Catholic fellow citizens, even when they do not share their views. That is something for which Parliament and the country should be profoundly grateful. I hope it will enable the President to get over some of the difficulties that still lie ahead which are even greater perhaps than the difficulties raised by this Amendment. Having said that, however, I must say that I am sorry the President has not felt able to meet the spirit of the Amendment more fully than he has managed to do. He has admitted that the claim which is made by the Amendment is in itself just and right. The only reason for refusing it, apart from any technical grounds, is the difficulty of upsetting the nice balance which he has succeeded in building up and which forms the basis of the Bill. One is bound to regret that there has not been a fuller effort made to meet what I am afraid will still remain, in spite of the friendly outlook of leaders of the Church, a real difficulty in many districts.
In a number of rural districts there are incumbents who have not the same outlook, and who are the masters of their schools. To some extent they exert a kind of authority over the teachers and the 1083 children which the leaders of the Church would not wish to see maintained, yet which does interfere with the freedom which we want to see in school life, and is felt as a real grievance by many parents. That situation will remain in some of these cases, if schools in single-school areas continue as aided schools and do not come into the national system fully, as controlled schools, when they would still be able to give their own special teaching to all children whose parents desired it. They would be an integral part of the national system and would provide a happier basis, I am sure, for the life of the village and the small community in the single-school areas than will be possible if the school remains as a place of entrenched privilege for a limited section of the community—sometimes for a minority of the community, as has already been pointed out.
It is not merely a question of Wales. There are, in many rural districts in England, cases where the majority of the villagers are Methodists and the only school is a Church school. It may happen that there is a broad-minded, wide-hearted clergyman, who has got over all the difficulties, and that the grievance is therefore not felt, but there are other cases where a narrow-minded, autocratic parson insists upon his right to come into the school. A case came to my notice in which the children of Nonconformists were terrified in a village school by the parson's threats as to what was going to happen to them in a future life if they did not fully accept what he felt to be the one way of salvation. We ought not to have that sort of thing as part of the national system. I think the President ought to go further and try to remove this very real difficulty. We do not want to see any hardship imposed on others, and I do not believe that it would be imposed by the Amendment, which has been very widely drawn. The terms are made quite deliberately wide, because it is to applyprovided there is not a county school available within reasonable distance.That allows for questions of transport to be taken into account. I hope, if the President is not able to accept the Amendment at this stage, that he may consider the possibility of inserting words at another stage which would meet, in a way which he has not yet been able to do, a 1084 grievance that is very real, and that will remain as a serious defect in a very great Measure, which, taken as a whole, I am sure we all welcome most heartily.
§ Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
I want to apologise to the Minister. I could not hear the whole of his reply, as I was called out of the Committee at that moment, but I am informed by my hon. Friends behind me that he found it impossible to accept the Amendment or to make any concession whatever to the principles of the Amendment. There are two considerations we have to bear in mind in this matter. In recent years we have become accustomed to Ministers standing at that Box and telling us, if not in so many words, that arrangements have been made with bodies outside the House of Commons, compromises have been entered into, and that therefore Amendments cannot be accepted because, if they were, those compromises would be upset. It is true that, in the case of religious organisation, there is a stronger tradition for compromises outside the House than with respect to many other legislative Measures. But even here we have now to consider whether it is worth while the House of Commons discussing a Bill on which no substantial Amendment can be accepted by the Government. In other words every single consideration of any substance which may be brought forward in the Committee stage of this Bill is of no importance whatsoever in its effect on the legislative structure of the Bill, because it cannot be accepted by the Government without invalidating the compromises that have been agreed to before the Bill started its history in this Chamber.
§ Mr. Butler
If the hon. Member had heard my speech he would have noticed that the inflection of my argument was slightly different, and he would have been the first to perceive it. I did not base my claim that we could not make the alteration on an arrangement made outside the House. I have been a Parliamentarian myself too long to do that, and it is my view that it is for the House of Commons to decide on matters put before them. What I did say was that, on balance, this scheme was so arranged with regard to Church schools that there was an option for managers. There being that option makes it difficult for me to say 1085 that there shall be an Order oversetting that option.
§ Mr. Bevan
I would have more respect for the right hon. Gentleman if he had dealt more bluntly with what I have been accusing him of doing. He has spent too many years in the Foreign Office. The right hon. Gentleman informs us that in all the circumstances, the House of Commons is sovereign and therefore not bound by any compromise arrived at, and that, as a good House of Commons man, he stands by that principle in the abstract and throws it all over in the concrete. The fact is—and I challenge the right hon. Gentleman on it—that he has not accepted and will not accept any substantial Amendment to his Bill. He will find, on each occasion, that each particular argument has no substance in it, although the reasons he gives, will have nothing whatever to do with what causes him to resist the Amendment. I say that we are wasting Parliamentary time, therefore, in having these long, barren discussions about a matter to which the Government are now irretrievably committed. Furthermore, we have had, on many occasions, special interests pleading their case in the House of Commons and supporting the Minister because already they have had their share in fashioning the legislation and we have no share at all. That is the position to which we have been reduced. As I say, there is, traditionally, more reason for it in the case of education than any other, because of the very deep feelings aroused by a subject of this sort. But I am bound to say that as far as I am concerned, the more the Committee stage proceeds, the more it is apparent to any objective observer that it is not a big Bill at all.
