HC Deb 01 July 1959 vol 608 cc488-515

4.30 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education (Sir Edward Boyle)

I beg to move, in page 2, line 10, to leave out "established before the relevant date or" and to insert: aided schools or special agreement schools before the relevant date or were established". This is a drafting Amendment to remove a doubt raised as to the meaning of the word "established" on page 2, line 10 of the Bill. The purpose of Clause 1 (2) is to provide grant for a secondary school which is built to serve pupils coming from primary schools in the area, those schools being aided or special agreement schools, either existing on 15th June, 1959, or replacing such existing schools. It could just be argued that the phraseology of line 10 would let in for the purposes of the subsection, a primary school which is now an independent school but becomes an aided school at some time in the future. This is not the intention of the Bill. I know it was never the understanding of the House, and the proposed Amendment will remove the doubt which has been raised.

Amendment agreed to.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Lady Megan Lloyd George (Carmarthen)

Before we part with the Clause, I would like some assurances from the Minister about single-school areas. As the right hon. Gentleman well knows, this is a disability from which Nonconformists suffer to a considerable degree in many parts of the country. Indeed, it is estimated that there may be 200 or 300 single-school areas. Nonconformists and Free Churchmen do not like the dual system but they have accepted it with, I think, good grace. They have agreed to differ. In the same way they do not oppose the existence of denominational schools where there are sufficient numbers of any denomination to justify the establishment of such a school. However, they feel strongly that denominational schools should not be the only ones available in an area. If necessary, they should be an alternative, but certainly not an inevitability.

I say at once that we are all glad that the bitter religious controversies have died down. Certainly, a great change has come about in Wales in the relationship between the Nonconformists and the Church of England, who are largely concerned in this matter.

Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)

May I correct my hon. Friend? It is no longer the Church of England, but the Church in Wales.

Lady Megan Lloyd George

I am obliged to my right hon. Friend. I am only rather surprised that he, of all people, should have had to remind me of that fact. This one problem of the single school remains, it is an irritant and it is time that it was dealt with. I ask hon. Members who are members of the Church of England what their views would be if the position were reversed and there were no alternative schools for Church children in a locality, and they were compelled by that very circumstance to attend a Nonconformist school?

We have no doubt what our Roman Catholic friends would feel in the circumstances. In fact, I asked one of them the other day, and he replied, "If such a case were to arise, we would not stand for it". This only goes to show how extremely tolerant Free Churchmen are. But that does not mean that we do not feel that we are entitled to receive at the hands of this House, when this Bill is passing through it, some assurances and safeguards.

The Minister said in his Second Reading speech that it was not his expectation that this Clause would lead to the creation of any new single-school areas. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be very sure indeed that he is right on this point, because I cannot think of anything more likely to exacerbate feelings, or anything that would be less in the spirit of the compromise that the Bill represents, such as it is. I hope, therefore, that he will be able to give us some assurance on this matter today.

In single-school areas we would all agree that it is vital that the child should not suffer, that a child not of the denomination controlling the school should not be made to feel his position. I know there are many hon. Members on this side of the Committee who have lived through this experience in our village schools. My father—if I may mention a controversial subject in such unexceptionable debates as these—was brought up in a single-school area. In that case the results were not very happy for the school management and governors. There might be children, however, who would be affected by such an experience. One important way of avoiding this would be to ensure that an agreed syllabus of teaching should be available inside the school as a matter of routine and not of request. It would ease the situation considerably for these children.

My next point concerns representation on the board of managers and governors. I recognise that this question is not easily dealt with by Statute. I myself, and I think many other hon. Members on both sides of the Committee, also, would have been glad to see some provision incorporated in the Bill. Indeed, if the assurances given to us by the Minister are not carried out, this may still have to be the subject of legislation at a future date.

Of course, we are all glad to have the assurances of the right hon. Gentleman but, as Minister of Education, his days are numbered. I do not mean simply because the Prime Minister may take him by the arm, but for other circumstances over which he may have no control, and he cannot pledge his successors. Therefore, we would like the right hon. Gentleman to make it clear to local authorities, when they have a say in appointments, that, if possible, they should avoid appointing persons of the same denomination as those to whom the school belongs. It is only fair that local authorities should pay special regard to the representation of religious sections of the community; people who, by circumstances, are forced to send their children to these other schools. That would be another safeguard which would be acceptable to the Free Church community.

Finally, may I ask this question? The right hon. Gentleman told us in his speech on Second Reading that there would be meetings between the Church of England and the Free Churches. I understand that meetings took place last week and I hope very much that the Minister will be able to tell us this afternoon some of the terms of the agreement which apparently they reached.

Taking up the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), may I ask whether the Church in Wales was included in the discussions? As the Minister will realise, the Church in Wales is independent and not governed by the Church Assembly. If the right hon. Gentleman has not already had consultations with the Church in Wales, I hope that he can tell us that he is now prepared to do so. Perhaps he will also tell us whether he has made any progress with his suggestion during the Second Reading debate to the Free Churches that they should set up a central body which could constitute a permanent liaison with the Church of England Schools Council? That is an admirable proposition, so I hope that he will be able to tell us something about it. These are all matters which Free Church men and Nonconformists regard as vital to the faith in which they were brought up and in which they live.

