§ Amendment proposed: In page 1, line 16, leave out from first "school," to "include," in line 17.—[Miss Horsbrugh.]
§ Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill."
§ 5.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Logan
I do not want to go into past questions in dealing with the Bill because I am anxious for a settlement in conformity with the views of the Committee appointed to deal with the matter. If the word of the House of Commons is worth anything, some notice should be taken of decisions arrived at by the Committee which was appointed by the Government to consider the matter, particularly when the Government have power to ensure that the Committee is weighted with their own Members.
1456 Pressure was brought upon me to go into the Whips Office of the Tory Party to change an Amendment that we had down, and to accept a Tory Amendment, in order to have their support on the Scurr Amendment. That night the Government were defeated by 33. We do not want anything of that kind again, but hon. Members on the Government side cannot get away from their responsibility. As we threw harsh words at the Labour Party for their handling of the education question at one time, we must throw hard remarks at Government supporters now if we do not get attention from them. This is not a game of shillyshally but an earnest business. There is a dual system in existence in England. Hon. Members may be anti-Catholic, anti-Church of England or anti-Jewish, but that does not matter. The dual system is the law of the land and we are entitled, as loyal citizens to receive the fullest attention.
We do not come here to apologise. We come here with equal rights to demand things that are really ours. We know that the jury of the House of Commons will give attention to what is fair and honest, and I dare to appeal to hon. Members on both sides of the House to end this discussion. I have read that when the Tory Party got into office they were going to do everything possible to get us out of this difficulty. They stated their point of view. "Retrospective" they did not want, and "substantial" the Party Secretary was not able to interpret. Now we hear that the Minister who herself introduced the Bill, did not know what she was doing. It has remained for the Solicitor-General to come along and put the matter right.
If we were outside, as playboys, and not in the British House of Commons, I could understand that these difficulties might arise. I have known the Solicitor-General for many years, and I know that it is not beyond his capacity to get the Minister out of her dilemma; but surely it is possible to redraft the wording that is in question. We are told that it concerns five schools, but the agitation was not over five schools but on the question of the millions of pounds that had to be found. We accepted what we thought was a reasonable concession, though it came along late in the day from all who are concerned in this matter in the House of Commons.
1457 5.45 p.m.
I know what religious intolerance means. One could not live in the City of Liverpool without knowing what it means. In the House of Commons during the last 20-odd years I have found much more tolerance. There ought to be a spirit of equality, because we are only demanding justice. We do not want any more than other people are getting. We want fair play. We claim the right as citizens to come to the House of Commons and get a square, honest deal.
The Government are getting off very easily. We could not have a "Sunderland" miracle but we could upset this country if we wanted agitation. We depend upon a reasonable spirit in this House, and we hope that the "and" feeling will disappear. We ought not to be begging in the House of Commons in regard to legislation. Scotland has free education and that system would be good enough for us. We are not asking for that, but just for a small measure. I appeal to the Solicitor-General to say that the Minister made a mistake out of the goodness of her heart because she was anxious to solve a difficulty, but she put herself in a hole. Why do we have legal men? Surely when anyone is in a hole he or she goes to the legal authority and the lawyer gets them out of any hole.
I ask the Solicitor-General for the sake of concord and amity and the promises made, and for the sake of hon. Members opposite who voted in the Committee upstairs in favour of the point which I am putting, to take this Clause back and have it redrafted in consonance with the views of the House and to let us have an agreed Measure that will bring gladness to the hearts of the people in this Coronation year.
§ Mr. Ian Horobin (Oldham, East)
I was one of the hon. Members of the Committee that dealt with this Bill, and one of those who voted against the Minister. In a matter as important as this, I cannot feel that one has any right to change one's expressed opinion after long and careful debate unless one is satisfied that some new point or some new argument justifies it; otherwise our operations upstairs are a waste of time. I am not a Roman Catholic, but so far from that making it less important to me to treat 1458 this matter with the care that it deserves, it makes it more important, because to some extent those of us who are keen on Anglican Church schools can look at this matter a little more impartially than can our Roman Catholic friends, who feel so passionately about it, as we have heard in the speech of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Scotland (Mr. Logan).
So far, I find myself in an extremely difficult position. I hope that this will not sound unfair or impertinent on my part, but I do not see how anyone can feel that this matter has been handled with all the skill and circumspection with which such delicate negotiations should have been handled. There surely must be something wrong if a very large number of loyal members of the Conservative Party, after long discussions upstairs, should feel that they are not quite satisfied that the Minister has done what— perhaps mistakenly but in obvious good faith—such a responsible body of men as the Roman Catholic hierarchy thought that she was going to do and thought they had been told that she was going to do.
Perhaps it might restore the party balance if I told hon. Members opposite that none of this difficulty would have arisen if they had taken the opportunity to introduce a Measure of this kind whilst they were in power, because it all dates back to the Selborne Amendment in another place, which had an effect which nobody at the time thought that it would have. I go no further than to say that if this Measure had been introduced when the party opposite were in power none of these difficulties would have arisen; I have to say that because we must preserve a sense of proportion.
It is necessary to be a little precise in the difficulty with which we are faced, and, oddly enough, some of the remarks of the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) seemed to me to tell against the arguments which he was presenting to the House. The crucial point is whether the Minister—and nobody thinks it was in bad faith—misled the hierarchy. It is not disputed that she asserted to them that grant claims on schemes in progress or in respect of which accounts are still open should qualify, and similar words were used by an official of the Ministry regarding "schools for which accounts had not been formally closed."
1459 As I understand the Minister's case today on this point, it is that, in Ministry parlance "accounts" have nothing to do with building accounts at all. The Ministry are not concerned with building accounts, which are paid by the managers and the trustees to the contractors. Therefore, when the Ministry talk about "accounts being closed" those words, in Ministry parlance, are convertible with "grant negotiations being settled."
I would remind the House that that was not the case put to us upstairs. One of the difficulties in this matter is that we seem to get a different presentation every time somebody gets up to make it clearer. I submit that this case for this Clause was not the case that was put upstairs. That, of course, does not prevent it from being a valid case. I hope that whoever winds up the debate for the Government will be able to help those hon. Members who have not made up their minds whether they can honestly reverse their vote upstairs. The spokesman for the Government can help by informing us whether the Government can give evidence to justify the statement now made for the first time—which appears to outsiders to be odd—that the Ministry use the words "closing the account" as a matter of course to mean settling the final amount of grant to be paid.
Some remarks made by the right hon. Member for South Shields, strangely enough, lent some support to that view, because he seemed to be arguing at considerable length that one would have to keep the settlement of grant open for a surprisingly long time because one would not know how many children were to come to the school and whether they would come in circumstances which would enable a grant to be paid in respect of them. He suggested that that state of affairs would exist for a long time before the amount of grant was settled. Therefore, a considerable part of what the right hon. Gentleman said seemed to lend some support to the Minister's contention that there is, as it were, a grant account which some day has to be closed, and that what the Minister was talking about all the time was a grant account and had nothing to do with the buildings.
If we can be shown that that is a fair statement of the Ministry's practice, I feel 1460 that there is something new which has been said today which disposes of at least the point that the hierarchy were completely misled; because if that is a fair statement of the case, the Minister has done or is in process of doing all that she ever promised or suggested that she would do. We need not go into the formal point of whether it was a promise or a suggestion, because if that is the case the Bill as drafted is doing all that she suggested, and all schools whose accounts have not been closed, in the sense that they were grant accounts, will in fact benefit.
I hope that it is not an unreasonable request that we be given some support for the view that this is normal Ministry practice and that, therefore, there has been a genuine misunderstanding.
§ Mr. Horobin
I entirely agree, and I said that I could not feel that these negotiations had been handled as satisfactorily as they should have been. At least we have discovered a new argument, put forward for the first time today, which might weigh with some of those Members who had not been convinced by the arguments which we heard upstairs.
There is one further point which, I am afraid, appears to be rather unfortunate for a Member on this side of the House to have to make against his own Minister. I have the greatest regard for her, but I find it extremely difficult to know exactly upon what the Ministry found their case in objecting to the Amendment as it stands, because we have heard three entirely different objections to it. First, we heard that it is unworkable. If that is true, at this stage it is a sufficient ground for asking us not to accept the Amendment, but it has not been explained why it is unworkable, and the main argument which was advanced upstairs has been almost completely thrown over today.
The second objection was that it is inoperative and will not have any effect one way or the other. Using that argument—and I think she should carry 1461 reasonable Members on both sides of the House with her—the Minister said that it would not be honest of her to say nothing and have the Bill passed with a completely inoperative form of words which would make her treatment of the hierarchy even worse than it was before. They would say, "First you leave us in confusion about the meaning of the word 'accounts'; then you accept an Amendment, passed over your head, and you tell us afterwards that it does not mean anything."
Most people would agree that it would have been unfair of her to accept the Amendment if she were founding her case on the ground that it was inoperative. She has warned us that in her opinion it does not do what the hierarchy think it would, and she has relieved her conscience. If it is a fact that it is inoperative I cannot see why those of us who voted in favour of it upstairs should be put in an awkward position by voting the opposite way.
The third ground of objection was put upstairs and also in conversations which we have all had with the Minister. We were told that so far from it being unworkable or inoperative it would be so retrospective that it would bring in all the schools that had been built by the Catholics since 1944. It has been said, "We are willing to try to squeeze in three or four schools if we can, but we are so afraid that both the education authorities and people who are not interested in schools will make this a casus belli that we must not pass it in its present form because it will be strongly objected to by people who hate all retrospection."
I wish the retrospection had been complete. I think it is a pity that all these schools did not receive a grant from the time they were built, but that is not the view of everybody, and any reasonable Member would think it disastrous to get into a sectarian squabble on this issue. It has been strongly represented to some of us that the real objection to this Clause is that practically none of the schools has closed its building accounts and. therefore, if every school whose building accounts are not closed was to get the grant, practically all the schools built since 1944 would be eligible and there would be a violent objection from other interests.
1462 We have had all these quite different grounds of objection to the Clause as it now stands, and if I am so confused on the matter I can quite understand why the Catholic hierarchy might be a little confused about what happened at meetings when I was not present. I find it very difficult to know how I can justify to myself altering the decision I made upstairs. I want to do so; no reasonable party man wants to continue to oppose a Ministry; but I am not yet satisfied that ordinary people would have thought that references to "accounts" were to be converted to the sense of closing grant negotiations. This is the first time that that has been suggested.
Secondly, I am very puzzled why the Minister so dislikes these words, in view of the fact that we have had three entirely different reasons advanced against them. I have not made up my mind about this matter. I hope I can support the Minister, but so far I feel that the case has not been sufficiently made out to allow me to reverse the decision which I took upstairs.
§ Mr. Mellish
The whole House will probably agree that the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Horobin) has made a very fine speech. It takes some courage to stand up and tell one's own Minister that one is not satisfied with her explanation. The hon. Member said it in a very nice way, but what he meant was thai he thought the Minister of Education was incompetent—and it appears to me that she is, because the whole argument put forward by the hon. Member for Oldham, East shows quite clearly the complete confusion into which we have been thrown, both upstairs in Committee and on the Floor of the House today.
I am glad that the Leader of the House was here while the hon. Member for Oldham, East was speaking on this matter. The trouble arose upstairs in connection with an Amendment which I moved. I moved it in a friendly and amicable way. I was desperately anxious that this Amendment should not give rise to any religious feelings and I wanted to avoid all political and religious controversy. I appealed to the Minister to accept the Amendment, but at the very last moment she put forward an argument which resulted in the whole Committee getting mixed up.
1463 First, she said that the wording of the Amendment was no good. I then begged her to find words which would be suitable, and offered to withdraw the Amendment if she would undertake to do so. Then she said that the words would involve retrospection. We had a discussion about that and it looks as if we shall have to go over that again. I have tried to convince her that the Catholic hierarchy never considered any question of retrospection.
She now tells us, at this late stage, that it was not building accounts that she had in mind but other accounts. We have had no intimation of any kind that on the 12th February, 1952, when the Minister said:… 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,the Catholic hierarchy understood that she was not referring to building accounts. This seems to be a last minute discovery by the Minister.
She seems to be saying, "This is the way out; this is how I can get out of the difficulty, by trying to cloud the issue." My right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) was justified when he said that there had been some form of wangle about this, because this latest argument is a wangle, and it has confused us all. It is most unfair that it should be produced now.
I want to deal with the question of retrospection, and what that word is understood to mean by those who are attached to the Catholic faith. I could argue the case for retrospection back to 1944, because this Bill is amending the Act of 1944, and what we describe as an anomaly in that Act. This Bill alters the definition—and we are grateful for the action which the Minister has taken in that respect—but we have never asked that all schools built since 1945 should qualify for the grant. That has never been suggested by the hierarchy. We should have liked it, but it has never been suggested.
We are asking her to include those schools whose accounts were not closed at the time of the drafting of this Bill. She has put them in tremendous difficulties. All through the proceedings on this Bill they have been completely non- 1464 political, as they have had every right to be. The question of this definition of accounts and of the closing down of the accounts did not arise until after Second Reading, because they believed, quite rightly, that the Minister was going to keep her word.
She put the Parliamentary Secretary up to make a speech. What a bright speech that was. He got us all completely confused, except on one point. The one thing he was quite clear about was that the assurances given on 12th February to the hierarchy were not going to be carried out. On that, they had no alternative but to write to the Minister and ask her whether she meant to keep what they regarded as the pledge of 12th February, 1952. In effect she told them, no, she could not do it. So they had no alternative but to contact hon. Members on both sides of the House, in equal numbers on both sides, to tell them what the position was. That was why, during the Committee stage, we introduced the Amendment.
There has been no competence shown here. The least we can charge the Minister with is incompetence. After all, whose job is it to get the schools? Whose job is it to find out about the schools? It is the Minister's job to send her minions out to get the information for her. I think, and I think my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields will agree, that the Minister forgot what she said on that 12th February. I think she forgot what she had said and was bewildered when she got the correspondence afterwards reminding her of what she had said. Then she had to justify herself, and she made a hopeless mess of it. She made about five speeches on the subject, in every one giving different reasons.
As the hon. Gentleman the Member for Oldham, East has said, we were all so confused by the Minister that there was no alternative for us but to put down the Amendment. This made the position of those handling the case for the Catholic schools an extremely difficult one. They were accused of bad faith by certain people, whereas, of course, it is the Minister who has been responsible for the whole of this trouble. Had she handled the matter aright, on Second Reading, instead of putting up the Parliamentary Secretary, she would have 1465 said what it was she proposed to do, and what it was she could not agree to do, and she would have had negotiations, and the thing would have been settled. But she did not do that. She ran away from it. She got frightened, and she confused everybody, including herself. That is why we are in the position in which we are today.
