§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.5 a.m.
§ Mr. Speaker
Before I call the Secretary of State, may I, first, announce that I have selected the Amendment which stands in the name of the hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central (Dr. David Kerr) and a number of other hon. Members.
This debate will not proceed along party lines, so the Chair will endeavour to see that the debate is balanced according to the variety of opinions that are in the House during the day rather than merely select from each side of the House alternately.
A number of hon. Members wish to speak, so I hope that those who are fortunate enough to be called will be kind to those waiting to be called.
§ The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Anthony Crosland)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The main provisions of the Bill fall into three categories. First, it is designed to give aided and special agreement schools a further measure of financial assistance. Secondly, it is enabling controlled schools to be fitted more easily into the pattern of school provision in their areas. Thirdly, it is providing for loans to voluntary colleges of education for capital expenditure on new buildings. As far as the first two categories are concerned, the Bill follows the line of the statement I made to the House on 14th February and the third category has been added for reasons that I will explain.
838 Clearly, the most important part of the Bill is the first part, namely, additional financial assistance to aided and special agreement schools. The historical background to this will be familiar to the House. These schools form an integral part of the state system of maintained schools and the Education Act, 1944, laid on them an obligation to make provision comparable in quality with that of the county schools.
To help them do this, the Act provided for an Exchequer grant at the rate of 50 per cent. for improving existing places, whether by replacement of old schools or by bringing them up to the higher standards imposed by the Act. Whereas, initially, the cost of new places was to be met wholly by the denominations, in the event the financial strain on the Churches proved more severe than expected.
Three main concessions have been made since 1945. In 1953, the definition of "displaced pupils" was extended to cover movements of population as a result of housing or town planning policies. In 1959, new secondary schools drawing their pupils from existing primary aided schools became eligible for grant. At the same time, the rate of grant was increased from 50 per cent. to 75 per cent. All these changes, like the original 1944 provisions, were the result of a broad all-party agreement.
Today, once again, the amount of financial assistance has proved insufficient to meet rapidly changing circumstances. I was approached last year by representatives of the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church and the Free Churches. The two denominations mainly concerned with aided schools argued, with the full support of the Free Churches, that, despite the relief given in 1953 and 1959, they were finding it increasingly hard to meet their legal obligation to make provision comparable in quality with that of the county schools.
They pointed to the many unsatisfactory school premises which they still have requiring modernisation or replacement. They argued, in particular, that certain factors had continued to change in a way not foreseen in earlier years. The birth rate had risen more rapidly than expected; people were moving house more frequently; costs had risen still further; the pattern of secondary 839 education was changing and, looking ahead, the raising of the school leaving age would add a further large number to the school population in 1970–71. All this, in the view of the denominations, made an overwhelming case for revising the 1959 Act.
In addition they argued, and we had to agree, that the definition of "new" as opposed to "existing places" had become steadily more blurred as a result of the 1953 and 1959 Acts, and, indeed, in 20 years of administrative practice had become increasingly unrealistic and difficult to operate and that there was much to be said for abolishing the distinction altogether.
I, and my Department, examined this case in meticulous detail, the more so in the light of the difficult economic situation. We concluded that the case in principle was made out. For example, it had been estimated in 1944 that the total cost to the denominations of bringing all their schools up to modern standards would be about £9 million; in the event, they have spent or committed some £46 million; £38 million of this falling on the Roman Catholic Church. The Government therefore concluded that some further help was justified and the Bill, following the lines of my February statement, is the result.
Turning, therefore, to the Bill itself, Clause 1(1) raises from 75 to 80 per cent. the rate of contribution and grant on the categories of voluntary school building work which are eligible for grant under the existing law. Subsection (2) extends the eligible categories to include all new places provided in aided and special agreement schools, whether these are new schools or enlargements of existing schools. Up to now, only places which could be related in some way to schools which existed in 1945, or, in the case of secondary schools, which matched primary schools existing in 1959, have been eligible for grant.
As I have said, these provisions have become increasingly unrealistic; and I therefore propose to simplify matters by abolishing the distinction between completely new places, on the one hand, and places for displaced pupils, matching places, and so on, on the other. This will make possible a considerable saving of time and effort, and will, at the same 840 time, provide a real help to those responsible for aided schools.
There has been some misunderstanding about subsection (3). Its sole purpose is to enable me, in assessing grant on new schools under subsection (2), to take into account the proceeds of sale of the sites of schools which have been closed. In fact, the subsection simply preserves the provisions of the existing law in their application to substituted schools.
The only other part of Clause 1 to which I need draw attention is subsection (6), which deals with the date of application. Assuming that the Bill becomes law by the end of March, the provisions of Clause 1 will apply to major building projects approved for inclusion in the 1967–68 and subsequent school building programmes, and to minor works and repairs approved on or after the date of introduction of the Bill, which was 4th July. Work for which individual approval is not required will be eligible for the higher rate of grant also if it started on or after 4th July. This follows the procedure adopted in 1959.
The provisions of Clause 1 have been, and will be, criticised from two directions. I make no complaint about that, for this is a field in which one can never satisfy everyone. On the one hand, some in the Churches have criticised us for being too mean; it is no secret, for example, that the Catholic Church was most anxious to have a rate of grant of 85 per cent. To these critics I say that in the light of our current economic situation and the cuts being imposed on other forms of national spending, it is surely something of an achievement to have been able to provide the not inconsiderable increase promised in this Bill. Secondly, it is my judgment that an increase in the rate of grant to 85 per cent. would have been considered by many to be inconsistent with a voluntary school system.
That is, it would have brought the principle of the dual system into question, and perhaps even placed it in jeopardy; and I do not think that is what these critics, or, indeed, public opinion generally, would want.
This is also my answer to the second and opposite group of critics—those represented by the Amendment—who object to the dual system in principle because they think that no public funds 841 should go to denominational schools. But they must surely concede that whatever anyone's personal opinion, public opinion generally is not ripe for a reconsideration of the basic principle of the dual system, or for reopening all the bitter arguments of the past. That being so, we must as a matter of equity and social justice give children in the voluntary schools the same standards and opportunities as children in the county schools; as someone has put it, they want flush lavatories, too. And it is clear that for the reasons I have explained, this requires more money.
I think that most of the critics would probably not dissent from this, but they have two more particular fears. The first is that the Clause will offer a blank cheque for the establishment of new aided schools. It certainly will not. Central control over school building will be firmly maintained. The promoters of new or enlarged aided schools will have to demonstrate that there is, in their area, an overall shortage of school places which the proposed new school will help to relieve; that the school will meet a genuine denominational demand; that the proposed school will be of an educationally workable size; and that it will fit into the general pattern of school provision in the area.
On top of this, they will have to publish notices under Section 13 of the 1944 Act. This procedure, as hon. Members will know gives any 10 or more local government electors the legal right to submit objections to me, and I, of course, am under a legal duty to give proper consideration to any objections I receive. In other words, the present strict control over voluntary school building will continue, and will not be affected in any way by the fact that, at the end of the day, somewhat more grant will be payable than would be paid under the present law. Perhaps I should add here, in case there is any doubt, that there is no question of the new provisions being used in such a way as to encourage controlled schools to become aided.
I might here interpose, to put matters in perspective, that the proportion of children in Church of England schools has dropped in the last 20 years from 17 per cent. to 12 per cent., and the proportion in Church of England aided schools is now only 5½ per cent. The 842 proportion of children in Roman Catholic schools has risen slightly from 7 per cent. to 9 per cent.; while other voluntary schools have dropped considerably in number.
The second anxiety of the humanist and other critics is that these new arrangements will lead to the creation of more single school areas—that is, areas in which the only available maintained school is an aided school. I know that this is the concern of some of my hon. Friends.
I emphasise "aided schools", because I do not think that controlled schools are very relevant here. In a controlled school, the religious instruction is given on exactly the same non-denominational basis as it is in a county school. If parents want denominational R.I., they must positively request it and I emphasise request it—and even then it may not be given during more than two periods a week. In other words, to put it into trade union terms, they have to contract in and not contract out. The maximum proportion of 'reserved teachers' competent to give it is laid down in the 1944 Act as one in five.
The local education authority appoints two-thirds of the managers compared with only one-third in aided schools. From some of the things I have been reading and some of the comments I have heard about the Bill, I wonder whether the distinction between controlled and aided schools is fully understood, because when we are discussing the anxiety about the single school area and whether more such areas might be created by the Bill, it is an anxiety about aided and not controlled schools. Personally, I have a great deal of sympathy with this anxiety, but I do not believe that it is well-grounded. Indeed, the whole trend is in the opposite direction. Better communications have already reduced, and will continue to reduce, the number of areas in which there is no genuine alternative school. Many of the old village schools, a large proportion of which were church schools, have been closed and, at the same time, there has been a great increase in county school building in the areas of new housing. Again, many church village schools became controlled after the 1944 Act. In all, more than 84 per cent. of the children 843 in maintained schools today are in county or controlled schools.
Moreover, the Church of England recognises this problem, and has shown no desire to make proposals for new schools which would lead to the creation of new single school areas. And our experience is that local education authorities generally do their best to meet the wishes of parents in case of difficulty.
I do not think all this will change as a result of the Bill. True, the additional 5 per cent. grant will make it easier for aided schools of this kind to bring their premises up to standard for the existing number of children; but the effect of a 5 per cent. increase in grant will surely only be marginal, and after all the most important thing in the interests of the children is to make good the deficiencies in premises as soon as possible. But I will certainly watch this type of situation. The other type of situation which might arise is where, owing to a small influx of population, some enlargement of the school may be proposed. In these circumstances, it would be necessary for public notice to be given of the enlargement under Section 13 of the 1944 Act, and I can certainly give an assurance that I would have special regard to any views which were expressed to me before reaching a decision on such a proposal.
I might also mention that, as some hon. Members will remember, special machinery was set up, following discussions during the passage of the 1959 Act, for cases in which this type of difficulty might arise to be referred to the local or central Joint Committees of the Free Churches and the Church of England.
I hope that these things will go some way to allay the exaggerated anxiety which has been expressed in some recent comment on the problem of single school areas.
I now turn to the other parts of the Bill. Clause 2 is concerned with the enlargement of controlled schools. At present, under Section 1 of the 1946 Act, as amended by the 1953 Act, I can, if the authority and the managers or governors both so request me, direct a local education authority to pay the cost of enlarging a controlled school, either if the enlargement is wholly or mainly required for pupils who would otherwise have 844 attended some other voluntary school, or, in the case of a secondary school, if the enlargement is desirable, and—I am sorry for the language here, but it is largely from previous Acts—to ensure the better provision of secondary education or a sufficiency of suitable secondary schools. There is, however, a condition attached to this latter point, the effect of which is to preclude enlargement if it is likely to amount to the establishment of a school of a new character.
This means that I cannot direct an authority to pay, if a controlled secondary school is enlarged in such a way as to convert it to a comprehensive school. This is now a serious obstacle to the local education authorities and the Church of England in their negotiations over comprehensive reorganisation. If this condition were removed, it would help to overcome the difficulties of fitting the controlled schools, which are usually rather small, into a comprehensive pattern.
On the primary school side, I have no power to direct a local education authority to pay for an enlargement, where the accommodation is not needed for children coming from other voluntary schools. This causes considerable difficulties in rural areas where a modest amount of new housing may call for extra school provision, but where the establishment of a small supplementary county school, alongside an existing controlled school would be both uneconomic and educationally undesirable. The only sensible solution in many such cases is to enlarge the existing controlled school, but this is not possible at present because the extra children will not come from other voluntary schools.
Clause 2 therefore proposes to extend my existing powers to cover these two cases. Both these changes will be welcomed by the local education authorities and the Church of England as permitting them to put forward proposals of this type where, by general agreement, they can afford the best solution to a particular problem.
Clause 3 extends my present powers in relation to the establishment of new controlled schools. At present, I can direct an authority to pay for a new controlled school only if it is needed to accommodate pupils, for all of whom places in some other voluntary school have ceased to be 845 available. Under the new Clause, I shall be able to do so if a substantial proportion—and not necessarily all—of the pupils will come from other voluntary schools. But this new power is not a general one and will apply only to proposals for middle schools to be established in accordance with Section 1 of the Education Act, 1964. Any such proposals would be the subject of Section 13 notices, even if the provision of new buildings were not involved.
As the House knows, I am prepared in certain circumstances, to approve authorities' proposals for middle schools with an age range of 8 to 12 or 9 to 13. Because these schools straddle the normal primary and secondary age ranges, not many of them will be able to draw all their pupils from voluntary schools. Yet, in an area where nearly all the primary provision is in voluntary schools which would lose two or three of their age groups, it may well be regarded by everyone as equitable that controlled schools should play a part in the middle school provision serving the area. This Clause will allow this to happen, when the authority and all the other local interests are in agreement.
I do not expect the minor modifications of the law contained in Clauses 2 and 3 to lead to a significant increase in controlled school provision. They are designed to remove obstacles which are impeding a proper and economical development of the education system, and to allow authorities and managers and governors more flexibility in working out acceptable schemes for reorganisation and for raising the school age.
There is ample safeguard against abuse of these new powers in the fact, which I have already mentioned, that all proposals for new or enlarged controlled schools will be subject to Section 13 notices, and enlargement proposals must, in addition, be submitted jointly by the local education authority and the managers or governors.
Clause 4 would enable me to make available Exchequer loans to the governing bodies of voluntary colleges of education, to help them to meet their share of the capital costs of the continuing expansion of our teacher training facilities. The voluntary bodies have played a full and most important part in the expansion of the training system. There are this year 846 some 29,000 students in the voluntary colleges, compared with 18,000 in 1962–63.
Capital expenditure on expanding and improving the voluntary colleges during the past seven years has been no less than £21 million, of which the voluntary bodies have had to find 25 per cent., or even more in some cases. This has placed a considerable strain on their resources.
On 21st July I [...] before the House Regulations enabling the rate of grant to voluntary colleges for capital works to be increased to a maximum of 80 per cent.; and I now think it right that, as a further measure of assistance, the facility of Exchequer loans should be made available to the governing bodies of voluntary colleges, in broadly the same way it has been available to the governing bodies of voluntary aided schools under section 105 of the Education Act, 1944. It is, perhaps, a purely historical accident that such provision was not made in that Act, but I suppose that the remarkable growth which we have witnessed in recent years in the colleges of education was not then foreseen.
I have made it clear to the voluntary bodies that the use of the new loan facilities, if approved by Parliament, would have to be in the nature of a last resort, to be reserved for case of genuine difficulty, when the governing bodies could not otherwise raise the necessary funds on reasonable terms. They, for their part, have welcomed the offer of these facilities, and have accepted the basis on which they would be made available.
The financial implications of all these proposals is comparatively modest. The increase in the amount payable by my Department in contributions, grants and loans under Clause 1 will be about £170,000 in the first full year, rising to about £1,500,000 by 1969–70. I cannot estimate the amount of loans under Clause 4 but it is likely to be relatively small. Clauses 2 and 3 cost nothing extra.
Perhaps, as the Amendment raised the question of priorities I might put in perspective this figure of £1,500,000 in 1969–70. I should mention that the anticipated increase in educational spending in 1964–65 and 1969–70 under the National Plan is something like £460 million. There is therefore, no question of this being given some top priority as 847 opposed to other forms of educational spending.
