HC Deb 14 May 1953 vol 515 cc1427-55
Miss Horsbrugh

I beg to move, in page 1, line 16, to leave out from the first "school," to "include," in line 17.

I want to begin by explaining the background to this Amendment. I do so in order to try to clear up certain misunderstandings and to tell the House how I think the views expressed during the Committee stage by hon. Members on both sides can be met.

I start with two points on which there is no disagreement. The proposals of the Government in this matter were clearly stated in a memorandum circulated confidentially to the interested parties on 30th January, 1952. I also sent a copy to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede).

Mr. Ede

And to Mr. Tomlinson.

Miss Horsbrugh

Yes, to my predecessor. They were: to amend the definition of ' displaced pupils' so as to include pupils who have attended, or would in the opinion of the Minister of Education have attended, an existing aided or special agreement school if that school had not ceased to be available for them in consequence of their having ceased to reside in the area served by the school, as a result of the movement, voluntarily or compulsorily, of population in any way consequent upon the action taken, or proposed to be taken, under the enactments relating to housing or town and country planning. That is the first point.

These proposals, together with others, were discussed with the interested parties and it was made abundantly clear throughout that the amended definition of "displaced pupils" would not be retrospective and was so understood. I have had it very clearly from many of the bodies, and I quote a letter from the Chairman of the Catholic Education Council of 4th December: We have now had an opportunity of giving careful consideration to the text of the Education (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, 1952. In the first place I would like to tell you how much we welcome the main provisions of this Bill and how grateful we are to you for having gone so far to meet us. It then refers to Clause 1, and continues: We appreciate that, when you received the delegation … on 12th February, 1952, you said that you found it impossible to make this Clause retrospective. The Chairman then goes on to say: On examination, however, it has been found that there are a few cases where considerable hardship will be suffered if this Clause does not have retrospective effect. We who are interested in this problem all know that the Roman Catholics have been anxious the whole time to have retrospection. They have been anxious ever since the time they first asked that the definition of displaced pupils should be amended. In each case which has been brought up they have asked also for retrospection, and in each case retrospection has not been given for a very clear reason, that that would lead us into further Amendments of the Bill. In general, my proposals were welcomed.

Mr. Blackburn

Will the right hon. Lady explain that a little more fully.

Miss Horsbrugh

I will if the hon. Gentleman will allow me to go on. I think that during the Committee stage we were all guilty of interrupting each other too much, which makes it difficult to get anything clear, and I agree that I was one of the offenders.

In general, my proposals were welcomed by the Roman Catholics, and, indeed, were described by them as generous. The other interested parties agreed and some expressed themselves ready not to oppose the proposals put before them.

The memorandum setting out the Government's proposal for amending legislation was discussed with representatives of the Roman Catholic hierarchy on 12th February, 1952. Now we come to the misunderstanding. At this interview which was to consider proposals for legislation the question of retrospection was raised, and the following reply was given: The new definition would not be retrospective in the sense that grants on completed projects could be reassessed: grant claims on schemes in progress or for which accounts had not been closed would be eligible for review in the light of the new definition. I would emphasise that retrospection on completed projects was clearly ruled out. The phrase "building accounts" which appeared later was not used. The type of case which I had in mind and which the Bill as introduced enables me to meet, is first, a school which is in process of building when the Bill becomes an Act, and secondly, the school which has been completed but is not yet occupied.

To give an example, supposing at the end of July this Bill becomes law, at that time there may be schools in the process of building. These are still proposed schools. It is a building that has not become a school. They are eligible if they have qualified for grant, and then they would have to prove they had displaced pupils. Then there is the school that is entirely and absolutely completed, as it may be at the end of July, but not yet occupied.

We may have a case at that time of a school which is completely ready but the children, because of the holidays, would not be going in until September. We get a gap between the school being completely finished and the time when it becomes established and maintained, and at that time it would still be eligible for. grant if it qualified under the displaced pupils scheme.

I would remind the House that under Section 104 of the Education Act, 1944, I have only power to make grants in relation to proposed schools. I will be absolutely frank with the House. We learned later that the Roman Catholics thought the words used referred to building accounts. As I have said, the words used referred to the grant. Although I have already stated that they agreed that retrospection was impossible, I would say with all sincerity to the House that I very much regret that this misunderstanding took place.

Now I come to the crucial question of how I can meet the wishes expressed by hon. Members on both sides during the Committee stage when we were discussing this point. The Roman Catholics had said there were a few cases—I have already read out something on that point—of schools not being included which caused considerable hardship. The House will remember that during the Second Reading the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis) stated that the issue was not quite as large as it seemed because probably only three or four schools were concerned. In Committee we discussed the possibility of five schools being included. I was pressed by my hon. Friends and by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite to find some means of bringing the five schools in.

I must tell the House that since the Committee stage the list which was given to us by the Roman Catholics has been added to and the number of schools has now gone up to 12. It went from five to six—I am not saying there is any bad faith in this; I believe the Roman Catholics had not surveyed the whole scene—next, there were eight, and then there were 12. I am now giving the House the whole of the facts.

I told the Committee that I could not give any undertaking about five schools but that it should not be thought that all the schools would be ruled out. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields said in the Standing Committee: I agree with the Minister that I do not want the difficulties of"— I think that what he really said was "the definition of"— a proposed school widened except in so far as it may be necessary to bring in the five schools within the Minister's statement this morning. I do not think anybody in the Committee, as far as I have heard, has suggested that anything more can be done."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee C, 29th January, 1953; c. 82.] Now at least I am glad to inform the House that four schools can be included in the definition of proposed schools. I wish I could have included five, but at any rate we are including four. These are from the list received from the Catholic Education Council.