Mr. Peter Kirk (Gravesend)

I am glad to have the opportunity to follow the noble Lady the Member for Carmarthen (Lady Megan Lloyd George). I will be very brief because I do not want to repeat much of what I said on Second Reading, which covered some of the points she has made.

I agree with much of what she said, approaching it from a somewhat different angle, as I am a member of the Church of England, but I think that it is fair to say that both the two main points which worried her and which are worrying many Free Church men—the question of providing some agreed syllabus in single-school areas and the question of appointing Free Church men to the management of single-school areas—have attracted the attention of the Church of England Schools Council.

On Second Reading I drew attention to the statement which the Council had made on the talks which it had been having with Free Church men over the past eighteen months or so. It is fair to say that the Church of England has perhaps been hampered a little by the absence of a central body in the Free Churches, with which it could negotiate, and I very much share the noble Lady's hope that such a central body will be set up as early as possible to iron out the remaining difficulties.

Unlike the noble Lady, I am somewhat relieved that no attempt has been made to write into the Statute provisions which would ensure for all time and in all circumstances that those two things would come about, not because I do not want them to come about, but because I feel that in certain areas it might be difficult to follow absolutely rigidly the letter of the Statute as we laid it down. Over the past fourteen years the Church of England has tried to do what it could, in the question of appointing managing bodies, to see that in single-school areas, where there is a large body of Free Church opinion and many Free Church children, such Free Church members were appointed. In many cases this has happened. It has happened particularly in certain parts of the West Country, and it is working well.

In some cases, however, we have run up against difficulties. Either no suitable person could be found or, for various reasons, the Free Churches themselves could not agree on who should be appointed. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that these difficulties may arise again in the future. That is why the position should be kept reasonably flexible, although I agree with the noble Lady that it should be done in every case where it possibly can be done. It is no less than justice.

The Church of England Schools Council has made it clear that it is quite prepared to work out an agreed syllabus with the Free Churches when it becomes possible. I join the noble Lady in asking the Minister what progress has been made in the talks which he so admirably sponsored after Second Reading and whether there is any prospect of a settlement between the Churches on these two matters, which are the only two matters outstanding as a result of the 1944 Act. If we can overcome these two difficulties, I think that the last echoes of this appalling controversy will have died away, and that will be a very good thing for the country and for the children.

4.45 p.m.

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes (Anglesey)

I rise to support my noble Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Lady Megan Lloyd George). Her intervention had special significance because of the part which her father played in the great arguments which followed 1902 and which are now part of our history. The single-school area was a focal point of the great controversies following 1902 and special attempts were made by Augustine Birrell, Reginald McKenna and Walter Runciman to remove the causes of the grievances which the Nonconformists felt so deeply at that time. It is interesting to note that the Welsh Department of Education was set up as a direct result of the controversies of the first decade of this century.

Happily, as my noble Friend said, the bitterness has passed, but the single-school areas remain. Nonconformists still object on principle to this anachronism. They justifiably feel that denominational schools should not be the only schools available to their children in any area. Unless something positive is done the Bill will tend to strengthen single-school areas.

There is one point which the hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Kirk) and the Minister have not yet grasped, and it is that the Church of England Schools Council has no authority in Wales, because the Church in Wales—it is the Church in Wales and not the Church of Wales—is independent of the established Church. The people of Wales, therefore, have had no direct connection through their Churches with the Minister in all the negotiations on this matter, and we feel some resentment because of that.

My personal feeling is that it is a great pity that the Minister did not go to greater pains to negotiate a settlement on this and other points with the Free Churches before introducing the Bill. We feel that the Bill has been introduced rather too hastily. We realise that we are in a minority in this country, but Nonconformity has played a very great part in educational progress and its views are entitled to consideration. Assurances from the Government Dispatch Box are very welcome, but they are not equivalent to safeguards in the Bill.

The Minister said on Second Reading that he had suggested that there should be a central committee of the Free Church Federal Council. I think that that is a good suggestion and I hope that Wales will be well represented on this committee if it comes into being, as we have a very special interest in these matters. If we are to pay these large sums towards denominational schools it is all the more reason why the single-school area problem should be settled once and for all. We should have our representatives on the managing bodies as of right and our children should be taught the agreed syllabus as a matter of right and not of request. I hope that the Minister will give these matters his very careful consideration.

The Minister of Education (Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd)

The Committee might think it useful if I made a few comments at this stage. I am grateful to the noble Lady the Member for Carmarthen (Lady Megan Lloyd George), the hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes) and the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) for bringing forward the importance of the Free Church point of view.

It is fortunate that at this stage we have the opportunity of pausing to consider the important feelings and position of the Free Churches who, as the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery said earlier and as has been said again since, played such an important part and made such great sacrifices in the cause of education in our country, apart from all the other important contributions which they have made. I am therefore pleased to have the opportunity, in response to the speeches which have been made, to make some further statement about that position and the way in which we regard it in trying to make progress with the Bill and with the problems.