We are all desperately anxious to avoid religious recrimination. We do not want to drag in the background of yesterday. We want tolerance. We do not want to go into the question of how much the Catholics ought to have. That was settled in 1944. All parties agreed to that, and all paid tribute to the Catholics for what they did. They all pay tribute to the Catholics at Election time. I do not know why. I suppose it is because they think there is such a thing as the Catholic vote. One cannot blame the Catholic Church for seeking this assistance because it has incurred tremendous liabilities, and even this small concession would mean a tremendous difference, and lighten the burden which the Catholics are bearing. Every diocese today has had to impose a penalty on every Catholic for the building of new schools. Every diocese today is asking Catholics to make a contribution, and a bigger contribution, for the school funds.
We are told that if we were ever to attempt to come to this House to interfere with the 1944 Act we should arouse religious feeling and upset everybody. If justice requires to be done to the Catholics or to any denomination they have a right to come to the House and ask for that justice to be done, no matter what feelings that may arouse. It is a shocking thing to be told, "You may be right, but you must not do or say anything or you will cause trouble and arouse feelings." If there is justice to be done it should be done, whether it is for the Catholics, the coalminers or anyone else.
Now we are told that the Amendment would be unworkable and inoperable It was the Minister's duty, knowing it was unworkable and inoperable, to put down an Amendment that would be workable and operable. She did not do it. She had no intention of doing it. She rides off on the fact that four schools will qualify for grant. She brings up the Solicitor-General to help get her out of the trouble, but he 1466 made no practical contribution, because he fell back on the argument of retrospection, which is quite irrelevant because it does not arise.
The Minister failed to carry out the spirit of what she said she would do. She gave an assurance to the hierarchy and failed to negotiate with the other bodies, and having failed to negotiate with the other bodies she lacked the courage, on the Committee stage, to say that what she had proposed was right and that she would do it. She was afraid of arousing antagonism.
It is not retrospection back to 1945 for which we are asking. We are not asking that every school which did not get grant shall get it now. The feelings aroused on Second Reading were aroused because it was thought it was that for which we were asking, and it was about that that the Parliamentary Secretary made so much play. All we are asking for is that those schools whose accounts, at the time of the passing of this Bill, have not been closed, although they may be established and maintained by local authorities, shall qualify for this grant. I do not think that the Free Churches or anyone else will say that that is unfair.
The Minister is incompetent. She has failed to redeem a legitimate pledge. She stands condemned. The Committee upstairs spent two full mornings discussing this matter. The Minister has said nothing to alter the facts. I ask the House to confirm what the Committee said, and to make sure that the Minister now shall make the necessary Amendment, or arrange for it to be made in another place.
§ Mr. Philip Bell (Bolton, East)
Whenever education is debated in this House, all over the House pop up a lot of Catholics like so many Oliver Twists, elderly Olivers sometimes, and sometimes rather excited Olivers, who feel very anxious for tolerance except when it comes to saying something about the Minister, and they all want more. It is difficult to blame them. The reason for this Amendment in the Committee was that they wanted to get a little more. They thought they would get a little more grant for a few more schools.
Indeed, the whole point of this Bill is to get more money. If this Bill is not passed a great number of schools will not 1467 get the benefit which they were meant to get under the 1944 Act. That is where the trouble starts. It did not start in the Committee upstairs. It started because in 1944 this House dealt with the question of displaced pupils in an ordinary, sensible way. Indeed, it was an Amendment brought forward by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) that set the standard of how to test who was a displaced pupil.
He was so glib and critical of its draftsmanship when the Bill came back from the House of Lords. He did not then say that he did not understand why they had altered it. He sent it on with his blessing. Now if the right hon. Lady makes a mistake he is very critical. But a bigger mistake was made by the right hon. Gentleman in 1944, and if it had been discovered then we should not have had all this sound and fury now.
§ Mr. Bell
I said that there were some who were asking for money, and they were expressing the Catholic point of view.
There has been a lot of talk about retrospection. I am in favour of retrospection. I do not understand all this business about retrospection because in this case it does not touch the 1944 Act as it was meant to be. Of course it touches it as it has turned out to be. That was because no one discovered the effect of that Amendment in the Lords. This retrospection has to go back to the re-settlement of 1944.
The then Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education, after careful consultation with the bodies concerned, put forward an Amendment in 1944. Was that not agreed by all denominational representatives? Did they not all accept that displaced pupils should be on that basis? If they accepted it in 1944, is it suggested now that they are going to repudiate their words?
1468 Is it said now that, "It is true that in 1944 we agreed to that, but by a mistake you did not get what was intended with regard to displaced pupils, and we will never let you get back to 1944. We will keep to our legal rights as they existed in the 1944 Act and we will not allow you what you should have got in the 1944 Act"?
Then there is the other objection about the administrative possibilities. It is said that it is impossible to go in for retrospection because of our difficulty. I do not understand that. It is said that there are difficulties about it. At St. Osmond's School in Bolton, which was finished in 1951, I am told by the headmaster that of 263 pupils 218 of them qualified under the old Bill as displaced pupils. They did not all come from one place but they all came from one area. It is said that there cannot be retrospection in that case. I do not know why it cannot be done. It could, indeed, have been done in 1951 or possibly in 1950.
When we consider these things we should not talk as if the whole world is quite as simple as we imagine. It was in 1922 that this House passed, without dissent, a Motion which was proposed by the late Mr. T. P. O'Connor and seconded by the late Mr. Sydney Webb, as he then was. This House then resolved that the present system of imposing on the Catholics in England the burden of building their own schools was contrary to religious and economic freedom. It is, however, one thing to pass a Resolution and another to include it in a Bill. It took some time to satisfy people that some capital grants should be made to church schools.
After 1922, the income position was more or less just and fair, but with regard to the capital position the country would not stand for it. Look at the other side of the picture—the black side of the penny. A memorandum issued by the Trade Union Congress in 1936 said:They should be incorporated in the State system except in so far as denominations themselves may be able and willing to bear the whole cost of their separate institutions.In 1946, for the first time, in a limited sense, a capital payment was allowed. In view of that record, the Minister, in 1944, in considering the 1944 Act, had to tread very carefully. People were still demanding that no capital grant should be made 1469 to the church schools. The extensions made in the Act were small, they were qualified, and they were not easy to understand. That was the position with which the Minister had to deal.
A lot has been said today about what the Minister might do and a good deal less has been said about what the Opposition might have done. What we are discussing is a particular Amendment and the particular wording of that Amendment in the Bill which is before the House. It must be difficult for hon. Members, even when they are not making their own private jokes, to know what this is all about without a copy of the 1944 Act. No one seems to have looked at Section 104, although many hon. Members have been talking about it. When we consider the words to be inserted in the new Bill we must refer back to Section 104.
It is very important to look at that Section. The Section, as the Solicitor-General said, contains the words dealing with the power to make grants:… if the Minister is satisfied that although the proposed school will not be in substitution for one or more discontinued schools, yet the establishment thereof is wholly or partially due to the need of providing education for a substantial number of displaced pupils, he may by order certify as expenses …The only words there are "proposed school." There is no Amendment before the House having anything to do with the "proposed school." I wish there were. I wish we were re-defining the "proposed school" to bring in all the church schools which have been built since 1944. It is no good wishing these things; they are not before the House.
The words which have been inserted make complete nonsense. I am not blaming anybody for that. Hon. Members tried to do the best they could in the Committee to get more grants for more schools. The Bill says:… the expression 'displaced pupils' shall, in relation to a proposed school or a school other than a school for which the accounts for building have been closed …The words "accounts for building have been closed" do not appear in Section 104, and so we are referring to something which does not exist to be referred to.
I am a Roman Catholic. I dissociate myself entirely from personal attacks. If we cannot make our case without sneers 1470 and jibes and lack of the charity which we are so ready to preach, let us not make a case. I do not think the situation was handled quite as well as it might have been handled or as well as the 1944 situation might have been handled, but that is not for us to criticise now. What we have to do now is to pass an intelligent Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Old-ham, East (Mr. Horobin) raised several difficulties. Although I respect his opinion and admire his observations, the points which he raised are simply answered. He referred to the use of "unworkable" and alternative words which meant the same thing. Inserting such words will have no legislative effect. He also referred to the matter of the extra schools, and seemed to think that some benefit to four schools would be lost if the words proposed were struck out. I do not believe that that comes into the argument. The sole point is that the words which have been referred to mean nonsense. I am sorry. I want what my hon. Friends want—I want retrospection—but we do not get it by putting in nonsense.
§ Mr. Mellish
Will the hon. and learned Gentleman say what he thinks of a Minister who has allowed these words to remain in the Bill although she knew the intentions of the Committee, and did not herself put down words to make certain that the Clause meant what the Committee wanted it to mean?
§ Mr. Bell
It would be improper for me to express an opinion, at large and not to the issue, and that would reflect little credit upon us. Let us deal with this matter as men and not as children. Let us deal with it as legislators. If we are asked to leave these words in the Bill we should try to satisfy ourselves that they mean something. If they mean nothing, do not let hon. Members disgrace their profession by saying, like spoilt children, that because they have not got what they want they will vote for nonsense.
Although I am in favour of retrospection and would have every school given a grant, I will not misuse language or my judgment by voting for words to remain in a Clause when they mean nonsense. I shall certainly not acquiesce in nonsensical words remaining in a Bill.
§ Mr. L. M. Lever
I am afraid that the discussion this afternoon has increased the confusion about this all-important matter. The issue at this stage is clear. It is whether a Minister who makes a promise should be held to that promise. It is not a matter of Catholics, Protestants. Jews or any particular denomination or section of the community. It is not a question of retrospection or non-retrospection. It is a matter of the Minister adhering tenaciously to the promise which she has made and by which she has bound the Government. If a Minister makes a promise to a responsible authority about a certain matter coming within her Department, it is something to which she should be held.
Many of those who have taken part in the discussion have had very little experience of what is involved and have shown that they know very little about it. It seems to me, however, that the issue is clear. The Minister gave a certain assurance to the hierarchy in February, 1952. If the words which it is now sought to delete were allowed to remain in the Clause, it would not be merely Roman Catholics who would be the sole beneficiaries in regard to displaced pupils; the provision would apply also to Protestants and to any other denomination having displaced pupils at a school whose account had not been closed. There seems to have been some confusion about the effect of its application; the application would be to all denominations.
The fact is that the promise was made to the Catholic hierarchy. It was made to them presumably in good faith, and received by them in good faith, but the fact that the Minister did not refer the question back to the other parties with whom she was in negotiation is not the fault of the hierarchy. The fact that she did not complete the round of discussions can in no way be put at their door.
The pledge was given to the hierarchy at a meeting with the Minister in February, 1952, and it was repeated in a letter dated 19th June, 1952, when an official from the Ministry of Education who was present at that meeting wrote to the Secretary of the Catholic Education Council in these terms:I think what Mr. Leadbetter intended to suggest was that there is clearly a distinction between the Minister's assurance that the pro- 1472 posed new legislation would apply to schools for which the accounts had not been formally closed, and any suggestion that the accounts of a school for displaced pupils should be kept indefinitely in suspense solely in order to qualify for the benefits of the new legislation.The matter of "accounts being closed" is a technical term well known to the Ministry of Education. It is nothing which would allow of any confusion in anyone's mind. Here we have a definite pledge given in those terms.
There is no suggestion of retrospection. I should have liked to see the Bill give full retrospection in order to put the denominational schools in the position they would have enjoyed if the Lords Amendments in 1944 had not been accepted. There seems to have been greater readiness in those days to receive Lords Amendments than there is today. There is confusion in the minds of hon. Members about what retrospection means. It means putting the financial position of the denominational schools in regard to displaced pupils in the position they would have been in if the provision had been included in the 1944 Act which came into operation on 1st April, 1945.
When the question of retrospection came up before the Committee it was ruled out of order. We were told that retrospection was outside the terms of the Money Resolution, but that the question of displaced pupils at schools, the accounts of which had not been closed, and which were in line with the assurance given by the Minister to the hierarchy, were within the terms of the Money Resolution. The gap was narrowed to include those schools whose accounts had not been closed although I should have liked to see full retrospection given in this regard.
Therefore, it is not a question of retrospection but the question of including those schools that were built between the 1st April, 1945—and not all of them— and the coming into operation of this Measure, but whose accounts had not been closed. I feel that the Minister is doing less than justice to herself in not accepting what she must have known, and what the hierarchy felt that the Minister must have known to be within the terms of the proposals. After all, when we are elected to this House we cannot be so ignorant or lacking in knowledge that we do not know what our words mean. When we come to this House, and particularly when we assume Ministerial 1473 responsibility, we should know what our words mean.
I believe the Minister knew what the words meant when she gave that assurance to the hierarchy. I do not think the situation is one which calls for abuse. I think it is one in which an appeal should be made. I want to appeal to the Minister to adhere to the words she spoke to the hierarchy in February, 1952, and which were referred to in the letter from Mr. Leadbetter to the Secretary of the Catholic Education Council. All we are asking her to do is to keep in the Bill the words passed in Committee, not to give retrospection, much as we should like it, but to make the new definition of "displaced pupils "applicable to those schools whose accounts had not been closed.
I feel that the words sought to be deleted are obviously operative words, because if they were not the Minister would not have sought to delete them. I think that the hon. Member for Chelms-ford (Mr. Ashton) is trying to ride two horses at the same time. He says, in the first place, that he is prepared to accept four or five schools whose accounts have not been closed, while at the same time once this provision is deleted he could not even get that. The only way in which we can deal with the firm assurance given by the Minister is by leaving in those words which were approved by all parties in Committee upstairs.
I feel that we should be doing a very great disservice, not only to the Roman Catholic denominational schools but to all denominational schools if we deleted these words, because all the denominational schools which have displaced pupils would suffer in consequence. I appeal to the Minister to withdraw her Amendment which she has moved today. She happens to be one of the Members representing the city of Manchester in this House. We from Manchester know what we mean and mean what we say. I think we can be said to be very "jannock." I am sure that the Minister was "jannock" when she gave the assurance in 1952, and we want her to be "jannock'" today.
I do not wish to accuse the right hon. Lady of bad faith, but I feel that she is greatly confused about the situation, which to a large extent she herself has 1474 produced. I hope that none of us will approach this matter in a spirit of bad blood. What we want her to say is, "Very well, if that is what I was understood to say I shall be a woman of honour and a Minister of honour. I shall do nothing in any way to let down my side and I shall withdraw the Amendment which I have put down and allow the Clause to remain as it was when it was approved by all parties in Committee." I hope it is not too late even at this hour to appeal to the right hon. Lady. I am sure she wants to do her best to keep her assurances. This is a question which has been fraught with a certain amount of controversy throughout the whole of our educational history—in my view needlessly if the approach had been to give justice to the non-provided schools.