This is how I have been able to do it. In two cases the whole school is not yet established and being maintained by the local education authority. In two other cases—hon. Members will see how I really have tried to meet their points, because I do regret the misunderstanding —although the infants departments are established and being maintained, the infants being in, the junior schools are not, and so they are proposed schools and will be eligible for grant if they qualify under the definition of "displaced pupils" and if the Bill becomes law without delay.

I hope the House will see that I have done my very best to meet the points put to me during the Committee stage and which the right hon. Member for South Shields put clearly in the sentences which I have quoted. I have gone through the grant—after all our difficulties I had better not say "accounts"—arrangements for each of the Roman Catholic schools which has been built and is in the building programme. I have checked the whole lot. Before I pass from this point, it is only right that I should tell the House that I have received letters from several of the bodies, with whom I had the original discussions, protesting against any change in the agreement entered into.

To come to the actual Amendment, hon. Members will know that I described the addition of these words as unworkable, and I gave the reasons for that. Perhaps "unworkable" is not a very legal term, but I knew what it meant and I think hon. Members in the Committee did so too.

Mr. Ede

It is a term of abuse.

4.15 p.m.

Miss Horsbrugh

It was not meant in that way. I gave my reasons then. I certainly did not want to use an abusive term. If hon. Members will read Clause 1 in conjunction with Section 104 of the principal Act, which it amends, they will see that it is unworkable, for the Section lays down clearly that the Minister is empowered to give grants only to proposed schools, and that provision still remains.

Putting down the Amendment has given us a means of discussing the difficulty and me an opportunity of telling the House that at least four proposed schools can be included. Since using the word "unworkable," which the right hon. Gentleman says is abusive, I have consulted the Law Officers as to the effect of the words. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would not think that anything which they said was abusive. I am advised by the Law Officers that the words which were inserted during the Committee stage, and which I now seek to delete, have no operative effect whatsoever.

Mr. Hale

Then why take them out?

Miss Horsbrugh

I thought that might be asked. I will explain why. I am told that with these words in the Bill I cannot make any grants which I could not make under the Bill as originally presented to the House. I suppose that, strictly, I need not have moved the Amendment, but I have done so because I did not think it would be fair to the House or entirely honest if I did not create an opportunity, by moving it, of telling the House what would be the result of leaving the words in. If I had not moved the Amendment a great many people might have been under the erroneous impression that the Bill does something which it does not do. As the words have no effect and are misleading, I hope the House will agree to their deletion.

Mr. Blackburn

Before the right hon. Lady sits down, will she clear up the point which I put to her before? She said that the difficulty about retrospection was that considerable alteration would be required to the 1944 Act. What alteration would be necessary except to Section 104 which contains power to make grants to proposed schools?

Miss Horsbrugh

I will try to make it clear again. There is difficulty when one has a compromise agreement. We set out with one intention only, and that was to amend the definition of "displaced pupils."

Mr. Blackburn

I appreciate that.

Miss Horsbrugh

Thus, we should be going much wider in amending the method of giving grants. I have referred to letters which I have received, and hon. Members will perhaps realise that to amend the 1944 Act in a way which we have not previously suggested and have not put to all the other interested bodies would be to go completely outside our agreement.

I might perhaps read to the House a quotation from letters I have received. These letters came after Second Reading when it was suggested that it should be retrospective. I had a letter from the Association of Education Committees saying that this had not been agreed and they ventured to hope, therefore, that the Minister will stick to the terms which were agreed when these consultations took place. Again I received from the Association of Education Committees the following: The Executive Committee instructed me to urge in the strongest possible terms on the Minister that the words which have been added to the provisions of Clause 1 of the Bill should be deleted from the Clause. It is our view that unless these words are deleted Clause 1 of the Miscellaneous Provisions Bill is incompatible with the provisions of Section 104 of the Act of 1944. Any suggestion that Section 104 should itself be amended we would oppose most strongly. We must add that the Clause with these words included is not in accordance with the discussions which took place with this Association on the understanding arrived at when the Bill was first proposed. On both of these grounds, therefore, we would urge that the words included while the Bill was in Committee should be deleted at the Report stage.

Mr. Blackburn

Am I correct in saying that it is Section 104 that would have to be amended?

Miss Horsbrugh

What I know quite clearly is that Section 104 would have to be amended, and that Amendment would be outside those which we agreed that we would do nothing except—

Mr. Blackburn

I am only trying to get the position clear. I am not coming down on one side or the other.

Miss Horsbrugh

My hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General will deal with that legal point a later stage in the debate, but I should like to say that what we agreed was that we should amend the definition of "displaced pupils." If we go beyond that it is not included in any agreement.

Mr. David Logan (Liverpool, Scotland Division)

Am I to understand from the right hon. Lady that had the Government draftsman been able to form words so as to answer the point that she desires she would have been prepared to make the concession?

Sir Sidney Marshall (Sutton and Cheam)

She has made the concession.

Mr. Logan

The Minister has suggested that she was in a difficulty to find words, and I should like to know if it is a fact that had someone in the Government found the necessary words she would be prepared to give the concession?

Miss Horsbrugh

I think I can make it clear. It is an intricate subject. What I wanted and what I took the chance to do at the earliest possible moment after I became Minister of Education was to amend the definition of "displaced pupils." Those words we have got. The Parliamentary draftsman has supplied them and we are all agreed upon them. Now the hon. Gentleman asks whether the Parliamentary draftsman was not able to make another Amendment.