I will begin by repeating the assurance which I gave the House on Second Reading that it is certainly not my expectation that the provisions in subsections (2) to (4) of Clause 1 will lead to the creation of new single-school areas. The Church of England is not expected to make very much use of this provision, and the single-school area is essentially an Anglican problem. I should also like to repeat that in dealing with any proposal under Section 13 of the 1944 Act for a new denominational secondary school I should consider very carefully indeed the use which is made of the new grants. Section 13 gives parents ample opportunities to make their wishes known. There is a period of two months, after public notice is given of the proposal, during which objections may be sent to the Ministry of Education.

In addition, if the promoters seek a loan from the Exchequer for a school in a single-school area, I am bound by Section 105 (3) of the 1944 Act to consult such persons as seem to me to be representative of any religious denomination concerned and, if necessary, to hold a local inquiry. I would add that, whether or not a loan from the Exchequer is required, I have power to cause such an inquiry to be held, and I would not hesitate to use this power if I were in doubt at all as to what were the real wishes of the people in the locality. In the exercise of all my powers under the Act, I am bound by Section 76 to have regard to the wishes of the parents.

Now, if I may turn to the question of the existing single school areas, which was also mentioned by the noble Lady, it will be remembered that during the Second Reading debate I said that I had suggested to the Free Churches that the best way of dealing with existing single school areas would be for the Free Churches to examine the problem jointly with the Church of England. The noble Lady was good enough to ask me to give some information about how we got on. I am glad to be able to tell the Committee that this meeting has taken place under my chairmanship and that our discussion of the problems was greatly helped by the views which hon. and right hon. Members expressed during the Second Reading debate. I think I can say that the atmosphere of the meeting was very friendly, and at the end of the meeting we were able to issue an agreed statement recording definite results.

Two suggestions were put forward for easing difficulties in existing single school areas. The first was that steps should be taken to ensure that the Free Churches are represented on the managing bodies of aided or special agreement schools in single school areas. The second was that the agreed syllabus instruction should be given in all such schools. Suggestions on these lines have, in fact, been discussed between the Church of England and the Free Churches for some time past, as the Church of England made clear in a statement published recently.

I want to emphasise this and make quite clear to the House that there has been no reluctance whatever about this on the part of the Church of England and that is an important point of which we should all want to take due note. Their representatives renewed the suggestions of their own accord at the meeting last week, and the main question was how to bring them into operation.

To take first the suggestion about managing bodies, the 1944 Education Act provides that these should consist partly of foundation managers and partly of persons appointed by the local education authorities. That is the position under the Statute, but although there is no statutory provision for the representation of the Free Churches as such, this can be arranged by agreement with the bodies responsible for making the appointment, and arrangements along these lines are in fact already in operation in some parts of the country.

The representatives of the Church of England present at last week's meeting said that they would like to see similar arrangements made in all single school areas. The Churches themselves are considering how this can best be done, and further joint meetings are to be held on this and other points. I understand that they have in mind ways of strengthening their arrangements for consultation, not only at the centre but also in the dioceses, and making them a permanent part of their machinery. If the Church Assembly endorses these arrangements, I think they will be adopted generally.

So far I have referred only to the Church of England, but the Church in Wales has been associated with the Church of England in earlier discussions, and their general approach to these problems is the same. I understand that the Governing Body of the Church in Wales will be asked to consider action along the same lines as the Church Assembly in England.

I come now to the second suggestion; that is, that the agreed syllabus instruction should be available for the children of Free Church parents in all single school areas. There is already statutory provision for this in Section 28 of the Education Act, 1944, which provides that, where the parents— cannot with reasonable convenience cause their children to attend any school at which the agreed syllabus is in use arrangements shall be made to give them agreed syllabus instruction in the school.

The only innovation which I have heard suggested is that the Minister instead of the local education authority, should decide whether or not a parent can "with reasonable convenience" send his child to another school where agreed syllabus instruction is available. I am sure that hon. Members will agree that it is local knowledge of transport and geography which is essential in deciding these questions, and local knowledge is not to be found in London so much as in the area itself. Therefore, I did not myself feel that this was a good suggestion to pursue, but I can assure the House that if it were represented to me that a local education authority was not exercising its discretion reasonably, I would look into the facts with the utmost care. In fact, so far as I can discover, no complaint has ever been made either to me or to any of my predecessors in regard to this point.

If I may say a word or two to the noble Lady about the value of assurances, I think she will probably agree with me that in the case of a Bill which is unopposed and has the support of all parties in the House, the assurances of the Minister carry with them extra authority which might not be the case in a more controversial setting. On another point, on which the noble Lady and also the hon. Member for Anglesey asked me, about the attitude of the Free Churches towards setting up a central body, I can say that at the meeting they expressed themselves as ready sympathetically to examine the suggestion that there should be set up a Central Committee of the Free Church Federal Council, in some measure parallel to the Church of England Schools Council.

I end by saying that we are genuinely in a very different atmosphere from that which prevailed many years ago. I thought it was a little interesting that the noble Lady herself had to be corrected by the right hon. Member for Llanelly, and on a point on which obviously the fact was not so clearly in her mind as it would have been several years ago. I think that is also shown by the fact that while there are, as has been accepted by the Free Churches, a few hundred of these single-school areas left, this compares with some 4,000 at the time of the 1944 Act. It is a very great contraction, and I believe that we are in sight of a solution to this problem by the good will that has gradually grown on this subject, and above all by the good will which the Churches themselves are showing to each other.