It is not too late for her to reply favourably to this appeal, by the right hon. Lady saying to herself, "I have heard what was in the mind of hon. Members opposite I have heard what the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Horobin) has said. I know what the hierarchy took my words to be. I am prepared to be a woman and a Minister who will stake her bond, and thereby enable the Government to allow the Clause to go forward in the way in which it was approved in Committee."
§ Mr. Angus Maude (Ealing, South)
It seems to me that this is one of the least happy debates to which I have listened in this House, and I hesitated for some time before intervening in it, because I have the uncomfortable feeling that the more we discuss this question in the way in which we have been discussing it, the more damage we may well do to the cause of religious education in this country, which nearly all of us have very warmly at heart. There seem to me to be two or three strands woven together in this discussion. There is obviously the religious strand, obviously the political one, and there is at the same time the very detailed and technical question of what would be the result of leaving this Clause, as amended, in Committee, as it is, or of accepting the Amendment which reverses the Amendment moved in Committee.
The hon. Member for Ardwick (Mr. L. M. Lever) was clearly in some confusion on the last point, because it makes no difference whatever whether 1475 my right hon. Friend is keeping her word, whether she is carrying out her alleged undertaking to the Roman Catholic hierarchy, or whether the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) insists on dividing the House on the present Amendment; for, as my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General said, the words as they are are inoperative. They add nothing and their removal will take nothing away. As I remember it, this point was clearly recognised in Committee, as I think those who were in Committee with me will agree.
§ Mr. Maude
The hon. Member disagrees, but I do not think he could have been attending very closely to our debates at the time. As I understood it—and I was there throughout every minute of our discussion and I spoke—the Amendment was put forward by the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) in order to get on record some form of words which would leave the question open and enable a drafting discussion later to take place which would secure a form of words which would be operative. That implication is very clear, I think, if we read the words of the right hon. Member for South Shields when he was speaking on the Motion "That the Clause stand part of the Bill." There really is no question whether we believe that the Clause as amended in Committee does what it is sought to do. It does not. We can surely start from that and then see whether or not anything else could have been done.
It has been said, I think by the hon. Member for Bermondsey—I am sorry he is not here, because I thought that his was one of the least happy contributions to the debate on this rather delicate subject that I could imagine—that it is not the duty of anybody else, of any private Member or of the leaders of the Opposition, to produce a form of words which will do this thing. He said that it is the duty of the Government, of the Minister, her advisers and the Law Officers to produce the form of words which will cover it. That is only partly true.
I would have said that that raises very much the same sort of difficulty, with which we are all familiar, in the case of 1476 the grievance of the retailers over reductions in Purchase Tax and the Report of the Hutton Committee. The Government have said in that case, "We know of no way by which we can do what it is sought to do. If anybody produces a suggestion, we will consider it and discuss it, and if it is technically possible we will bring it into law."
§ Mr. Maude
So far, I do not understand that it is the view of the Government or of anyone else that a form of words has been suggested and produced which will cover this limited point without going back to full retrospection, which we are clearly agreed is impossible. When it was sought in Committee upstairs to move an Amendment which would introduce full retrospection, it was quite clearly ruled by the Chair that that was out of order as not being within the terms of the Money Resolution. I cannot for the life of me see how we can be in order in discussing the merits or otherwise of full retrospection on this limited Amendment on the Report stage. So we leave that out.
The point is: Can we find some form of words which will cover a number of schools, which at first it was thought might be two or three, then three or four, then five or six, and now perhaps 12 or 15, without altering the definition of a proposed school, not only thus altering the meaning of Section 104 of the 1944 Act but also, as I understand it, making consequential and associated changes in other Sections of the 1944 Act? The answer which I have gathered to that is, no, we cannot. I have not yet heard any hon. Member on either side of the House suggest that that can be done.
§ Mr. N. H. Lever (Manchester, Cheetham)
Would the hon. Member help those of us who are not so familiar with the details of this Bill as he is? Where does he get the impression that he has just indicated to the House, that it is impossible to provide a form of words which would bring about the object desired by the Committee, on the merits which we have been discussing this afternoon?
§ Mr. Maude
I am not refusing; I will give way to the hon. Gentleman later, but I must be allowed to develop this argument because it is a somewhat complicated matter. No doubt, the hon. Gentleman will get a chance to speak again later.
It is clear to me, and I would have thought to most hon. Members, that it is quite out of the question to go beyond the original arrangements, beyond the original purpose of this Bill, and to amend the definition of a proposed school in Section 104 of the 1944 Act.
My right hon. Friend was accused by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Horobin) of having confused the minds of the Committee—not quite of having misled the Committee, but very nearly so. Hon. Members opposite and those who represent, as they are rightly entitled to, the interests of the Roman Catholic Church, should consider this factor: I would have thought that the difficulty in which my right hon. Friend now finds herself is due in very large measure to the lengths to which she has gone throughout this business in order to try to find a method by which this concession could be made.
As I say, I was present through the sittings of the Committee and I have heard nearly all the debate today. I feel that if, at the outset, when this proposition was made that these extra schools should be taken in, my right hon. Friend had said "No, I will not do it. I do not want to do it. I would regard that as something which fell outside the understanding that I have with all the religious bodies," and had then advised her hon. Friends on this side of the House to vote against the proposition in Committee, I am perfectly certain that the Amendment would have been defeated and, in fact, nobody on this side of the 1478 House would have supported the Amendment.
What she has consistently said throughout is that she was anxious, if possible, to find a method by which this could be done, and she has tried to keep this matter open for as long as possible. I give full credit to her good faith in this matter. I think that she has tried very hard to do it. No solution, so far as I understand it, has been found. Therefore, let us come to the quite limited point at which we now find ourselves. Are we going to leave in this Bill as amended in Committee a form of words which means nothing and which can add nothing to the original Bill, or are we going to leave it out?
§ Mr. Maude
If I understand the purport of the sedentary remarks of the hon. Gentleman, they are not really relevant. Of course, a form of words which means nothing, means nothing irrespective of the merits of any proposition at all. If words mean nothing, the merits of the proposition which they may have originally purported to implement are quite irrelevant.
§ Mr. Maude
I think I can save the hon. Gentleman an interjection. I think that what he is really trying to say—and I was coming on to this point, because it is really the key point of this matter as I see it—is that supposing we vote in favour of my right hon. Friend's Amendment and we strike these meaningless words out of the Bill, ought we then to try something further to get it done? It is perfectly clear that a majority—I would go so far as to say quite a large majority —of the Members of Standing Committee "C" who discussed this matter were of the opinion that something should be done, though I would add—and this to me is not unimportant—that it is not irrelevant how many schools are involved in it. The suggestion that while it may be right to do a thing for five schools, it is wrong to do it for 15, is not quite such an unreasonable proposition as the hon. Gentleman suggested.
§ 7.0 p.m.1479
§ Mr. Maude
No doubt the right hon. Gentleman is extremely familiar with the arguments of housemaids, but I cannot follow him. It is a relevant argument. Quite apart from the fact that there is obviously an important financial consideration involved, there are two others. The further we go, the more schools we bring within it, of course the further we go towards the limit of complete retrospection which we have from the beginning ruled out.
The last point I want to make, which I want earnestly and sincerely to impress upon the House, brings me back to the sentences with which I opened my speech. I have always thought that we are now coming to a point where we may look forward with some confidence to an increasing toleration throughout the country among all sections, religious or non-religious, for the principle of religious education.
When we look back over the history of this matter, starting from 1870 and coming, as it were, to the boil in 1902, the 1944 settlement was not a bad one. It was almost certainly the best that the voluntary schools could have hoped to achieve at that time. Now the situation has eased a little. Hon. and right hon. Members on both sides of the House, belonging to all churches or to none, can take some credit for having helped to bring about that state of affairs. There is a greater atmosphere of toleration, but I do not think that the events connected with Clause 1 of this Bill have helped to give us any hope that this atmosphere will continue.
§ Mr. Maude
Because there has always been a feeling among those who are, let us say, opposed to the claims of the Roman Catholics or of the Church of England, that if they made a concession they could never be certain that it was the limit of what would be claimed in the immediate dispute at issue. In my view it is foolish to ignore the psychological atmosphere in a dispute of that kind, to ignore the feeling which arises in the minds of Nonconformists and of various other people who may be members of no church at all.
When I spoke in Committee on the Motion "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," I ventured to say that while I thought it was fantastic to argue that, if 1480 we gave way on five schools the whole basis of the agreement between the religious bodies would be destroyed, it was equally fantastic to argue that if we could not find a method of getting these few schools within the ambit of the Bill, it was worthless. Do, for goodness' sake, let us try to realise what a great gain this Bill, if it goes through even without this concession, will be to the voluntary schools. It will make an enormous difference now and in the future. It will be a great gain.
Listening to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields, I thought the political element was dominant in his mind. If, for largely political reasons, we try to force an issue and bring about a division among us here, everybody who has the interests of the voluntary schools and of religious education at heart may live bitterly to regret this day.
§ Mr. Morley
I rise to support the Amendment moved by the Minister this afternoon. Clause 1 of this Bill, as originally drafted, was in almost complete agreement with the suggestions put forward by the late George Tomlinson for the improvement of Section 104 of the principal Act which dealt with displaced children. If Clause 1 had remained as it was originally drafted, there would have been no controversy over the Clause. Everybody would have agreed to it and it would have been adopted without any Division being taken, because Clause 1 as originally drafted contained the suggestions made in the first place by the late George Tomlinson and those suggestions were agreed to by all the interested parties—by the Roman Catholics, by the Church of England and by the Free Churches, by the local education authorities and by the teachers.
In his speech during the Second Reading debate on this Bill the Parliamentary Secretary said on more than one occasion that the concessions given in Clause 1 could not and would not apply to schools that had been established and maintained; they could only apply to proposed schools. He said that at least six times, with a considerable degree of emphasis. It would be an exaggeration to say that the Parliamentary Secretary is popular on this side of the House, but at least we can say that we do not believe the hon. Gentleman would indulge in 1481 deliberate misstatements. So that when he said that Clause 1 of this Bill would not apply to schools which had been established and maintained, he means every word he said.
During the discussions on the Committee stage the Minister emphasised time and time again that the proposals for the increase in financial aid to certain classes of denominational schools were not to be considered as retrospective. The right hon. Lady emphasised the word "retrospective" on more than one occasion and also said that she had told all the interested parties whom she had interviewed on the matter most emphatically that she could not agree to anything retrospective in the Bill. She also said that the interested parties had agreed to that point of view.
During the Committee stage an Amendment was adopted by the Committee, partly owing to the eloquence and sincerity of my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), and partly owing to the fact that no less than eight of the Conservative Members of that Committee deserted their Minister. That was neither chivalrous to a lady nor loyalty to the Minister who was leading them on that occasion.
The Amendment extended the concessions to denominational schools to schools whose accounts had not been closed. If the wording of that sentence "schools whose accounts have not been closed" could have been framed in words which would have made it operative, that would have been distinctly retrospective. It would have been retrospective to 1944 because there are many schools whose accounts are not closed until some years after they have become established and maintained. I have it on very good authority that there are some schools built before the war of 1939–45 whose accounts are not yet closed. So the purpose of the words "whose accounts are not yet closed" was definitely to make Clause 1 very highly retrospective.
There has been some dispute as to how many schools would be included if the words, "accounts are not yet closed" were added to the Clause. During the Committee stage the number of five was suggested. This afternoon we have heard the Minister say that it may be 12. I 1482 was speaking to someone who holds a very high, responsible, post in the administrative world of education who gave it as his opinion that it might be as many as 50. For the moment, I am not concerned whether it might be five, 12, or 50, but that we should make no further concession to the denominational schools unless those concessions were agreed to by all the parties concerned— that is to say unless those concessions were agreed to by the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of England, the Free Churches and, if possible, the local authorities.
This proposal to apply the Clause to schools whose accounts are not yet closed was only put before the Roman Catholic Church. It was put before the Roman Catholic Church, I am afraid, by the Minister herself. In fact, in that instance, she was promising more than she could perform. I think she had some idea that she could do it by administrative methods without actually putting the wording in the Bill. On taking further advice, she found that she could not do it by administration but only by substantial amendment of Section 104 of the original Act, which probably would have reawakened the whole of the religious controversy we had in 1944.
This proposal regarding schools whose accounts are not yet closed was not put to the Church of England. It was not put to the Free Churches and was not put to the local authorities. I cannot agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) that we should take no account of the opinion of the local authorities in this matter. After all, the local authorities are largely responsible for the administration of this Measure and. through their rates, have to find a not inconsiderable proportion of the cost of running these schools.
I should have thought all general moves forward in the way of making further concessions to the denominational schools would be more likely to be successful and happy in their operation if they had the approval of the local authorities as well as the approval of the church authorities. But all-round approval has not been gained for this suggestion that the concession should include schools whose accounts arc not yet closed.
1483 7.15 p.m.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey said, they did not agree to it because they had not been asked about it. He rather thought that if the Free Churches and the Church of England had this additional concession put before them they probably would have agreed to it. I do not think that is correct. Correspondence I have received rather strengthens my opinion that they would not have agreed to it because they told the Minister, very firmly, that they would not agree to any concession which would have an element of retrospection in it. Yesterday I received a letter from the Church Society. The President of the Church Society is the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power and the Treasurer is Lord Caldecote, a name not unknown on the other side of the House. The letter states:When the interests of a number of denominational groups have to be consulted, it is only possible for satisfactory progress to be made on the basis of agreement after consultation with all the groups concerned. Clause 1, as originally drafted, was the result of such consultation by the Minister. One outcome of this all-round consultation was a pledge from the Minister that there would be no retrospection where this Clause was concerned.The Amendment to Clause 1 is the result mainly of the persistent pressure of one particular group, and this unremitting pressure flies in the face of the agreement previously reached with them and the other religious groups. If, after and despite consultation, sectional interests are to be permitted to prevail, then agreed Measures are doomed to suffer sabotage….It is unsound both in principle and practice to accord special favour to one pressure group where an agreed Measure is involved….The 1944 Education Act has rightly been regarded as a notable achievement, and it will be deplorable if that settlement is now shaken, and a serious setback to the cause of education in our land if religious controversy is given an occasion for making a reappearance in this field. It may be fairly said that Anglicans and Free Churchmen consider the provisions of the 1944 Act to be satisfactory and indeed generous.
