HC Deb 26 May 1954 vol 528 cc574-82

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Vosper.]

12.16 a.m.

Rev. Llywelyn Williams (Abertillery)

At the outset, I should like to say that I speak with the permission of my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Mort) in whose constituency the Rev. Leonard Hugh resides. Dr. Hugh is the minister of the Mynydd Bach Congregational Church, near Swansea. In the academic world he holds a very distinguished position indeed, he is M.A., B.D. and Ph.D. His doctorate was awarded for a thesis submitted to London University.

Dr. Hugh applied for a post as specialist instructor in religious knowledge in Gowerton Grammar School, and out of 15 applicants was appointed to that position. When he was interviewed by the governors, who were acting on behalf of the Glamorgan county authority, he was informed of course, that on being appointed to this post his name would be required to be removed from the list of regular ministers. The word "regular" is to be understood as meaning ministers in charge of a church. Dr. Hugh realised, of course, that this was quite a reasonable request, and indeed, that his name inevitably would be removed from the list of regular ministers the Congregational order.

At a further interview with the clerk to the governors, Mr. T. Gwyn Jones, he was asked to supply the clerk with a certificate of relinquishment in order to comply with regulations under the Education Act, 1944. This certificate of relinquishment was immediately forthcoming from the secretary of the Monnybach Welsh Congregational Church with the authority of the church meeting and the purport of the certificate was to signify as and from the date which Dr. Hugh would be commencing his duties as schoolmaster in the grammar school he would be no longer minister of that church. On 1st February Mr. Gwyn Jones wrote a letter to Dr. Hugh asking: I shall be glad to know whether you have now obtained the necessary document to show that you are no longer an ordained minister of your denomination. On 8th February, Mr. Gwyn Jones wrote another letter to Dr. Hugh, saying: I wish to inform you that the governors of this school at their meeting yesterday were informed that you had not replied to my letter of 1st February, in which you were asked whether you had now obtained the necessary documents to show that you are no longer an ordained minister. The governors decided to give you 14 days from today in which to reply to this letter and submit the document required, and if no reply is received at the end of this period the post will be declared vacant. I wish to inform the Parliamentary Secretary that such a document could not be supplied, because of the nature of the Congregational order. The Congregational order is such that the only recognised authority is the authority of the local church. There is no central authority. The local church supplied all that it could, in this case, namely, a certificate of relinquishment. It is impossible for any Congregational minister to supply a document such as that asked for by the clerk to the governors.

I am bewildered by the fact that in a county such as Glamorgan, where, numerically, the Congregationalists are the strongest of all the Nonconformist denominations, there should be such surprising ignorance of the Congregationalist order as was revealed in this correspondence. Dr. Leonard Hugh replied to the letter of 1st February, and his letter crossed in the post a letter written on 8th February, which he received on 10th February.

I think his reply to Mr. T. Gwyn Jones gives a clear resumé of his position. I quote from his letter: During the interview I fully explained to you the Congregational principle involved in this matter. I also understand that the Rev. Curig Davies, secretary of the Welsh Congregational Union, clarified the position in a telephonic conversation a few days prior to our interview. When I was appointed by the governors, I agreed to relinquish charge of my church and to have my name deleted from the list of regular ministers. Accordingly, I obtained a deed of relinquishment from my church in time for me to commence duties on the 4th January as requested by the governors. Your persistent demand, and I quote from your letter, 'for the necessary documents to show that I am no longer an ordained minister of your denomination' is both unprecedented and contrary to the meaning of the 1944 Education Act. Moreover, the Welsh Congregational Union has no authority to grant such documents. Dr. Leonard Hugh also wrote to the clerk to the governors on 22nd February. I quote from the letter: With reference to my letter of 9th February, I must reassert that I have done everything within my power to comply with the conditions governing this appointment. The only authoritative and relevant deed within the framework of Congregational policy is the church deed of relinquishment. This was forwarded to you in time for me to commence duties on 4th January as the governors requested. As an inevitable result my name would be deleted from the list of regular ministers and I would, therefore, forfeit all the privileges appertaining to ministers in charge of churches. Your demand for a document to show that I am no longer an ordained minister contravenes the essential meaning of the Congregational faith. No Welsh Congregationalist could produce such a document. Nevertheless, I realise that I must submit to your ruling in this matter and I do so without further argument. I have, therefore, to inform you that I am no longer interested in the post of Scripture Specialist at Gowerton Boys' Grammar School. I shall now send a full statement of events leading up to this decision to the Minister of Education in London, for clarification. Dr. Hugh got into touch with me, and I wrote to the Director of Education for the Glamorgan County Council. In his first letter to me the director writes a paragraph which, in my view, is unsatisfactory: The present difficulty appears to have arisen through the implementation of this regulation"— he quoted from one of the Ministry's regulations— and possibly the arrangements of the Congregational ministry were insufficiently realised. I submit that that paragraph is so weak and so lacking in anything positive that it amounts in this case to a continuation of the injustice which I insist Dr. Leonard Hugh was receiving. Dr. Hugh was placed in a very invidious position. He resigned from his church, accepted this post in the grammar school, and then these so-called administrative difficulties arose. Finally, in a panic, because he seemed to see all doors closed to him, Dr. Hugh was compelled by the exigencies of the circumstances to resign the post.