Mr. Goronwy Roberts (Caernarvon)

The Minister said that he did not expect that there would be a substantial increase in the number of single-school areas in future as a result of this Bill. Can he say whether that expectation has been reinforced or substantiated by any discussions which he has had with the Church of England Schools Council? Is that the expectation of the Church as well as the Minister?

Mr. Lloyd

I think it would be fair to say that it is. I think that it is probably only in unusual circumstances where there was a general feeling in a particular district that the circumstances were favourable that it might come about. I do not believe that it is the intention of the Church of England to take any initiative on a wide scale in this matter.

Mr. J. Griffiths

I should like to thank the Minister for the statement that he has just made. As he and other hon. Members interested in the matter will know, we raised this matter at a very early stage. We were deeply anxious, and we still are, that the Bill, which is approved by all parties in this House, should also have the full assent of people in all religious organisations. We are anxious to meet these old deeply felt grievances of Nonconformists. It is good for the whole of the country that we are able in 1959 to discuss this with a better approach towards unity and tolerance amongst all the Churches in the country than was the case before. In 1902 we had passive resistance, and so on, and the country is none the worse for the fact that we are now able to approach this matter more calmly.

5.0 p.m.

The Minister was right to say that his tenure of office was not likely to be very long, but, as he said, his assurances carry the assent of both sides of the Committee, of the Official Opposition as well as the Liberal Party and in that way have an extra force. As a Nonconformist, I welcome the new approach of the Church of England and the Church in Wales—to correct myself—and I hope that my hon. Friends who come from the northwest corner of Wales, with all its traditions and memories, will also accept those assurances. They should be satisfied that the old scandals of which they have memories will not return. Let us hope that in their administration of the provisions of the Bill, and in their relations with each other, all religious denominations will approach this matter in the spirit in which the House of Commons has approached it.

Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)

I am very glad that the noble Lady the Member for Carmarthen (Lady Megan Lloyd George) has spoken in this debate. Indeed, she would have been failing in her filial duty if, with memories of her father, she had not given us the benefit of her views. The hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes) missed out one great name, because the 1902 Measure was fought by two men in particular, the then hon. Member for Carmarthen Boroughs and the hon. Member for Mid-Glamorgan, who was afterwards better known as Sir Samuel Evans. It was on that Bill that those men made their Parliamentary reputations. Those are days gone by. There is now a much better understanding among all of us, and every one of us is pleased about it. I add my thanks to those expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) to the Minister, and I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his renewed assurances.

I hope that every one of us is now very conscious of the anxieties felt by Nonconformists and Free Churches everywhere. The assurances which we have received and what hon. Members from both sides have said have gone a long way towards allaying those anxieties. There is now a strong desire that we should all work together for the common end of the best education which we can give to the children.

One or two hon. Members—and it has been said outside the House of Commons—have seemed to suggest that the Bill would be the precursor to further requests as time went on. Those requests will be resisted, and strongly resisted, unless there are changes in the situation comparable with those which have occurred since 1944. We all recognise the changes which have taken place, economically and otherwise, during the last fifteen years, and that has been the reason for our unanimity.

It was suggested by the hon. Member for Abertillery (The Rev. LI. Williams) that the time would come when there would be a request for a 100 per cent. grant for denominational schools. I remind him that whereas the 1944 Act said that the wishes of the parent should be observed, there was the understanding—and it was the basis on which the 1944 Act was accepted—that denominational schools had made sacrifices, were making sacrifices, and would continue to make sacrifices. If the full grant of 100 per cent. were made, there would be no sacrifice, and that understanding would no longer exist.

Mr. James MacColl (Widnes)

I join with others in welcoming the Minister's statement about the progress of discussions between Nonconformist bodies and the Church of England and the Church in Wales. I hope that my noble Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Lady Megan Lloyd George) will not mind my saying that if it was an Anglican dog which bit her distinguished father I cannot help but wish that the same dog would bite more Welsh children to produce the same effect.

Everyone will agree it is vitally important that there should be no kind of discrimination against children because of their beliefs or the beliefs of their parents. Every member of the Anglican Church should share that view, just as strongly as Nonconformists. The Church of England is not distinguished for having democratic centralisation as its basis of organisation, and therefore it is not possible ever to say that what is agreed in the council chamber and approved by the Church Assembly will be carried out by every managing body and every parochial church council. That is human nature, and it has to be recognised as part of the situation.

However, I am certain that everybody who has any responsibility for educational matters in the Church of England will be most anxious to do everything possible to deal with particular cases which might arise where there may be difficulties of this sort. I am sure that the best way of securing what we all want is by having the feeling that there should be free discussion of difficulties and that we should not be at arm's length.

To follow a point made by my noble Friend, I feel strongly about the appointment of local authority managers to aided schools. Aided school authorities have the habit of going to local authorities and suggesting as suitable to be a manager someone who is regarded as a safe person and who will not cause trouble. That is not operating the 1944 Act in the spirit in which it should be operated. In appointing their representatives to the school managers of aided schools, local authorities are responsible for choosing people who will look after the public interest and the public share of the responsibility, which is now very substantial. That is something which requires not an alteration in the law, but a little more common sense on the part of the managers and a little more appreciation by the foundation managers that from the educational point of view it is better to bring in someone who will see the value of the school, rather than making it all a cosy little tea party in which only certain people take part.