The Bill is fully in keeping with the spirit of the 1944 Act, and is necessary to enable the voluntary schools and colleges to play their proper part in the developing education system. The system of voluntary schools was a central feature of that Act, and it is not the intention of the Bill to introduce fundamental changes in that system.
In conclusion, I should like to say that I have been greatly impressed by the spirit of unity and obvious goodwill which has informed all the discussions on the Bill. The Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church and the Free Churches all associated themselves with the representations which were made to me, and they all jointly came to all the meetings that we had to discuss them. This shows how far we have moved from the violent controversies of the early years of the century, and even from some of the strong feelings engendered at the time of the 1944 Act——
§ Mr. Crosland
—or even the 1959 Act. While the proposals in the Bill are less generous than the churches would have liked, I think they accept them as a reasonable and responsible contribution to the increased costs that they have to face.
I should also like to acknowledge the help and co-operation that I have received from the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle), and, representing the Liberal Party, the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Russell Johnston). I have tried to follow the example set in previous Measures of this kind and to conduct the operation in a non-party spirit, as it has been conducted in the past.
I believe that the Bill reflects a desire to do all that we can, within the limits of a short Bill and a difficult economic situation, to ensure that the opportunities available to children in voluntary schools keep pace with the great advance in standards which is occurring in the county schools, and for this reason I commend the Bill to the House.
§ 11.32 a.m.
§ Mr. W. R. van Straubenzee (Wokingham)
I am sure that I am voicing the opinion of both sides of the House when I begin by thanking the Secretary of State for a lucid explanation of the Bill. Since I am the first hon. Member to speak from this side of the House, I acknowledge fully that he has prepared the way for this Bill in a wholly nonparty political spirit and entirely in accord with the way in which, happily, we have always dealt with these things since the war.
It is, indeed, interesting that a very few years ago the divisions which there are in the House, and which it is just as well to get expressed, would, as the Secretary of State said, have been of a wholly different nature, and as I heard my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) interpolate, even as recently as 1959 there was not between the Churches the same close working co-operation as most happily exists today.
So I should like right at the start to acknowledge the generosity of the proposed settlement in the Bill. If the Secretary of State is right, as I have no doubt he is, that some would like to have seen an increased allocation, that must certainly not for one moment detract from the appreciation of those interested in Church education of the action proposed by the Secretary of State. I would not want any words of mine to be mealy-mouthed or lacking in gratitude in any way.
It will probably turn out—in deference to your request, Mr. Speaker, I shall make my remarks brief—that it will be the extension of the grounds of the grant that will be the really fundamental change in the Bill if, as I hope, the House gives it a Second Reading. Important as is the extension of the rate of grant, I feel that, for reasons so clearly explained by the Secretary of State, it will be the extension of the grounds that will cause a greater change than anything else.
I should, however, like to establish one point at the start. Obviously, one of the results of the Bill, but only one, is, as the Secretary of State so clearly said, to make it more possible for the Churches to co-operate in secondary reorganisation. 849 I know that that is not its primary purpose, but it is a very important byproduct. But it must be quite clearly established—I hope that the Minister of State will confirm my reading of it—that Clause 2, while it certainly has very important ramifications, as explained by the Secretary of State, relates only to the direction to a local education authority to pay, and it certainly does not, as may be thought by some, empower the Minister to direct a local education authority, for example, to convert a controlled school into a comprehensive one. I think it would be important to have that matter made quite clear.
It must frankly be said that one of the great problems facing anyone interested in church schools of the secondary nature is the problem of intelligently fitting them into any form of comprehensive education. I tell the Secretary of State that there are very large numbers of people, of all political persuasions and none, who agree with the long-term objective of reorganisation of this kind, and who certainly would not want, as I would not want, to take a stand, for example, upon selection at 11 as an irremovable education principle. But it presents for the aided schools in particular very often a very real difficulty arising out of the positioning and type of their buildings, and I think it is as well that we should approach this with some caution.
Recently the Minister of State made what some of us felt were some rather threatening noises so far as voluntary aided schools were concerned, and others, talking about the possibility of legislation. I am happy to think that that matter has been wholly cleared up by a Question which the Secretary of State was good enough to answer for me yesterday. He said, clearly:On present evidence I do not foresee the need for legislation in this matter."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd November, 1966; Vol. 735, c. 138.]I hope, if I may say it in a friendly way, that the Minister of State will be careful about appearing to sabre-rattle in this way. He is one of the kindliest of men, and when I hear him sabre-rattling I have the same reaction as I should have if I discovered that the Archbishop of Canterbury was keen on karate.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not widen the debate. A number of hon. Members wish to talk about the subject of the Bill.
§ Mr. van Straubenzee
I am very much obliged, Mr. Speaker. I have, I think, made the point about the comprehensive reorganisation problems of voluntary aided schools.
The anxieties of those who are unhappy about these provisions are based upon a feeling that the Bill, if given a Second Reading, will be used by the Churches for what I might loosely call the indiscriminate building of new church schools. I cannot believe that our experience over the last few years of the close partnership which, in all areas of the country I should have thought, has been established between the various denominations and the local education authorities could possibly lead one to suppose that this would be something which the churches would want to indulge in, or, in the unlikely event of their so wanting to do, something that the Secretary of State, with his overall control, which he righly has, would conceivably permit them to do.
I should have thought that one of the lessons of the past few years has been that, with good sense and good will on all sides, in almost every case it has been possible to make a coherent whole of this duality, and sometimes more than that, of participation in education. It must be said clearly that the ultimate control rests financially with the Secretary of State, and he made his position clear on this just now, absolutely rightly.
While we shall, naturally, listen with great interest to the arguments that will be put forward in favour of the Amendment, I would hope—particularly now, as the Secretary of State has said, that it is possible for children to move with so very much greater ease—that there would be very few cases where parents with a genuine anxiety were forced to send their children to a school of a kind which offended their conscience—something which in this country we take very seriously.
I have noticed a certain tendency to assume that this Bill, and its predecessors, is, as it were, giving something to the Churches. In one sense that is true, but what I do not think is appreciated 851 is the immense burden which, quite willingly, they themselves are at present bearing. I say "quite willingly", because they are doing it with their eyes open—partially, at any rate. In some cases it is historical.
Quite frankly, speaking as one within the Anglican Church, I must say that there is considerable debate within that Church whether this is the right way of using scarce resources, and it may be that within a few years, though we have not reached that point yet, there may be second thoughts, and that the House will be asked to legislate accordingly. After all, 12 per cent. of our young people in maintained schools are in Church of England schools of one sort and another—I only use Anglican figures because I would not presume to quote those from other Churches—and 25 per cent. of the number of our schools are Church of England schools. The discrepancy is due, as the Secretary of State pointed out, to the fact that so many of them are, by modern standards, small village schools.
Yet the interesting fact is that, although the Secretary of State is perfectly right in pointing out that the percentage of children in church schools has been dropping over all. I am told that, taking the figures at the end of 1965 as my yardstick, the percentage in Church of England schools is just now beginning to rise again. The expenditure necessarily incurred on building by the Church of England was, to give the exact figure, £1,009,000 in 1964—a very substantial figure. The interesting thing about it is that when this House increases the rate of grant the effect is to increase the expenditure required by the Churches. Therefore, if we are contemplating this Bill as a kind of feather bed for the Churches, that has not been the experience with its predecessors.
I repeat that this is not something about which the Churches should, in my view, complain about—we take on the work freely—but it is a fact that might sometimes be recognised outside, particularly in relation to the substantial expenditure which, speaking at least of Church of England schools, remains to be covered, and the work that remains to be done. None of this takes account of the expenditure which will be necessary 852 for secondary reorganisation or for the raising of the school-leaving age.
I want to refer to a much smaller point in respect of which I have been in touch with the right hon. Gentleman's Department. There are—and I declare immediately a personal though not a financial personal interest—a few schools which contrary to the overwhelming number which are on freehold property, are on leasehold properties. Neither in previous Measures nor in this Bill has grant been made available in respect of the rent or ground rent which the governors of these schools have to find.
I do not go into the argument at any length now—for obvious reasons, Mr. Speaker, and also because it is essentially a Committee point—but I hope that at the appropriate time the Secretary of State will be prepared to look at the problem of those very few schools. To the best of my information, the total ground rent is under £4,000 a year for the whole country—I hope that figure is accurate; it is the best I have been able to get. The question of the schools on leasehold property is one that has fallen through the provisions of the 1944 Act, and we have so far not dealt with it.
I must make it quite clear, in terms, to the Secretary of State that this is a bit of private enterprise of my own and only I am responsible, as chairman of governors of one such school. I know that those having responsibility for church schools do not want to give the slightest impression that they wish to upset the arrangements which the right hon. Gentleman has come to with them. This is my own responsibility. Perhaps I might add that since the school in question has an unrivalled view of the Oval, if the Secretary of State would ever like to pay a visit on appropriate days in the summer, we should be very happy to receive him.
I very warmly welcome this Bill as a measure of assistance with an immense burden. Particularly do I welcome the provision, to which the right hon. Gentleman has drawn attention, in Clause 4, and I would echo, if I may, his remarks that, conceivably, we overlooked this on previous occasions. I should like to think that the greater number of people feel that a diversity of interests and of 853 activity in education is a strength and not a weakness, and that, as part of that, but only part, the work of the Churches is of value to the nation. I therefore very much hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ 11.47 a.m.
§ Dr. David Kerr (Wandsworth, Central)
I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:This House, determined to maintain the right of all men and women to follow their own faith, declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which perpetuates a system of education which does not provide maximum choice of school as laid down in the Education Act 1944, nor the fullest educational opportunities for all children; and further that it will in future make the expansion of choice and opportunity more difficult; and that at a time of great financial and economic difficulty the measure should not enjoy such high priority in the Government's legislative programne.I would, first, draw attention to the phrase that prefaces our objections, which is that we are… determined to maintain the right of all men and women to follow their own faith …".We say this explicity, but we have in mind an interpretation which may not always appear lo be obvious, namely, the right of some people to follow none of the recognised faiths but to adhere to a material faith which is generally described as humanism or secularism. The voice of humanism remains muted even in this House, and in all humility I should like to think that this Amendment is in line with Parliamentary history. It has nothing to be ashamed of in this House or outside of it.
I should also like to make it plain that those of us who have tabled the Amendment have very much in mind the contribution made by the Churches throughout history to the progress of education. We do not wish to deny that this has been the fact of the case, but we are now in a situation which does not appear to us to justify a move which, in the terms of the Amendment, will not expand the choice of opportunities for educational variety which are open to children, and which, indeed, in some respects, appear to us to freeze the opportunities which may come later to extend those varieties of choice.
854 Most important of all, to many of us, we are anxious to see the Government legislative programme rolling on and achieving the changes in the social scene in Britain to which we are committed on this side. We are puzzled that, at a time of great financial stress, and even of hardship, we should be asked to press even this small Bill into the programme, and in so doing, delay other Bills and involve ourselves in expenditure which, though small, is, nevertheless, increased expenditure.
We regard this as undesirable. Most of all, at the bottom of our feelings, lies the suggestion that as we have progressed from 50 per cent. in the 1944 Act to the 75 per cent. we have now, the 80 per cent. we are being invited to agree to, and the 85 per cent. which was recommended, how far will this take us and how long will it take us to reach a 100 per cent. grant?
I remind the House of the words of Mr. R. A. Butler, when he was introducing the 1944 Act. He went out of his way, when speaking of controlled and voluntary-aided schools, to say:I must impress upon hon. Members who sometimes say that these terms are not generous that the running costs of the aided schools, whether primary or secondary, are to be paid, with the sole exception under Clause 14(3), of half the cost of the outer repairs of the building. I do not think, therefore, that the House can regard the offer as being conceived in other than a generous spirit.But he was talking about a 50 per cent. grant, not a 75 per cent. or an 80 per cent. grant. If there was sense in that proportion of grant in 1944 and we are taken along to accept a 75 per cent. grant subsequently, it is a little difficult and, if I may say so to my right hon. Friend, a little arbitrary to lay down that somehow 80 per cent. in 1966 preserves the voluntary principle.
I do not understand this curious change in measure and how 50 per cent. in 1944 was generous so 80 per cent. in 1966, is O.K. It is quite clear from what my right hon. Friend said in moving the Second Reading that 80 per cent. is acceptable to both sides of the House, with the exception of those few who have tabled this Amendment, but not acceptable to the Roman Catholic Church which asked for 85 per cent. It did so presumably bearing in mind that the remaining 15 per cent. would be sufficient to justify the voluntary principle.
§ Sir E. Boyle
I do not know whether I am qualified to speak on this and we are early in the debate, but has the hon. Member considered the enormous growth of the Roman Catholic school population since 1944? Secondly, has he realised how much higher we have set our sights now and the fact that Roman Catholic all-age schools have been done away with? If he is comparing 1945 with 1966, he ought to take account of what has happened in history since that time.
§ Dr. Kerr
I take the point, but I am speaking not about the amount being granted, but the proportion being granted. This is what we find difficult to accept. This rise from 75 per cent. to 80 per cent. is not in my submission affected by the size of the Roman Catholic school population. It is not on the basis of actual amounts, but it is this increase in the proportion which is worrying us.
I now turn to one or two special points which my right hon. Friend raised when moving the Second Reading and express some disquiet about the assurance over consultation with the public as to the choice between denominational and non-denominational schools which may be established in a new area. What he said this morning was not explicit enough in assuring the House that the public as a whole in any particular area where a denominational school was seeking to establish itself would be fully consulted. From what I hear from areas where consultation is presumed to have taken place, it has given some people a great deal of disquiet about the results.
As to his suggestion that those of us who tabled the Amendment are seeking to spend no money whatever on voluntary-aided or controlled schools, that is not the case. We are realists and we are not asking to put the clock back but we are anxious to stop it going forward, particularly in a sense which will carry us to a point where the voluntary principle is totally destroyed. About the voluntary schools our anxiety rests on the fact that the existing single school areas are not at the moment offering the choice guaranteed to parents under the Education Act, 1944, and this Bill will make it more difficult in future to create new sorts of choice in those areas. It is this freezing effect which we find unacceptable.
856 Lastly, I emphasise once more that our plea is not a plea to do away with religion. It is a plea to recognise the voluntary system and the right of people to opt in and to opt out.
Here again, I quote Mr. Butler. He said, in the same debate:any solution which does not take account of our traditional policy that any further increased public aid must be accompanied by increased public control would. I am convinced, imperil its general acceptance, and might bring about a reaction as detrimental to the churches as the cause of education itself."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th January, 1944; Vol. 396, c. 228.]
§ Dr. Kerr
It was in 1944.
I do not think we have moved away from the general acceptance of that ideal. If we are moving away from it, I hope that someone will say so because this is something which I for one would find myself in substantial disagreement with. We put this before the House as a reasoned Amendment to a Bill which, however it may be represented as serving the interests of a section of the community, we feel in the long run is inimical to the progress of properly integrated, non-segregated education. I ask, therefore, that the matter be reconsidered.
§ 11.54 a.m.
§ Mr. L. M. Lever (Manchester, Ardwick)
I have followed with close interest the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Wandsworth, Central (Dr. David Kerr). He said that we do not want to go forward; we want to retain the status quo. It is surprising that people who are normally progressive in most other spheres should not be progressive in this sphere. I like to see the whole situation concerning denominational schools as realistic.