§ Mr. Mellish
For the sake of the record, and the argument I was trying to make earlier, that is the view of one body. Evidently they would have opposed the proposals made by the Minister. Does not my hon. Friend agree however that it was the duty of the Minister when she made the proposals to 1484 the hierarchy to inform the others? Is it not unfair to say that this came from sectional interests when the suggestion came from the Minister herself?
§ Mr. Morley
I think there is a great deal of truth in what my hon. Friend has said. I agree that the Minister ought to have made the suggestion about schools whose accounts are not yet closed to the other bodies. I believe that if she had made such a suggestion the other bodies would not have agreed to that suggestion and that is what I am arguing. If the House will permit me, I have one further quotation from "Education" which is the organ of the Association of Educational Authorities. In their leading article of 26th February they say:We venture to hope that when the Bill is presented again to the House of Commons the original drafting will be restored so that the undertakings which the Minister made in the discussions which preceded the presentation of the Bill are fulfilled.That is the authentic voice of the local authorities. That is the reason why I support the Amendment, because I do not think we ought to make this further advance, involving a considerable degree of retrospection, without getting a very large amount of common agreement between all the interests concerned.
It appears to me that hon. Members on both sides of the House have been playing politics in this matter. We have been trying to out-bid each other for the Catholic vote, and I do not think such manoeuvres are likely to succeed. The leaders of the Catholic Church are very able men. They have the age-long secular wisdom of the Catholic Church behind them. They take a long view of any subject with which they have to deal. They always think "sub specie aeterna-tatis." I do not think for one moment that the leaders of the Catholic Church are likely to put the Catholic vote up for auction. They will endeavour to act as best they can in the long-term interests of the Catholic Church, which would not be beneficially affected by political manoeuvres from either side of this House designed to secure the Catholic vote.
We have been told today by the Solicitor-General, and by the Minister, that even if the original Amendment dealing with schools where accounts had not been closed were inserted in Clause 1, it would 1485 make no difference because it would be inoperable. If that is so, what are we fighting about? Why does my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields wish to press this matter to a Division? Is it merely because he wishes to have a cut at the Minister of Education? I think, on the whole, that is a worthy object, but I imagine we shall find much better opportunities of doing that than by dividing this afternoon.
We have had a long debate on this matter, both in the Committee and in the House, and honours are comparatively even. My hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey presented his case in Committee with eloquence and moderation. He was ably assisted by the rapid and torrential eloquence of my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) and by the massive support of my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. L. M. Lever), who professes and practices a much older faith than that of the Catholic Church. But throughout these discussions, doubtless for the highest possible moral reasons, he has shown enthusiasm amounting to ebullience for the cause of the Catholic Church sponsored by my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey. I think that now we might call it a day. I do not think there is any need to press this to a Division, but we might let the Minister have her Amendment.
§ Mr. Ian Harvey (Harrow, East)
I scarcely think it is the intention of the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) that honours should be even. As he has referred to the part I played in the Committee perhaps I may be allowed to say a word regarding my present position in this matter. First I would say that this is a very good Bill. It confers many advantages upon our educational system, and for that the Minister must take considerable credit. I am sorry to see she is leaving the Chamber because this is the first compliment she has been paid this afternoon.
I was particularly sorry, therefore, that in the Committee stage I had to oppose her. I did so because of her answer to the question to which the right hon. Member for South Shields referred. I said then that I should like to know if, when it was found impossible, the Catholic negotiators were told it was not possible, or whether they proceeded on 1486 the assumption that it was to be done. The right hon. Lady did not frankly give me an answer to that question. From what she has said subsequently I am satisfied that the negotiators were told the facts. But the debate this afternoon and the discussions in Committee have made it perfectly clear that a lot of people thought very differently about what were the facts.
Now we are confronted by the situation which my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, South (Mr. Maude) has so very clearly defined; the very serious danger of a prolonged and provocative struggle which would not be in the interests of religious education. The right hon. Member for South Shields referred to my question and I would like to refer to a statement he made in Committee. He said:The right hon. Lady tells us that only five schools are involved. We do not ask for any Amendment going beyond those five schools." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee C, 28th January, 1953; c. 69.]It would seem to me that in the arguments which he deployed this afternoon the right hon. Gentleman has gone a very long way beyond that point—
§ Mr. Harvey
Oh yes—and for the political reason which the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchin (Mr. Morley) has already outlined.
§ Mr. Harvey
The only point I wish to make to the Minister is that if, by some subsequent Amendment in another place, it were possible to include the whole range of the schools involved that would obviously be a desirable thing to do. It has been made clear that it would involve a bitter struggle about retrospection. If my right hon. Friend has involved herself in difficulties she has done so because she carried out separate negotiations and encouraged both sides to believe that too much would be forthcoming. Today both sides are brought together in the Bill. There would be equal dissatisfaction from other quarters if the principle of retrospection was in fact accepted—
§ Mr. Harvey
The right hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) shakes his head vehemently. But we are trying to solve this matter impartially. I think that the right hon. Gentleman is inspired more by religious motives and perhaps by the political motives which animate some of his hon. Friends—
§ Mr. Stokes
I shook my head because that is not the issue at all. The simple issue is whether the Minister has carried out a promise or not.
§ Mr. Harvey
If it were as simple as that, does the right hon. Gentleman honestly think that so many hon. Members on both sides of the House would have been so seriously engaged for so long on this matter? If he thinks that, then he underestimates the intelligence of some of his hon. Friends.
I am satisfied from the speech of my right hon. Friend, and from what has been said by the Solicitor-General, that this Amendment is meaningless in the practical issue with which we are confronted, and it is pointless—
§ Mr. Mellish
On the question of the Amendment being meaningless, would the hon. Member explain why the principle is wrong on the Floor of the House of Commons if it is right upstairs in Committee?
§ Mr. Harvey
I made it clear that I voted upstairs in Committee in order that it could be made clear that the Roman Catholic hierarchy did not fully understand what was intended.
It is now quite clear that the misunderstanding has been admitted which the Minister did not admit in her speech upstairs. She has fully and frankly admitted that position now. What we are concerned with is not a post-mortem on what the Minister and other people believed but with the present position, and how we can find a solution which will be acceptable not only to the Roman Catholic hierarchy, who were not the only party to the negotiations, but to all other parties to this agreement. It would be 1488 disastrous if this good Bill were completely wrecked on that point.
§ Mr. Stokes
Surely the hon. Gentleman recognises the situation. He says the Roman Catholic hierarchy are not the only party, and I agree with him, but they were the only people to whom a promise was made.
§ Mr. Harvey
The Minister has quite clearly and very generously admitted that there was a misunderstanding in the interpretation.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
I was not a member of the Committee and have no personal or political interest in the matter, but as I understand it, the hon. Member thought upstairs that a small, limited injustice could be remedied, and he has now decided that the Amendment carried upstairs either goes too far or does not remedy it at all. Suppossing we could devise a list including the schools which ought to get the benefit of this Amendment, and supposing the Amendment were limited to them, by putting the names in a Schedule and making the provision not apply to any others, would he be in favour of that?
§ Mr. Harvey
We have already discussed that upstairs. It is quite clear from what the Minister said that if certain schools are included, beyond the four which have been mentioned, we should involve ourselves in the principle of retrospection. I have already said that if it were possible to make such an Amendment in another place without involving the question of retrospection, then I should be very glad to see it done, but from everything said in the debate it is quite clear that that would be extremely difficult.
§ Mr. Silverman
Why should it be difficult for people who have engaged in the controversy all the time to put on a sheet of paper a list of the schools to which the benefits are to apply? What on earth is difficult about that? If the benefit is limited to them, why does that open any general question of retrospection?
§ Mr. Harvey
Because conditions which apply to the other schools beyond the four mentioned would, by the very nature of those conditions, involve both precedent and retrospection. I think that the 1489 Parliamentary Secretary will confirm that. I am quite satisfied that under the circumstances the Minister has fully admitted the misunderstanding which occurred in the negotiations. I have never agreed that a final undertaking was given because I think the Minister cannot give a final undertaking until this House has been consulted. Now this House is being consulted, and I am prepared to abide by the decision which is reached.
§ Mr. Hale
We have had one of the most remarkable debates to which I have ever listened. It has been complicated a little by the appearance from time to time of people who have not troubled to familiarise themselves with the facts at all but who have felt urged to make an observation or two. There was the remarkable intervention of the hon. and learned Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Philip Bell), who apparently had not read the Committee Reports and had not read the correspondence, who had no knowledge of the facts but who spoke for a very considerable time. I hope it is not a breach of order to say that my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) and I were discussing throughout his speech on which side he was going to come down, and it was not until his concluding three words that we found that he was supporting the Minister.
We also had a surprising speech by the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Ashton) who said nothing had changed except his mind.
§ Mr. Ashton
I do not think my mind has changed at all. I still maintain that there were differences of opinion in Committee on certain schools. As far as I am aware, no further facts have been adduced to make me alter my mind. I agree that the arguments from the other side of the House have changed.
§ Mr. Hale
I am obliged. The only thing which the hon. Member has changed is his vote, and he justifies it by saying that the Minister has indicated that there are some schools which have been in the Bill before, which will still be in the Bill and which always were in the Bill, but which have not been specified or indicated in any way; and he thinks, on the whole, that it is rather a good thing that there are some schools in the Bill which always were there. The 1490 hon. Member is more associated with drives through the covers than with glides to leg.
§ Mr. Hale
The most famous, perhaps, of all Lord Justices, Lord Mansfield, was once called upon to advise an aspirant for a colonial judgeship, and he gave a piece of advice which is of very great value indeed to anyone holding judicial office: never give your reasons for anything; give your verdict but never explain it.
§ Mr. Hale
As I have not yet completed it, perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman will have an opportunity to see whether I have it right. The colonial judge exercised this method for some 10 years to everyone's satisfaction, and then he got conceited, and the time came when he gave his reasons. There was an appeal, he was dismissed and his career was ended. He had finally learned his lesson. That has a parallel in these circumstances.
It seems to me a bit thick that the Solicitor-General should get up and say that these words are meaningless. I know of no decision of any appellate court in this country which has ever said that words are meaningless. It has been said on occasion that they are mere superfluxes, that they do not give greater effect or qualify what has been there before. But is it to be said that the Lord Chief Justice of England and a couple of Appeal Court judges, deciding on this Clause, would say that the words,at schools in respect of which the accounts have not been closedhave no meaning? Would they say, "We do not know which accounts"? Or would they exercise their duty and say, "It is clear that the accounts referred to were the building accounts and that is the meaning of the Clause"?
1491 The Solicitor-General took a leaf out of the book of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education—not, I think, a noteable book from which to take a leaf—when he kept telling us that he would give the reasons later if we did not interrupt him, and then sat down without giving any reasons at all. That is precisely what has happened throughout the debate. We have been trying since December to find out what this Clause was intended to mean. We had an incredible series of observations by the Parliamentary Secretary during the Second Reading debate when, from time to time, he tried to explain the Clause. We had a whole series more from the Minister of Education upstairs. We have had something quite different today.
I do not want to introduce polemics into this matter, and we have never tried to do so, but I should like, if I may, to remind the House of what has happened in this connection. This issue, as far as I was concerned, was first raised in the 1950 debate. Until then, I do not think it had been raised. Until then, the interpretation of this Section had not been made in such a way as to call the attention of the denominational schools' associations to the fact that the words that were introduced by the House of Lords in 1944 were bound to have a very severe effect on the schools where population was being gathered from various centres.
My hon. Friend the Member for Itchen (Mr. Morley) rather disarms me by referring to my own observations in Committee upstairs, and has thereby saved himself from some of the denunciation that would otherwise inevitably have fallen upon his head. We have had an extraordinary series of observations from time to time about the tremendous pressure exercised and about the buying or selling of votes. My hon. Friend said that the Catholic vote was not for sale, but that all were trying to buy it.
I should like to tell the House what happened in Oldham. I had a printed questionnaire dealing with this matter, and I wrote back to the people who sent it saying that I did not know anything about it, that I did not understand what it was all about, but that, when I got back to the House of Commons, I would look it up, see if there was anything in 1492 it and then see what could be done. That was the end of that, and that was my only experience in the whole course of the Election. It was represented to me that I should have a chat with Canon Fitzgerald, who is the most distinguished Catholic in Oldham, and one of the town's great and famous men, whom everyone respects and loves. So I rang him up and said, "Would you like me to come to see you?" He said, "No, you are having an Election, and you and I are busy men." So that was the end of that.
We came to this House, and the House will remember that there was a majority of four or five and, in those circumstances, it was impossible to have all-party committees. I got in touch with the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis), who has behaved most honourably throughout, and we agreed that we would try to keep this matter out of the sphere of polemics and try to agree on a reasonable suggestion, and that is what we are trying to do—to rectify a gross injustice—because the plain fact is that these words were inserted in the House of Lords by an Amendment by Lord Selborne who said that they were merely a drafting Amendment, which merely clarified without altering the Clause. It is all very well for hon. Members to talk about Catholics going round with the begging bowl and asking for subscriptions, but Lord Selborne pinched the money off them when he proposed that Amendment in those terms, which was clearly a matter which had to be put right, and clearly a matter on which we should be absolutely justified in asking that it should be put right.
I am really sorry about this matter, because I thought that this was one of those things to be settled happily, and which it is my hope may still be settled happily. I just do not know why we have had four hours of argument about a matter on which the Minister could have graciously given way at any stage of the proceedings, and could have pleased the Tories in doing it, although they have had some case for jubilation today without that.
The Minister of Education made the most extraordinary statement—the most extraordinary of all the extraordinary ones she has made. First, she said that these words were meaningless, and that 1493 it did not make the slightest difference whether they stayed in the Bill or came out. That, one would have thought, might have ended the matter, but then the right hon. Lady told us, "We have got to have them out, because they will lead to confusion." I do not know whether it was only Lobby gossip and rumour, but she said, "If they do not come out, we might lose the Bill," so that they could not be so meaningless. It is a very extraordinary position to take up.
I hope that the hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North (Sir G. Hutchinson) will not interrupt again if I quote another anecdote concerning Judge Parry and the honest witness in the case of the Manila Bills. Does the hon. and learned Gentleman wish to intervene?
§ Mr. Hale
But the hon. and learned Gentleman cannot refrain from intervening by intervening.
Judge Parry was concerned in a huge commercial case over Manila Bills. I do not know what Manila Bills are, but it was a very important case, and in it there was one witness who knew all about them and who was the only one who did, and he was a very honest witness. So they put him in the witness box and asked him to give the facts, and he gave the facts, and he went on giving the facts, and every time he gave them honestly, but differently. A junior barrister in the case pointed out that the honest witness had given 47 different explanations, not one of which bore any material resemblance to any other, and they had to decide what to do about it.