When foundation managers are reporting vacancies, I hope that they will not try to put pressure on local authorities to appoint someone from among their friends, but that they will see the appointment as an opportunity for ordinary representatives of the public, ratepayers and taxpayers, to play a part in the management of the school and to see what is happening at schools of this sort.

I do not want to take up the time of the Committee, but I did not want to leave this very important matter without a Socialist Anglican having some opportunity of joining a Tory Anglican and giving a cordial welcome to what the right hon. Gentleman has said and to say that we shall help in every way we can.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

It ought not to be thought that the main interest in the matter on this side of the Committee is concentrated in Welshmen, because the main problem here is in the English rural areas. I am told that there are no single-school areas in Wales.

Mr. C. Davies

That is so.

Lady Megan Lloyd George

That is not so.

Mr. Ede

I gather that in the Second Reading debate there was considerable belief in the statement made in an intervention of my speech by the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), but in England there are areas in which this is a very deep-seated grievance going back over a very long time. Part of the grievance is that, as a rule, the village school in the single school area is an old school, very often pre-1870. Owing to the fact that even in these days the child population has not greatly increased, if it has increased at all—it has more generally decreased—there has been no urgent need, mere physical need, to build a new school or to improve the existing one. Therefore, the parents who may have denominational grievances have a grievance that is also shared in many places by parents who hold the faith of the foundation of the school, that somehow or other their children in the village are getting a worse deal than of their cousins who live in a town where, owing to the expansion of population, the great new schools have been built.

I am disappointed to some extent with what we have been told this afternoon because the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery will remember that on 26th April, 1944, Dr. Scott Lidgett, with the right hon. and learned Gentleman in the chair, told us that he had received from the Church of England a promise that all the things about which we have been talking this afternoon would be carried out as soon as the 1944 Act was passed.

It is true that Dr. Scott Lidgett was not an official representative of the Free Churches. He was a freelance in this matter, and we were sometimes rather suspicious as to how far he was trying to promote religious unity and how far he was concerned with Nonconformist interests in the negotiations going on. In fact, since his death I have been approached by more than one Methodist organisation to know if I would tell them exactly the part that he played. I think that he did his very best in difficult circumstances. However, I hope that it will be possible to put something into a Statute that will secure what we now understand is being discussed.

I see that the right hon. Gentleman the present Home Secretary and Lord Privy Seal is present. He will recollect the occasion when the Archbishop of Canterbury and Dr. Scott Lidgett brought to see him in the then Board of Education the representatives of the Churches for what were known as the "Archbishop's five points". It was remarkable that that afternoon the Nonconformists did not bring a single representative of rural Nonconformity with them. I remarked on that to Archbishop Temple after the meeting broke up. He said to me, "Well, you see, we did not bring the country parson either."

That, I think, is a reminder of the fact that here we are dealing with a special problem that goes back a very long way in its social implications in the construction of village life in England. I am quite certain that unless this is put into a Statute we shall always have a few areas in which, with the best will in the world, agreement will not be reached.

5.15 p.m.

As has been remarked, the Church of England is not, after all, an authoritarian church in these matters. If one reaches a bargain with the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, one knows that it will be carried out down to the smallest school in the country. But if one reaches an agreement with an Anglican bishop, one finds it very difficult indeed to secure from some of the parochial clergy an admission that they can be bound in these matters by what he does. The last remaining cases will be those where feeling is bitterest and where it will endure. I hope, therefore, that the representative bodies which are now going to meet will be able to deal with this matter.

I am excluded from the Federal Free Church Council and so are people of my religious views, from being represented by it. I do not want anyone to think that if they can reach an agreement with the Federal Free Church Council they of necessity bind me or members of my denomination. All I can say is that in 1870, when we were led in his greater days by Joseph Chamberlain, we declared for secular education. Under the 1944 Act we agreed to the Agreed Syllabus and the arrangements that were then made, but it must not be thought that the Free Church Council speaks for the whole of Noncomformity in England. I do not know how it can claim to speak for Noncomfority in Wales because I do not understand how one can be a Noncomformist in a country which has no State church.

Mr. Cyril Osborne (Louth)

I wish to support from an English point of view what has just been said and to say to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education that I took the liberty of sending a copy of HANSARD to all clergymen of every denomination in my constituency so that they could read for themselves what had been said from each point of view. On Saturday I met a group of Nonconformist clergy. They made the point which the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) and the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) made. They asked, "Is it possible that the promise which has been made to Free Churches could be written into a Statute?" They were not saying that they distrusted the word of the Minister at all. They merely asked whether it was at all possible to put those promises, which they accept with gratitude from my right hon. Friend, into writing. If my right hon. Friend could possibly do that, I am sure that they would be extremely grateful to him.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill reported, with an Amendment; as amended, considered.

5.20 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I do not think the House will wish me to be very long about this. I would therefore merely say that the Bill is designed to bring the present law up to date and to fit the facts as they are today without altering its general framework.

As we have heard this afternoon, the Act of 1944 and the discussions leading up to it brought about a great change for the better in the atmosphere surrounding all these questions. I could not have looked for a better or more understanding reception for the Bill. It has been understood on all sides that the paramount consideration is the interests of the children and that whatever is necessary in their interests should be done.