Mr. Logan

The right hon. Lady is the first lady I have found who cannot change her mind.

Miss Horsbrugh

I might reply that I am the first Minister of Education who has brought in this Amendment. Others might have done it perhaps before, but I am the first. I am trying to explain it to hon. Members. What is suggested is an entirely different Amendment outside everything we have discussed, and because of that I would suggest that hon. Members might consider it from the point of view of every party. If we can get the Amendment on displaced pupils we have something of great value. It is not all that some people want; it is rather more than some other people would like.

Mr. Ede

I must say that the more the right hon. Lady tries to explain matters the more confused becomes the situation. Let us be quite clear as to what the point at issue was. On 12th February, 1952, the right hon. Lady met a deputation, and in the document which her own Department prepared and circulated after that deputation had been received these words were included: The new definition would not be retrospective in the sense that grant on completed projects could be reassessed: grant claims on schemes in progress or for which accounts had not been closed…. The right hon. Lady was the person who introduced the word "accounts." She said that somehow or other there is a difference between accounts and building accounts, which is really too rich for words, because when a school is being built the word "account" refers only to the building account. What other accounts could the builders be thinking of?

The words of Section 104, in dealing with this matter, say: … expended in the construction of the school…. The account for money expended in the construction of the school is largely a building account. What else can it be? To say that when my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) introduced the word "building," we had gone right outside anything that the right hon. Lady had discussed is just nonsense. The circular to which I have referred and from which I have already quoted goes on: … for which accounts had not been closed would be eligible for review in the light of the new definition. That was what the right hon. Lady said on 12th February.

The Minister then saw everybody else connected with these negotiations. She did not mention to any of them the promise she had made to these people. That is where she got herself into difficulties. When she met my friends of the Free Churches and the local education committee; if they are concerned—I am coming back to that point later—she should have said, "When I saw the deputation from the Catholic hierarchy they did raise with me the question of retrospection, and I told them I could not meet that but I did say that grants claimed on schemes in progress or for which the accounts had not been closed would be eligible for review in the light of the new definition."

That is where the right hon. Lady went wrong. As a matter of fact, she thought she would be able to do this by administration without telling anybody. What she told us in Committee was this: I want to say quite frankly to hon. Members that not until this was looked into just before Second Reading was it found that the Amendment we were suggesting would not include schools defined as those whose accounts had not been closed. All the time that the Bill was in preparation and after the First Reading down to a few days before the Second Reading, the right hon. Lady thought that these words were in the Bill: … schemes in progress or for which accounts had not been closed. Later, she said: Would it help if I said that I agree that it is not my words that will be concerned? That is where I went wrong. I thought of the words that I would like and the terms in which I would like this administered. I confess that it was then that there was legal advice that that could not be so, and that the statute has to be administered according to the words. Where I was wrong was in thinking that we could administer the matter like that."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee C, 29th January, 1953; c. 61–68.] It is quite clear that the right hon. Lady meant the words to have this effect. She thought either that the Bill as drafted did it, or that, if they did not, after the Bill was passed, she could, by administration, carry out the promise she had given to the people she met on 12th February.

4.30 p.m.

Mr. S. Silvennan

Does she still think so?

Mr. Ede

I am not quite sure. That was a wangle that is characteristic of the right hon. Lady's type of mind.

Colonel L. E. Crosthwaite-Eyre (New Forest)

Most offensive!

Mr. Ede

I have shown the way in which the right hon. Lady's mind worked all through the preparation of this Bill right down to the time when this Amendment was moved, and I am not going to withdraw anything that I have said. As the right hon. Lady said just now, she took a chance. She said so when she was reading the letters to us just now.

Now we come to the question of the intervention of the A.E.C. If the right hon. Lady had inquired of her right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer she would have found that on this point the education authorities are excluded from negotiations because of the protests that were made at the time of the passing of the 1944 Act by both the Church of England and the Roman Catholics, that they did not want in connection with these matters to have any dealings with local authorities. There are some local authorities who would not have a single denominational school if they could help it. In fact, the late Mr. George Tomlinson got into serious trouble because he sanctioned the building of a Roman Catholic school in Colwyn Bay and the local authority said that they only wanted council schools.

This arrangement is one by which the money does not pass through the local education authorities but goes direct from the right hon. Lady to the denomination concerned. Therefore, so far as protests from local education authorities or their associations are concerned, everyone who has followed this matter from its beginning knows very well that local education authorities have no voice in the matter at all.

I now come to the question of what is a proposed school. I know when a school starts to be proposed. My difficulty—and I think it is the difficulty of the right hon. Lady—is to know when it ceases to be proposed. I considered whether it might be helpful if, instead of the Amendment which we now have, we inserted an Amendment which would define what a proposed school was and when it ceased to be a proposed school. We are dealing with a very peculiar type of school and pupil here. When the right hon. Lady tries to dissociate "displaced pupils" from the word "school," it should be remembered that in England and Wales a pupil is somebody who goes to a school, and, therefore, one cannot get out of it by saying, "Well, now we are trying to alter something else; we are trying to introduce a fresh type of pupil." We are not. They are exactly the same children.

Let us consider a proposal to establish a school which will come within the definition of Section 104 of the 1944 Act. This is a school in an area to which children have been brought by the operation either of the Housing Acts or of the Town and Country Planning Acts. Nobody is quite sure where they are all coming from. The school is built and it is opened. I hope that it will be opened well ahead of the time that all the children get there, because there is nothing more disheartening on a new housing estate than to have children wandering about for the first six or eight months without a school to which they can go.

