HC Deb 09 May 1944 vol 399 cc1857-65
Mr. Butler

I beg to move, in page 72, line 24, at the end, to insert: (3) If upon an application being made to him under Sub-section (2) of Section fourteen of this Act for an order directing that a school shall be an aided school or a special agreement school it appears to the Minister that the area served by the school will not be also served by any county school or controlled school, then, unless he is satisfied that the managers or governors of the school will be able to defray the expenses which would fall to be borne by them under paragraph (a) of Sub-section (3) of that Section without the assistance of a loan under this Section, the Minister shall consult such persons or bodies of persons as appear to him to be representative of any religious denomination which, in his opinion having regard to the circumstances of the area, are likely to be concerned; and, unless after such consultation he is satisfied that the holding of a local inquiry is unnecessary, shall cause such inquiry to be held before determining the application. This is an important addition to the Bill, and was inserted as a result of our discussion on the Committee stage. The object of this Amendment is to enable the loan procedure which we agreed upon before to be so administered as to give satisfaction in areas which are known as single school areas. This Sub-section in one way makes educational history because it is the first occasion upon which there has been any definition; of this problem in an Act of Parliament. To that extent I think it should be widely welcomed by the House.

I have had an opportunity of discussing it with certain interests outside and I am glad to say that it has, on the whole, been very well received. The definition of the single school area is included in the middle of the drafting, which can be read upon the Order Paper: That the area served by the school will not be also served by any county school or controlled school. The machinery of this Sub-section is tied up with the Minister's examination of the question. Where the managers of an auxiliary school are unable to meet the liabilities under the new terms of Clause 14 without the aid of a loan, and desire a loan in order to meet their liabilities the Minister shall consult such persons or bodies of persons as appear to him to be representative of any religious denomination which, in his opinion, having regard to the circumstances of the area, are likely to be concerned. The object of that is simply to bring into the consideration of the question of their meeting their liabilities with the aid of a loan the diocesan bodies representing those concerned in the local area. Of course, as this will be a single school area, it would be necessary to consult the diocesan body representing the Anglicans and the analogous body representing the Free Churches. The value of that is that it enables the Minister to examine the question at that level, and to consider whether the loan in those circumstances is desirable. The Clause then goes on to read: Unless after such consultation he is satisfied that the holding of a local inquiry is unnecessary, shall cause such inquiry to be held before determining the application. The object of that is simply that it is a very good thing, if a loan is to be given in what is known as the single school area, to enable a school to be an aided school, that there should be an opportunity for a local inquiry so that the locality can express its views. In this way it will be possible to see under the normal procedure under which the Board conducts its inquiries—and the Board are very used to conducting local inquiries with an independent person—whether it is desirable to give a loan to enable that school in that area to become aided or not. That meets the point raised by the hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hughes) in the course of the Committee stage, when he himself mentioned the device of a public inquiry. We thought it was very valuable to provide for consultation at the diocesan level in case it should prove that a local inquiry was unnecessary. It may be that in some cases, the village being so predominantly Anglican, for example, there is in fact no grievance.

Our researches all go to show that what is known as the grievance of the single school area does not in fact exist in every area in the country where there is only one school of a denominational character. But it does exist in certain areas. I had a discussion on this matter with certain hon. Members who represent different parts of England where this grievance may be said, to be the most endemic, and it became quite clear to us that fortunately to-day local difficulties are very strictly limited to certain areas. The advantage, therefore, of having some consultation before an inquiry is held is simply to render it unnecessary to hold a very large number of inquiries in cases where they would in fact be totally unnecessary. But in cases where it is in fact necessary to ascertain local opinion, we have adopted the machinery suggested by the hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen, and we have inserted in the Bill a new provision which limits the giving of a loan to places where the Minister is satisfied that after a local inquiry the grievance, if there be one locally, would not be perpetuated. Therefore, with the aid of the House, I think we have devised machinery which will help the Board of Education locally.