My right hon. Friend the Minister for Education and Science has done a great service today. I congratulate him warmly on the realistic way in which he presented the Bill. It is no good my hon. Friend the Member for Wandsworth, Central saying "we have no objection to religious education". Quite clearly, unless we are realistic and provide adequate funds to meet the heavy burdens and costs of the various denominations it will mean that they cannot 857 carry on and fulfil their valuable purpose. I remind the House and the country of something which is sometimes forgotten. The Churches of the various denominations were the pioneers of education in this country long before the State assumed responsibility for it.
Clearly, in these days more than at any other time we have to have regard to the consciences of our citizens and to ensure that their children, all children, are brought up in the sacred faith of their parents if they wish to do so. The Amendment does not meet what the supporters af the Amendment say they wish to achieve, which isto maintain the right of all men and women to follow their own faith.If they are determined to maintain the right of all men and women to follow their own faith, they are acting contrary to this purpose, because the object of this Bill is to ensure that everyone is brought up in accordance with the conscience and faith of his parents.
The dual system was firmly established by the 1944 Act, and in the passage of time there has been a greater sense of realism about the important value of denominational education. We had the 1953 Act. We had the 1959 Act. If the Bill is not given a Second Reading today, it will mean that men and women will be denied the right to follow their own faith. If people want to opt out or to opt in, there is still freedom to go to either one school or another. There is no reason why Roman Catholics should not go to their own schools, or members of the Church of England to theirs, and the same applies to members of the Jewish religion, to Methodists and Nonconformists generally.
I hope the House will support wholeheartedly the Second Reading. It will not prevent those who do not wish to follow any faith from not following any faith. On the other hand, we must allow and make full provision for the conscience of the individual and do what we can to safeguard it.
I know of the heavy burdens that are being borne by the various denominational schools. If we did not have any denominational schools the State would have to pay the whole 100 per cent. So even, if we pass the Bill, the State is making a 20 per cent. profit on the denominational schools. Therefore, it is 858 to the credit of this country that we have regard for the consciences of parents and children. After all, children belong to their parents, they do not belong to the State, and we have to have regard for what they think and feel.
Education costs today are prohibitive. The cost of school buildings, land and other costs relating to schools is something we have to take into account in a Bill of this kind. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Education is realistic. I cannot imagine him not being realistic or coming forward with a Measure which he felt ought not to be introduced. He has introduced the Measure because he knows the heavy burdens which various denominations have to bear in relation to their schools. I hope the House will give its Second Reading its unanimous support.
My hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger), in her interesting article in the Guardian the other day under the heading, "Freedom to disbelieve"——
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman has a habit of talking directly to a Member. He must address the Chair.
§ Mr. Lever
There was an interesting article in the Guardian, to which the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South is periodically an important contributor. I am sure that all of us enjoy her articles, because they are quite brilliant. However, frankly I disagreed with her article on Tuesday last under the heading, "Freedom to disbelieve". After all, freedom to disbelieve is a rather negative approach to life.
The important thing in life is to believe in something which one holds very dear, and a negative approach, which is characteristic of the Amendment, is something which one deplores. I hope that hon. Members who have appended their names to this Amendment will, on reflection, correct this negative approach. What is humanism? Humanism is a situation 859 involving human affairs. Personally I cannot imagine a life for any human being which does not have regard for conscience, for faith, for God. This cold approach to earthly life is something which I regard as being quite contrary to what is the essential need of this age. What this age wants——
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I am not disputing anything the hon. Gentleman has said, but we cannot dispute differences in religious faith in detail on this Bill.
§ Mr. Lever
I like the approach which the House as a whole has made to the Measure without regard to either faith or political party. I like that ecumenical spirit. I think that that ecumenical spirit is reflected in the language of the Bill. I would like to see it much more widespread. It would indicate a more tolerant basis for education and other aspects of our national life. I hope the House will unanimously agree to the Second Reading. My hon. Friends have every right to express their opinions, but I hope they will adopt a tolerant approach to those who do believe in God and who wish to bring up their children in their own faith.
§ 12.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Rossi (Hornsey)
I wish to speak for the Bill and against the Amendment. I declare an interest as a Roman Catholic and as one who has been privileged for about 15 years to serve as a governor on a number of voluntary-aided schools. I have, therefore, been extremely close to this particular problem of finance for church schools.
It might be of interest to know that since the end of the last war the Roman Catholic population in this country has incurred a liability of about £40 million. That does not include interest charges. There is still a loan debt of about £20 million which is borne on the shoulders of the Catholic community. The struggle to maintain the schools and to shoulder this financial burden has been a very real strain. The money has been provided by voluntary contributions of ordinary men and women. But the funds are not vast. There are no institutions to provide this money. There are no rich endowments.
The money is obtained from the coppers, sixpences and shillings in parish 860 church collections, by means of organising parish fetes and bazaars, and by the running of parish football pools and bingo games. In a great number of voluntary aided schools, including some of those with which I am connected, parents have built up what is known as a parents' or governors' fund. Each week the parents connected with these schools provide some money out of their own pockets.
To give one example, a new primary school has recently been built—not in my constituency, but nearby—at a cost of £70,000. Each family with children at the school contributes 5s. per week. Those who cannot afford that modest sum do not pay. On the average, the parents of children attending that school pay 5s. per week per family. These people are certainly not wealthy. They bear the full burden of their rates. In my constituency the rate is 8s. in the £ for education. They bear their full whack of Income Tax. In addition, they pay out of their taxed and rated income so that their children can attend the type of school they want them to attend, so that their children can be brought up in their faith.
These people are prepared to pay, in addition to their rates and taxes, to maintain the freedom of choice of which the Amendment speaks, but which it goes a long way towards destroying. To maintain this freedom of choice, these people shoulder this burden so that they can send their children to schools while, at the same time, paying for the maintenance of State schools.
This is the aspect from which the problem should be approached. Is it fair or equitable that ordinary men and women should be expected to pay out of their own pockets and shoulder a burden of about £40 million as a small minority community? As the hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. L. M. Lever) said, if these people were not carrying this burden, the community as a whole would have to bear the full burden, because places in schools would still have to be found for these children. I ask the supporters of the Amendment to give serious consideration to the justice of that point. What do they mean when they speak of freedom of choice?
There are 45 children per class at the school I have mentioned, where parents 861 pay 5s. a week towards the cost of the building of the school. The workmen are still at the school. Children are being turned away. This is an illustration of choice, of people wanting to send their children to a certain type of school. The demand is such and the number of places so small that many are disappointed. Parents with children at the school are only too glad to pay out of their own pockets.
I repeat my question, because it is one which must be repeated time and time again. Is it right that these parents should pay their full rates and taxes and still pay out of their pockets to provide for their children education of the kind they wish? This problem is continually growing. It is a problem with which the House will be faced in ever-increasing degree. Last year, the Roman Catholic school population was 639,000. This year it is 656,000. There is the problem of shifts in population. New schools are needed continually, particularly in urban areas. Under the new arrangements, the Catholic population will have to pay about 20 per cent. of the cost for these places.
It was not right for the hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central (Dr. David Kerr) to refer to the 50 per cent. and then the 80 per cent. increase. He overlooked the fact that most of these voluntary schools now have to be built on long-term borrowing. The final voluntary contribution is not just the percentage share of the cost but the product of the percentage liability and interest charges. That is a constantly growing factor. The percentage liability does not tell the whole story. The improvement in terms of eventual expenditure is not as large as a simple comparison of percentages might suggest.
The cost limits on schools have risen by 8½ per cent. since the first announcement of the new grant arrangements for voluntary schools. The overall increase in the cost limits of 1959 is now over 30 per cent. The hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central should bear these facts in mind.
Sites have become more and more costly with the passing of the years. Again, I stress the burden on the minority communities who wish their children to be educated in their own 862 faith. I underline and emphasise the part of the Amendment which speaks of choice. Why tax these people twice over to enable them to exercise their choice?
We have been told that the Anglican community provides 12 per cent. of the schools and that the Catholic population provides 9 per cent. If trends continue as they are at present, the Catholic population will face a cost of between £20 million and £30 million per decade, assuming that building costs remain static. This is a continuing burden which this section of the population will have to bear.
I have spoken on behalf of one section of the community, a section to whom its faith means much. All that I have said is equally valid for the Anglican community, the Jewish community and the Methodist community, all of whom face this problem in varying degrees. The Amendment speaks of the determinationto maintain the right of all men and women to follow their own faithand toprovide maximum choice of school".The effect of the Amendment would be to deny this choice. If carried, the right of men and women to follow their own faith would not be maintained. The Amendment is in effect a very thinly disguised attack on those who believe in God.
§ 12.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter M. Jackson (The High Peak)
I rise to speak in favour of the reasoned Amendment. I do so, in particular, because I wish to speak on the question of the single-school areas. I was a little disappointed at some of the things which the Secretary of State said. I do not think that he fully appreciates the problems of humanist parents living in those areas.
We have heard this morning the argument in favour of the dual system that it provides parents with a degree of choice. In my opinion we should qualify this argument. It provides some parents with a degree of choice. It does not provide me, as a humanist, with a degree of choice because we have no humanist schools. It does not provide members of the Exclusive Brethren or vegetarians, for example, with a degree of choice, because there are no schools for persons 863 of these persuasions. When we are talking about choice we should be quite clear that we are thinking of a very narrow range of choice. In single-school areas, there is in fact no choice at all.
The areas served by single schools are increasing. We have been told this morning that the number of children in Church of England schools is increasing. The Church of England schools in single-school areas are largely in rural areas. With the extension of commuter lines and with people prepared to make longer journeys to work and wishing to live outside the towns, our villages are growing, and the number of children attending village schools, often Church of England schools, is growing at the same time.
I want to give one example of an area in which parents are not provided with any freedom of choice whatever. The village of Wheathampstead is served by one school, a Church of England school. The parents of children attending this school are not very happy about the fact that it is under Church of England control. At a local authority meeting, the majority of the members of this community voted against the continuation of this school as a church school. It is, in fact, 100 years old and is to be rebuilt.
There is nothing in the legislation so far which will protect parents who are in this situation. It is all very well saying that there is a conscience clause for humanist parents—indeed, the majority of parents—who do not wish to have their children indoctrinated in the Anglican creed. We must remember that although we described it as education or as instruction, in fact it is indoctrination.
What is the position? It is that parents, in theory, may withdraw children from periods of religious instruction and from the assembly. But I suggest that the whole Christian-Anglican ethos permeates these schools. In this connection, I should like to read a short quotation from the chairman of the governors of this school. He said:The underlying purpose behind the existence of every church school is that every activity of the school shall be informed with the Christian spirit. It applies to everything from learning numbers to playing football.There are certain humanist parents who do not see football in terms of the Christian spirit, and yet they find that 864 there are so many activities in the school which in fact are Christian-oriented, and they have no freedom of choice whatever.
I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger) proposes to table an Amendment to the Bill, which I hope the Secretary of State will look at sympathetically, which will require him to take soundings among the local community when it is intended to rebuild a school—in other words, to allow parents in areas such as Wheathampstead, who at present are denied this freedom of choice, to have the freedom to decide whether a school shall continue as a Church of England school or whether it should be taken over by the county.
§ 12.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom Driberg (Barking)
This Amendment, which was moved with great moderation by my hon. Friend the Member for Wandsworth, Central (Dr. David Kerr), has injected into the debate the old general argument between secular and denominational education. In moving the Second Reading, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred to the change of atmosphere which there has been, in one respect at any rate, in that all the denominations now collaborate in the discussions with him and his Department. We have moved a long way from the old days—as some of my hon. Friends may think, the good old days—of half-a-century ago, when stalwart Nonconformists went to prison rather than pay rates which would help to pay for Church education.
I have some sympathy with the humanist case, which has been very baldly stated by my hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Peter M. Jackson), though I would not concede that the term "humanist" is synonymous with the term "atheist". The first humanists in recent centuries—and I need hardly remind you of this, Mr. Speaker—were the Christian scholars of the Renaissance who rediscovered classical learning. However, we have all received a document about this Bill, a reasoned argument, from a humanist body. I may perhaps be allowed to say, therefore, that during the debates on the 1944 Act, to which reference has naturally been made, I was one of the few hon. Members who went into the Lobby with 865 Mr. Harvey, an independent Member at that time, who was a Quaker, in opposition to the Act on one kindred issue—the issue of the morning act of worship.
However, that settlement was accepted by the House at that time and has been maintained ever since: the balance between the Churches and the State has been, broadly, kept. If it were carried, I think that this Amendment, despite what was said by my hon. Friend in moving it, would tend to upset the spirit of the 1944 settlement. It is true that my hon. Friend spoke of percentages—not of the whole basic question. But the point about percentages was, I thought, effectively dealt with both by the interjection of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) and in the speech of the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi).
This Amendment would tend to destroy the balance that has existed over the years since the 1944 Act, and although undoubtedly there is a humanist case, and although some day we might debate the whole of that case, I suggest that it would be inappropriate on a limited and modest Bill of this kind to raise the whole question. Such a major constitutional reform should be raised in a substantive Measure and not brought in, on a side-wind, in a modest Bill of this kind, which is of practical importance but in my view introduces no new principle. The Secretary of State emphasised the modest scale of the expenditure contemplated, not at this moment of extreme financial stringency but by 1969–70.
There is a further reason why in my view it is the wrong moment to attempt a drastic or radical revision of the 1944 settlement, and this is perhaps the somewhat unorthodox view that we are in the very early stages of what is nowadays called a "dialogue" between Christians and people of other faiths, and agnostics and atheists, Marxist or non-Marxist: I feel that in a few years' time, when that dialogue has continued and reached fruition, we shall be better able to assess the desirability of revising, if need be, the 1944 settlement. In this context, and with all deference to my hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak, there are some people who are not covered at all, either by the Bill or by his view—the relatively small number of people who describe themselves as Christian atheists 866 or Christian agnostics. One consideration which would dispose me greatly against the Bill is if I thought that it would destroy the 1944 settlement in the opposite direction to that which I suggested—that is, if I thought that the National Union of Teachers were strongly against it because, on this whole question of religious instruction, the union was a party to the 1944 settlement. That settlement was achieved by the skilful diplomacy of Lord Butler and our old friend the late Mr. Chuter Ede vis-à-vis the various parties concerned—the denominations, the teachers, and so on. Great diplomacy was needed to achieve it, and if I thought that the N.U.T. had been ignored or not consulted, or that they were against the Bill, I should have grave doubts about the Bill. But I understand from my inquiries that they accept it in principle with some what I may call committee-point reservations, and this has weighed strongly with me.
I can also confirm what my right hon. Friend said about the Churches' co-operation and their view on single-school areas and on collaboration in working out the comprehensive principle. I have been in correspondence with the Secretary of the Schools Council of the Church of England Board of Education, Canon Eric Wild. I will, with permission, quote just a few sentences from a letter he has written to me:Although the Bill is not directly related to comprehensive secondary school reorganisation, it will in fact enable us to co-operate with the local authority in plans that would not otherwise have been possible. As you will appreciate, it has not always been easy to find ways in which church secondary schools, and particularly smaller ones, can co-operate in schemes of comprehensive reorganisation. I am sure you will be glad to know that negotiations with local authorities and with the department officers are proceeding in a most friendly and co-operative way and I have little doubt that all our schools will be integrated in local authority plans in due course. Without the legal easement offered by this Bill it would have been very difficult to see how this could have been achieved in a number of situations.Those of us who believe in the comprehensive principle also believe that, whether or not it meets the specific point of the Amendment—that is, greater freedom of choice in the matter of faith—it certainly provides greater freedom of choice in education for the children, 867 which is, after all, one of the main points—perhaps the main point.