§ The Chairman
If the hon. Member will forgive me, I would point out that he has not yet addressed a single word to the Amendment.
§ Mr. Bevan
I am coming to that. Certainly, I have first spoken about the reasons why we could not accept the Amendment, so I was speaking about the Amendment. In the second place, I suggest, we are driven to the position where it is shown that the reason the right hon. Gentleman cannot accept the Amendment is that the whole thing is a niggling compromise, which makes no important change at all in our educational structure. 1086 In areas where there is no alternative county school, where there are single schools, and mostly Church schools, the Amendment desires that the option of the authority shall be taken away, and the school made a controlled school. That is not a very startling Amendment. It would not make many fundamental changes in the Bill, because, even in controlled schools, there will be an agreed syllabus, to which the Nonconformists and the Church of Engand have already agreed. So, in a single-school area, which, after all, is the area about which we are deeply concerned, all that would be done would be to give to the religious bodies concerned all the benefits of that masterly compromise which the right hon. Gentleman has arranged for areas that are not single-school areas.
Why does he not want to offer the benefits of this compromise to the single-school area if it is good? I think it is bad myself. How on earth you could put religion into commission like that. I do not know: how someone can decide what percentage of the Deity can be put in, I do not know. We will leave that to the conference; it will be an extraordinary conference when it meets. But the right hon. Gentleman has made a compromise of that sort, and has got the agreement of the religious bodies to it. All we are seeking to do is to apply that compromise to the single-school areas. For myself, I think the Church ought to have nothing at all to do with religious education in the schools.
I am fundamentally in favour of secular education. I think it is impudent for any body of citizens to attempt to lay down principles of religious instruction. They are so highly controversial that no body of lay people can come to any agreement about them at all, and it is bunkum and humbug to suggest that any number of persons can come to an agreement on the form of the religion which is to be taught to anybody; that is a matter for private judgment. This whole Debate has become so saturated with humbug that it is almost impossible to use plain language.
But if it is desired that a compromise of this sort should be incorporated in our legislation relating to schools, why cannot it be accepted for single-school areas? Because what is desired in these areas is to sustain, promote, and foster the Toryism which centres on the Church 1087 school in a single-school area. Why not cut out all the humbug, and say exactly what we want in this matter? All the right hon. Gentleman has done is to say that this will upset the delicate balance already arrived at. Of course, the Church of England is having its way. It gets the biggest bite out of this Bill everywhere. I suggest that the Church of England, not by any positive emotional organisation but by the enormous influence which it has behind the scenes, by the influence it has on Members on that side of the Committee—secret, furtive influence—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Nicholson
The hon. Member said a great deal more than that. He used the words "secret" and "furtive," and I think that is an unworthy implication.
§ Mr. Bevan
No, no. Hon. Members always attach emotional significance to certain adjectives. There is nothing immoral about being furtive. The hon. Member should learn his English properly. I have never heard that there is anything immoral about being secret. All I know is that these influences are at work. The fact of the matter is that these influences have been at work and everybody knows it, and what is the use of denying it? In the matter of these children of Nonconformists in these areas, there has been no attempt on the part of Nonconformist organisations to arouse—
§ Mr. Bevan
I want to say that it looks to me as if the Nonconformists are being blackmailed. Because they have been quiet about it, they find that an arrangement has been made which leaves an enormous proportion of Nonconformist children in these single-school areas still under the control of the Church school and they still have to send their children there. I have been at meetings held in rural areas on this subject. In most of these districts, you find that there are chapels and churches. There is no chapel school, but there is a Church school. The chapel people in these areas have to send their children to the Church schools, although sociologically, they have already naturally divided themselves into other different religious divisions, and the educational system has pot followed that division. It insists upon the traditional practice, although the citizens have long ago detached themselves from that homogeneous condition. Many of them have no religious association with institutions at all, or have long ago divided up into Nonconformist and Church of England. Are we, in this Bill, recognising that natural distinction which has already spontaneously arisen in the countryside? Of course not. We are perpetuating, on the whole, the domination of the Church of England school in these areas, and I therefore suggest that the position taken up by the right hon. Gentleman is untenable. It exploits the docility, in this matter, of the Nonconformists. The right hon. Gentleman resists an Amendment which will not, fundamentally, affect the structure of his Bill, because we are not insisting that they should be only secular schools—although we could insist upon that—but are insisting that he should apply to the single-school area, the terms of the compromise which pervades the rest of the Bill. In resisting it, the right hon. Gentleman reveals clearly what has been happening behind the scenes, and in this sense, I may mention that relations have been set up between the Government and the Church of England which prevent the Minister listening to arguments in the House of Commons.
Motion made, and Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again," [Major Sir James Edmondson] put, and agreed to.
Committee report Progress: to sit again upon the next Sitting Day.