The grant is to be calculated in the end of the proportion of children who are displaced of the total number. The two other types of school that rank for grant are the transferred school and the substituted school. One just picks up a school from one place and moves it somewhere else and amalgamates two or three schools, and the new school becomes a substituted school. There, of course, everybody knows that the whole of the cost is to rank for grant.

But in this case I defy anyone to calculate the amount of the grant due on the day when the school opens. The right hon. Lady cannot say that on the day when the school opens, when it is established and maintained, she will be able to assess the amount of grant. Even if, owing to her policy, the building of the school has been delayed so that it is filled on the first day, there will have to be a considerable amount of inquiry as to whether a certain pupil is, in fact, a displaced pupil or not.

If the pupil's parents have moved out into the district voluntarily—not owing to the Housing Acts or the Town and Country Planning Acts—no grant will be payable in respect of that pupil, no matter how many miles he may have come. Therefore, it is not possible, on the day when the school becomes established and maintained, to say that in this case the school has reached such a stage as to enable the right hon. Lady to make the calculations that will enable the grant to be determined. That is a difficulty which she never faced during the Committee stage.

I suggest that what the right hon. Lady has put in front of us today does not provide any real working arrangement for carrying out what she wanted to do, or what she thought she had done, or what she thought, if she had not done, she could do by administrative action. How that can be done under the Bill un-amended, I do not know.

Let us see what happened in Committee. We debated this Amendment for a day and a half. I know that Governments take refuge in sending a Bill upstairs to a Committee, and that if there is a snap vote up there or if, owing to somebody being absent for a moment, the Government are defeated, they bring it downstairs and have the matter put right. What happened on this Amendment? Every hon. Member of this Committee was present, except my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Scotland (Mr. Logan)—who was away ill in bed with influenza. If the right hon. Lady thinks she would have got his vote had he been there, I would advise her to think again. It was the nearest approach to a free vote that I have ever seen in the history of the House of Commons.

The first name to be called was that of the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Ashton), the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He voted against the right hon. Lady. He had spoken against her. When the sum total was added up, there voted against the right hon. Lady one Liberal, eight Conservatives and 17 Labour Members—26. There voted with her three of her Ministerial colleagues, who, including herself, made four, three Labour Members and 11 back bench Members on her own side, including her own Parliamentary Private Secretary, who could hardly desert her—26 to 18, after a discussion of a day and a half.

The right hon. Lady objected to our form of words in practically every way she could. First, she said that we had put a date in, which made it retrospective. We struck out the date. Then she thought we had in one "not" too many. We struck that out. Then the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis)—who is, unfortunately, at Strasbourg and, therefore, cannot repeat here the speech he made in Committee, as I have no doubt he would—altered the word "had" to "have" or the other way round, I forget which.

It had been agreed during this discussion that we were voting not so much on the words as on the meaning; as to whether a Minister, having given a promise—of course, I know it is leap year and that the right hon. Lady said at one stage that it was not a promise, it was a proposal. She was perfectly entitled to make proposals, although to a cardinal and a couple of bishops I should have thought that was a rash thing to do. She said that grant claims on schemes in progress or for which accounts have not been closed would be eligible for review in the light of the new definition. If that is a proposal, will she consult the Law Officers to find out if she is not liable for a breach of promise action?

I do not want to quote further from what the right hon. Lady said in Committee, but it is clear that she thought, and the people she met at the time thought, these words were to be implemented, and I cannot see why they should not be. If this meant that there would be a great additional number of denominational school places provided, I could see that the right hon. Lady might have to think it over, but not one extra school place will be provided for the denominational schools if the spirit of the Amendment were inserted in the Bill and implemented by the right hon. Lady.

Take what the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Ian Harvey) said in Committee: It has been generally agreed that the Roman Catholic negotiators were under the impression that this would be part of the final agreement and that an attempt would be made to bring this in. I would like to know if, when it was found impossible, the Roman Catholic negotiators were told that it would not be possible, or did they proceed on the assumption that it was going to be done? "— [OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee C, 27th January, 1953; c. 42.] The right hon. Lady knows that they proceeded on that assumption because the Archbishop of Shrewsbury wrote her a very eulogistic letter with regard to two schools in his diocese not very far from her constituency.

4.45 p.m.

I took a very active part—I do not think that is using any word that can be said to be out of place—in the promotion of the 1944 Act. The one thing I learned from those negotiations under the present Chancellor of the Exchequer was that if you make a promise, you must stick to it; and if you make a promise to one party to these negotiations, you must tell all the other parties as soon as possible after you have made it; for if you do not do that, you get involved in receiving the kind of letter which the right hon. Lady quoted this afternoon.

Our education system in England and Wales has as its chief glory its diversification. I said during the passing of the 1944 Act, on the instructions of the right hon. Gentleman the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, that we would not see the denominational schools administered out of existence. There is a pledge from both sides of the House—I believe from every party in the House—that the denominational schools are an integral part of our education system.

As far as I am concerned, everything I want is met by the county school agreed syllabus, but I object, as a Nonconformist, to the Act of Uniformity. I must not attempt to impose uniformity on other people. Therefore, I have always been in favour of maintaining in the highest possible state of efficiency the denominational schools and of accepting them as equal partners in the general education service of the country.