It was, of course, a very difficult situation, because it really is not the job of counsel in a case to indicate which piece of evidence is most likely to be believed by a jury. The very broad-minded judge said, "Let him tell the lot." So he went on and he gave the 47 explanations, and the result of it was that a verdict was given for the side for which he appeared. We really have had about 47 explanations of this matter from the Parliamentary Secretary, not one of which agrees with any other, and, I firmly believe, not one 1494 of which has anything to do with the Clause. He was very good to give way on this matter, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) put to him an exceedingly important point arising precisely on the issues which we are now discussing.
My right hon. Friend said:Will he say whether this Clause also covers the case—which is very common in many constituencies—of a family who moved in 1947, for example, where the older children have attended the old school and a child is born in 1949 in the new housing estate area and goes to school in 1954? Would the hon. Gentleman refer to that? It is of some importance.And this was the answer given by the Parliamentary Secretary:I cannot give authoritative rulings on rather complicated and hypothetical questions. On the face of it, I should say that a child born in Pimlico cannot, so long as it continues to reside in Pimlico, be called a displaced child—at least not without the risk of a quarrel with its mother.There seems to be some sort of reference there to the necessity for passports for Pimlico.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) then said:Before he leaves Clause 1, as he probably knows, there are about eight Catholic schools which have been built since 1944 and which it is believed, under this Bill in its present form, will not get any grant. We want to know whether it is the intention of the Government to include schools that have been built since 1944 in those covered by this Bill. Can we have a straight 'yes' or 'no'?I should have thought that was a fair question to put, because it puts the whole thing quite succinctly and fairly.
The Parliamentary Secretary said:The hon. Member cannot have a straight 'yes' or 'no' because I cannot remember the exact form of the question. I have explained as simply as I can what is meant by ' retrospection.' … I am not a lawyer, but, as I understand it, there is no retrospection in this Clause.I think that, on an earlier occasion, the hon. Gentleman said that there was an element of retrospection, but it was rather difficult to say just what it was.
Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) then intervened, and said:The hon. Gentleman said there was.The Parliamentary Secretary replied:The benefit of the Clause is, however, claimable in respect of schools which, although 1495 already projected or carried to a further stage, are not yet established and maintained."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th December, 1952; Vol. 509, c. 110–111.]That was the only clear thing which the hon. Gentleman said in the whole course of the debate, and it really is the case for this Amendment, so far as we are concerned, because it does exactly what we seek to put in.
I should like to say, because it is material to what happened in 1950, that the Minister of Education was a little ungenerous in something which she said today. That Parliament was very difficult, and, unfortunately, after some months of helpful, hopeful and useful negotiations, the then right hon. Member for Farnworth, the late Mr. George Tomlinson, developed the illness which deprived this House of a very highly-respected Member. The result was that there was a hold-up for a quite limited period. But, notwithstanding that, matters proceeded and a statement was submitted to the hierarchy from the Ministry of Education while my right hon. Friend was ill in bed.
I had the honour, together with my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey to meet the hierarchy on this matter because the letter itself was even more involved and cumbersome and less clear than the Bill. The whole question was whether the word "or" meant "and," and after some investigation we came to the conclusion that it did not. If it did not, then the thing was quite meaningless. It was at that stage that we turned to the then Leader of the House because the Minister was ill and the Parliamentary Secretary was away, and I had no right to communicate with civil servants.
I think that my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) had this subject in mind because he was the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education at the time it was discussed. The scheme now proposed is what my right hon. Friend proposed in 1944. It is perfectly clear that when my right hon. Friend, I think in August, 1951, had an interview with representatives of the hierarchy, nothing was said about making it retrospective. No one disputes that. It was not discussed, and no one has ever sought to go back on it.
1496 We have this rather curious tendency to be rude about bishops just as we are always rude about lords. There is something in the British character which makes us like that. But no one could have been more helpful than the Bishop of Brentwood, who was one of the most outstanding men of his day, and a man of absolute integrity. Certainly this theory that someone has been trying to do a bit of bargaining or trying to get an extra halfpenny is not borne out by the facts. All this was in August, 1951, and there was an Election shortly afterwards, with lamentable results to the country. [An HON. MEMBER: "There was another one yesterday."] So I understand.
I believe, subject to correction by the hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North, that it was Edmund Burke who used to have a sparring partner appearing on the platform with him whose solitary speech was, "I say ditto to Mr. Burke." The fact is that the Tory hierarchy said ditto to my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields, and said it at rather a late stage in the Election. But it was said. We have always tried to get a settlement, and I am perfectly sincere when I say that this Amendment which was put down on the Committee stage was really the only controversial Amendment in the whole Bill. It does not involve much in terms of money, and we confidently believed that it would be accepted after what had been said by the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary.
We are now pushed into the position of having to have this unhappy argument over the matter because the Minister has hardened her heart and said "No." Agreement was come to in 1951 to the effect that even if it were not going to be retrospective it would be part of the agreement at least that reasonable legislative speed should be made to get the Bill through, so that it could be passed in the Session of 1951–52. But it was not. I must point out that the Government had the choice of bringing in a Bill to deal with pubs which had not been built or of bringing in a Bill to deal with schools which had been built, and they chose pubs. Twelve months go by and then the people concerned are told, "You will not get any money for that 12 months."
§ Mr. Stephen McAdden (Southend, East)
The hon. Gentleman is criticising the Government for, as he says, preferring pubs to Catholic schools. He will remember that a little while ago he was justifying his own Government's failure to do something about this after the 1950 Election because of their small majority. But their majority was still large enough to carry into effect the Iron and Steel Bill.
§ Mr. Hale
I did not talk about the small majority except in connection with not having an all-party committee. What I said was that there had to be negotiations, but that we arrived at the terms and a settlement. The work was all done, but then the Minister comes along and says that she was the one who introduced it. She found the settlement in the pigeonhole when she went to the Ministry.
I say quite honestly to the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Ian Harvey), for whom I have a genuine respect, because he always speaks, I think, with honesty and sincerity, that someone on the benches opposite ought to do something about this. I do not know whether these are the most suitable words. I am not a Parliamentary draftsman or a Parliamentary counsel. I do not know whether the matter could be dealt with more happily in some other way, but I do know that there is not the slightest difficulty in drafting the sort of Amendment that would cover the point so long as the Minister of Education is behind it. As my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) very properly said, one can put in a Schedule and name the schools. There would be no argument about that.
We have never had the facts. This discussion started in December and it is now May. During all that time the Minister has never once said which are the schools which might be affected. Never has she said how she decides it, and so on. There was a stage when she said that it could be handled Ministerially and in that way she thought that she could give the benefit to more schools, but later she thought she could not. From start to finish we have not had a clear statement from the Minister or the slightest sign of any desire on her part to meet the legitimate points which we made. There was resistance to an Amendment, which was moved with moderation and 1498 supported by a large number of Members, some from the Government side of the House, and which, in a Committee of 45 Members, received 26 votes. Eighteen of my hon. Friends were there and voted, and eight hon. Members on the Government side also voted for it.
Now the Minister comes back and says that the words are meaningless. I do not think she has ever said that before. On 12th February, 1952, we had a memorandum, which is the Minister's own memorandum, and not something suddenly suggested as to how it should be done. It states: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 would be eligible for review in the light of the new definition.Many things were promised and were agreed in the interview with the representatives of the hierarchy, who thought that they now knew what the proposals would be, and how they would be framed and presented to the House. What did the Minister say about them? Within my recollection she has never said what those words meant, how they were to be assessed and whether she had decided to repudiate them. In a matter of that kind I should think that the honour of the Minister is involved.
If a Minister issues a statement of that kind, which is the basis of a bargain, a contract or an agreement, there is no going back; but the Minister does not explain. She does not extenuate. She does not even mitigate. If she got up and said that she had not used those words or that she did not mean to use those words, or that after thinking them over, or after some conference with the Treasury on the matter, she was going back on those words, was going to repudiate them, I could understand it.
The object of the Amendment is merely to put into the Bill the Minister's own words, and the Minister is seeking to reject her own words. That is the situation, but it is a much more serious situation from the point of view of the right hon. Lady than she seems to think. In this House where we usually vote for our party, we have sometimes to decide whether to vote for something we believe in against our party. It is the sort of dilemma that all of us have to face. It 1499 is just not good enough; we are not satisfied with the Minister's explanation. The hon. Member for Harrow, East said that if we wished him to name the schools we should start an argument about it, but we have been arguing for four and a half hours on this Amendment.
§ Mr. Ian Harvey
I did not say that it would involve us in an argument but that it would re-open the religious argument, which would be detrimental to the whole cause of religious education.
§ Mr. Hale
This is really a simple issue of whether the Catholic schools are to pay for the Minister's delay and whether the Minister is to carry out her bargain or not. It does not involve any large sum of public money and does not make the slightest difference to the future, except for a limited transitional period and a limited number of buildings. It is nonsense to say that the Amendment cannot be dealt with now. [An HON. MEMBER: "They have not said it."] That is fair. The other side have not said it.
It is unfair to leave the House in this fashion. I ask the right hon. Lady to think the matter over again, even at this late stage. This House is very generous in recognising last-minute expressions of penitence, alterations or Amendments, and will accept very generously from the right hon. Lady any indication that she did try to meet us.
§ Mr. Fitzroy Maclean (Lancaster)
I always listen to the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) with pleasure, sometimes, I must admit, mingled with irritation. I have never heard him in better form than he was this evening. When he appears in a non-party rôle it is a little hard to swallow; but anyhow it was great fun. But I want to associate myself, not with his remarks but with the remarks of his "twin," my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Horobin).
§ Mr. Maclean
I might almost describe them as Siamese twins. Like the hon. Member for Oldham, East, I speak not as a Roman Catholic but as a member of the Church of England. We have to remember that we also have our Church 1500 schools, which makes it all the more important that we should do everything in our power to ensure scrupulously fair treatment of other people's Church schools.
What worries me is the way in which the whole problem has been handled, both here and in the Committee upstairs, and even before that. I do not think it is possible to deny that an assurance was given by the Minister, or at any rate on behalf of the Minister—and in that case she is responsible for it—to the Roman Catholic hierarchy. I do not for a moment accuse my right hon. Friend of ill-faith. I am sure she has acted from the highest motives, but I think she has probably been trying to please too many people at the same time with the result that she has not succeeded in pleasing anybody. She has certainly not succeeded in pleasing me.
It may be argued that what my right hon. Friend promised was impracticable. That is what we are now told. It may be that she did not quite understand what she was promising; that there was a misunderstanding. That is quite possible, but if so it is not very reassuring. One cannot help wondering, if that is so, why such an assurance was given in the first place. Why did not the right hon. Lady find out precisely what was involved and whether it was practicable? I have listened very carefully, though not as an expert in these matters, to the explanations which have been given both here and in the Committee upstairs, and I must say they have done nothing to clear my mind on the subject.
But however that may be; whatever the merits of this specific issue, and whatever the value of the Amendment or of the Clause as it now stands, the fact remains that it does not appear to be the Minister's intention to honour the assurance which she gave. That is why, much to my regret, I find it impossible, on present form, to support her in the Lobby tonight. But, before I sit down, I would like to urge her, even at this late stage, to give an undertaking to reopen this whole question, to look into it again, and to see if she cannot do something to meet the point of view of hon. Members on both sides of the House who have spoken in the same sense as I have.
§ Mr. M. Stewart
We all listened with interest and respect to the hon. and 1501 gallant Member for Lancaster (Mr. F. Maclean). I hope that the right hon. Lady will be willing to take the advice that he and the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Horobin) and many of my hon. Friends have tendered to her. We have had a long debate on an important but narrow issue. We are not here discussing the whole question of denominational education. We are discussing the extent to which a particular Clause in this Bill shall operate.
Among the tangle of different versions of fact and the tangle of argument which we have had throughout this afternoon and evening, certain things are definitely agreed. It is certainly agreed that the intention and effect of Clause 1 is to widen the definition of the term "displaced pupil" so that certain schools will receive grants which otherwise would not have done so. That is generally agreed, and of course it is a reason for welcoming this Bill as a whole with or without the Amendment which the Minister is now trying to make in it. It is also agreed that it would not be proper to accept in this Bill the principle of retrospection. Whatever view we take—and there are different views in the House—as to whether retrospection in itself is desirable, I think that it is agreed that it would not be reasonable to ask the Government to introduce that principle in this Bill.
What the argument has been about is what exactly is meant when one applies the principle of no retrospection to the working of Clause 1. In one extreme it is quite clear that a school which has come fully into use and whose accounts have been closed would not be eligible under this Bill. If it were, that would be retrospection and such a school is certainly not eligible. At the other extreme, a school which has not been brought fully into use clearly is eligible for benefit under this Bill, for no retrospection would be involved. What concerns us here is the school which is in between those two precise and definite examples, that is to say, schools which have become fully into use but the accounts of which have not yet been closed. The whole issue is whether those schools are to be eligible for benefit under this Bill or not.
What has been the Minister's answer to that question? Only quite recently it 1502 was, "Yes, such schools ought to be eligible for the benefits of this Bill and there would not be any infringement of the principle of no retrospection if they were." It has been charged against those of us who take the view that I am now taking that we are trying to introduce retrospection into this Bill. The case that I make is that to urge that, schools which are fully in use but whose accounts are not yet closed should be eligible for benefit under this Bill is not in fact to urge retrospection, and that that was a view which the Minister herself took for a long period until very recently.
I do not wish to burden the House unduly with quotations, but I must refer to one or two. In the first place the Minister evidently took the view that I have just described in February, 1952, when, at the meeting at the Ministry to which such frequent reference has been made, she said: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 would be eligible for review in the light of the new definition.Therefore, that for which we have been pressing was not regarded as infringing the principle of no retrospection when she dealt with this matter in February of last year.
More recently, in June of last year, there went out from the right hon. Lady's Department a letter which referred quite definitely to her assurance that the proposed new legislation would apply to schools for which the accounts had not been formally closed. As recently as June last year, the right hon. Lady felt that these schools could benefit from the Bill without any infringement of the principle of no retrospection. I stress this point, because practically the whole of the argument addressed to the House by the Solicitor-General was to say that we must strike this Amendment which the Committee made out of the Bill, because otherwise we offend against the principle of no retrospection.
If the Solicitor-General really holds that view he is making nonsense of what the Minister said in February and what the letter from her Department said in June. If there is any truth in the Solicitor-General's argument then the "proposal"—I think that that was the right 1503 hon. Lady's own word—which the Minister made in 1952 was a contradiction in terms, and the reference to it in the letter from her Ministry in June was similarly, to say the very least, very misleading.