On the single-school area problem, which was mentioned by my right hon. Friend and other hon. Members, Canon Wild writes to me:… we have no intention of using the facilities to establish new schools to create any single-school area problems. Indeed it is contrary to our policy to perpetuate single-school areas, holding that there should be the utmost freedom of choice for parents.Therefore, one can say that, with the reservations to which I have referred, the Bill is acceptable to most of those who will be affected. I have sympathy with the feelings and views of my hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak. I hope that, perhaps in a year or two, he will be able to introduce a Private Member's bill expressing those views, on which we can all have a go. Nobody can tell what view the House will take about it. However, for the reasons I have given, I think that, broadly speaking, the Amendment is not relevant to the problem and the Bill must be accepted.
§ 12.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Ernest Armstrong (Durham, North-West)
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State indicated in his clear and persuasive speech that the Bill did no more than to underline and confirm the changes that have taken place in the education service since the 1944 settlement. I speak as one who hoped at that time, as a Free Churchman, that the dual system would diminish rather than grow.
I think that this feeling was fairly common in Free Church circles. But we must accept that as the years have gone by more and more parents have opted to send their children to denominational schools, and the Bill is now essential if all our children are to be educated in the buildings and with the equipment and facilities that are needed if equality of opportunity is to be a reality. I am sure that the whole House shares this view. I therefore support the Bill, because I acknowledge that the dual system is now an integral part of our education service. My right hon. Friend has the duty on behalf of his Department and the House to see that no child is penalised 868 because of the choice that the parent may exercise.
It is remarkable that our debate is not only not on party political lines but is no longer on denominational lines. The settlement has been accepted by the Free Churches, the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Church. In view of past bitterness and prejudices, it is clear that a great change has come over this very troublesome subject, and when one considers the great changes that have taken place one sees that the argument used by my hon. Friend the Member for Wandsworth, Central (Dr. David Kerr), who moved the Amendment in a very helpful way, is now irrelevant.
It is irrelevant when one thinks of the tremendous changes that have taken place in the education service: more and more children moving to new estates, new towns, big conurbations; the tremendous reorganisation that has taken place, with the abolition of the all-age schools and now the reorganisation on comprehensive lines; and the growing demand for new school places. We must see the sense in ensuring that voluntary schools are able to take their fair share in the expansion, reorganisation and development now being carried on throughout the country.
I was much impressed by my right hon. Friend's comment on the single school areas. I had wanted to raise that point but he has reassured me. I wondered when my hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Peter M. Jackson) was talking about a particular school whether it was controlled or aided. He did not say.
§ Mr. Armstrong
Then I think, with great respect, that if my hon. Friend carefully reads my right hon. Friend's speech he will be assured that his fears were rather exaggerated.
As the ex-head of a primary school, I regret in one way that the dual system is now firmly entrenched, because I think that we greatly underestimate the approach now being made in schools where the agreed syllabus and the morning act of worship form the basis of religious teaching. We should stop talking about religious instruction because this gives rise to exaggerated talk and 869 fears about indoctrination. I have visited a large number of schools. I have taught in an aided school, in a controlled school and in a county school. They taught me a great deal more than I taught them.
I did my second school practice in a Roman Catholic school, in Leeds. Coming from a small village and the Free Church, I had considerable apprehensions before I went there because all of us have great prejudices and built-in fears about something which we do not know very well. I do not know what I did to those children. When I look back, I am rather afraid that they may remember me for all sorts of things I should not like to be remembered for. But my experience indicated to me that the things which unite us, the things on which there is common agreement, are much wider and much more important than the things which divide us.
I ask the House and the Secretary of State not to underestimate the tremendous contribution being made by controlled schools and county schools. I do not sense any indoctrination. If schools have been trying to indoctrinate the great virtues of forgiveness and honesty, going the extra mile and love and charity towards one's neighbour, all I can say is that we have been singularly unsuccessful in our attempts to indoctrinate. In most schools now there is a new method of arguing the case, with youngsters being able to put their point of view, and from the Christian education departments there comes an initiative which results in great service to the community and looking outwards because of the mainspring which begins in the Christian education department.
I am not one of those who think that this is confined to people who profess the Christian faith. I should not accept that view for a moment. But, as I have visited many schools and served in others, I have been impressed that those responsible for Christian teaching in schools have shown great initiative in giving the schools a sense of service to the community.
I wish to calm some of the fears expressed this morning which seemed to underlie the Amendment. I believe profoundly that an education which ignores the child's spiritual needs, which ignores 870 the Christian sources of our culture or the Christian contribution to many of our freedoms and privileges which all too often we take far too much for granted, must be deemed to have serious shortcomings. For that reason, I hope that the Bill will be accepted. In view of the way in which together the Churches have approached this problem, the very close and warm relationships which exist between the Church and local education authorities, and, indeed, with the Department—they have never been stronger—I hope that together we can go forward, satisfying as far as possible the choice of the parents, but producing—and this is the idea of education—a community willing to understand each other and get rid of its prejudices.
I have two more brief points to make. First, I was interested to read of a gathering of Catholic teachers where the idea was suggested that in the secondary stage in some neighbourhoods it might well be worthwhile having all the children of all denominations together. I would commend this to the Secretary of State. I think that it is worth encouraging this. All of us have a great deal of misunderstanding and sometimes ignorance and prejudice about people who seem to be segregated from us. Children who, at secondary school age, share their leisure time, support the same football teams, and so on, sometimes find it hard to understand why some should go to one school and some to another. Occasionally it leads to the very misunderstanding and prejudice which we are all anxious to avoid.
When visiting some of our new comprehensive schools and seeing in the Christian education period the discussion, the exploring together, the searching after the relevance of Christianity to this modern industrial society in which the individual has yet to find his rightful place, it seems to me that this would be of benefit to all denominations. I have seen it working, and I commend it to the House.
Finally, I welcome the last provision in the Bill relating to colleges of education. The Church has played a very distinguished rôle in the education system. Its contribution in teacher supply and training has to be seen to be believed. I welcome the extension of this and the provisions in the Bill which will make 871 it possible for the church colleges or education to do more in this respect.
I echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg). There have been great changes since 1944. The most welcome change has been the coming together of the Churches. I hope that we should do nothing in the House which would upset the balance which was achieved then, because I regard the Bill merely as acknowledging the changes which have taken place and meeting the needs of the voluntary schools if they are to play their rightful part in the service of education.
I am pleased to support the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ 12.47 p.m.
§ Mrs. Lena Jeger (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)
I support the Amendment, but I should like to say to my right hon. Friend the Minister how greatly I appreciated the lucidity and frankness with which he explained the Bill. I am sure that there is wide agreement about that.
The anxieties which some of us feel about the Bill arise from fears concerning the unlikelihood of my right hon. Friend's own immortality. There has been a great deal of discussion about the sensitively balanced compromise reached in 1944, but I do not think that this is the time or occasion for a major confrontation of all the arguments about the historic duality of our system.
I wish to make only one philosophical point on this. It is most unfortunate if this argument becomes polarised between believers and non-believers. I have received many letters from devout Christian parents who support the idea of total State secular education, particularly from those who live in single school areas where the only available school is not of their denomination or even where there is a variation between what I believe is called high and low religious practices connected with the school which is part of their own denomination.
I have particular anxiety about the single-school areas. Hon. Members who have suggested that those who support the Amendment are somehow reducing parental choice seem to me to have got the argument upside down. We are 872 anxious to broaden the choice of parents. My right hon. Friend referred to some of our anxieties being exaggerated, but if we are guilty in this respect it is partly because we feel that the size of the problem has not been mapped out.
I asked yesterday in a Written Question,in how many single school areas the only schools available are controlled or aided schoolsand my right hon Friend replied:I regret that this information is not available."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd November, 1966; Vol. 735, c. 139.]It is very important for us know whether we are talking about thousands of children, hundreds of children, or tens of thousands of children. I hope that before the Bill reaches its final stages this kind of information will be available to help us. I also asked how many aided and controlled schools have been rebuilt or enlarged. I was careful to get the terminology right. My right hon. Friend again replied that the answer was not available. I suggest that the inadequacy of statistics is most unfortunate at a time when we are being asked to extend aid to schools in this way.
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
Can the hon. Lady explain how a figure of 75 per cent. will solve the problem of single-school areas while the figure of 80 per cent. will make it worse?
§ Mrs. Jeger
Within the terms of the Bill I am not sure that I should be in order if I were to answer the hon. Member in detail. I will go on to my second point which, to a certain extent, raises this question. The Minister has said that, under Section 13 of the 1944 Act, if ten or more local electors express their objection to the extension of such schools notices can be posted and the objections must be heard. I hope that he will give consideration to the question whether the rights under Section 13 could be extended to cases where schools are being rebuilt although not necessarily enlarged. Some of the protests that I have received come from parents living in villages which are in single school areas and where the only school has been completely rebuilt. Although they were prepared to go along with the traditional familiar old church school, they were 873 surprised to find that when it became controlled or aided it was completely rebuilt and the procedure of consolidation under the provisions of Section 13 did not apply, although a larger sum of public money might well have been spent in rebuilding than in making certain extensions in respect of which the Minister would have had to apply the provisions of that Section.
The Bill has raised a fundamental question. Some of us feel that it is pertinent to ask whether, if it is 80 per cent. this year, it will be 85 per cent. next year. Where are we going in this direction? I much appreciated my right hon. Friend's assurance in this matter, but I ask him particularly to see in what way he can relieve the anxieties of parents who live in areas where there is no choice of school.
There may be ways of doing this through the provision of increased transport facilities—if my right hon. Friend can encourage local authorities to be more generous in that regard—but I support the Amendment because in my view parents should have the largest possible choice of school, and the Bill seems to restrict choice rather than enlarge it.
§ 12.55 p.m.
§ Mr. J. C. Jennings (Burton)
For the first time in my Parliamentary life I find myself in almost complete agreement with the Secretary of State. We should both be congratulated on this. I hope that it happens again, in reverse.
The Bill should be seen in the context of the developing history of our educational system, particularly the rather hectic story of the dual system. The Secretary of State made a significant statement when he referred to the bitter arguments of the past having now been substantially overcome. I can speak with personal experience about this. I was brought up a Methodist, educated in what was then an elementary school, a church school, and then a grammar school; I trained as a techer at a church college—a Methodist who eventually became an Anglican—so I can approach this problem with what the hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. L. M. Lever) would call an ecumenical mind. The main thing to remember is that whatever happens, the Bill represents an agreed settlement amongst the Churches. 874 This is absolutely predominant in the Bill.
Anxiety has been expressed by humanists on the question of single-school areas. If we have any regard at all for decent amenities in schools—I was a headmaster in an old-fashioned single church school and I know the conditions—we should welcome the Bill because of the provision it makes for better amenities, conditions and buildings.
Clause 2 is important. It enables controlled primary schools as well as controlled secondary schools to be enlarged. If a housing estate is constructed in a village, the question arises whether it will be more economical to build a new State school or to add extra classrooms to the present church school. It is usually an economic proposition to take the latter course rather than the former. If I differ slightly from the Secretary of State it is in the context of comprehensive development, although I could meet him on this subject also. If a comprehensive system has to come universally—and I hope it does not—local authorities will find difficulty in absorbing church schools into such a system. If, therefore, by way of the increased contribution. Clause 2 enables a church school to fit into the future scheme the Bill will have achieved some good.
Clause 4 deals with voluntary colleges. In the priorities of education, one of the principal is that of teacher supply. Anything, no matter from which direction it comes, that helps to get extra teachers is good. To condemn the expansion of voluntary colleges or an increased contribution to them would impair all teacher supply. I commend the Clause.
The hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Peter M. Jackson) made a curious contribution. I am glad the point was brought out that the reference was to a controlled and not an aided school. He made the charge that the ethos of the teaching is indoctrination—I think that is a fair summary of what he said. He said that it was included in the learning tables, in the arithmetic, in the music and even in the football. If we could get some Christian indoctrination into some of our sporting events, it might be all to the good.
§ Mr. Peter M. Jackson
I said that I felt that the Christian ethos was brought 875 into much teaching and quoted in support of that the claim made by the chairman of the governors of Wheathampstead School. For the hon. Gentleman's benefit, I will read that comment again. It is not I who claim this but the chairman of the governors, who said:The underlying terms behind the existence of every church school is that every activity of the school shall be informed with the Christian spirit. It applies to everything from learning numbers to playing football.One would be interested to know how one brings the Christian spirit into playing football, but the chairman of the governors obviously believes in it.
§ Mr. Jennings
From long and active experience in schools of all types, particularly church schools, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we are like everyone else. We have a period for what was called Scripture but which has now become "R.I." After that, we get down to the job of secular education, with ordinary subjects. This period has been moved, rightly, from the first period to any subsequent period during the day if necessary. If any parents have any objection to this period for their children, they are within their rights to withdraw them from such teaching. They have complete freedom of choice in that sense.
The hon. Lady the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger) frightened me when she talked about total State secular education. She said she had had lots of letters from parents who are confirmed and avowed Christians and who would prefer a system of total State secular education. My own strong conviction is that if we divorced Christian teaching from our schools and all we were left with was a State secular system, we would lose something very valuable. I should hate any attempt in this House to institute a system of education completely divorced from Christianity.
The Amendment has been moved and spoken to with great moderation, but, in spite of that moderation, it is an attempt to attack and an avowed intention to kill the dual system. The words used by the hon. Lady avowed that. The Amendment begins by talking about… determined to maintain the right of all men and women to follow their own faith …".876 There is nothing in the Bill or in any previous Act to prevent any man, woman or child from following their own faith. I dispute that anyone has no faith—even if a man is an atheist, that is his faith—but even if people have no faith at all in this context they are at liberty to withdraw from participation in such teaching or activity. It is with great pleasure that I welcome the Bill and hope that the dual system will continue for a long time to come.
§ 1.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)
I have no interest to declare save that I am a Welsh Nonconformist and come from a family which in the past vehemently supported the movement in the Principality whereby people refused to pay rates and tithes rather than send their children to the Anglican schools. But suffice it to say that there has been, I think, a complete change of attitude towards this problem, and I wholeheartedly support the Bill.
I also express my appreciation from this bench of the way in which the Secretary of State moved the Second Reading and of his conduct of the negotiations which took place beforehand. I do not accept that the Amendment is calculated to lead to a greater choice of school as laid down in the Education Act, 1944. The hon. Lady the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger), in her very reasonable speech, mentioned the single-school districts and with my background I have considerable sympathy with her point of view. I think that the humanists have a point of view that ought to be expressed and taken into greater account perhaps in the future. It is idle to pretend that we have the maximum possible choice and there is great scope for enlarging choice.
I could not help thinking of my constituency, a scattered rural area with many single-school districts. I do not believe that there are in the whole of it more than about 100 Roman Catholic families permanently living there. But the children of these families have virtually no choice with regard to schools. When the hon. Lady refers to the children of humanists with no choice in certain areas I remind her that it is not only they who are involved.
§ Mrs. Lena Jeger indicated assent.