Anyone who heard or read what the right hon. Lady said on 12th February can have no doubt as to what was her intention at that moment. She has never withdrawn from it though she has tried today to suggest that the word "building" somehow alters all of it. Section 104 deals only with building and I do not accept as any concession what she tells us about the three schools—[An HON. MEMBER: "Four."]. I only managed to get details of three. Did the right hon. Lady give details of a fourth? There were the two schools in which the infants' department is finished and the juniors is not yet maintained and established. There was one other—

Miss Horsbrugh


Mr. Ede

Two others? I am bound to tell the right hon. Lady that this is something which was always in the Bill and is not affected by the Amendment. She is not doing anything at all through that. Obviously, if she was doing more than was in the Bill originally, she would have to amend the Bill, but she is not amending the Bill.

I suggest that a school which is being built up with its human personnel as opposed to the mere bricks and mortar is still in a state of being a proposed school. There is nothing in the Education Act, nor in any Act, which says when a school ceases to be a proposed school. It is quite clear as to when it starts. In regard to schools which take displaced pupils, it is clear that until the human personnel is completely filled up no one can say on what percentage of the accounts the right hon. Lady will be able to pay grant. Therefore, these schools which are being built and filled parallel with the passing of the Bill—not after the passing of the Bill—to my mind, and I think to the mind of anyone who reads carefully what the right hon. Lady said to the deputation on 12th February, rank for some recognition by the right hon. Lady if she is to redeem the pledge.

Eight hon. Members opposite voted against the right hon. Lady in Committee. It is not for me to say what they will do today, but not one of them can deceive himself with the view that anything the right hon. Lady has said today has given the slightest realisation to what they spoke for and what they voted for. Let me remind them, also, that every Conservative Member who spoke on this Amendment spoke against the right hon. Lady, although not all of them voted against her. If the Committee proceedings of this House are really to be at all worth while, what occurred on this particular Amendment ought to be accepted by the Government as a free expression of the views of the Committee, symptomatic of what the House itself would feel if it had the opportunity.

I therefore regret that the right hon. Lady, instead of accepting the decision of the Committee and making such Amendments in the Clause as were necessary, has seen fit to adopt the line she has adopted this afternoon and has tried to persuade us that she has given us a concession when she strikes the Amendment out and says that there will be four schools, which, somehow or other, will manage to get through.

That is no concession at all; it must be something which she does under the Clause as originally worded. I sincerely hope that the House will reject the Amendment moved by the right hon. Lady and leave the Bill as it left the Committee. I understood the right hon. Lady to interpret the Solicitor-General as saying that these words would be inoperative. In another place, if they are to deal with the question of a school bus which was withdrawn at a very late moment, they can still deal with the question of making these words into something which is workable.

The Solicitor-General (Sir Reginald Manningham-Buller)

indicated dissent.

Mr. Ede

I see the hon. and learned Gentleman shakes his head. I put a far higher appraisal on his legal ability than to think that if he wanted to meet what was wanted by his hon. Friends in the Committee he could not do it.

The Solicitor-General

I am not in the House of Lords.

Mr. Ede

But the Lord Chancellorship will become vacant some day. At any rate, the hon. and learned Gentleman could provide his noble and learned Friends in another place with the necessary words to effect this purpose.

This is really a quite simple issue. I think the right hon. Lady will agree that upstairs we discussed in a reasonably friendly, if somewhat diffuse, atmosphere the principle behind the Amendment, and the Committee voted overwhelmingly in favour. Those of us who voted in Committee in that way have the right to expect that the Government will implement what we wanted.

Mr. Hubert Ashton (Chelmsford)

The right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) has been good enough to refer to me. I do not think any different facts are available here than there were on 29th January, when this whole subject was discussed in Committee upstairs. He has indeed deployed some rather different arguments. I want to make perfectly clear why I voted as I did and why, in fact, I feel that the Minister has met my wishes and, I believe most sincerely, the wishes of many hon. Members who sat on the opposite side of the Committee.

Mention has also been made of the regrettable absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis). On Second Reading he used these words, and I am sure that he would not mind my quoting what he said: Then we have heard a great deal about the vexed question of retrospection. I will not detain the House by repeating what right hon. Gentlemen have said, but I should like to be clear on the following point. Is the definition of a school which can qualify for the grant one whose account has not yet been closed? If that is the turning point it seems to me that in practice whatever the theoretical merits, the issue is not quite as large as it seems because there are probably only three or four schools concerned."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th December, 1952; Vol. 509, c. 133.] During the whole of this discussion upstairs the figures moved from three to four and five. As my right hon. Friend the Minister has quoted from the words of the right hon. Member for South Shields he had in mind five schools which we were discussing. I repeat that I have the impression that if it had been possible earlier in the discussion for my right hon. Friend to have said quite definitely that four schools would come under this provision I believe the discussion would have been much shorter than it was.

Mr. Mellish

Will the hon. Member—

Mr. Ashton

I will give way in a moment.

When the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill" was put I used these words: One of our problems today is that the various Christian denominations cannot get closer together. I do not want to apportion blame in any shape or form. We have these four or five schools; I do not know whether they are Jewish, Church of England, or Roman Catholic, and I do not want to know. If they are on the side of getting a little more help for Church schools I say good luck to them. It is against that background that I voted for this Amendment."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee C, 29th January, 1953; c. 95.] The whole time in the Committee we were concerned with two, three, four or five schools and the suggestion that this would go beyond that never arose. As the right hon. Member for South Shields said, I voted for the Amendment and, therefore, against my right hon. Friend. But there were others on the side of the right hon. Member who spoke very bitterly against any widening of this concession and it seemed to me, listening carefully as I did all the time, that we could not possibly go beyond five schools. I believe that in granting four, as has been said this afternoon, my right hon. Friend has met the views of hon. Members opposite at the time we discussed this on 29th January.