Furthermore, recently the right hon. Lady was quite satisfied that if schools of this kind were enabled to benefit from this Bill there would be no retrospection. In Committee upstairs I raised this exact point, and I said:Am I right in thinking that it is possible for a school to be established and maintained in the sense that the Minister has just defined, but for its accounts not yet to be closed, and that such a school would not benefit under the Bill?The Minister replied:The hon. Member for Fulham, East (Mr. M. Stewart) asks whether there might be schools which have reached that stage but whose accounts would not be closed, so that if that aspect could be embraced a few more schools might qualify for grant.She went on to say:I am perfectly willing to look into that and to see whether there is anything in it. That is what I have always meant."—OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee C, 27th January, 1953; c. 35–6.]The right hon. Lady was quite clear there that there was no infringement of no retrospection if she enabled that to be done. Apparently between then and now the Solicitor-General has found that all that the right hon. Lady argued from February, 1952, until she made that statement before the Committee in January of this year made nonsense.
A little later on, in the same debate, the same point was brought out. At that moment we were discussing an Amendment of a slightly different form to that which went into the Bill. That Amendment contained a date, 14th November, 1952, and the Minister objected to it with, I am bound to admit, some reason. She said:To get this clear, let me say that the retrospection part is the putting in of the date, 14th November, 1952."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee C, 27th January, 1953; c. 38.]My hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) and his hon. Friends—as one Conservative Member put it—leaning backwards to avoid a Division if at all possible, removed that date from the Amendment. That was the very thing which the Minister said introduced retrospection, and they therefore 1504 made the Bill, by her own argument, quite unobjectionable on that ground. So let us have no more argument that the Amendment made in Committee offends against no retrospection.
It is an argument which the right hon. Lady has destroyed recently, repeatedly, and over a period of some 18 months. It is also clear that when she made this undertaking to the Catholic hierarchy the right hon. Lady did not consider that she was making any gigantic departure from the general principle on which this whole Clause has been based; for I am sure that if she had felt she was making some major, grave departure she would have immediately consulted the parties other than the Catholic hierarchy who are interested in this matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Morley) referred to her failure to do so. Indeed, the greater part of his argument was a very severe criticism of the right hon. Lady for not having done so. However, the fact that she did not do so shows that she regarded this as a matter of definition. Granted that there is to be no retrospection, where exactly does one draw the line beyond which is retrospection and on this side of which is no retrospection?
It is quite clear that an undertaking was given that schools which were fully in use but whose accounts had not yet been closed would be enabled to benefit from the Bill. Then, when the Bill was actually published—and not until then —it became apparent to the Catholic heirarchy that the undertaking was not going to be fulfilled. The Committee very carefully considered this narrative of evidence. They saw that the Minister had been faced with difficulties but, having heard the evidence and weighed up the matter very carefully, after a lengthy discussion, on what was in effect a free vote and not a party vote, by a proportion of three to two they decided that the Bill ought to be so amended as to enable those schools to be eligible for benefit.
That is the position with which we are now faced on the Report stage. In the face of those facts and in the face of the Committee's decision, what has been the reaction of the Minister? First, she tried to allay opposition by referring to four schools which, she told us with pride, were going to benefit under the Bill, but 1505 when we looked into the matter we found that they were schools which were perfectly entitled to benefit under the Bill, Amendment or no Amendment, and they have no relevance to the matter we are discussing.
In Committee the Minister took the view that there were some five schools in question. I do not object to that. None of us assumed that that number was precisely accurate, but she thought that there were some five schools in question. She now speaks of four schools which will benefit under the Bill. Are those four schools four out of the five about which she was talking in Committee? If the right hon. Lady could tell us that now it would help.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
If I may speak again with the leave of the House, I should like to reply to two or three questions after the hon. Gentleman has finished.
§ Mr. Stewart
Very well. I am rather sorry that the right hon. Lady cannot answer that question at the moment. It is a pure question of fact. Five schools were mentioned in Committee and the Minister has mentioned four now. The answer is either "yes" or "no." However, if the hon. Lady will not answer now I shall have to take a little longer to consider what follows from either of the two possible answers.
Let us suppose the answer is "yes," and that the four schools referred to today are four out of the five about which the right hon. Lady was talking in Committee. It now appears from what she has also told us that there are another half dozen or so schools which would not benefit from the Bill. It would appear that four of the five schools we were talking about are safe over the border. They are not borderline cases and therefore benefit from the Bill, Amendment or no Amendment.
From what the right hon. Lady has told us today, however, when she spoke of possibly 12 schools, it appears that there is a group of some six or eight schools which do not benefit under the Bill, but which would benefit if the Bill were amended to bring in the point about the accounts not yet having been closed.
The other possible answer is that the four schools referred to today are quite different from the five we were discussing on Committee. If that is so, I would 1506 commend the matter to the attention of the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Ashton)—if he were here—because his reasons for coming round full circle from his view on Committee was that in Committee he was championing the cause of those five schools, and it was because the Minister would not be helpful over those five that he voted against her then. He has now decided to vote for her, but he does not know whether the five schools we were talking about then are to be helped, and we have to wait until we hear the speech of the right hon. Lady before any of us will know.
Even if they are to be benefited there are some six or eight other schools in exactly the same position in which we believed those five schools to be and which will not benefit under the Bill. The hon. Member for Chelmsford is therefore in the position of saying, "I voted against my party and the Minister in Committee for the sake of five schools which were in a particular position. There are now a different group, of some half a dozen schools, and although they are different schools they are in the same position as we supposed the five were previously, but as those schools have different names, I will vote the other way on this occasion."
I have laboured the argument of the hon. Member for Chelmsford because I want to draw the attention of the Minister to the fact that none of her hon. Friends were happy about the line she was inviting them to take on this Amendment. What arguments have we had from the hon. Members who have supported the Minister throughout this debate? As I heard one after another of those hon. Members who had opposed her in Committee I was reminded of the title of a play or film which is now showing—"They have their exits." Some of them—especially that of the hon. Member for Chelmsford—are not very convincing exits from the position they had previously taken up.
What does the rest of the argument amount to? It is that the Amendment made in Committee and which we are now being asked to delete adds nothing whatever to the Bill. It is said that the words are inoperative and have no effect. The whole argument of the hon. and learned Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Philip Bell) and the hon. Member for 1507 Ealing, South (Mr. Maude) rested solely on that one point. It is true that the hon. Member for Ealing, South told us at considerable length that he did not like the speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey or the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). Those speeches were not made with the intention that he should like them but, apart from that irrelevancy, the whole of his argument was simply that one could not vote against the Minister for a form of words which will add nothing to the Bill.
What substance is there in that argument? First, how do we know that these words would add nothing to the Bill? The Solicitor-General has told us so, but none of us, whatever denominational views he may hold, believes in the infallibility of Solicitors-General. It is quite conceivable that he may be mistaken. It may even be that these words have a very drastic effect on the Bill, that they are not so much inoperative as making the Bill unworkable, in which case it would be the business of the right hon. Lady to straighten the matter out.
When we have a firm decision of a Committee of the House that it wants a particular thing done, and that it wants it done by a certain form of words, and the Government come forward and say that that form of words will not do it, then it is up to the Government to join in the search for the form of words that will do it, and to that they have made no contribution whatever. I think that the Solicitor-General would have been better employed in trying to find ways of enabling the Minister of Education to implement her pledge than in rather undignified ways of trying to get her out of it. There have not been lacking suggestions from this side of the House as to how it might be done.
After all, the purpose of this Clause is to define the term "displaced pupils," and to define it differently from the way it is defined in the principal Act. Is it so absolutely impossible to take the term "proposed schools" and to define it in this Bill as the term "displaced pupils" is defined? There is nothing in the long Title to preclude a proposition of that type. Another solution offered is that we may do it by actually naming the schools and putting the names in a Schedule to 1508 the Bill. I am not as a matter of form very much enamoured of that solution. It is a rather untidy way of doing it, but I would rather see an untidy Bill than a broken pledge.
What is significant is that both of those suggestions were made before the Solicitor-General got up, and yet he did not devote any of his argument to demonstrating that they were unworkable. I dare say, now that they have been put again, he could get up and, even at this short notice, produce arguments to show that they are. One of the startling things about this debate has been the way that the Government, even at short notice, have been able to suggest propositions that have not been advanced before and which no normal person would regard as credible.
The object which those of us in all parties on the Committee and in the House had in supporting the Amendment that was made in Committee, and which we are now asked to delete, was a perfectly reasonable object. No injustice is done to anyone, no real danger is risked to the general harmony of the settlement about the denominational schools, by deciding on what is clearly a matter of definition, that the schools that shall benefit by this Bill shall be schools whose accounts have not been closed. It was a form of definition that was looked on with great favour for a considerable time by the Ministry itself. It is not an unreasonable proposition.
Second, as I have shown, I am afraid to the weariness of the House, it does not offend against the principle of no retrospection. Third, if the wording of the Bill now as amended in Committee does not give workable expression to what we had in mind, a form of words that would give workable expression to it could be found if there were the will to find it. Fourth, we are asking that the House should follow a decision taken after great thought and care and on a non-party vote and by a decisive majority in the Committee; and no substantial change has occurred in the facts or the weight of argument between the date when the Committee reached that decision and the present time.
I hope, therefore, first that the right hon. Lady will herself be willing to find the way out that will be acceptable both to those who press this matter and, in 1509 their heart of hearts, to most of her hon. and right hon. Friends. Failing that, I can only hope that we shall be supported in the Lobby not only by my hon. Friends on this side of the House but by those hon. Gentlemen who so strongly supported this point of view in the Committee and their hon. and right hon. Friends on the other side of the House as well.
§ Mr. Anthony Greenwood (Rossendale)
On a point of order. May we have an assurance from the right hon. Lady that if the House accords leave to speak a second time neither she nor the right hon. Gentleman will take steps that will cut short the debate?
Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hopkin Morris)
The right hon. Lady does not require the leave of the House to reply.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
As the hon. Gentleman the Member for Fulham, East (Mr. M. Stewart) has put one or two questions to me, and as other hon. Members have, too, I thought it would be convenient if I were to intervene now. As far as I can see, all this comes down to a very few points. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Fulham, East says that the Solicitor-General said that it makes no difference if these words are left in or taken out. If the words were left in it would still not empower the Minister to pay grants to schools other than proposed schools. Hon. Members have said, "Why could no other scheme have been found if that is the case?" I should have thought that if that was in their minds they might have put down an Amendment, because I made it clear in Committee that, although I used the word "unworkable," no one had found a way of finding words suitable to carry out that meaning.
I think that I can tell hon. Members exactly where the difficulty is, and no doubt they realise it themselves. Again we are all in agreement—at least hon. Members one after another have said so— that we do not want to have complete retrospection. Parts of this document have been quoted. I again point out that the new definition would not be retrospective in the sense that grants on completed projects could be re-assessed. 1510 We do not want complete retrospection. The hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) agreed that they were not asking for complete retrospection. I know that they would like it. I know that they feel that schools which have been built since 1945 should have the grant. It is not the fault of this Government that they do not have the grant. If the party opposite had brought in a Bill they could have had the grant.
I have tried very carefully not to get into party strife over this. But do let us see what the problem is. Those schools which were built and opened, some of them in January, 1951, would have got the grant if this legislation had been brought in by anybody. We are all agreed on that. Secondly, they have not had the grant and they have been functioning, some of them, for over two years. We are all agreed on that. I think that no one can suggest by any stretch of the imagination that if a school has been functioning for over two years it can be called a proposed school.
Let me give hon. Members the actual figures. The hon. Member for Itchen (Mr. Morley) has said several times. "What is the line? Why do we say four, five, eight or 12 schools? Where is the line drawn?" The line is drawn —and it is drawn legally—on whether a school is a proposed school or has become a school. If it has become a school and is functioning, to go back would be retrospective. Let me give the figures. Hon. Members say, "Ah, so you are picking out a few of these." Since 1945 the Roman Catholics have built or have schools in building programmes to the number of 76. Of those, 49 have had grant or will have grant under the 1944 Act as it stands. Sixteen schools are at the stage of being proposed schools. I think that hon. Members will see, when they have done their arithmetic, that there are 11 schools left which have not had grants.
I said earlier that the Catholic Education Council had sent in the names of schools which they thought ought to be considered as hard cases. At the beginning we had not got the names; we got them at the end of the Committee stage. During the Committee stage the hon. Member for Devizes said that there were three or four, and there was no mention then of names. The Catholic Education 1511 Council said that it thought certain schools ought to be included. It was three or four, then five, six, eight and finally 12, with the proviso—I am not objecting to this—that there might be more. From our calculations the number of schools might be 15.
Out of the 12 schools named by the Catholic Education Council, four can count as proposed schools. Four from 15 leaves 11, unless my arithmetic is wrong. At least one or two of the 11 would not anyhow, as far as I can see at the moment without going into all the details, rank for grant. There is no talk of displaced pupils grant for them. Therefore, with all the schools named by the Catholic Education Council, we get absolute, complete 100 per cent. retrospection right back to 1945. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."]
Then where are the schools which have not got it? I have already said that there are 76 of these schools, and I would remind hon. Members that not all schools are proposed schools. We have now accounted for all the 76 schools which have been built or are in present building programmes. This represents complete retrospection. I see the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) shaking his head. That arithmetic—
§ Mr. Edward Short (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central)
What about the 34 which have already got grant under the 1944 Act?
§ Miss Horsbrugh
It is not 34; it is 49. Shall I go through it all once more? I feel that there ought to be a blackboard here. Perhaps it would have been better if I had given the numbers originally. As questions have been put so frequently during the debate, perhaps it would be better if I started again.
The number of schools which the Roman Catholics have built or schools which are now in building programmes total 76. The number that have had grant or will have grant under the 1944 Act as it stands is 49. Sixteen are at the stage of proposed schools, and if they qualify under the displaced pupils definition they will get the grant provided that the Bill passes in time. Therefore, there are 11 left. I imagine we are all agreed on that point. After the 1512 Committee stage the Catholic Education Council sent me the names of 12—this is a new set of figures, so I hope hon. Members will not muddle it with the last—but they said there might be more. On examining the matter, we think that there are probably 15. Out of the 15 names we found that four could be classed as proposed schools; and that still leaves 11.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
I must get on. If we were to give grants to those under the terms of a "building account"— words I never used—it would mean complete retrospection. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes, and there would not be a single school left.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
If the hon. Member looks at it he will see those figures. I think it is quite clear it would be retrospection.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
If the right hon. Gentleman disagrees, I cannot help him. I have tried to set out the figures.