§ Mr. Hooson
I have one child of school age. When the House is sitting we live in London. My child goes to a private school, which is a Welsh school, because I want her to have that kind of cultural background. It is not a State school although we would wish it to be. The G.L.C. refuses to take it over. We as parents are deprived of choice in the State system in that sense.
There is obviously great scope for enlargement of choice. I should like to see—and coming from the background that I do this shows the change in events—now that we have virtually but not entirely State schools throughout the country, England eventually adopting the Scottish or Dutch system, which provides for education in accordance with the religious views of any body of parents of viable size without demanding any contribution towards the cost or the buildings. That is in the highest liberal tradition. I hope that one day we in England and Wales will achieve that state of affairs.
We have the agreement reached in 1944 and it is idle to try to go back on it. The right hon. Gentleman has taken a sensible and realistic view. I would not have been against the Bill if it had provided for 85 per cent. of the cost. I think that, in the difficult financial situation, the right hon. Gentleman has achieved a great deal by raising the level to 80 per cent.
§ Sir E. Boyle
When the hon. and learned Gentleman says that he would not be sorry to see the Scottish solution adopted elsewhere in the country, is he assuming that the buildings would still remain the property of the governors, or is he assuming the counterpart of the Scottish system, which is that the buildings are publicly owned?
§ Mr. Hooson
I am assuming the counterpart of the Scottish system. I am assuming that the State would be responsible for providing these buildings if there is a viable number of parents who want their children educated in a certain way. As long as we stick to the 1944 statute with its provision for religious groups to have new schools where there is a demand for them, we should not 878 make the task impossibly difficult in the changed economic and social conditions of our country.
I find it difficult to understand the Amendment. It is self contradictory. If we decline to give a Second Reading to the Bill, it does not enable us to maintain the right of all men and women to follow their own faith. The effect would be to make it a little more difficult. The right hon. Gentleman was correct when he said in his intervention that we now have much higher educational standards than in 1944. Because of inflation and the economic difficulties of individuals, it is more and more difficult for them to subscribe adequately to the voluntary fund which enables them to provide the schools. It is fair and right in these circumstances that the Government should intervene in the way they have done. I am sure that I am speaking for all my hon. Friends when I say that we shall wholeheartedly support the Bill.
§ 1.12 p.m.
§ Sir Barnett Janner (Leicester, North-West)
I was intrigued by some of the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson). Although I am a Jew, I was brought up in a Nonconformist environment of a very strong nature. I, too, recognise, that there has been a very considerable change in the outlook on this problem. I remember that when I was a candidate in Cardiff, Central a Nonconformist minister demanded that I should withdraw my name from a letter which had been addressed in reply to me and my fellow candidates to a request made by the then Catholic Archbishop of Cardiff. My colleagues and I had said that we would go into the matter of a new school being provided. The day before the election we were called upon to repudiate the implications contained in the letter, but we did not do so.
A few years later the Minister of Education was Sir Donald Maclean, a very strong Nonconformist, but when I brought to him Canon Ring, from St. Mary's and St. Michael's, a Catholic Church in my constituency, he realised that it was essential to have a new school there for the Catholic children and he granted permission accordingly. He did so, I believe, on the principle many years later laid down in the 1944 Act, which emphasises that a parent is entitled to have his child 879 brought up by an educational method consistent with the instruction that he receives at home. We all recognise that the effect of home life is extremely important, particularly these days, and that any education which is not along the religious lines in which the child is indoctrinated at home is likely to be unhelpful to the child's upbringing.
As every hon. Member knows, I am of the Jewish faith. I have a very high regard and deep respect for the teachings of the Prophets and for biblical indoctrination. I believe that that is highly essential today to bring us to a state of understanding on those lines, so that we may establish peace in the world instead of the present situation.
I hope that what I say will not in any way be misunderstood or disapproved of by those who have put forward the Amendment. I speak as a parent, and I feel that for a Jewish child a Jewish education means an education of the highest moral standards. It is essential that a child of the Jewish faith should understand what it means to be a Jew and should then be in a position to face its fellows with some kind of mission so that it can produce similar understanding of the moral doctrine on the part of its fellow men. This has, indeed, happened. The new ecumenical spirit does not relate only to the various denominations of the Christian faith. It includes understanding between that and other faiths. I hope that this understanding will be of such a nature that ultimately all difficulties will be entirely removed.
The step contemplated by the Bill does not have very wide financial implications. From what we have already heard in the debate, it is obvious that people of the Christian denominations as well as Jewish people are making tremendous sacrifices to bring up their children in the religious way that they wish. We all realise that the essences of the faiths that we possess are of such a nature that it is worth while indoctrinating our children with them.
I have found that young Jews who have been brought up in Jewish denominational schools have found no difficulty later on in associating with their fellow students at university and so on, and later with their fellow men, although they were 880 educated in those schools. On the contrary, I think that they have something of value to bring to their fellow men and vice versa.
May I point out that the 1944 Education Act recognised that there would be a general movement of population to new areas of residence, and that it would, therefore, be necessary for denominational bodies to move their schools to those new areas and /or to bund new schools to cater for the increasing child population and the increasing demands for full-time education in denominational schools. That Act and subsequent Acts, and Regulations made under them, rightly required higher standards of school buildings and sites.
I emphasise this when we are dealing with the increase in the amount to be allotted, taking into account that heavy additional burdens in this regard are being placed on the denominations. A grant of 75 per cent. has been allowed by the 1944 Act. I do not think that an extension to 80 per cent. is unreasonable in the light of the large increase in costs. It is no good saying that the fact that costs have increased generally does not entitle the denominations to ask for an increase.
That is ridiculous because they have to pay large additional increases and this Bill merely thus allows 10 per cent. of the additional increase, so that 90 per cent. of that increase, under any circumstances, is being paid, in a sense, by the denomination itself.
A great deal of reorganisation had to be carried out after the 1944 Act in order that all-age-group denominational schools be replaced by primary or secondary schools. I would like to point out that only those schools which were already voluntarily aided received building grants for replacements of schools. If they constituted new schools then almost the whole of the initial building and site costs had to be borne by the denomination concerned, but once aided status was awarded after building operations they became entitled to maintenance building grants.
Since 1959 the demand for denominational schooling has increased and it has been impossible to carry out a programme sufficiently large to cater for the demand, because of these increasing costs. 881 The 1959 Act did not remove the limitations upon school building work which qualified them for grant. I am happy to say that the new Bill does. The denominations want to play their full part in the substantial reorganisation of schools now taking place.
To do this a prerequisite is the provision of grant for all new schools. The new Bill will remove the limitations of "transferred" and "substituted schools" and will enable grants to be paid for all new projects providing new places, either due to the increasing number of children or to the necessity of providing denominational schools in newer residential areas.
Transferred and substituted schools are the true successors of previous schools already receiving aided status. The present system means that parents in many areas cannot send their children to denominational schools because such schools would not attract initial building grants. This has been felt most seriously by the Jewish population, because since 1945 there has been a continuous migration from older areas of residence to new areas. We are pleased that the grant has been thus increased and that the new provisions have been made.
Barriers have broken down a great deal now. I know the position with regard to Catholic schools in my own area and I appreciate that they are fulfilling a dedicated desire to give their children an education consistent with their religious views. I remember the days when the Kensit Brethren came down to the little town that I was in when there was violent agitation against the introduction of High Church methods into the Church of England. Some hon. Members perhaps may realise that I know a good bit about the agitations which took place outside my own religion, the changes which have taken place in outlook.
I am personally connected with a number of Jewish schools where large numbers, perhaps thousands, of children, are receiving primary, general, and Jewish education. As to the quality of the education I can assure the House that this has already been recognised and praised frequently by Her Majesty's Inspectors. Favourable comments were made by the Inspectors about the spirit, atmosphere 882 and religious character of the schools. These schools are educational establishments, private and fee-paying. The Jewish bodies associated with the schools are very anxious that some of them should be placed on a solid footing and that these fine institutions should be of a more permanent nature.
The Bill states that there should be proof of a demand for such schools. I can only give similar proof to that which has been given today. When one sees hundreds of parents paying fees for tuition and increased costs for school meals, and incidentally school meals for the Jewish community are more expensive than ordinary school meals because they have to be kosher, then surely that is clear evidence. My information is that some 10,000 boys and girls of primary school age to school-leaving age are attending Jewish educational schools. In my view this is sufficient indication that the Jewish community is anxious to have its children educated in a Jewish religious way. All these schools, some of them already State-aided, require extension and I am happy to think that this Bill will help in this regard.
In the course of my speech I have tried to emphasise my reasons for believing in Jewish and other denominational schools. I cannot, for the life of me, believe that those who are moving the Amendment can have any objections to the high moral teaching that these schools endeavour to inculcate. There may be doctrinal matters about which we may not agree, but children in a school can be taken from this aspect in accordance with the Education Acts. How on earth anyone in this age can believe that the real fundamental doctrines of religion are not essential to preserve for and instil in our future generations I just cannot understand.
I am sure that those who have introduced the Amendment will realise that there is no intention whatever, whether in the Bill or among any of us, to deprive any child of the right to be brought up within the doctrines of its parents. But to say that denominational schools should not receive this small additional assistance is taking the matter quite beyond the proportions which I feel the hon. Members moving the Amendment want, and I hope that they will withdraw it.
§ 1.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Walter Alldritt (Liverpool, Scotland)
I welcome the Bill and I intend to support it because it is a further move towards equality. As a parent of children who attend voluntary schools, I have to express appreciation that some additional burden is to be lifted from me. I want to speak purely as a parent, bearing in mind all that that means, one is a little selfish but one is justified in being so in caring for children entrusted to our care. Perhaps I will be forgiven if I say to my right hon. Friend that this cannot be the end.
Why am I justified in thinking in this fashion and do I reflect the feelings of many millions of parents? I want to go back to the 1944 Act and, in particular, to the speech made by a famous Englishman in anticipation of that Act on 21st March, 1943. That person was no less than Sir Winston Churchill. I want to quote his broadcast on that date. Referring to the forthcoming Act he said:There is another element which should never be banished from our system of education. Here we have freedom of thought as well as freedom of conscience Here we have been the pioneers of religious toleration. But side by side with all this, there has been the fact that religion has been the rock in the life and character of the British people upon which they have built their hope and cast their cares. This fundamental element must never be taken from our schools.Having this in mind, and the fact that pre-war about one-third of our schools were voluntary, I have had great difficulty in understanding the attitude adopted in the 1944 and subsequent Acts towards the voluntary schools. One becomes even more confused when one remembers what was said by the then President of the Board of Education, introducing the 1944 Measure, when he said:Here, I want to make it clear that it is no part of the Government's policy in promoting this Measure to supplant the home. I should like indignantly to repudiate any suggestion that that is our policy. Family life is the healthiest cell in the body politic. It is the Government's desire that that family life shall be encouraged, and we hope to try and help children both in their physical, moral and religious development. I think it will be seen that we are trying to do our best towards this end and to fortify and buttress the influence of the family."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th January, 1944; Vol. 396, c. 211–2.]Is it any wonder that one is confused when one discusses percentages in the context of both those utterances? Is it any wonder that I was surprised to find 884 that with the 1944 Act I was only a 50 per cent. citizen and with subsequent amendments became a 75 per cent. citizen? I hope that today the House will give a Second Reading to the Bill and that I shall become an 80 per cent. citizen.
For this advance we are deeply grateful, but if one accepts the basic principle that parents shall have their children brought up according to their wishes—and let us not forget that on numerous occasions the House has confirmed this principle—the situation becomes even more confusing.
I do not want to elaborate what has already been said. The hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) made the point that as Catholics we are carrying a debt of something in excess of £40 million. I do not know what the total is, but I know that my Anglican and Jewish friends, particularly in my own city, are carrying enormous burdens.
When one remembers this burden and the number of voluntary schools brought into the Act of 1944, it would not be unreasonable to suggest that the Act would not have been successful but for a section of the community carrying a very heavy additional burden. The time has come when we should be relieved much more substantially of this burden and I hope that in future I shall be fortunate enough to be in the House when we cease to talk about percentages.
§ 1.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Brian Parkyn (Bedford)
I rise to support the Bill, but it is with considerable reluctance that I find that I am unable to support the Amendment, considerable reluctance because, like the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson), I was brought up with a militant Nonconformist background going back some years. My grandfather went to prison on a number of occasions fighting against church schools and even the very gold chain which I am wearing went to court several times, and was brought back.
This is an issue which is of great importance to the people of Bedford, because we have a very large Roman Catholic population, considerably larger than the average for the country as a whole, composed not only of English 885 Roman Catholics, but of Irish, Italians—we even have an Italian-speaking church—Poles, West Indians, and so on. I am not a Catholic, or a Protestant now, or a Jew, or Muslim, or Hindu, or Buddhist, or member of any organised religion.
I would like all education to be completely secular. I would like collective worship and religious instruction to be taken right out of the schools. But as long as we have Section 25 of the 1944 Education Act on the Statute Book, requiring that schools should do this, without a complete reappraisal of the whole position, we have to regard the Bill in that light.
I realise that the 1944 Act makes it clear that religious instruction and collective worship should be of a non-denominational type, but we know that many Catholics and others feel that that is unacceptable. Like all hon. Members, I fervently believe in democracy and in the need to preserve the rights of minority groups and particularly religious minority groups. This is extremely important and although I am a humanist I believe that it is important to preserve these rights. As long as we have Section 25 on the Statute Book, which is, presumably, very satisfactory for many Christian folk, I fervently believe that we should make provision to ensure that as much State aid as possible is given to enable those who have different religious views to provide education, religious worship and religious instruction of a kind suitable to their faith.
I must, therefore, support the Second Reading of a Bill to increase the grants to the special agreement and aided schools.
§ 1.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Simon Mahon (Bootle)
I had the pleasure of taking part in a similar debate in 1959, and I remember that on that occasion I was able to say that the then Archbishop of Liverpool, now Cardinal Heenan, had asked in a public speech that if education were discussed in the House of Commons in the near future, the debate would be carried on without any bitterness or acrimony. There was none on that occasion and, in spite of the Amendment today, there has been no acrimony in this debate. It will be my endeavour to pursue the tenor and tone of the debate as it has developed.
886 The hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central (Dr. David Kerr), in moving the Amendment, spoke of small expenditure—small expenditure. I could not disagree more. But, apart from the financial point, there is something that I am quite sure all hon. Members would wish me to say. There are, thank God, in our society men of all denominations who are completely vocational. Irrespective of denomination, they devote their whole lives to the spiritual welfare of our people. More should be known of the cost in health and in breakdown of these clergymen who have assumed responsibilities that are not rightly theirs but the responsibility of the laity and the State. I can assure the House that in the Liverpool archdiocese the stresses and strains of trying to keep the educational system going have taken an appalling toll of the health of these men, and I know the House will support me in hoping that the revision of the capital burden in the future will relieve them of that great strain on them.
All hon. Members have a right to express themselves, but I was disappointed when this morning, for the first time, I read the Amendment. I wanted then to ask these humanist Members—who are entitled to their opinions, as we all are—whether they are simply against religion being taught in schools. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Wandsworth for assuring me that that is not the case. If I may say so from these benches, I thought that the case put by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) was in the highest traditions of Liberalism as I know it. He asked for an enlargement of choice. Nobody could object to that, and I know that if, in the future, the need for enlargement of choice in education became obviously necessary, it would have the full support of those who have been in the minority in this country for so long.