Mr. Mellish

Is the hon. Member really saying to the House that he is not concerned with the principle of the thing and whether it is right or wrong? So long as it is only four schools he agrees, but if it happened to be eight schools he would disagree?

Mr. Ashton

To go back to the fateful conversation of 12th February, if people were not there it would be very difficult indeed to know exactly what passed, and I am not in a position to say. I still maintain that no new features have emerged since the Committee stage; and, actually, during that Committee stage the points now made by the right hon. Gentleman did not embrace much more than four or five schools though today he was not specific on that point. We were concerned, in the Committee, with being quite generous to a small section of schools which fell between two stools.

5.0 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Greenwood (Rossendale)

I think the hon. Member is rather cutting across the point put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish). By what process of reasoning does he arrive at the conclusion that it is wrong to do for eight schools what it would be right to do for four? It is as simple as that.

Mr. Ashton

It is a matter of principle I agree and I will accept that. But hon. Members opposite are not saying, "We have looked at this again. We have further information and, therefore, we are prepared to widen the whole issue." Those arguments have not been adduced. I repeat, I am satisfied that on these five schools had it been possible for my right hon. Friend in the Committee to go so far as she has over the four schools today the position would have been acceptable. That is the impression I carried away from the Committee. It was against that whole background, and as one who is extremely interested in Church schools and has done a certain amount for them, that I thought it right and proper to vote as I did. I think my right hon. Friend has met the position fairly this afternoon.

Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Test)

Hon. Members who sat in the Committee will be deeply disappointed at the speech of the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Ashton). I hope it will not be followed by similar speeches from other hon. Members opposite.

Those of us who followed this Bill through the Committee know how very narrow is the issue with which we are dealing. I think it the duty of those on both sides of the House who supported the majority decision on the Committee to do what they can, not only to persuade other hon. Members, but to persuade the Minister to withdraw her opposition to the Committee's Amendment. I hope we shall confine ourselves now to the exact issue of the Amendment and not become involved in any discussion about the broader question of denominational education. Anyone who would seek to bring in any issue which divides the various denominations in the country would be doing a real disservice to education.

In 1944 we reached a certain compromise which pleased no one with strong convictions. All intelligent people stand by that compromise. What we are now discussing is merely the interpretation of the compromise reached in the 1944 Act and certain slight modifications which Clause 1 makes in the definition which gives practical application to what we decided in 1944. Everyone agrees that whatever we do, regarding Clause 1. with or without the Amendment, there will still be a burden left on the Catholic community. With or without the Amendment, Clause 1 merely gives to the Catholic community a little more financial aid. In the Committee we understood that the Minister had given certain assurances to the Catholic hierarchy, and nothing has happened since to change our minds. These assurances bring in a small group of schools which may have been structurally complete before the Bill receives the Royal Assent and becomes an Act.

Nothing that the Minister has said, either in Committee or this afternoon, has shaken us in the view we took of what she told us in the Committee; that she hoped to bring in the schools for which the Catholics were pleading by some kind of generous interpretation of Clause 1; and she had led the Roman Catholics to believe that by so interpreting Clause 1 she would be able to give them aid for those schools. Again and again in Committee we came back to the Ministerial Minute of the interview between herself and the Catholic hierarchy which took place in February. That contains two important sentences. The first was: The new definition would not be retrospective in the sense that grants on complete projects could be reassessed. Most of us in the House agree with that. The principle of retrospection was rejected on Second Reading. An Amendment to make the provisions of Clause 1 retrospective was ruled out of order in the Committee on the ground that the Money Resolution did not permit of that kind of Amendment. So there is no argument or disagreement between hon. Members on this side of the House and the Minister on the general question of whether Clause 1 should be generally retrospective. If the Amendment which we carried in Committee had sought to make Clause 1 completely retrospective then I, and I am sure many of my hon. Friends, would have voted against it. The Ministerial Minute went on: Grant claims on schemes in progress or for which accounts had not been closed would be eligible for review in the light of the new definition. This was the Minister's own positive suggestion to the Catholic hierarchy. It did not come from them, it came in the first place from the Minister. I say, quite seriously, that I am sorry for the Minister. She took that to mean one thing and it seems that the Catholics took it to mean another thing. She took it to mean that she would try to get out of Clause 1, by a liberal interpretation of it, as much as she could for the benefit of the Catholic community. At the time she probably thought she could get out far more than eventually she found that she could. It would seem she thought that there was no need to tell any of the other interested bodies anything about it. To the Roman Catholics—this is my interpretation of it, and I am not a Roman Catholic—the undertaking or the suggestion that she made at the conference meant a pledge that the schools for which accounts had not been closed would be included and that, if necessary, Clause 1 would be amended to achieve this.

The majority of the Committee took the view that since such an undertaking was given it should be adhered to. I hope the House will support the Committee in that decision. The amount involved is comparatively small. It must be, to come within the terms of the Money Resolution. The number of schools must be known. It is hardly correct to say that we discussed it in Committee on the assumption that there were exactly five schools. We spoke of five or six schools, but the actual number has not even yet been given.

It ought to be possible to name the schools involved. If there is any uneasiness that, having granted the concession for a number of schools, some new kind of interpretation will bring along a chain of other Catholic schools, it would seem to me that the Minister should adopt one of the many helpful suggestions made by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), that if we cannot do it any other way we should put a Schedule in the Bill listing the schools about which we are concerned. No one likes legislating by Schedule, but where any ambiguity might lead to further trouble—and many of us regret that there has been any trouble about this at all— a Schedule of the Catholic schools involved could easily be drawn up, and there would be no doubt about it.