I have been asked why should we bother to take these words out of the Bill if they are of no use. My hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General has told the House that in his opinion and in the opinion of his right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General they had no significance whatever, and that if they remain in the Bill they do not empower the Minister to give grants for those schools. We can leave them in or take them out; it does not matter. But then hon. Members have said—and this is the last point with which I will trouble the House—to me that I should insert words which would carry out the intention which they have in mind. Again we look back and find that we are faced with retrospection. If we amend in order that all the schools whose building accounts were not closed would get grants, then that would be tantamount To complete retrospection.
Those are the facts and I can only give the House facts. The issues comes down to this, that hon. Members must say that they want retrospection—some of them would like it, but most of them say they do not want retrospection—or they must 1513 agree with the Amendment which the Government are proposing. We cannot change the words which are in the Bill because it would give retrospection, and we have to decide whether we should take out words in the Bill which have no significance and make absolutely no difference.
§ Mr. Ede
Before the right hon. Lady sits down, I wonder whether she could help me about the 76 schools. Does she say that there are 76 schools which would rank for displaced pupil grant? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I thought that was the policy that the right hon. Lady was leading us into. How many of the 76 schools will rank for displaced pupil grant, and how many of the 49 rank for it, because that may completely alter the whole question?
§ Miss Horsbrugh
The grant is 50 per cent. for displaced pupils as the right hon. Gentleman knows. Whether he is trying to say that they would get more grant if they did not get the displaced pupils grant I—
§ Miss Horsbrugh
I will try again, but I will not repeat the whole facts. The 49 schools have had grant or will have grant under the 1944 Act. I think 14 of them —I would not like to be sure—were approved subsequently for displaced pupils grants and they had the grant. There were 76 built or in the building programme. There were 16 at the stage of being proposed schools and therefore would rank for grant if they had the displaced pupils. Therefore the only ones that are left, as I have said, are 11.
§ Mr. Anthony Greenwood
I thought that after 11 days in the Standing Committee I should no longer be surprised by any intervention from the right hon. Lady, but tonight it seems to me that she has reached a new peak of confusion which she did not achieve even during the lengthy debates in the Standing Committee.
Before I come to some of the points she has made perhaps I could refer to the 1514 speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) who made an admirable contribution to our discussion. I was glad that he took up the criticism that hon. Members on both sides of the House were playing politics because nobody has done more than my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West, and a number of us on both sides of the House, to ensure that the issue of the denominational schools shall not be made the subject of party controversy. If it has become so, the responsibility lies fairly and squarely on the shoulders of the Minister.
I do not believe that anybody is playing party politics. In the first place I do not believe that there is such a thing as the Catholic vote. Secondly, if there is, I believe that the wrong way to go about getting it would be to set out to do so, because anybody who sets out to get the support of one denomination is almost certainly bound to lose the support of others. The only thing that an hon. Member can hope to do is to be loyal to the principles of his own denomination and to convince the people of the constituency that he is prepared to help any minority in it who believe themselves to have a just grievance against the law as it stands. That is the principle on which many of us have worked during the long discussions on this Bill.
It seemed to me that the right hon. Lady made no real effort to deal with a number of the criticisms made. During our debates one of two things has emerged clearly. Either the officials in her Department are inefficient, which I am reluctant to accept, or the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary are incompetent.
We have had a lengthy explanation from the right hon. Lady about the number of schools, and I cannot see why we could not have had that information in the Standing Committee. It is the responsibility of the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary and their officials to see that information of this kind is readily available. Every week, at Question time, Questions are put to the Minister for information of this kind and she never seems at a loss to provide figures in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler). It is no use having a Ministry of Education if it does not know where the schools are, what stage they have 1515 reached, what is the composition of the pupils going there, what the local education authorities are doing, and what the various diocesan authorities who are responsible for education have under contemplation.
It is not good enough that when a figure of five is mentioned to the Standing Committee, the right hon. Lady should not be able to destroy that figure on that occasion but has to wait for nearly four months before coming to this House and telling us that the figure in question is held by some people to be 12 and that she personally believes it to be 15. That information ought to have been available to the right hon. Lady when she was giving us information in the Standing Committee discussions. There seems to me to have been an equal vagueness about the correspondence and the minutes for which the right hon. Lady has been responsible. A number of hon. Members on this side of the House, notably my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, East (Mr. M. Stewart), have put, most cogently, a number of points in the correspondence and the minutes which seem most important.
My hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, East quoted one sentence from a minute of the interview of 12th February, but I should like to read the previous sentence, because I think it most germane to this subject:The two suggestions made by Bishop Beck would widen the scope of the suggested amendment in a way that would make the justification more difficult to explain to other interested parties. She would prefer not to tamper with the wording of the memorandum, which had now been sent to all the interests which she had to consult.The minute goes on: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 would be eligible for review in the light of the new definition.It is perfectly apparent from the previous two sentences that, although the Minister regarded part of the proposals as a breach of the 1944 Act, this proposal under discussion tonight was not considered a breach of the memorandum sent to the other denominations. In her second speech the Minister has refused to deal with the points put to her on this subject, and it is quite clear from the rest 1516 of the correspondence on which the right hon. Lady embarked that the Ministry and she were treating that matter the whole time as a firm assurance.
I do not want to read some of the correspondence which other hon. Members have read, but to come back to the point that if the Minister did change her mind in the course of these negotiations she ought to have informed the other denominations that that had been done. I find myself unable to resist the conclusion that throughout the negotiations the right hon. Lady has been running with the hare and hunting with the hounds. In the Standing Committee on a number of occasions we gave her the opportunity to tell us at what stage she had changed her mind and was departing from the assurance.
In c. 73 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of the Committee it is reported that I put this very simple point to the Minister after I had been criticised by an hon. Friend, who said that I put the wrong construction upon the discussions which had taken place with the denominations. I replied that it was extremely difficult to know exactly what had taken place in the discussions which the Minister had had, and said:We naturally assumed that when she had put this proposal to the Roman Catholics she should also put it to the other denominations. The difficulty is that we still do not know whether the Minister told the Roman Catholics that the other denominations could not agree to the suggestion she had made. If the Minister would be frank and tell us at what stage of the negotiations she indicated her change of attitude to the Roman Catholic church, we should all find the position a good deal easier."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee C, 29th January, 1953; c. 73.]Although the right hon. Lady got up in one of her 14 interventions in that discussion to make what she regarded as a reply, she certainly did not give an answer to the question I had put to her, and we still do not know whether the proposal she made to the Roman Catholic hierarchy was communicated to the other denominations and, if she found it was not acceptable to the other denominations, at what stage she communicated her change of mind to the Roman Catholic hierarchy. I do not think she did because it seems perfectly clear that the first intimation they had of the change of view was when the Parliamentary Secretary made such an 1517 admirably clear and lucid statement of the position on Second Reading.
I do not think that the right hon. Lady has a record of which she is entitled to be proud on this subject. I think that the matter is a great deal bigger than some hon. Members have said. The hon. and learned Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Philip Bell) talked about Roman Catholics going round trying to get a little more for their denomination. That is not an interpretation which appeals to hon. Members on either side of the House. The point is that if a responsible Minister takes part in discussions with denominations or other important and responsible bodies we must see that they are entitled to rely on the good faith of the Minister and the Government she represents. It is because I am not convinced that the Minister has acted in this way that I shall have no hesitation in following my right hon. Friend into the Lobby against the Government tonight.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Sir G. Hutchinson
I wish to detain the House for a few moments only and I shall certainly not follow the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) in the somewhat controversial and, in some respects, unfair observations he has made about my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education.
I agree with the hon. Member for Old-ham, West (Mr. Hale) that this has been a remarkable debate. It has lasted for five-and-a-half hours, and now it appears tolerably certain that words introduced into this Bill will have no effect whatever if they are allowed to remain there. That being so, it would seem that, whatever may be our views on the merits of this controversy, we are bound to take out those words.
There has been some criticism of my right hon. Friend because the words proposed to be inserted in the Bill were not effective to achieve their purpose. It was said that it was in some way her duty to find a form of words which would effect that purpose. I find it difficult to follow that argument. The right hon. Lady does not want the words in the Bill. She is satisfied with the Bill as it stands, and it is not right to say that there is some obligation on her, or upon the Solicitor-General, to come to the assistance of those who have failed 1518 to find words to express their own purpose.
This debate seems to have revolved round a very narrow point. We are all agreed that complete retrospection is not what is desired by any hon. Member. But there is a strong feeling on both sides of the House that my right hon. Friend does not go so far in the matter as the House would desire. She has taken her stand on the ground that there is to be no retrospection; but that was not always her position. I will not refer again to the minute of the interview which she had with the representatives of the Roman Catholic Church. But it is clear—and I think the right hon. Lady would accept it—that at that stage of the proceedings she was prepared to concede there should be some recession from the principle of no retrospection.
Clearly what remains to be done is a simple business. We must find some point at which retrospection may begin. I do not think it is impossible to find some acceptable form which would fix the point where retrospection would begin. Various proposals have been made. Hon. Members who sponsored this Amendment in Committee have proposed that those schools in respect of which building accounts are still open should be the point from which retrospection should start. That is not acceptable to the right hon. Lady. She says it is not acceptable to the other parties with whom she negotiated.
Then the right hon. Lady has just told the House that there are 11 schools— as I understood her figures—whose position is uncertain. She is prepared to accept for the purpose of the revised grant four schools which I understand are already established as schools or at least are partly established. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] If they are not established schools I should have thought it was clear that the revised grant applied to them in any case. In some way they stand in a sort of half-way position between a proposed school and an establish school.
At any rate the right hon. Lady is prepared to bring them in for the revised grant. I should have thought that that in itself would have involved some amendment of Section 104. If Section 104 is to be amended in order to bring in those four additional schools, then 1519 surely before any such Amendment is moved at a later stage in the Bill it would be a good thing for us to see whether we cannot find some point at which retrospection can be deemed to begin with the assent of all parties who are interested in this somewhat complex topic.
I am unwilling to suggest to my right hon. Friend that she should go back to the parties with whom she originally negotiated, for negotiations of that character take a very long time, and there is a stage when outside bodies must be regarded as having had an opportunity of expressing their opinions and when we cannot expect the Minister to continue to negotiate with them to an unlimited extent. The House of Commons must decide.
My recollection goes back to the Act of 1944, as does the recollection of many other hon. Members. There were times during the passage of that Act through the House when critical situations seemed to arise, as has been the case with this Bill, and there were occasions when the Minister in charge of the Bill met hon. Members who represented different points of view in the House and endeavoured to obtain, with their assistance, some measure of agreement which, although not wholly acceptable to those parties for whom they claimed to speak, was at least acceptable to the House of Commons.
I do not expect my right hon. Friend to make any reply to this point tonight; it would not be fair to invite her to do so at this stage in the debate. But I do ask her to give this matter consideration, and to see whether she can, by consultation with hon. Members in different parts of the House who have expressed different points of view, try to bring about some measure of agreement on this comparatively narrow question and send this Bill forward with the good will of all those hon. Members who have expressed these varying points of view in this debate.
§ Mr. Proctor
I still think that the House has not had fair play from the Minister of Education in connection with the Bill. To reach this stage and then —and not until then—to give us the figures of the schools with which we are dealing is the wrong way in which to proceed. The right hon. Lady said there 1520 were 76 schools either built or to be built, of which 49 would rank for grant, 16 would be proposed schools under the Bill, leaving 11. I can understand those figures. Then she said that the hierarchy had given her the information that there were 12, but she did not explain where the other one had come from; and she said, "We think there are 15, but of those 15, four would rank for grant." That leaves 11.
I say that that would not qualify anyone for a scholarship in any of our schools. It is most extraordinary that the right hon. Lady should give us these figures at this time, because the one argument put forward by the Solicitor-General, and emphasised by the Minister herself, was that it was the responsibility of the Opposition and those of us who sponsored this Amendment to find a form of words to carry out our intentions.
I want to deal with that argument, because it is a vital one. I say that it is the responsibility of the Government to find a form of words that will put into proper legislative order the desires of the Committee upstairs, and I well remember that my first lesson in this matter came from the present Home Secretary. We were dealing with the first Transport Act, and there had been a proposal that short-distance transport was to be excluded from the Transport Commission's operations. I immediately saw that, if that was carried out, the Railway Executive—
This is rather remote from the Education Bill.
I dare say that a number of things might be connected with it, but they should not be connected.
§ Mr. Proctor
This point is one which clearly illustrates my argument. I saw that that would prevent anyone from collecting or delivering a parcel, so far as the railways were concerned.
§ Mr. Proctor
I have always understood that, when a Committee decides the principle, it is for the Government to find the form of words with which to carry it into effect. The Government should have announced their decision on 1521 the matter, but we have had no decision from the Minister until today, when she has told us that she was taking this action of removing these words from the Bill.
The question is: Did the right hon. Lady make a firm promise to the hierarchy when dealing with the proposals in this Bill? During the Committee stage, we went very carefully into this matter, and the words used by representatives of her own Department wereto include schools for which the accounts have not been closed.I was very anxious to know whether or not the hierarchy themselves had understood these words to be a firm promise, because it is a very important matter. If, on 12th February, 1952, they understood that all the schools of which the accounts had not been closed were to be included in this Bill, there was no great hurry for this Bill, and the delay in bringing it forward would not have mattered, provided that it had been a firm promise.
I asked Bishop Beck if he would give me the private notes which he had made of the interview, because I was anxious to know whether or not the hierarchy understood it as such. He sent me the private notes which he had made, and here, in the notes made of this interview by representatives of the hierarchy, there is a clear statement that this promise was made and that it was a firm promise. I say that the Minister should carry out that promise, and deal with this matter in the way which we have suggested. No business can be carried on, so far as this House and the Government of the country are concerned, unless the firm promises of Ministers can be regarded as sacred by the people with whom they are negotiated.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Fell
I do not intend to take up the time of the House for many minutes, but I do intend to say what I have to say. I rise to my feet perhaps for the reason that I am a young enough back bencher still to believe in miracles. Throughout the debate today there has been almost complete agreement on the objects which we all wish to achieve by this Bill. There is no argument about the need to give the grants to these schools. Hon. Members on both sides of 1522 the House want that to be done. The only thing that has caused a division of opinion is that there is some doubt as to the interpretation of certain words and some doubt regarding whether the Minister has or has not broken faith with some of the parties concerned.