As the Minister himself has pointed out, if the Amendment were carried—and I am sure there is no possibility of that—it would be quite impossible for us to maintain and continue proper standards of education for our children. My right hon. Friend knows that, for myself, I am not satisfied with the amount of the grant. I have said so to him before and to the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle). Nevertheless, I thank them both, and I 887 thank the Government, all parties in this House, the Catholic people, the people of the Church of England, the Noncomformists and the Jews, for reaching this figure of 80 per cent. in full agreement. I do not thank them formally, but warmly and appreciatively on behalf of millions of our people who have for too long borne a burden that is not really theirs.
We are most grateful for what has been done, but why should the grant not have been 85 per cent., as I wanted it to be? I thought that that would have been a more equitable figure. But I am not being churlish in the slightest degree when I say that we accept the 80 per cent. grant with gratitude. We have high rates of interest, high building costs and high costs of sites—will 80 per cent. be enough? We know that it is an assessment and that, as the Minister has said, there are some parts of the Bill that cannot be financially assessed, but 80 per cent. represents a great advance, and we accept it.
I would not have much objection to the Scottish system in any shape or form. The climate and temperature of these lands is such that we could have accepted it. It was offered to us a long time ago. Some of us can remember in our own lifetime the history of education from 1929 onwards, and we ask: why should not the Catholics, the members of the Church of England, the Jews be treated in exactly the same way as everyone else? You and I, Mr. Deputy Speaker, belong to a generation which had to undergo certain stresses and strains in time of peace and war. I come from the City of Liverpool, and I know that the county borough of Bootle, which I represent and which is known so well to so many people had to bear great stresses and strains of war, during which there was tremendous damage and destruction done to houses—as great as in any part of London. Yet never a ship went out of Liverpool undermanned—it was manned by people of all religions, Never a regiment was below strength—it was strengthened by people of all religions.
I recommend to hon. Members a book by Dr. James Murphy, published by the Liverpool University Press, which deals with the crucial experiment of 1833 when, 888 in the days of the Irish famine, the Irish who were under British rule—my own forebears among them—came to this land and found a welcome and a considerable amount of justice which over the years has been extended and enlarged. Nevertheless, we ask, basing our requests on that past, for equal opportunity for our children.
This House, through long association, has learned to have respect and great affection for Archbishop Beck. I am sorry he is not here today to listen to this debate. He has been ill, but I am glad to say that he is improving very rapidly, and hopes to resume his educational responsibilities very shortly. I know that he will be delighted when he learns of the manner in which this debate has been conducted.
He has great responsibilities in Liverpool—a great archdiocese—and undergoes great pressures from, in the main, ordinary working people who, as is well known on both sides of the House, are living in the worst possible social conditions of any in this country. That, obviously, has a tremendous effect on education and educational opportunity. Coupled with the financial stresses, it makes a mockery of the slogans we all use at election time about equal opportunities in all spheres for all people.
The Minister knows the difficulties of his high office. The right hon. Member for Handsworth has held that same office and he too, knows the variations and vagaries that can take place from time to time in education. A decent society never finishes trying to improve its educational system. I can give the assurance that, as a result of this Bill, we will get a greater degree of cooperation from the direct-grant schools on Merseyside. There is no doubt about that. I have heard criticism in this House of the direct-grant system. I will only say that I hate to think what would have happened to many of us, what sparse opportunity we would have had, had that system not been in existence. I want that fact to be very well known.
I hope that the direct-grant schools will play as big a part in any future educational organisation and reorganisation as they have done in the past. I add the hope that this Bill will not represent the end, 889 but that, when the need is seen for a reappraisal of the finances of the voluntary schools in order to maintain equal opportunity—and only equal opportunity—with everyone else in the country, an 85 per cent. grant will be possible.
It may have been possible to get a final settlement, but I agree with the Minister in this regard. Sometimes it is a very good thing for people belonging to spiritual associations of all kinds to have a personal responsibility for themselves in education. It could be 15 per cent. if we had the 85 per cent. granted, but at the moment it is 20 per cent. which we have to bear as a burden. If the burden becomes too great, perhaps the margin can be narrowed. I am sure that, given the same spirit of co-operation and tolerance shown in this House and the country it will not be possible to extend the margin of the burden.
§ 1.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)
I do not wish to detain the House for a great deal of time, but I should like to make one or two short observations. I listened to my hon. Friends the Members for Wandsworth, Central (Dr. David Kerr) and The High Peak (Mr. Peter M. Jackson). I assure them that if they feel they have a case for secular instruction in schools on the lines they advocated, I will support them in their desire to have schools to do just that because I am not claiming for myself what I would not claim equally for other parents. I think that this is true of all here today.
I was, however, rather surprised that so much has been made of areas where there is only a single school. This is a problem which has applied not only to humanist but to Catholics in an Anglican area, or Nonconformists in an Anglican area, or Anglicans in a State area. But there has been a realisation that where it has been possible to supply the needs of those separate parents that has been done. This is the spirit of tolerance in which we should approach the problem. If my hon. Friends found enough students to form a Bible school or to have their children educated in the type of ethos they want I should support it and I would regard it as basic to them as parents.
890 There are two matters which should be referred to. First, there is the question of the rôle the local authorities have been playing in the great improvement we have talked of today. This has been scarcely mentioned. We would be wrong if this debate were to go on without having a very warm tribute paid to the local authorities for the help they have given to denominational schools, in particular in those areas where there are denominational schools whose catchment area has gone over the boundaries of one or more authorities. This could create many problems, but by tolerance and good sense the difficulty has been overcome.
The attitude of the most progressive local education authorites has been to insist on and see to it that the denominational schools are not left behind. It would be wrong of me if I did not use this occasion to pay a tribute to my own city and county of Kingston upon Hull, a most progressive authority, for the way in which it has helped members of my own community. It has been a most progressive authority which has piloted many new and original schemes in education. It is an authority wihch has a tremendous burden because of the war through damage and destruction of schools and the creation of new centres of population. Yet all the time it has paid care and attention to the needs of its own community, of the Catholic community and the Anglican community The authority deserves our grateful thanks and tribute for the way in which it has been able to ensure this understanding and cooperation.
One point which I think important is Clause 4—[Laughter.] I regard all sorts of Clause 4 as important. I would legislate for Clause 4 and repeal Section 4, but that is beside the point. Clause 4 in this Bill is tremendously important. It is important because it recognises the anachronism which arose under the 1944 Act over the giving of loans to voluntary technical colleges. My right hon. Friend the Minister and the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle), who, I believe, is referred to as "a usual channel", deserve congratulation for ensuring that the denominational colleges shall be able to play the part as they wish to play in this tremendous experiment and adventure of the expansion of higher education.
891 The national expansion as planned is from 24,000 to about 100,000, but Catholic places in colleges are to rise from 2,000 to 10,000, which is well over the average of the increase. This shows that we have been and are prepared to play our part. I cite an example from my constituency. I am particularly fortunate in having two very good training colleges there, one a denominational college. With all the grants they have received they are left with a bill of £190,000. With high interest rates this is a continuing burden. We shall now have facilities, where necessary in the last resort, to get money at the Public Works Loan Board rate. That is a tremendous advance.
I thank my right hon. Friend, or the usual channels, for this tremendous advance, especially in higher education. Other hon. Members have spoken of it in regard to secondary and primary schools and it would be wrong to take up the time of the House in repeating what has already been said on that part of the matter.
§ 1.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael McGuire (Ince)
I shall follow the admirable practice which has been followed up to now over the length of speeches. I hope that my speech will be short and as good as most of those we have heard today. I also support the Bill and add my congratulations to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science for a very good and lucid Measure.
Having made reference to the shortness of speeches, I must refer to the break-away from the tradition of Front Bench spokesmen on both sides of the House by which they always take a very long time to tell us what we are to discuss. A very homely expression which was common when I was a boy, which describes anyone who has spoken at great length on any subject, said that the person concerned had been vaccinated with a gramophone needle. I have thought many times that Front Bench spokesmen, on both sides of the House, had been similarly vaccinated. It was, therefore, a great pleasure to hear the short and very lucid speech made by my right hon. Friend.
In the debate what has impressed me as admirable has been to learn that all 892 the rancour and bitterness of previous debates, going back for a long time, has now disappeared. The wonderful thing is the co-operation of the Churches, even on the part of those who disagree with it, in having a common bond and a common interest.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon) mentioned a book written by a man named Murphy called, "The History of Religious Education in Liverpool", and my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North-West (Mr. Armstrong) suggested establishing a denominational school to represent all the Free Churches, Anglicans and Catholics. He thought this would be a good idea. This is, in fact, mentioned in the book. In 1833 a Catholic bishop of the time was asked whether he considered this would be the ideal that he wanted. He replied that he could not see any great obstacle to it.
If we could move towards something of that nature, although it presents many problems it would be a further step in reducing the political temperature when we are arguing about denominational schools. This suggestion is worthy of great attention. Most reasonable people realise—and I am sure the Minister does too—that this cannot be hurried. The initiative must come from the Churches themselves. I am sure the House would welcome this move if it came about.
I represent the constituency of Ince. I am proud to do that. In the township of Ince-in-Makerfield the Church of England has adopted a startling attitude towards the building of schools. Although the county will provide schools in certain areas, the people themselves, at considerable expense to themselves, have provided two beautiful brand-new schools, and another one is planned. I wrote to my right hon. Friend and asked him to give further assistance, but he said that the matter had to be delayed because it had to be slotted into a particular programme for that particular year. The Church of England want to build more such schools in my constituency and everyone agrees that it is a good thing.
One of the good things about this debate is that those who have supported the Amendment have done so in a charitable fashion. I do not want anything that I say to be misunderstood as altering that balance. The Amendment refers to the rights of people. I put it 893 to my hon. Friends and to the supporters of the Amendment that the Amendment means that if they want those rights they can have them if they are prepared to pay twice. That is what the Amendment must mean. They already have to pay taxes like anyone else. The argument about paying twice, it was suggested, could be used when we talk about single people paying for the education of children.
However, we are talking about like and like. Married people with children have to pay rates and taxes like everybody else and this Amendment says that if they want to exercise their rights to have denominational education for their children they must be prepared to pay again for it. I do not think it will gain much support in the country and I hope it will not gain the support of this House.
One of the problems which is faced by people who want their children to have a denominational education is that, if the siren cry, "Let us have a non-denominational system" were yielded to, it would be very difficult and almost impossible to prevent indoctrination by humanists and atheists in these schools of children who come from Christian parents—just as they want to prevent religious indoctrination of what we call the humanist or atheist child.
When people express a desire that they wish to preserve something worth preserving for their children, the nation helps them, and I hope that in this matter we can go all the way. My ideas on education is that we should preserve for our children all that is best. I propose to quote John Henry Newman, who died a cardinal. One hundred years ago he wrote a book called, "The Idea of a University". I am speaking now about people who wish to preserve for their children a right philosophical approach towards education. In his book Cardinal Newman was asked what fruits education might be expected to produce. He replied:… the force, the steadiness, the comprehensiveness and the versatility of intellect, the command over our own powers, the instinctive just estimate of things as they pass before us, which sometimes indeed is a natural gift, but commonly is not gained without much effort and the exercise of years.I hold very strongly that the first step in intellectual training is to impress upon a boy's mind the idea of science, the method of 894 order, principle, and system; of rule and exception, of richness and harmony. Let him once gain this habit of method, of starting from fixed points, of making his ground good as he goes, of distinguishing what he knows from what he does not know, and I conceive he will be gradually initiated into the largest and truest philosophical views, and will feel nothing but impatience and disgust at the random theories and imposing sophistries and dashing paradoxes, which carry away half-formed and superficial intellects.I stand on what I have quoted from a great classic. I do not want to be unkind, but I think the term "humanist" is a euphemistic term for atheist. I might be wrong, but that is how I see it. There is the dilemma of the humanists or atheists who on the one hand say, "We do not want any indoctrination of a system which imposes on our humanist and atheist children views which are certainly not acceptable to us." On the other hand, there is the clash of the Anglican parent and the Jewish parent—and, in the fullness of time, the Muslim parent—who will say, "We want to preserve for our children that which we believe is best".
If I can add a touch of humour, this clash is about as easy of solution as some well-meaning people who say, "We want elections, but keep politics out of General Elections". The only person who successfully keeps politics out of General Elections is the hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. L. M. Lever)—[An HON. MEMBER: "Is he a humanist? "] He is a humorist. I was astounded when the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Jennings) did not know that my hon. Friend was the Member for Ardwick. This is the most conclusive fact in our political history. However, I must not dwell on that, or I shall be ruled out of order.
I merely wish to point out that the problem is not easy of solution. The solution we have fastened on is the best one. Any parent who sends his children to any denominational school will know that sending his children to a Church of England school, a Catholic school, or a Methodist school, never caused them to become Catholics, Methodists or Anglicans. It is the standard that is set in the home which is important. If the humanist's child goes to one of these schools, whatever indoctrination is given to the child he will quickly be given the antidote when he gets home. It is in the home that basically we lay the 895 foundation. Humanists have no need to worry that by sending their children to these schools the humanist population will not increase. One theory today is that it is very difficult to prove that there is any Christianity.
In case anything I have said about humanists is misunderstood or is thought to have destroyed what I set out to do, which was to keep an even balance and not to be uncharitable to anybody holding views different from mine, I want to make it clear that many humanists, by their standard of life and good conduct, set an example and perhaps put to shame many of us who profess to be Christians, Jewish, or whatever it be.
I warmly welcome the Bill. I reiterate what my hon. Friends the Members for Liverpool, Scotland (Mr. Alldritt) and Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon) said. Although we welcome the Bill, we look forward to the day when any parent who wants to send his child to a denominational school will not have to pay for the privilege but will be treated on exactly the same footing as everybody else. That time has not yet arrived. In these days of stricter control we must accept small mercies. On that account, I welcome the Bill.
§ 2.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Mahon (Preston, South)
Many religious people from time immemorial have spent most of their lifetime in searching for justice in education. Recognising in their pursuit of social justice that many doors were barred against the ordinary people of the land and that progress towards the attainment of their ideals would be a painfully slow process, well-disposed people, people to whom we must be eternally grateful, decided, in their day and generation, that it was in education that their ideals and aspirations could best be realised.
Who were these high-minded people to whom the country owes a debt of gratitude it will never be able to repay? Some of them were known. Some of them are forgotten. Some of them were men and women who themselves had been the recipients of education and who readily recognised that it served to enrich life. Many of them were splendidly inspired men and women who had not been educated but who felt the pain, and often the shame 896 and the ignominy, of having been so deprived.
Many of them were men of God, representatives of the Churches, who recognised before all of us, even before the State itself, that people would not be aware of what life held for them on this earth or of the promise of their eternal destiny unless they were taught to understand the true meaning and purpose of life itself.
Although much has been accomplished down through the years, in many respects the tasks facing us today are as onerous as those confronting the pioneers in those early days who built better than they knew. Today, to our sorrow, thousands of our schoolchildren are being taught in schools 120, 130 and even 140 years old—schools still standing as reminders of the prodigious efforts of our forebears in the early difficult years.