I cannot understand the latest argument of the Minister that she had objections to our Amendment from representatives of bodies outside, on the ground that it violates the spirit of the 1944 Act, and that it is a concession to the Catholics; and then in the same speech she argues that the Amendment means nothing at all and cannot be carried. One of those two arguments surely cannot hold water.

I know that the Catholics would like much more than anything which is given them by the 1944 Act or the Clause or the Amendment which we carried. I know that they will always be seeking to get more from the State in the way of financial support for their schools. I do not blame them for trying, but I think it is true to say that the bulk of the House holds the view that we stand firm by the compromise of 1944 and that all we are discussing today is a generous interpretation of the question of where we are drawing the line about Clause 1. I thought the Minister, having been defeated in Committee, would have left things as they were amended.

If the objections to the Amendment which we have made are technical, legalistic or from a drafting point of view, then by all means let the Minister amend it in any way to secure what the Committee understood we were securing by our Amendment. By all means let us improve the Amendment. But we ask the Minister this afternoon to honour the pledge or the promise which was made to the Catholics, whether we like that pledge or not. If the undertaking which they felt they had obtained from the conversations with the Minister are not honoured by the House, then the Catholic community will feel that they have been deceived.

It seems to me that there has been a misunderstanding in this matter somewhere. It is too late to hold an inquest, but obviously the Amendment which we carried in Committee is consonant with the Money Resolution which binds the whole of the Bill. Obviously it does what the Minister and the Roman Catholics wanted to be done and what the Minister thought could be done by administrative means within the Clause. I believe we could end the debate almost at once if the Minister said she accepted the majority decision of the Standing Committee and withdrew her opposition to the Amendment, or at least undertook to implement the spirit and the principle of what was decided upstairs.

5.15 p.m.

The Solicitor-General

The hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. King) said he thought there had been a misunderstanding, and a misunderstanding which was to be regretted. I am sure the whole House will agree that if there has been a misunderstanding it is to be regretted. If I may say so, I much preferred the approach of the hon. Gentleman to what happened on 12th February to the approach of the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), who I thought spoiled an otherwise notable speech by suggesting that my right hon. Friend had been guilty of a wangle characteristic of her type of mind. Those were his words, and I think they were completely unjustified and unwarranted, and it is a pity that they were uttered.

Mr. Ede

What I said was that what the right hon. Lady had brought forward this afternoon with regard to the four schools was a wangle, not what occurred on 12th February.

The Solicitor-General

Whether it was in relation to what my right hon. Friend said today or in relation to 12th February —and I thought it was in relation to 12th February that the right hon. Gentleman made that observation—I still think it was a very deplorable observation. The right hon. Gentleman delivered to us a lecture on the Education Act, 1944, and I must admit that I did not feel very much the better for it. The right hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) said we always feel better after lectures, and I am glad it has that effect on him, but I certainly do not desire in any way myself to indulge in a lecture upon this matter. It is a serious matter and I ask the House to consider it with as little heat and as little emotion as possible.

We know what were the proposals embodied in Section 104 of the 1944 Act. It is common ground that the Minister under that Section has power to make a grant only in relation to a proposed school which is to accommodate displaced pupils within the meaning of the definition contained in that Section. This is common ground. The right hon. Member for South Shields has said—and I do not think he dissents from it today —that he is not in favour of making this Clause retrospective. That has been said many times.

What is meant by saying that these proposals should not be retrospective? It must be—and I think we are on common ground here—that the wish on both sides of the House is that these proposals should not be applied to schools which are already established, because if they are already established they cannot be proposed schools. We are therefore faced with this: the right hon. Gentleman's view and my right hon. Friend's view, and the view of the majority of hon. Members, is that this Clause, whatever else it does, must not be retrospective—that is to say, it must not take into its scope established schools.

Mr. Logan

The hon. and learned Member speaks about retrospection. He must be fully aware that it was out of consideration for the concessions which were promised that this matter was dropped. We came to no agreement, but the Committee and the Members of the body who were in the House were of the firm opinion that concessions were likely to be granted and that, therefore, instead of widening the issue we should drop the question of retrospection. I was opposed to that decision and am still opposed to it. I believe the word should have been inserted. We should not then have had the difficulty. The hierarchy were fully agreed not to have it in the Bill so as to avoid controversy and, by agreement, to get the Measure through; but the right hon. Lady has not made the concessions.

The Solicitor-General

That was more in the nature of a speech than a question which I should answer, but I hope to be able to deal with the point during my speech. One thing at least is clear —that my right hon. Friend made it abundantly clear from the beginning that her proposals did not involve making this Clause retrospective in the sense of applying to established schools. I do not think the right hon. Member for South Shields would suggest that the contrary was ever said by her. That was the governing phrase of the memorandum to which he referred.

Mr. Ede

Would the hon. and learned Gentleman give a definition of what he regards as an established school, because there is no definition in the law.

The Solicitor-General

I will try to deal with all those points in due course.

Mr. L. M. Lever (Manchester, Ardwick)

Nor is there any reference to established schools.

The Solicitor-General

We cannot all speak at once. I am trying to present an argument to which I hope the hon. Member will pay some attention. This Clause is based on Section 104 of the 1944 Act which relates only to schools which are proposed to be established, whatever that may mean. It certainly does not mean a school which is already established, a school which is already functioning as a school. Therefore, I am glad to carry the House with me.