It has also, I think, been accepted that it is being done without infringing the general principles underlying the Acts of 1936 and 1944. We have tried instead to build on them in such a way as to meet the needs of 1960 and the years ahead. I am much indebted for the smooth passage of the Bill to the collaboration of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite and below the Gangway. I think we can truly say that we have worked together in the spirit of 1944, and it is a pleasure to me to acknowledge my debt today.

5.23 p.m.

Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)

It would be most ungracious of me if I did not say something because, with great self-restraint, I did not comment on the Bill on Second Reading or, indeed, during the Committee stage. Many people like myself are greatly indebted to the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary for bringing the Bill before the House and for what they said on Second Reading.

Special reference should be made to my right hon. Friend the Deputy-Leader of my party and to the able work of my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart), whose explanation of the Bill on Second Reading was, I think, agreed in the House to be almost a classic. The Parliamentary Secretary's reply was equally good. We know him as a man of ability, and more than once he has demonstrated his great knowledge of education. I should also like to thank the leader of the Liberal Party for the great part he played.

I must declare my vested interest and say that I am one of those who will benefit from the Bill, because I hope to get some financial relief very soon. Others who hold religious beliefs such as mine are proud to be living in a country like Great Britain. No minority in any other country of the world, and that is what we are, gets better treatment than we do. Those who share my faith hope that the treatment we have received in this House will become known to the world, and we hope that other countries might learn a lesson from this country. To other hon. Members who do not share my personal religious beliefs, I can only say that I am grateful to them for the approach they made in this very important matter.

The great Dr. Scott Lidgett was mentioned, and it is appropriate that he should be. His work was done in my constituency, where he founded the famous Bermondsey Settlement. I know of no man who brought Christianity and life more into the hearts of people than he did. He really brought it into the hearts of ordinary people everywhere. He demonstrated that Christianity was not just a church, a cross, or an altar, but he was a living example of Christianity.

Whilst talking of Dr. Scott Lidgett, may I say also that Methodism in my constituency has to fight for survival. My faith does not make converts when Methodism loses. My church would not be happy if Methodism failed. The fact is that we believe, and always have done, in trying to inculcate into our children the point of view of our faith in our church. It is a policy we have always believed in, and I am grateful to this country for allowing us to carry on in this way.

We still have a great deal of debt, and we always shall. I am glad that I am going to get relief, but we shall not receive the entire relief and there will always be a lot of money to pay. The question asked by the hon. Member for Abertillery (The Rev. L1. Williams) was a fair one. He asked: "Are these people coming back for more?" For five years I have been engaged in negotiations in this House. Any Catholic who believes that it is easy to come forward and say "I demand as a right" is a fool. Anyone who is in a minority must understand that it is only a great country like ours that is prepared to give him concessions at all.

As I see it, the tragedy of the Bill is that if we could also have had the grant for new primary schools, which would have cost only £9 million over 20 years, this matter would have been taken out of party politics and away from the House of Commons for the rest of the century. In the lifetime of all of us we could not have come here again, and that would have been said from the pulpit of Westminster. There is, however, that anomaly in the Bill, and it must be pointed out.

New primary schools will be built. We shall build them for the children, still unborn, who will need these schools in areas where there will be no grant. When these children are 11 years old and go on to secondary modern schools, again we shall find the money for these schools because the beliefs of our people on education are so determined from the bottom level that we shall carry out our programme. If we could have had this one concession tonight it would have taken this question right out of the political arena for the rest of the century.

I hope it does not come back, but I could well understand its justification if it did with regard to the new primary schools. If one thinks about it, it is a ridiculous anomaly that a 75 per cent. grant is to be given for everything but new primary schools.

The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) spoke about Northern Ireland on Second Reading. Obviously he has not been to a Catholic school. I was educated in one, and I have never heard any one of my people attack Nonconformity. I have never in my own school heard any other religion attacked. It is an absolute myth and nonsense to say that there is an extreme atmosphere in these schools. The pupils are always taught that Christianity is important as the three R's. There was no difference in what we were taught in my school. There was no difference in the curriculum.

We have our system of managership, and I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) when he talked about outsiders coming in as managers. I believe that it brings in a fine breath of air when one gets people from outside. I support any system whereby other people are brought into managership. Local education authorities have rights in this matter. They nominate the people, and, wherever possible, we try and get other people in.

We have talked about the problems of the Church in England, in Wales, and the Free Churches. Some time, somewhere, I should like a get-together of all the religious denominations to talk about the possibilities of the Scottish system. Scotland has its own system which works. We have had no complaints from my Scottish friends, whatever their religion.

Finally, I should like to thank all hon. Members for what they have done, and I personally pay tribute to them.

5.30 p.m.

Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)

Denominational views are rightly and strongly held but I think the message that goes out from this House to the country is that agreement between representatives of the various denominations is possible. I hope that this agreement and goodwill will spread throughout the country.

The Bill that we have been debating will allow the voluntary schools to play a full part in the development of secondary education which has been announced in the recent White Paper.