Mr. Cove

I am sorry to introduce a rather critical note on this Amendment. I know. that the House has already decided that loans shall be granted, and I have to accept that decision, but, frankly, I have to express deep regret—and in this I am expressing the views of organised teachers—that this Amendment should have been necessary, and that it should have taken this form. I do not want to argue the case at great length but I, and others outside who have studied it, regard this as a concession to the Church authorities which control the Church schools throughout the single-school areas. The scheme which the Minister has put forward is that there shall be a diocesan area and a pool for financing Church schools. If individual Church schools were on their own footing then those schools would, in a number of areas, go out of existence, but by this scheme they have a chance to review the whole of the area. What can conceivably happen? The Church authorities will say, "Here is an area which is partly industrial and partly rural," and they will be able to combine a pool of finance. Where there is a school of 200 children they will take money out of the diocesan fund, but where there is a school of, say, 30 children on the border they will let that school go. The Bill provides, rightly, that transport shall be found for Church children in those schools to go to other Church schools. So, the general effect of this Amendment is to strengthen the hold of the Church of England in the single-school areas.

Mr. Butler

Perhaps I can save a good deal of misunderstanding. We have brought in mention of the persons representing these schools for the purpose of bringing in, particularly, the opinion of the Free Churches. This is not a method of financing; it has nothing to do with finance. It is to bring in opinion from Free Church and Anglican leaders so that the Minister may be informed as to where trouble is to brew locally, and a local inquiry can be saved. It is not a sinister method of financing anything.

Mr. Cove

It is related to finding the other 50 per cent. by loan. There is a 5o per cent. grant, and then a loan, and this machineryis directed to financing that loan. I say, quite definitely, that it will result in the entrenchment of the denominational schools in the single-school areas. I am surprised that the Free Church Members of this House have been so anaemic, so lacking in the old historical attitude towards this problem. I am prepared to meet up to 100 per cent. clear and genuine denominational schools, but I am not prepared to give public money to schools that do not meet that situation. The schools in the single-school areas do not. Those schools, with their varying political opinions among residents in the villages, and, more particularly, with their varying religious opinions, ought to be council schools. I feel profoundly and deeply that single schools throughout the whole of Britain ought to have gone over to the State and become council schools. One could then have met genuinely all the deep religious feelings Of our people in the various areas. I do not accept the explanation which has been given. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hughes) may disagree, but I say that this will result in the con- tinuance and entrenchment of the Church schools in the single-school areas, and I regret that I epresentatives of Nonconformity have agreed to that policy and that result.

Mr. Moelwyn Hughes

It will be news to my doctor that I am an anaemic Nonconformist, but at any rate I am not ignorant. Apparently, my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove) has not appreciated the terms of the new Clause we are discussing. I would inform him, and remind the House, that the ability of a denomination to collect its funds from any quarter and employ them to provide money for a particular school has already been accepted and is in the Bill. This Clause has nothing to do with that whatever. I deplored that myself, but it has been accepted and, therefore, it is not under discussion now. The power given to the Minister to grant these loans to enable a denomination to raise the necessary 50 per cent. has already been established; it is not at issue on this Clause at all. Those two things cannot any longer be discussed.

On that basis what have we here? My hon. Friend says a concession to the Church schools. In fact they are provided, where they otherwise had not got them, and quite properly provided, with two hurdles to get over which did not exist before this Clause came into the Bill. In the first place they will have to satisfy the Diocesan Conference that it is proper that a school in a given area should be an aided school. I know it will not be the same in every diocese but there are many dioceses where the authorities take a very broad view of these matters and will discourage any effort to establish an aided school in some of these single school areas. Even if the Diocesan Conference is ready to proceed, the Minister under this Clause will call a conference of the interested religious denominations and, unless they can satisfy him—and all kinds of representations will be made from different directions—they will find themselves faced with the Minister's disapproval. Suppose the Minister accepts that the religious authorities are satisfied that this should go forward; there comes the second hurdle. A local inquiry has to be held. I regard this as a very considerable concession agreed to by a number of responsible authorities in the Church of England, because there are single-school areas where, on the counting of heads, the Anglican Church might claim to have a majority whereas on a local inquiry they will not find in that area itself the popular support which would justify the continuance of an aided school. These two additional hurdles have been provided, and they are fair and proper ones. I welcome their provision and I hope the Amendment will be wholeheartedly accepted.

Mr. Tinker

I support the Amendment. I think the Minister has tried to get over a difficulty. I take it that the Bill is trying to give satisfaction to every section of the community. The Minister is saying, "If you want to be an aided school you must make application to me and I will have an inquiry," because, no doubt, we want to find out about these single school areas and see whether they shall get public help if they are to be kept on. If the Minister is satisfied that they should have it he says, "I am prepared to do it.' If he decides that a single school area should not have support, and the school is not worth keeping on, he can decide that way. He will decide whether they shall have it or not and there can be nothing wrong in an Amendment of that kind.