Today, many of our children are being taught in schools which are damp, dingy, ill-lit, lacking fresh air and sunlight, insanitary relics of a bygone age. The teachers who have taught for a lifetime with such devoted and dedicated vocationalism in such schools will always deserve to be a fortnight in Heaven before the Devil knows they are dead. It is an irrefutable fact that down through the years and under successive Governments great progress has been made. It would be churlish indeed to deny this fact.
Despite this progress, voluntary schools right throughout the peace have been on the receiving end of inferior treatment. We are not satisfied that our children, because of inferior treatment, should be looked upon of necessity as the children who eventually, when they go out into the world, will be the hewers of wood and the drawers of water, and will not be entitled to a place in the sun.
I have served for more years than I care to remember as a member and chairman of a local education authority. For a period of 22 years my father was chairman of the education committtee in my brother's constituency. The cornerstone of policy in the early years and the keynote so often sounded in the early days was "from the elementary school to the university".
Today, if a Member of Parliament has five subjects at G.C.E. Ordinary level and two at Advanced level, he is deemed to 897 be an intellectual. In my days in a Church school, if a boy won a scholarship he was reputed to be a genius. Standards have changed and will change.
In days gone by we continued in season and out of season to sound the clarion call for equality of educational opportunity. Not at any time have we said that children at one end of the social scale possess more grey matter than children at the other end. I suppose with truth there have been times when we could have made such an assertion. We have never made it, and we never will. Having nailed our banner to the mast, we assert that, providing that there is equality of educational opportunity, our children will acquit themselves just as well as any others. They have proved this and they will go on doing so.
Another landmark having been reached, educational reform is upon us. It is because of our fervent desire to further the case of equality of educational opportunity that we are now as a country prepared to embark on uncharted educational seas. Equality of educational opportunity, irrespective of colour, class or creed—this and these have been the watchwords emblazoned on our banners. It has been equality of sacrifice, in peace and in war. My brother, my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon), mentioned those two salient facts. During times of industrial depression the people have given 100 per cent. effort. As the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) pointed out, they pay rates and taxes 100 per cent. Why, then, in heaven's name, should a section of the people, because they have a religious outlook on life, be expected to accept lesser treatment?
I am one of five brothers who served in the war. Two of them are in the grave. Another one, my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle, has carried his wounds for more than 20 years. It was 100 per cent. effort. In return—80 per cent. citizenship as my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Scotland said. I agree that two of us have adjusted the balance a little by getting into Parliament, but I consider that I am being reasonable, just and equitable in questioning the principle without being extremely vexatious about it.
It is in no carping spirit that we face up to the situation and look to the 898 future and to an era of educational progress. The Minister of State, who has inherited the position as it now prevails, is facing the multifarious problems with which he is confronted because of the country's desire to make further progress in this important field. He is facing up to the manifold difficulties with tremendous zeal, courage and statesmanship. He is deserving of our help in Parliament and in the country.
We wish him well, because he is in possession of a purse not large enough for his needs. We wish him well because, contingent upon the success of the policy which he is requesting educationalists everywhere to espouse, there will come about a great degree of justice for all in the years that lie ahead. Within the scope of the new arrangements Parliament has acknowledged the injustice of the prevailing position. Sadly, the increased grant has already been eroded by the ever-escalating cost of providing school places.
It would appear that the time in this country has never been opportune to equate the financial burdens of education. It would, I suppose, be too much to expect any Government to establish parity in one fell swoop at a time when sterling and the balance-of-payments position are in jeopardy. At this point of time the voluntary bodies, in view of all the circumstances, are thankful for small mercies. Not for the first time in this House has there been recognition of the tremendous indebtedness which the nation owes to the denominational schools for the contribution which they have made to the educational life of our country.
Of one thing we can be certain: no child will be the worse for religious education. The diffusion of piety and spirituality among the children of future generations will prove to be of immense value in a world in which, in the future, if we are not on our guard, godlessness and materialism could become more rampant. In this context, the words of Charles Kingsley's poem seem appropriate indeed:Be good, sweet maid, and let who can be clever;Do noble things, not dream them, all day long;And so make Life, Death and vast For Ever,One grand sweet song.
§ 2.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Maurice Orbach (Stockport, South)
I must apologise to the House that I was not here earlier and, therefore, had not the opportunity of listening to a number of speeches which I understand were not only delivered gracefully, but dealt with the subject in a most delicate and thoughtful manner.
I should like to make an appeal to those of my hon. Friends who have put down the Amendment on the basis that, as one who thoroughly agrees with the general sentiments that they have espoused, I think that they are on the wrong target. Let me say, in the first place, that many years in the Labour movement bring me many intense memories. I can recall that in the 1920s, as a secretary to a member of the House, how we were inundated with letters and with deputations upon this difficult subject of denominational schools. It seems to me that at one time the Labour Party itself, if not the nation, was about to be divided in what was the most rancorous dispute that I have ever known—and that is one of the reasons why I appeal to my hon. Friends not to go on with their campaign.
But I have another reason. I think that they are on the wrong target entirely when they base their humanistic approach on denying to religious folk their right to send their children to a school of a denominational character. I do not today necessarily agree with Marx when he said that religion was the opium of the people, but I still accept the fact that it may be used on occasion as an opiate, and from that point of view I stand as an unrepentant humanist desiring to see all the religions accept from a tolerant and understanding point of view of my own right to preach the doctrine in which I believe.
But if there is to be an attack upon religious education, I feel that it ought to be directed at the State schools, where all the myths that go into the whole religious conception are spelled out for the children who attend those schools. For that reason, I believe that we ought not to centre our attack on Jews or Catholics or members of the Protestant faith, but on the State at the right level and when the occasion presents itself.
I know that the old attack was always based on the Catholic schools, with, in 900 a minor key, the Jewish schools, but everybody accepts the fact that in those schools—quite apart from the religious instruction, that is given—the educational standards are extremely high. They have been referred to from time to time in the debate. At the same time I should like to pay tribute to the educational standards of some of the Church of England schools.
I have personal experience of this. My own son was a student at a Church of England school. He was successful in getting a Christ's Hospital Foundation and later, at the age of 16, entering Magdalen College, Oxford, as a scholar. I do not think that the religious education that he received at his denominational school did him any harm whatsoever, and I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. McGuire), who made the point that home is the place where the child receives that sort of training in ethical standards and even in myths which stands him in good stead for the rest of his life.
At the age of 6, my son came home and intervened in a conversation which his mother and I were having in which I used the word "crucial". He said, "We have all heard about that today in school'. I said, "What did you hear?". He said, "That on a green hill outside Jerusalem they crucified "—and then he hesitated, and continued, "Nature and science". He had learned from his parents that while we could not accept the existence of God, we could accept certain ethical doctrines and practices, and my wife had tried to teach him that nature and science played a great part in determining our lives.
It is for these reasons and these reasons alone that I hope that my hon. Friends have not used this opportunity—I know that they will not divide today—to start a campaign on this basis. The big fight that took place on this is all over. If a supporter is wanted in the fight against religious education which discriminates or in any way gives a privilege to religion I shall give my support to an Amendment to the Education Act on its control of the State schools. I hope that the rancour and bitterness which pervaded my party, and, perhaps, the party opposite, previously will not be brought to the fore again.
§ 2.31 p.m.
§ Sir Edward Boyle (Birmingham, Handsworth)
As one who took part in the debate in the House on the 1959 Act, and in the negotiations preceding it, I join the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon) in his tribute to Bishop Beck, of whom I am sure many of us are thinking this afternoon. As both the hon. Member for Bootle and the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Peter Mahon) have spoken in the debate I should also like to add my own tribute to the memory of their father, who was for many years chairman of the Bootle Education Committee and did very fine work in a borough that obviously presented very special difficulties.
It is right that we have had prolonged debate on the Bill. In almost any other Western country today increasing State subsidies for sectarian education would involve a good deal more controversy than this debate has evoked today. There is a very big difference today from the situation in 1959, when the religious denominations were not all agreed on the subject. As the Secretary of State said, it has been a feature of the negotiations leading to the present Bill that all the denominations have agreed.
However, I do not think that that should discourage us from debating the issue in the House. I sometimes think that in Britain we are a little too prone to self-congratulation when everybody is agreed on a subject. It is exactly in that situation that it is right and desirable that dissenters should have their say. Whilst I do not agree with all that the hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central (Dr. David Kerr) said in moving the Amendment, I think that he moved it with moderation, and it was absolutely proper that his point of view should be represented in the debate. I hope that nobody outside—none of those who wish to clean up T.V. or anything else—will suggest that there was anything shocking in the point of view which the hon. Member put forward, because this topic clearly needs to be thoroughly explored from all sides.
I now turn to the Bill, and especially to Clause 1, subsections (1) and (2), because these are the most important subsections. Subsection (1) raises from 75 per cent. to 80 per cent. the rate of contributions and grant on the categories 902 of voluntary school building work which are eligible for grant under the existing law. Subsection (2) extends the eligible categories to include all new places provided in aided and special agreement schools, whether new schools or enlargements of existing schools.
While I think that I agree with everything else that the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) said, I do not agree with him that the Bill marks no major change in the 1944 settlement. Subsection (2) definitely marks a major change, as the 80 per cent. grant will now be available for all new schools and not confined, as hitherto, to existing schools or secondary schools needed to match existing primary facilities. We are taking an important step in the Bill which goes right beyond the 1944 settlement, and we should recognise that. But I believe that it is proper that we should now take this further step. Indeed, I should have been prepared to support it in 1959 had the denominations then been agreed.
I wish to give three reasons why I—and I think all my hon. Friends—support Clause 1. Then I want to say something about its limitations and to re-emphasise what the Secretary of State said on that aspect; and afterwards I shall make some comments on the Amendment. First, why do I support Clause 1, subsections (1) and (2)? The first reason is that I do not believe that in 1944 anybody realised the extent of the financial burden that would fall on the religious denominations in the years that followed. It is important to realise just how great these have been, and how much greater than could then have been forecast.
For example, if one considers the numbers of pupils in denominational schools and takes the Roman Catholic Church alone, one finds that in Roman Catholic primary schools the numbers have increased by 13 per cent. between 1955 and 1965, from 390,000 to 443,000. The increase in secondary school population has been much more striking—from 69,000 to 196,000. I put these figures to the House because they have not been much mentioned today.
The ending of all-age schools and the provision of a full secondary education for all Roman Catholic children for the 903 first time has meant a very much larger number of children in denominational schools than anyone could have forecast 20 years ago. In addition to that—and here I very much agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi)—one must think of the other financial pressures, particularly on the Roman Catholics—the pressure of increased costs, the fact that there has been an increase in building costs of over 35 per cent. since 1959, the increased cost of sites, and the increased interest charges, which have normally been at a much higher rate in the past few years than in 1959.
As the Secretary of State said, a large net sum has been spent by the Roman Catholics and the Church of England on school building since the war. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman gave the figure of £46 million as the net cost—£38 million Roman Catholic and presumably nearly all the rest Church of England. I do not want to dispute the figure, but I suspect that it may be something of an understatement. The Church of England figure is probably rather bigger than was suggested, but in any case the figure of total cost for the denominations has been impressive.
On the point made by the hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central, about the percentage, I think that one must consider the absolute sums of money involved and not just the percentage size of the grant. Events will frequently take place which erode the percentage increase. The increase in building costs and the increase in numbers have more than offset the rise in percentage that the denominations have received under the 1959 Acts.
The financial burden is greater than anyone could have guessed in 1944 and, secondly, because of rising living standards and greater wealth, there has been not only growth of population but much greater movement of population than was forecast in 1944. The Secretary of State will probably agree that whether one talks about denominations or the school building programme, there tends to be relatively too much concentration on rising population as opposed to movement of population, which also presents a very big factor.
904 The effect of all this movement has been, particularly to the Roman Catholics, that growing areas have been placed at a great disadvantage compared to the old established areas. It is hardly too much to say that quite often the more urgently a school was needed by the Roman Catholic community, and the bigger the need for a school of viable size, the less promising were its prospects of grant. On the other side of that coin, some areas like town or city centres have lost population and there is a surplus grant entitlement for schools which will never be built or replaced.
Thirdly, I agreed with virtually everything which the Secretary of State said in his speech, but I should like to support him particularly on the administrative point. I can state from my experience as Minister that the metaphysics of when a place is a new place, and when it is a transferred or substituted place, had become pretty fantastic from the point of view of those who had to administer earlier Acts. I am very pleased that, with the agreement of all the denominations, we are wiping out by Clause 1(2) all these metaphysics which had become a nonsense from the point of view of conscientious officials. As the Secretary of State said, this will achieve a very substantial saving of time and effort.
I should like next to point out the limitations of subsections (1) and (2) of Clause 1, because it is important that we should be clear about them. First, as the Secretary of State rightly said, these subsections, and particularly subsection (2), do not offer a blank cheque for the establishment of new aided schools. We are not taking the decision in this Bill that any Roman Catholic child or Anglican child should automatically become entitled to a place in a denominational school. There will be parts of the country where it simply is not economic or sensible on educational grounds to carry the dual system through to its final logic.
The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson), in what I thought was a very good speech, spoke about Montgomeryshire where, he said, there were 100 Catholic families. That is a part of the country where it could not make sense to have a dual system. In the county in which I live, Sussex—I am 905 a co-opted member of the East Sussex authority—we are having a good deal of secondary development and educational development generally. But I am satisfied that it could not make sense to try to have every Catholic child in Sussex in a Catholic school.
We must have regard not only to denominational preference, but to what is educationally right and efficient. As the Secretary of State rightly pointed out, it will still be necessary for the promoters of new or enlarged aided and special agreement schools to show two things: first, that there is in the area an overall shortage of school places which the proposed new school will help to relieve, and that the school will meet a genuine denominational demand; and secondly, which is very important, that the proposed school will be of an educationally workable and viable size.
I hope that as a House we shall never depart from those principles. It would be very nice in life if one could take one single principle—say the absolute right of all parents to secure for their children a school of their own denomination—and make everything else revolve around it. But often there has to be some compromise between two principles each of which is good in itself. I believe that the extension of parental choice, and of parents feeling that the best is being done for their child, is most certainly a good thing in itself; but, clearly, we have equally to be concerned with what is educationally viable and the use of scarce resources in education. It is important that we should be clear that the Bill is not a blank cheque for the construction of new aided schools.
On the rate of grant, I know that there has been some disappointment in certain quarters that the figure is to be 80 per cent. and not 85 per cent. Let me make it plain that I am not for 100 per cent. grant. I think that there is a valid distinction to be sustained between a voluntary school, where the education is integrated from the standpoint of a particular religious organisation, and a county school. If certain people want a voluntary school with the education reflecting on a particular religious atmosphere, it is right that they should pay something towards it, and that there should be a rate of building grant of less than 100 per cent.
906 I doubt whether Parliament will be in the mood to alter the provisions of this Bill for some considerable time. We are going a good way beyond where we went before in bringing new school places into the reckoning. It would be wrong to suggest that the majority of Members look on this as one more step in the direction of 100 per cent. grant. This is a generous settlement which should remain on the Statute Book for a very long time.
I now turn to the Amendment which, as I say, was moved in very reasonable terms by the hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central. I very much agree that at a time when we are assisting religious denominations—after all, not only are Roman Catholics a minority in this country, but those who are what one might term practising Anglicans, or indeed regularly practising members of any religion are themselves a minority of the total population—it is right that we should also consider those who are not members of any religious denomination. May I make two points about that?