The right hon and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) said that he felt that, if parents wanted their children to receive denominational education, they should continue to pay for it. I assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that they will do so. I tabled a Question on this subject to the Minister not very long ago. The Answer, broadly speaking, was that Church of England parents pay, in round figures, about £1 million a year for their schools and that Roman Catholic parents pay, also in round figures, about £2 million a year. That sum will be reduced by the Bill but it will still continue to be a burden on the parents, and one that will be willingly carried.

I believe that our debate has tended to show that it is the view of hon. Members on both sides of the House that the various Christian religions should get together to face the common dangers of indifference and materialism.

Finally, may I say that many parents are greatly indebted, not only to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education for introducing this Bill, but to the leaders of the three political parties who have given it their support.

5.31 p.m.

Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)

I hope that I shall not spoil the harmony of the debate, but, like my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), I did not speak on Second Reading. We have just listened to a most characteristic speech from my hon. Friend. I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree, and so will the House, that the Bill is made possible only because of liberal thought in this country on religious matters, and especially the tolerance of other religious denominations and of those of no religion at all.

I rise only to express the hope that the tolerance being shown by the House of Commons and by the country to the religious denominations who will benefit under the Bill will be extended by them to differing thought and differing opinions upon many matters of acute controversy today. This note should be sounded. My hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey truly said that we all hoped that other countries, where certain religious thought is in control, were as tolerant towards minorities as we are in this country. Would a Bill of an entirely opposite purpose be possible in the Republic of Ireland or in Spain? We do not wish to copy the kind of intolerance which we find elsewhere. I am angry when we see glimpses of it, even on the Order Paper today, and we are asked in the Bill to finance the teaching of religious bigotry and intolerance such as we found in some Questions on the Order Paper today. I refer particularly to Question No. 33. I ask that those with opinions different from others should respect the sincerity of those, who do not always think alike.

On Second Reading speeches were made to suggest that 75 per cent., as distinct from 50 per cent. is no different in principle. It may not be, but if the proportion becomes too high, or if it becomes 100 per cent., there will be a difference in principle. I have no wish to fan the flames of controversies which have now disappeared from public life. When I was a boy my father went to prison every year rather than pay the education rate to subsidise the Anglican schools. I was brought up in a home and a town of passive resistance. I have had to modify my views on this question, as many of us have, in order to accept the liberal doctrine of today. I am glad to do so. I ask no more of anyone than that they should not be aggressive, indeed cruel sometimes, when opinions different from their own are expressed sincerely, honestly and publicly. Let us have our own say. Let us express our opinions without being abused in our constituencies and without being confronted on occasion with the most aggressive religious persecution that one can have because there is a viewpoint expressed contrary to that of a particular Church.

I have on occasions felt deeply at instances of bigotry and intolerance, and I cannot let the Bill go through without expressing those sentiments.

5.35 p.m.

Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)

The whole House will be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) for the passage in his speech in which he referred to the very different atmosphere prevailing in this country from that prevailing in some other countries. I was very glad that my hon. Friend said that, because I know that that consideration has been very prominent in the minds of many members of the Free Churches in this country.

I do not know what opportunities there are for my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey or for the many of his coreligionists who feel as he does on this matter to exercise any influence over what may be the practice in countries where his co-religionists are in the majority and where the same tolerance does not prevail as in this country. If there are any such opportunities, I say to him and to those who feel like him that any influence they can exert in the direction of greater tolerance in countries of that kind will be of very great assistance to the solution of educational problems in this country and, in a much wider field, to the welfare of Christendom as a whole. That is a matter on which Free Churchmen and free thinkers in this country feel very strongly indeed. I am very happy to realise how fully my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey is aware of that.

We are reaching the end of rather protracted and complicated, but happily not acrimonious, labours on the Bill. In view of the acknowledgements made from time to time by the Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary, it is proper that we, speaking for the Opposition, should recognise the part played in achieving this success by the labours of the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary. To speak frankly, I have not the cast of mind or temperament which causes me to enjoy co-operating with my political opponents for the sake of so doing, but as our work on this matter proceeded I found that there was a genuine pleasure in trying to achieve an agreed result.

That arises for two reasons. First, we not only were able to achieve much mutual agreement and good will among the religious denominations, but as the Bill proceeded the degree of agreement which it has been possible to reach has extended. That was apparent from the course of the debate on one of the Clauses earlier this afternoon. The view has been expressed that some of the things which the Minister believes and which I believe will be achieved in practice might have been put into the Statute. There would be great difficulties about that. I listened very carefully to what some of my hon. Friends said on this issue. I feel that there would be great difficulty in putting it into a Statute. If one takes that view, as I do and as the Minister does, it becomes all the more important to see that all the assurances that the Minister was able to give after his discussions with the churches are fulfilled to the full extent that is humanly possible. That, I am certain, will be done.

It is gratifying to realise that the process of discussion and agreement, which was going on between the Anglican and the Free Churches on this matter long before this Bill was first mooted, is now being brought to fruition as a result of the introduction of this Measure. It seems to have given an added impetus to the reaching of agreement between the Anglican and the Free Churches on the single-school areas and certain other related problems. I trust that as time goes by there will be fewer and fewer areas in which any cause for complaint can be found, until finally their number is diminished to zero.