Dr. Hugh was fortunate in that the church, in one sense, took pity on him and invited him to resume the ministry in the Mynydd Bach Church, but, psychologically, the relationship between the minister and the church can obviously never be quite the same.

In all the correspondence which I have received, and which Dr. Hugh received, there has been no word of apology, and not a single expression of regret. I must confess to my surprise and bitter disappointment that this attitude has been adopted towards a person of the academic eminence of Dr. Leonard Hugh in the unfortunate circumstances in which he found himself.

What I particularly want the Parliamentary Secretary and the Ministry to consider doing in this case is to give a real clarification of the position of Congregational ministers who seek appointments as Scripture teachers in grammar schools in the light of the 1944 Act. Obviously, this authority would suggest that Congregational ministers, unless they do the impossible—the thing which they just could not do—are not qualified to take up these posts.

But that is not so in many other areas. Only a few weeks ago I was speaking to the director of education of a large city in England, and he was astonished to learn of this case. He told me that he had at least half a dozen Nonconformist ministers serving as teachers in schools in his area.

This position must be clarified. Nothing, presumably, can be done for Dr. Leonard Hugh, but in his trial, and I would say personal embarrassment and humiliation in these circumstances, he will at least serve as a portent of what really needs to be done regarding the position of Congregational ministers.

I am wondering whether a circular could be sent to local education authorities on this point, because, as I have said before, Congregationalists and Baptists recognise only one authority, and that authority is vested in the local church.

The request of the clerk of the governors was an unreasonable one, and one with which no Congregational minister could comply. In the setting of Glamorgan, it is a complete mystery to a person such as myself. One would be foolish to enter into the realm of discerning motives—that is purely speculative—and perhaps one should not attempt to enter into that strange and unknown world; but, obviously, there is something in this case which is far from satisfying to a person who has tried to assess it honestly and clearly. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to shed some light on it and ensure that this type of injustice never occurs again.

Mr. David Llewellyn (Cardiff, North)

I intervene for a moment as the only Member present who represents a Glamorgan constituency. I congratulate the hon. Member for Abertillery (Rev. Ll. Williams) on having raised this matter. As the Parliamentary Secretary will know, the hon. Member is himself a great preacher. I reinforce what the hon. Member has said about the very strong feeling that exists, not only among Congregationalists in Glamorgan and in Wales, but also among all Nonconformist denominations. I should like to know what action my hon. Friend proposes to take to avoid a recurrence of this sort of thing in the future.

12.32 a.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education (Mr. Kenneth Pickthorn)

I must choose language very carefully in answering this debate. I quite understand the importance of it, and the hon. Member for Abertillery (Rev. Williams) will do me the justice of understanding the difficulty I am in. I must, therefore, use language with great care, but I hope I shall not give the impression, which would certainly be a false one, that if I am being very careful in my language it is because I want in any way to shuffle off the issue or to wrap it up. I quite understand the importance of the questions raised, and as far as my understanding of them goes, they have been raised with perfect fairness.

In so far as there has been any injustice, or even appearance of injustice, and especially in so far as there has been what must in the nature of the case have been a very painful professional turning in Dr. Hugh's career—the turning, or the half-turning, out into something different from his own choice, and then what must appear to be to some extent turning willy-nilly back again—I fully understand that to a sensitive man, quite apart from any material consequences that may follow from that, all that must have been painful; and I very much regret that it should have happened.

I will not go at any length into the normal ways of making appointments. I had written out, to be sure I had got it right, the exact ways of appointing, the powers which are delegated, and so on, but I have only 13 minutes left to me and I would rather get on to the part which ought to be put on record. Neither will I read what, I am sure, the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) knows by heart—Regulation 19 of the Schools Grant Regulations, 1951, with its three subsections. I can omit reading it partly because of the right hon. Gentleman's presence.

I will begin by putting into four-ale bar language what the words in the Regulation appear to me to mean, and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will correct me if he thinks I am getting it wrong again; the interpretation which has generally been put upon Regulation 19, which is an exact repetition of an earlier Regulation of 1945, has been as follows: first, that in general no clerk in Holy Orders or regular Minister of any religious denomination may be employed as a regular teacher in a maintained school. That is subsection (1).

But by virtue of subsection (2), if the school is a secondary grammar school or a school of various other kinds—but a secondary grammar school is what matters for the moment—the governors or authority appointing may, at their discretion, employ such a person.