Let me say at once that if it comes to a vote I shall support the Minister, for the simple reason that I must accept the explanation of my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General that the words which my right hon. Friend seeks to delete are immaterial and mean nothing. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Perhaps hon. Members opposite would have been a little happier if one of their senior legal advisers had been present during this debate and had been able to contradict my hon. and learned Friend. It might have strengthened our case, and might even have persuaded some of us on this side of the House that we were wrong in agreeing with my hon. and learned Friend, in whom we have great confidence.
The miracle in which I believe is that, as we are all agreed on the ends for which we are striving in this Bill, it may be possible, even at this late stage, to avoid a Division. It is deplorable that we should have come to such a pass on what I should have thought was a reasonably small matter, and that we should give the impression to the world outside that we are prepared to carry the matter to a Division when, in fact, there is no real division between us.
I believe that if my right hon. Friend the Minister could make some concession, even at this late stage, the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), who is leading the Opposition in this debate, might agree not to divide the House on this matter, because I believe that he is as staunch a supporter of unanimity on the policy adopted towards denominational education as anybody in this House.
I appeal to my right hon. Friend—as did my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Sir G. Hutchinson), though he said he did not expect her to do it at once—to have a further look at the question of these 11 schools, in view of the feelings that have been expressed so strongly today, some of them, I think, too strongly, by hon. Members on all sides of the House, and 1523 to see whether there is anything that can be done or can be put into the Bill and dealt with by some form of Amendment in the Lords. Is it possible for her, at the last minute, to consider doing something of that nature in order to avoid a Division which would cause nothing but concern to some hon. Members?
§ Mr. Keenan
I do not intend to speak for very long. I am not like some hon. Members who have not been near the place all this time and who say that we should not divide. The one thing that the other side want to avoid is a Division. Most of the subject matter has been well discussed, but there is one point that I want to put to the Minister or to the Parliamentary Secretary.
If the Amendment which the Minister now seeks to eliminate from the Bill remained as those who moved it originally intended it to be, what would it cost if it were given effect to? The figures have varied from time to time. The number of schools affected has also been mentioned, and I think the Minister said the Clause would be retrospective. I do not think it would. The intention of the Amendment in the Committee was that the period should start from the time the Bill was introduced and that would have excluded some of the schools that the Minister has included in her 11 or 15. Has any attempt been made to find out what the cost would be if the Amendment remained in the Bill?
I should like to know why the Minister could not have left this matter alone. If the words do not mean a thing, why our six-hour debate? I have listened to most of the speeches and heard a lot of wishful expressions about "the debate is not on party lines," and the rest of it. I have been dismayed and concerned to find that the majority of those who spoke, and particularly those who were concerned that this matter might cost the educational machine a few thousand pounds more, approached the matter not as educationalists but as either political or religious partisans. That has been the expression, and we are divided.
What will the Division tonight be on this Amendment, which is undoing the 1524 attempt made to reach an arrangement on a difficult financial problem for the school authorities concerned? A financial obligation that was only about £5 million or £6 million in 1944 is now £30 million or more, which is impossible for those concerned. There has not been a great deal of expression here today of the true educational spirit of seeing that the children get what some parents have ceased to provide. This is the first educational debate that has shown up the different protagonists on both sides.
§ Mr. McAdden
I have sat in the Chamber for the greater part of the day, listening to speeches on both sides. I am sorry, but, whether it offends or pleases, I feel that if I have a view on this matter it is right that I should put it before the House. I am considerably worried by the fact that a great many of us are exercised in our minds whether we shall secure the object which most of us wish to secure by voting either one way or the other.
If I understand correctly what has transpired, whether we vote for or against the Amendment will not have the slightest effect in the sense that most of us desire, that is in remedying an injustice where it has been committed or is likely to be committed. If that is the case, it seems to me that we ought to have some assistance in making up our minds whether we vote at all or which way we should vote, and that before coming to a decision we should try to elicit some further information.
The crux of the matter, as I understand it, is that there are some 15 schools at the moment not in receipt, or likely to be in receipt, of a grant of any kind, and that if this Clause is passed as it stands, or even as amended, four schools will receive benefit but 11 schools will still be outside. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] That is as I understand it but, whether I have stated the matter correctly or not, it is undoubtedly true that there is considerable feeling about whether these 11 schools should or should not receive the benefit which some of us think that they should have.
I suggest that there is a way to get out of this difficulty. I understand that the reason for the objections which have been advanced against giving the full 1525 benefit to these 11 schools is the fact that it would mean the reopening of negotiations with other interested bodies, and possibly reviving all the difficulties and disagreements which were resolved only with great difficulty in 1944. I can understand that nobody would want to find himself in the difficulty of trying to arrive at an agreement which was so hard to achieve in 1944 but, so far, I am not convinced that that is impossible.
I should have thought that if this problem concerns only 11 schools it would be possible, between now and the later stage of the Bill, for the Minister to negotiate with the other interested parties to see if
§ they had any objection to the benefits of this Clause going to these 11 schools. If that were done it might be possible to surmount these difficulties. Can the Minister tell us if she is prepared to enter discussions with the other interested parties to see whether their objections to these 11 schools are as substantial as we are led to believe? If they are not, it might be possible to arrive at a solution which would please both sides.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 167: Noes, 183.1527
|Division No. 172.]||AYES||[9.30 p.m.|
|Adams, Richard||Hall, John T. (Gateshead, W.)||Palmer, A. M. F|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Hamilton, W. W.||Pannell, Charles|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Hannan, W.||Pargiter, G. A|
|Baird, J.||Hargreaves, A.||Pearson, A.|
|Barnes, Rt. Hon. A. J.||Hastings, S.||Porter, G.|
|Bartley, P.||Hayman, F. H.||Price, Joseph T. (Westhoughton)|
|Benn, Hon. Wedgwood||Herbison, Mils M.||Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)|
|Benson, G.||Hobson, C. R.||Proctor, W. T|
|Bing, G. H. C||Holman, P.||Pryde, D. J.|
|Blackburn, F.||Holmes, Horace (Hemsworth)||Pursey, Cmdr. H.|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Houghton, Douglas||Richards, R.|
|Boardman, H.||Hudson, James (Ealing, N.)||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)|
|Brockway, A. F.||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)|
|Brook, Dryden (Halifax)||Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Royle, C.|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, S.)||Irving, W. J. (Wood Green)||Shackleton, E. A. A|
|Callaghan L. J.||Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.||Short, E. W.|
|Carmichael, J.||Jeger, George (Goole)||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)|
|Castle, Mrs. B. A.||Jeger. Dr. Santo (St. Pancras, S.)||Simmons, C. J. Brierley Hill|
|Champion, A. J.||Johnson, James (Rugby)||Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke-on-Trent)|
|Clunie, J.||Jones, David (Hartlepool)||Slater, J. (Durham, Sedgefield)|
|Coldrick, W.||Jones, T. W. (Merioneth)||Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)|
|Collick, P. H.||Keenan, W.||Smith, Norman (Nottingham, S.)|
|Corbet, Mrs Freda||Kenyon, C.||Snow, J. W.|
|Cove, W. G.||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||King, Dr. H. M.||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank|
|Cullen, Mrs. A.||Lever, Harold (Cheetham)||Sparks, J. A.|
|Daines, P.||Lever, Leslie (Ardwick)||Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)|
|Davies, Rt. Hn. Clement (Montgomery)||Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.||Stokes, Rt. Hon. R. R.|
|Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.)||Logan, D. G.||Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Deer, G.||MacColl, J. E.||Stross, Dr. Barnett|
|Delargy, H. J.||McGovern, J.||Swingler, S. T.|
|Dodds, N. N.||McInnes, J.||Sylvester, G. O.|
|Donnelly, D. L.||McKay, John (Wallsend)||Taylor, Rt. Hon. Robert (Morpeth)|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||McLeavy, F.||Thomas, David (Aberdare)|
|Edwards, John (Brighouse)||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Thomas, Ivor Owen (Wrekin)|
|Edwards, W. J. (Stepney)||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)||Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)|
|Evans, Albert (Islington, S. W)||Mann, Mrs. Jean||Thornton, E.|
|Evans, Edward (Lowestoft)||Manuel, A. C.||Tomney, F.|
|Evans, Stanley (Wednesbury)||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A||Turner-Samuels, M.|
|Fernyhough, E.||Mason, Roy||Viant, S. P.|
|Fletcher, Eric (Islington, E.)||Mayhew, C. P.||Wallace, H. W.|
|Foot, M. M.||Mellish, R. J.||Wells, Percy (Faversham)|
|Forman, J. C.||Messer, F.||Wells, William (Walsall)|
|Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Mikardo, Ian||West, D. G.|
|Freeman, John (Watford)||Mitchison, G. R.||Wheeldon, W. E.|
|Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.||Monslow, W.||Whiteley, Rt. Hon W.|
|Gibson, C. W.||Moody, A. S.||Wilcock, Group Capt. C. A. B.|
|Glanville, James||Morgan, Dr. H. B. W.||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Moyle, A.||Williams, Ronald (Wigan)|
|Gordon, Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||Mulley, F. W.||Winterbottom, Ian (Nottingham, C.)|
|Greenwood, Anthony (Rossendale)||Murray, J. D.||Winterbottom, Richard (Brightside)|
|Grey, C. F.||Nally, W.||Yates, V. F.|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||Oldfield, W. H.|
|Grimond, J.||Oliver, G. H.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Hale, Leslie||Oswald, T.||Mr. Popplewell and Mr. Arthur Allen.|
|Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||Paget, R. T.|
|Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.)||Graham, Sir Fergus||Nugent, G. R. H|
|Alpert, C. J. M.||Gridley, Sir Arnold||Oakshott, H. D.|
|Arbuthnot, John||Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans)||O'Neill, Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)|
|Ashton, H. (Chelmsford)||Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury)||Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N)|
|Assheton, Rt. Hon. R. (Blackburn, W.)||Hall, John (Wycombe)||Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian (Weston-super-Mars)|
|Astor, Hon. J. J.||Hare, Hon. J. H.||Osborne, C.|
|Baldock, L.-Cmdr. J. M.||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.)||Partridge, E.|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Harrison, Cat. J. H. (Eye)||Peake, Rt. Hon. O|
|Bank., Col. C.||Harvey, Air Cdre. A. V. (Macclesfield)||Perkins, W. R. D.|
|Barber, Anthony||Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.)||Pete, Brig. C. H. M.|
|Barlow, Sir John||Heath, Edward||Pickthorn, K. W. M.|
|Baxter, A. B.||Higgs, J. M. C.||Pitman, I. J.|
|Beach, Maj. Hicks||Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)||Powell, J. Enoch|
|Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.)||Hirst, Geoffrey||Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)|
|Bennett, Or. Reginald (Gosport)||Holland-Martin, C. J.||Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. L.|
|Birch, Nigel||Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P.||Profumo, J. D.|
|Bishop, F. P.||Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Florence||Raikes, Sir Victor|
|Black, C. W.||Howard, Hon. Greville (St. Ives)||Rayner, Brig. R|
|Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.||Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.)||Redmayne, M.|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Hutchinson, Sir Geoffrey (Ilford, N.)||Renton, D. L. M|
|Braine, B. R.||Hutchison, Lt.-Com. Clark (E'b'rgh W.)||Robinson, Roland (Blackpool, S.)|
|Braithwaite, Lt.-Cdr. G. (Bristol, N. W.)||Hylton-Foster, H. B. H.||Robson-Brown, W.|
|Bromley Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H.||Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Roper, Sir Harold|
|Brooke, Henry (Hampstead)||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard|
|Browne, Jack (Govan)||Jones, A. (Hall Green)||Russell, R. S.|
|Buchan-Hepburn, Rt. Hon. P. G. T.||Keeling, Sir Edward||Salter, Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur|
|Bullard, D. G.||Kerr, H. W.||Savory, Prof. Sir Douglas|
|Burden, F. F. A.||Lambert, Hon. G.||Schofield, Lt.-Col. W.|
|Butcher, Sir Herbert||Langford-Holt, J. A.||Scott, R. Donald|
|Campbell, Sir David||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.)|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield)||Smyth, Brig. J. G. (Norwood)|
|Channon, H.||Lindsay, Martin||Snadden, W. McN.|
|Clarke, Col. Ralph (East Grinstead)||Linstead, H. N.||Spens, Sir Patrick (Kensington, S.)|
|Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmouth. W)||Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard|
|Cole, Norman||Lockwood, Lt.-Col. J. C.||Stevens, G. P.|
|Colgate, W. A.||Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.)||Steward, W. A. (Woolwich W.)|
|Conant, Maj. R. J. E.||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Stoddart-Scott, Col M.|
|Cooper, Sqn. Ldr. Albert||McAdden, S. J.||Storey, S.|
|Craddook, Beresford (Spelthorne)||McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S.||Studholme, H. G.|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Macdonald, Sir Peter||Summers, G. S.|
|Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. G.||Mackeson, Brig. H. R.||Sutcliffe, Sir Harold|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||McKibbin, A. J.||Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)|
|Crouch, R. F.||Mackie, J. H. (Galloway)||Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)|
|Crowder, Sir John (Finchley)||Maclay, Rt. Hon. John||Thompson, Lt.-Cdr. R. (Croydon, W.)|
|Crowder, Petre (Ruislip—Northwood)||Macleod, Rt. Hon. lain (Enfield, W.)||Thorneycroft, Rt. Hn Peter (Monmouth)|
|Darling, Sir William (Edinburgh, S.)||Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley)||Touche, Sir Gordon|
|Davidson, Viscountess||Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)||Turner, H. F. L.|
|Deedes, W. F.||Maitland, Comdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle)||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Doughty, C. J. A.||Manningham-Buller, Sir R. E.||Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.|
|Drayson, G. B.||Markham, Major S. F.||Vosper, D. F.|
|Duncan, Capt. J A. L.||Marples, A. E.||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.||Marshall, Douglas (Bodmin)||Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. Marylebone)|
|Fell, A.||Marshall, Sir Sidney (Sutton)||Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth)|
|Finlay, Graeme||Maude, Angus||Wellwood, W.|
|Ford; Mrs Patricia||Maudling, R.||Williams, Rt. Hon. Charles (Torquay)|
|Fort, R.||Medlicott, Brig. F.||Williams, Sir Herbert (Croydon, E.)|
|Fraser, Sir Ian (Morecambe & Lonsdale)||Mellor, Sir John||Williams, R Dudley (Exeter)|
|Galbraith, Rt. Hon. T D. (Pollok)||Molson, A. H. E.||Wills, G.|
|Garner-Evans, E. H.||Morrison, John (Salisbury)||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Godber, J. B||Nabarro, G. D. N.|
|Gomme-Duncan, Col. A.||Nicolson, Nigel (Bournemouth, E.)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Gough, C. F. H.||Nield, Basil (Chester)||Mr. Drewe and Mr. Kaberry.|
Question put, and agreed to.