While I am on that point, may I say how strongly I agree with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl). It is certainly desirable that when managers are being appointed to an aided school in a single-school area, there should be consideration given to the claims of non-Anglican communities. I earnestly hope that it will be remembered by everyone who has responsibility for appointing school governors or managers, whether a religious community or a local authority, that one of the first questions which they should ask is whether the person will make a good school governor or manager, whether he has acquainted himself with the very important duties that go with the job. The whole colour of our educational system can be greatly influenced by how well that job is done.

That brings me to the major point which I wish to make. It has always seemed to me that this Bill is important because it removes an obstacle to educational progress. My hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) made a speech with which I have a great deal of sympathy. We have been anxious to meet the needs of religious denominations and of those people who hold very strongly this or another form of the Christian faith. But, as I said during the Second Reading debate, we must remember that there are a large number of people who, whether they profess the Christian faith or not, do not want a denominational education for their children, but do want good education for all children.

While we are anxious, and rightly so, to safeguard the interests of every other section of the community, it is important that we should not forget the feelings and wishes of that very large section. It is many of them who have wanted us to carry through a Bill of this kind so that educational progress would be possible without violence to the consciences of their fellow citizens. In this Bill we have removed that obstacle to educational progress. Let us be sure that we have the progress.

Among the many letters which I have received on the subject of this Bill, there was one from a person who is a devoted Anglican and interested in a particular Anglican school, but concerned that there did not always seem to be sufficient anxiety to keep the school buildings up to standard. The writer of that letter wants to know whether, if Parliament gives further financial help, the work will be done; will those responsible for the upkeep of school buildings see to it that, as Parliament has sought to help them, so they will set themselves a high standard in the carrying out of the responsibilities which belong to them under the scheme which Parliament has approved. I think it important that that should be remembered everywhere where this Act is being administered.

It has often been said during the discussions on this Bill that it helps one denomination or another. I hope it does. I hope it does more, I hope it helps every child in this country and every citizen of all religious faiths, or of none, to feel that in passing this Bill, although it is not a major educational Measure, it is a necessary part of the improvement to education in this country; so that the general tenor of life shall be more nearly that which everyone, whatever his religious faith, would desire it to be.

5.45 p.m.

Sir E. Boyle

I wish to echo and reaffirm some of the points made by the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart). The Bill was not brought in as a result of pressures from one denomination or another, but because it was the will of all the main parties in the House that all children, irrespective of their religious background, should benefit from the improved plans for secondary education which everyone wishes to promote. We may and we do differ—though not, I believe, fundamentally—on questions of how education should be organised, but there is a universal desire that all children should benefit from the rising standards which are the will of the country today.

I believe that to be the wish not only of men and women and hon. Members who are members of the various Churches, but also of very many enthusiasts for education who are not members of any particular religious denomination. I was glad to note that the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) referred to those professing no religion at all. There are a great many people, both in the House and outside, who do not themselves hold religious beliefs but, none the less, wish to see a rise in the standards of schools of all kinds, including denominational schools.

Without too much self-congratulation, I hope that we may say that the manner in which we have handled this issue and in our debates upon the Bill, may serve as an example to other countries in the Western world where the history of this question has not always been quite so fortunate. May I express the hope that whenever this subject comes before us we shall be able to handle it in a spirit of unity, as between the two sides of this House. After all, it is we in Parliament who finally decide an issue of this kind. It is not a matter for religious denominations or groups outside, but it is one for the House itself to decide; and I hope that the agreement in the discussions on this occasion will mark our discussions on future occasions.

I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Fulham that throughout the course of these long negotiations we have brought about a greater degree of agreement and understanding between religious bodies. At the Ministry it will certainly be our aim to see that this agreement is strengthened so far as possible for the future. We know perfectly well that there are particular areas in the country where relations are still not quite as good as they should be.

I listened with great interest to the speech of the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) as did my right hon. Friend. Of course, it is true that there are some rural areas, in England in particular, where there is one old Church school in a village with a declining population and where there may still be difficulties. As the right hon. Gentleman will know, if there are any particular cases to which he wishes to draw our attention, we shall at once take them up with the Church authorities.

I also agree with the hon. Member for Fulham that there may be issues of this kind which are better dealt with by negotiations with the Church authorities than by trying to proceed by means of precise legislation.

Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Itchen)

Would the hon. Gentleman be good enough to publish the sentiments which he has expressed, and which have been expressed by my hon. Friend, in the form of a circular to local authorities?

Sir E. Boyle

We will consider whether anything useful can be done in that way. I take note of the point made by the hon. Gentleman.

The last point I wish to raise is this. During these debates we have talked a good deal about the religious denominations and the desirability of ever-increasing harmony, but there is one other set of bodies which I hope we shall not forget in this context—the local education authorities themselves. Throughout the whole field of education it is upon the education authorities that we shall greatly depend for progress; and if we are to make a reality of secondary education for all, and to see rising standards of secondary education, as we hope, throughout all our secondary schools including denominational schools, then I hope that there will be the closest co-operation between the local education authorities and the religious bodies.

I believe that co-operation has become much more marked in recent years and the more it can continue the better. With these words I should once again like to thank the House for the reception that it has given to our proposals. I am absolutely sure that when we look back on this Bill in the years to come, the House will have no doubt at all that it was wise to pass this Measure, and that it will contribute to the fulfilment of those ideals which all of us in this House would wish to uphold.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.