Then, we come to the proposal as it came before the Committee. The Clause of the Bill as originally drafted merely expanded the definition of "displaced pupils" so as to enable my right hon. Friend to make grants in cases where, under the 1944 Act, she would not have had the power to do so. Anyone reading Clause 1 as it was originally introduced would see that that was the sole effect of that Clause, and the Clause was so drafted as to contain the words the expression 'displaced pupils' shall, in relation to a proposed school, include pupils"— and so on. Those words "in relation to a proposed school" come straight from and refer back to Section 104 of the 1944 Act, and there is nothing in Section 104 which relates to any other type of school than a proposed school.

I want to bring the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to this point. Whether the words of this Amendment are left out or remain in the Bill, in my view, and in the view of my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General, it would not be possible, if the Clause is left in its present form, for my right hon. Friend to make grants in respect of any school to which she could not make grants under the Clause as it was originally presented.

Mr. Hale

The quotation from the Minister, in the statement to the Catholic hierarchy, opens with these words: Grant claims on schemes in progress or for which accounts had not been closed would be eligible for review in the light of the new definition. That either means something or it does not, and precisely those words are the words we put in the Bill. Could we be told if the Minister meant what she said, and if these same words now in the Bill do not now mean what she then meant?

The Solicitor-General

I wish the hon. Gentleman would allow me to make my own speech, instead of trying to induce me to make another speech, which he probably thinks he could do better. I am dealing with what this Clause, as it now stands, does or does not do.

The inclusion of the words now in the Bill, which were inserted in the Standing Committee, adds nothing to the effect of the Bill, and the deletion of those words takes nothing away from the effect of the Bill; that is to say, they are completely inoperative. It would not have been necessary for my right hon. Friend to move this Amendment at all, and she said that. The right hon. Gentleman seemed at one part of his speech very much to doubt that, but I am sure the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) will agree with me that it was right that the Government should inform the House that, in fact, these words are inoperative, because many people, on reading this Bill alone and not in relation to the 1944 Act, might well have got a completely erroneous impression as a result.

Mr. Mellish


The Solicitor-General

I should like to be able to finish my speech, because I have given way a good deal, and I shall probably give way again in future. I want to stress this point. As far as the operative effect of the Amendment is concerned, leaving these words in or taking them out will not affect the operation of the Bill. At the same time, I hope I can carry the hon. Member for Oldham, West with me in saying that we do take some pride in securing that we shall not send out Bills from this House containing words that are meaningless—

Mr. Stokes

We do not always achieve that object.

The Solicitor-General

It may be that we do not always achieve our object, but we do try to make our Bills convey their meaning clearly.

On those grounds, I suggest to the House that it would be right and proper to delete these particular words which were inserted during the Committee stage. The right hon. Gentleman made great play with the five schools or the four schools, and the hon. Gentleman behind him said, "If four, why not eight?" Of course, one is faced with this proposition. If we are all agreed that retrospection must not take place, then we cannot enlarge the operation of this Clause so as, in fact, to achieve retrospective effect. As I understand it, from a reading of the right hon. Gentleman's observations in the Committee, and despite what he has said today, he did say then that there was very little between him and my right hon. Friend, and he confined his observations to the five schools.

I understood that, during the Committee proceedings, there was doubt whether certain schools on the border line would come within the scope of this Bill or not, and five schools were mentioned. My right hon. Friend has gone into the matter, and she has said today —and I do not know why the right hon. Gentleman should regard it as in no way a concession—that she is satisfied that the four schools will come within the scope of this Bill as it stands and without the words which the Amendment put in.

Mr. Stokes

Not the same schools.

The Solicitor-General

These words are completely inoperative, but what was not known at the time of the Committee stage was whether these schools come in or not, and that position has been made quite clear.

Mr. Ede

I am very much obliged to the hon. and learned Gentleman. What happened was that I put a Question to the right hon. Lady—a Question for non-oral answer, which appeared in the OFFICIAL REPORT—and in the answer the names of the schools were specifically mentioned. I asked the right hon. Lady how many there were, and she gave me the number and also the names.

The Solicitor-General

My right hon. Friend has gone into the details, and it will be a matter for her, rather than for me. No doubt she will deal with it when she comes to wind up the debate, and the right hon. Gentleman himself will be able to put a question to her, if he so wishes.

The point I am making, and I do stress it, is that this Amendment made in the Committee has absolutely nothing to do with achieving the object which, judging from his speech today, the right hon. Gentleman had in mind. It would need an Amendment of the definition of proposed schools so as to extend that definition to apply to an established school. It would mean giving to the words "proposed school" a retrospective effect which the right hon. Gentleman himself has said is not what he desires. The right hon. Gentleman really cannot have it both ways. If the right hon. Gentleman wants the Clause to be so amended to include schools in respect of which all the building accounts have not been paid, all I can tell him is that it will mean and must mean an alteration of the meaning of "proposed school" to make it apply to schools which are already established because building accounts may come in a long time after the school is functioning. That would mean that he would achieve retrospective effect which, I gather from him, is the last thing he desires.

In conclusion, I would point out that my right hon. Friend, as her speech has shown, has given most careful consideration to all the views expressed during the Committee stage, particularly in relation to this small number of six which was mentioned at that time. She has said what, in her view, is the meaning that should be attached to the phrase "proposed school." In resisting the further extension, she is merely carrying out what she said originally and what was agreed, that this Amendment to Section 104 should not have retrospective effect. It is for those reasons that I invite the House, when it reaches its ultimate decision, to accept this Amendment and thereby improve the drafting of this Bill by taking out all unnecessary and inoperative words.

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