Moreover, by virtue of subsection (3), even in the case of other kinds of school—the kinds of school where, in principle, one may not employ such a person—the appointing authority—in this case the governors, with the powers delegated to them—may appoint the otherwise ineligible person upon getting permission from the Minister to do so.

That is, as I understand it, what the Regulations mean, and I do not think that in the Ministry—the present Ministry, or that of my predecessor—has there at any time been any doubt that that is the meaning. The history of the Regulation I have had written out at some length in order to be sure that I have it right; but again, I think that all hon. Members now present know that background pretty well, and that we can therefore leave most of it out. When the new classification of schools came about in 1945, those which had been under the Regulations for Secondary or Higher education became known as secondary grammar and technical schools respectively; for those schools there has never been any ineligibility in being a minister; they are covered by subsection (2), which merely continues previous practice.

The Authority argues in its letter of 12th May—and this correspondence is not yet finished and, therefore, I must be most careful what I state—that an ordained minister continues to be a minister unless he somehow manages to get out of that state. I was then quoting their interpretation; they are not the words in the Regulations. There are difficult theological questions involved in understanding the Anglican, Roman Catholic, or Congregational practice, but I think that I understand sufficiently how a Congregationalist minister has to be defined. Quite plainly, what constitutes the minister's character, if one may put it in that way, is the fact that a particular congregation has called him to minister to it, and he is still the minister of that congregation.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

I think it would be fairer to say that in this denomination there is no power which can "unfrock"—to use the term we generally understand in connection with the Anglican and Roman Catholic communities—a man who has been ordained a minister. Having once been ordained, he remains so, and speaking as one brought up as a Congregationalist and as one who still believes in the ecclesiastical theories of Congregationalism, that is the position arising in this case.

Mr. Pickthorn

That may be, but I do not think that it affects the argument. It is true that a clerk in holy orders, even if he has no benefice nor cure of souls, is mill a clerk in holy orders and is still bound by the Regulations until he relinquishes those orders. Orders can be relinquished; that has been done sufficiently for the purpose of the Regula- tion; all that is necessary for our immediate argument is to be prepared to agree, for the sake of argument, that that is not an operation feasible within the Congregational arrangements.

It is not for me to understand about these things, but I am prepared to admit that that may be so. There are differing practices in these matters between differing churches. I am not concerned to deny that there may be a Free Church minister in another denomination, with no regular duties in respect of a particular denomination, who may yet be regarded as a regular minister of his denomination.

In the case of Dr. Hugh, however, this was not so, and the Chief Education Officer was told in a letter from the Ministry of 11th May that, in the view of the Minister, since he was no longer regularly officiating in charge of a congregation, he was not subject to Regulation 19 (1). That letter ought perhaps to have added—it may be argued that it would be rather harsh to use the word "ought"—but it certainly could have added another point.

There are two views about such matters: when there are two reasons, either of them sufficient for a decision, it may be argued that it is better only to state one because, with a plurality of reasons, one may raise a doubt about their validity whereas, on another view, it is better to put in all the possible reasons. The letter might have put in another reason; that is to say, that since the school concerned here was a grammar school, therefore that bar did not arise here. It may be that it would have been better if the letter had said that too, though I do not think any blame is to be put on the drafting of the letter that it did not do so.

Even if they were uncertain about the effect of subsection (2), and if they thought that Dr. Hugh was a minister within the terms of subsection (1), there is a third point. Even then they could, if they had wished, have appointed him as being academically highly qualified for the purpose—and for all I have to say, for the purpose he was possibly as highly qualified as he could have been— by asking the permission of the Minister under subsection (3).

Finally, I come to what can be done. I think that most of what can be done I hope may have been done by what have said this evening, and by the reporting of it. My right hon. Friend would think it her duty where, as appears to be the case here, there has been action based on misconception of a Regulation, to inform the authorities or governors concerned of the proper interpretation. She would expect the authority to review their practice and to pay proper attention to that information in the future. There has already been a letter written to the authority and there will be more. I do not think there is a serious danger that this case will be the thin end of a wedge which will spread to other parts of the country. In any event, this particular case is still not settled correspondence is still going on.

I hope that what I have said has been plain, and I have no doubt that it will be so published that other governors and authorities will be aware of what I have said.

12.44 a.m.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

In the minute that remains I should like to thank the Parliamentary Secretary for his statement which is very important, namely, that for the senior forms of secondary grammar schools there should be on the staff, since religious instruction is a compulsory subject, a person of sufficient standing in that subject to deal with the very awkward questions that can be put to ill-instructed teachers in this matter by the senior pupils, particularly of science forms.

I rejoice that the hon. Gentleman has made quite clear that under Regulations 19 (2) and 19 (3) there is ample opportunity for local education authorities, if they desire to do so, to appoint fully qualified people, although they have been, or are, ministers of a particular denomination.

Adjourned accordingly at a Quarter to One o'Clock a.m.