Mr. Harvey

The Minister is to be congratulated upon the sincere effort he has made to do justice to various claims which seemed to conflict, and to get a settlement of an ancient difficulty which has caused great heartburning in the past and, even now, may cause in some places serious disagreement. It has been a matter of great regret. Under the limitations of the Bill and of the decisions that we have already reached, the Minister has done exceedingly well in putting forward this proposal, and I believe that, if on all sides we have good will and a desire for justice to others, this proposal wilt work. It will remove from our national life a real cause of difficulty and of educational disturbance.

Think of the discussion that we have had to-day, and compare it with the bitter and heated discussions which this House knew 40 years ago. We shall agree that immense progress has been made, not because we have fewer differences hut because we have a deeper understanding of the great common things that unite us and a greater appreciation of different points of view. The growth of understanding has been shared: it is not confined to any one Church or religious community. I think the country as a whole will welcome the spirit in which the Minister and his colleagues have made this proposal. We can look forward to its being carried through with great success, because we can trust to this spirit and to the desire for justice that goes with it.

Mr. Denman (Leeds, Central)

In a couple of sentences I want to thank the hon. and learned Gentleman for the wholehearted acceptance that he gave to this Amendment. The spirit that he showed ought to be met on this side with equal warmth. I hope the concession will really serve to close the door on an ancient and exceedingly regrettable controversy. I believe that the President has taken a very wise course in removing the controversy from the immediate area in which it arose and taking it into a wider pool where it can be suitably dissolved.

Mr. Cove

Back to the localities.

Mr. Denman

I think the machinery is wise, and I congratulate both the Ministers on their ingenuity in devising it and those who have so thoroughly accepted it.

Mr. Ede

I want to make it clear that the greatest consideration has been given to the Free Church point of view on this matter. Representative Free Churchmen, who speak for them nationally, were consulted, and have given their whole-hearted approval to the line that my right hon. Friend has adopted. It will be within the memory of those who attended our deliberations in Committee that I read a letter from one whom I regard as among the more extreme holders of the historic Nonconformist point of view, expressing his approval of this proposal before the Amendment was drafted. The effect is not to give an additional concession to the Church. It is, in fact, a limitation of the possibilities of the Clause as originally drafted. The Nonconformist bodies, after all, are not so loosely organised as my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove) suggested. The denomination in which I was brought up, the Congregational, has it County Congregational Unions, which are capable of speaking for the Congregational Churches and mission stations.

Mr. Cove

I do not want to enter into any controversy, but, quite frankly, there are published letters which I can bring before the House showing that the Nonconformists are loosely organised and deeply divided.

Mr. Ede

I am giving the House my experience as one who was brought up as a Nonconformist and has never been a Free Churchman. The Baptist denomination has its own associations covering similar ground. There are few more highly organised communities in this country than the Methodist communion, with its tremendous hold on the people of the villages through its class leaders and highly organised social system. Of course there are in addition the Free Church Councils, which do not exist in every part of the country, although there is little of the country that is not now organised. If they are in any district where there is a single school grievance the machinery in this Amendment will enable local opinion to make that known. That is a thing that has never been possible before.

When I was a lad attending a Church school in a single school area my father went to the town hall to vote for a school board, because the Church was unable to raise the money to maintain its school. It was announced at the meeting that it would be unnecessary to proceed with the business because the Epsom Grand Stand Association had found the money to carry on the school. They paid a fifth of the rates and did not want a school board. So I always feel that I have to explain my religious shortcomings, not to the Archbishop of Canterbury but to the Stewards of the Jockey Club. That will not happen under this Bill. When the application is made for the loan my right hon. Friend will consult representative Free Churchmen of the locality and if they say "This is an area where we think that owing to local circumstances it is desirable that this school should not be an aided school but a controlled school" a local inquiry will be held in respect of the application for a loan. This is the first time in the history of education law that that has been possible, and I, for one, as a Nonconformist am heartily glad that my right hon. Friend has been so largely able to meet the one outstanding grievance which remained to people of my faith and order.

Amendment agreed to.

Ordered: That further consideration of the Bill as amended in Committee and on re-committal be now adjourned."'—[Mr. Pym.]

Bill (as amended in Committee and on re-committal) to be further considered To-morrow.