Let us remember, first, that men and women can be sensitively non-religious. This can be a personal and sensitive thing in their lives. The hon. Member for Preston, South quoted Kingsley. An example struck me as he was speaking. The great poet John Keats used evocative words and phrases to explore experience perhaps as movingly as any poet in our language. Yet he was not a religious believer. I recall, in particular, the remark in one of his letters that he positively disliked abstract ideas that, as he put it, he could not "feel upon the pulse". That is an approach to life which many people have, and which we should take into account.
There is another very good reason why we should as a House always bear in mind the feelings of those who are not religious believers. I do not wish to particularise, but, as I said in 1959, if one took the heads of the Department of Education in this century—one can think of a number of distinguished names of the past, such as H. A. L. Fisher and Sir Charles Trevelyan—I doubt whether one would find a majority of committed religious believers among them.
I should like to come to the arguments used by those who have supported the Amendment. First, there have been those 907 who would like us no longer to have a dual system—who would like to see the dual system of county and voluntary schools done away with. If we could start British history all over again, I should certainly hope that we would not have had in Britain the church versus chapel disputes which followed that incredibly ill-advised Act of Uniformity of 300 years ago. I hope that that would be common ground in the House.
I agreed with the hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Mr. Armstrong) when he spoke about the future. I should have thought that there were strong grounds, both religious and educational, for doubting whether we should want to see the dual system continued indefinitely into the future, certainly as regards secondary schools. I should very much hope that opinion in the Churches might shift on this matter as the years go by, and I noted what the hon. Member for Barking said about this.
But surely nobody seriously imagines that we can legislate here and now to end the dual system. The last time that Parliament tried to legislate to end the dual system was in 1906. This is one of the very few matters which, I venture to think, the Home Secretary got wrong in his life of Asquith. He suggested that the 1906 Bill was a moderate measure. It was not. It was a Bill designed to end the dual system. The then Liberal Government felt that they were unable to proceed with the Bill as originally drafted, partly because of the opposition of another place, but not only for this reason. Many people felt that the Bill in its original form went a good deal too far.
Everybody knows that there would be no majority for trying to legislate, here and now, to end the dual system. But in that case what is the point of having a dual system with very unequal standards of provision? I would quote the typically precise words—I say that with no disrespect—of the present Secretary of State for Economic Affairs when we debated this matter in 1959. He put it tersely and very well. He said that the great majority of peopledo not send—indeed, they do not want to send—their children to denominational schools. But it is, I am sure, true that the great majority of those people desire good education for their 908 own children and, as a matter of public spirit, for the children of all people in the nation. They want to see education improved. What they expect of us is that we shall find a way of improving it that, as far as is humanly possible, will do violence to nobody's conscience."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd June, 1959; Vol. 607, c. 877–8.]I still think that that was a very fair expression of view. No one could accuse the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs of being biased in favour of denominational education. He supported the 1959 Act—and he argued his case against some opposition from his own party at the time—because he believed that it enshrined the principle to which he adhered.
I hope that I shall not cause offence to any hon. Member on either side of the House today when I say to anyone who is nervous of clericalism and clerical influence that these things thrive in bad denominational schools. Thus, with better science provision the respective places of the headmaster, the priest, and the science teacher become much more satisfactory. In my view none of us, whatever his view, gains from a situation in which denominational schools are badly provided for and badly equipped.
My second point in answer to the Amendment is that although some people feel that the maintenance of denominational schools is in itself contrary to the Government's professed intention of ending what they call "separatism"—and I promise that I shall not attempt to debate that subject this afternoon—they often forget the effect of the higher grant in the 1959 Act, which enabled Roman Catholics in particular to get rid of all-age schools. This has had the effect of almost trebling the number of secondary pupils in Roman Catholic schools in recent years.
During recent years we have had proper secondary provision for Roman Catholic children on a scale that has never before existed in this country, and that has helped to integrate Roman Catholic children into the main stream of secondary education in Britain. Although, in one respect, the denominational grant may appear separatist, in another respect I believe that, through better provision, it has helped the denominations to come into the main stream of educational advance.
909 Then, thirdly, we have heard a good deal about the single school area. But I am certain that the fears expressed on this subject have been exaggerated. The hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Peter M. Jackson) referred to the controlled school in this respect. The present Act makes no difference to the situation in controlled schools, and anyway there is no real problem in schools of this category, where parents have to "contract in" for denominational teaching. As for the aided school, we heard from the Secretary of State that as far as he is aware the Church of England does not want to establish new aided schools. He said that the Church of England had shown no desire to put forward proposals for new schools which would lead to the creation of new single school areas.
This is a very important point. And the only instance in which any real problem arises is in respect of those cases where an existing aided school is enlarged as the population rises, or else rebuilt on a larger scale. But it is absurd to suggest that the resources of modern local authority administration, even in the smaller and less efficient authorities, cannot cope with this sort of situation. If there is an aided school in one village and a county school in the next it is not beyond human capability and good will to see I hat reasonable arrangements are made so as to meet parents' wishes.
My final comment on the Amendment is this. If I wished to support the concern of the humanist section of the House I should be most anxious about something that is not in the Bill, namely, the question of religious instruction, as laid down in Section 25 of the 1944 Act—in other words, the working of the agreed syllabus. Many church people, as well as non-believers, feel that many of the agreed syllabuses need rethinking today, if only because many were drawn up at a time when we did not have 15-year-olds and 16-year-olds in school on the scale that we have today. Many agreed syllabuses are just not suitable for teenagers.
A number of us would like to see more emphasis on comparative religion. And I particularly like the phrase used by the hon. Member for Durham, North-West when he spoke of "exploring together" what life is about, so as to help children achieve a firmer sense of identity 910 in our present-day society. Surely moral education must start with what is real to children. I liked what Lionel Elvin had to say about this in his recent book, "Education and Contemporary Society", namely:There is a whole range of moral questions in which young people are intensely interested, on condition that the discussion is open and not dogmatically closed in advance.… This does not mean that adults should not have personal attitudes or convictions. But it does mean discussion without commandments that virtually close the discussion before it has begun.That is a very good formulation of the sort of approach to moral education one would like to see in schools. But I agree with the hon. Member for Durham, North-West, in feeling that education which altogether ignored the Christian background to our culture must be considered defective, just as I would say the same of education which altogether ignored what we have owed to Greece and Rome, and the 18th Century enlightenment—or indeed, which ignored the significance of the Marxist-Leninist part of the world.
I apologise for having spoken rather longer than I intended. In conclusion, I want to mention two other provisions of the Bill. Clause 2 has a fairly narrow ambit. The right hon. Gentleman is concerned with the fact that he cannot at present direct an authority to pay if a controlled secondary school is enlarged in such a way as to convert it to a comprehensive school. As the Secretary of State will be aware, considerable concern exists among many voluntary aided schools, and particularly among the governors of Church of England schools, about certain comprehensive proposals which are now being put forward.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) pointed out that this is true even of many who would agree with the long-term objective of reorganisation and who certainly would not take a dogmatic view about 11-plus selection. But I am satisfied that Clause 2 has a moderate ambit, and anyway we can deal with this Clause better in Committee. Incidentally, the hon. Member for Barking quoted from a letter that he had received from Canon Wild. I hope that he will take note of the words "in due course" in that letter. 911 I am sure that they were an important part of the communication.
Clause 4—it is extraordinary how many times Clause 4 seems to have significance in Bills—although fairly narrow in scope, ends a curiously defective aspect of our education law. It is obviously right that Exchequer loans should be made available to governing bodies of colleges of education to help them meet their share of rising capital costs, especially since the further expansion that we are now to have in colleges of education must make a considerable demand on new capital. The Secretary of State is right to say that the Church of England, as well as the Roman Catholic Church, is making a very big contribution to the expansion of colleges of education. My belief is that the most important contribution that the Church of England makes to education today is through the quality of teachers going through the church colleges of education, rather than through a decision at the margin, as it were, to maintain a school as an aided school. We on this side certainly welcome any Measure which helps the voluntary colleges to play their full part in meeting the future needs of the education service.
Finally, may I suggest that one must never consider the financial aspect of education, nor increased grants for sectarian education, in separation from the general purposes of our education service. We in this House support education advance for two reasons. The first is because we need to enlarge and increase our national supply of talent. One cannot say too often that we must have a larger supply of skills in this country. Education cannot any longer be just a means, as it were, of preserving a minority culture from one generation to another or, as some learned men at universities have said, to keep our intellectual inheritance in proper repair. It has the far bigger job of increasing our supply of talent.
In addition, there is the task of doing justice to the potential abilities of all children. Levelling up opportunity and overcoming handicaps is a very big job, particularly at a time of limited financial resources, but at least we are saying firmly, in this Bill, that no child is to suffer because of the faith of the home 912 in which he has been born. This is an eminently right principle and for that reason I hope that we shall be able to give unanimous approval to the principle of this Bill when the Question is put.
§ Mr. Speaker
Before I call the Minister of State to reply, I thank the House for responding to the request I made at the beginning of the debate. As a result, 20 back benchers have spoken. No one who wished to speak has been deprived of the opportunity, and I do not think that the debate has suffered.
§ 3.0 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Mr. Edward Redhead)
I would like to echo the appreciation you have expressed, Mr. Speaker, for the respect that hon. Members have shown for your request and the manner in which they have complied with it. It has allowed this to be as full a debate as is possible and, of course, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North-West (Mr. Armstrong) and others that it has been a very significant debate. It is a matter of universal gratification to us that the debate should have been conducted in an entirely nonparty spirit and without any evidence whatever of interdenominational friction. Indeed, the atmosphere of tolerance that has been shown in the exchange of legitimate and different points of view has been a welcome feature.
I share with the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) the view that, although we can be proud, and are glad of the fact, that there has been a measure of unity on the part of the churches and denominational interests in their approach to this matter, that is no reason why we should not debate it in the House and certainly why the dissenter's voice should not properly be heard. It is, indeed, the whole basis of a civilised community that we can have variation of personal convictions and can argue them out in the fashion of today's debate.
I was glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. McGuire) paid a compliment to my right hon. Friend for the brevity of his speech, and I have no desire to sacrifice that tribute by trespassing unduly upon the time of the House at this stage, but there are one or two points which should be answered.
913 The hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee), in particular, asked for an assurance about Clause 2. Unfortunately, he had to go before I could reply—he has given me his apologies—but in this respect, as the right hon. Member for Handsworth rightly appreciates, Clause 2 is not designed nor capable of being used in any sense as an instrument of compulsion in respect of comprehensive education. It is only to facilitate this agreement between the local education authorities and the churches, which are showing a very large measure of co-operation in seeking this reorganisation.
The hon. Member for Wokingham at least gave me the opportunity of clearing up one little misunderstanding. I was glad to hear from him that he was reluctant to believe that I could be guilty of threatening noises or, as he put it, of sabre-rattling, although I was somewhat amused that he drew an analogy between myself and the report he relied upon and the Archbishop of Canterbury. I am sure that it could only have been the nature of the Bill which made him draw an analogy in those terms.
I assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that I said no more on the occasion to which he referred than had already been said by my right hon. Friend. Indeed, I directly quoted him. It was in precisely the form in which an answer was framed to a Parliamentary Question by the hon. Gentleman yesterday.
The hon. Gentleman also drew attention to Section 102 of the 1944 Act in saying that grant was not made available under that Section for rent payments by the managers and governors of certain schools. I am conscious that this point affects only a small number of mainly non-denominational voluntary-aided schools but he will agree with me that it is more appropriate for consideration in Committee.
I want to express my own appreciation of the manner in which my hon. Friend the Member for Wandsworth, Central (Dr. David Kerr) moved the Amendment. He said—and this finds echo, I am sure, in all parts of the House—that he and his friends laid emphasis upon the right of all men and women to follow their own faith and included in that not merely religious faith but moral conviction from 914 whatever source it might be drawn. I am sure that we all subscribe to that and recognise that this was the motive behind the 1944 settlement.
If there be imperfections in the opportunities for the exercise of that right, clearly we can take gratification in the fact that, from the evidence we have had as a result of the settlement, we are moving steadily to a more civilised atmosphere in which that right can be greatly enlarged.
However, I want to emphasise once again that the Bill is not intended in any way to deal with the fundamental concept of the dual system. It deals with existing conditions, having regard to the fact that the dual system is embraced as part of the Education Act, 1944. My hon. Friend the Member for Wandsworth, Central said that even though the increase was small relative to the planned increase in total education expenditure, he still thought that it was unjustified and he queried how long it would be before eventually, in view of the increases in the percentage of grant over the years, we reached the figure of 100 per cent. grant.
My right hon. Friend made it perfectly clear that he felt bound to resist arguments, brought to bear on him at an early stage of our discussions on this matter, for an increase greater than that proposed in the Bill, saying that to go further would call into question and jeopardise the whole basis of the dual system. That view was echoed by the right hon. Member for Handsworth. It is not entirely valid to draw comparisons between the situation now and as it was in 1944 when the 50 per cent. grant figure was determined. Whatever the relevance of the growth of numbers of children in Catholic or other denominational interests—and I am not entering that argument—it is appropriate to have regard to the movement of population, which creates very severe problems for the denominational schools, and also the undoubted fact of rising costs in many directions and the fact that the nature of educational development is itself placing additional burdens on denominational schools.
If we are genuinely concerned to ensure, having conceded, as the original Act did, the right of parents who desire it to have their children brought up in a particular 915 religious faith, that they should have the same opportunities and the same standards and levels of conditions as those in ordinary non-voluntary schools we must accept this increase.
My hon. Friend spoke of lack of public consultation about new voluntary schools and asked whether the provisions in this respect were adequate for safeguarding the future if any new voluntary schools were proposed. I can only emphasise once again that there will continue to be strict control over building projects. The Bill makes no alteration in that and there will remain, where appropriate, the machinery of Section 13, which, I can assure my hon. Friends, is not overlooked in localities where objections to projects might be thought necessary.
Existing single-school areas have occasioned some cause for perturbation in the debate and my hon. Friend the Member for Wandsworth, Central said that the Bill would not improve that situation but tend to freeze the present system. My right hon. Friend said that he had every sympathy with those who were concerned about this, but said, as did the right hon. Gentleman subsequently, that this fear was exaggerated and that on the whole the tendency had been in the opposite direction. We have not only the assurance, but the confirmation offered by the correspondence quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg), that there is no disposition or desire on the part of the Church of England for the creation of new single voluntary school areas.
Naturally I listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. L. M. Lever) with great interest and I welcome his support. I shall not be tempted to follow him in his mild condemnation of those responsible for the Amendment, not least because I fully respect their right to move the Amendment and the manner in which they submitted their case.
I am aware, as my hon. Friend the Member for the High Peak (Mr. Peter M. Jackson) said, that there were, within the existing conditions, problems for those of no religious faith who find themselves in difficulties when in single school areas of a particular denomination. These people find it hard to provide for their children in the manner in 916 which their convictions lead them to desire. I am conscious that these difficulties exist, but I feel that, in the light of what has already been said about the increasing building programmes of local education authorities, and their willingness to make the utmost effort to meet parents wishes—as I can testify—their fears are exaggerated. They are not, in any sense calculated to be intensified by the provisions of this Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Barking very rightly said that the Amendment, whatever its purpose, would upset the spirit of the 1944 settlement, upon which the dual system rests. He said that it would be inappropriate to rest the basic concept of that settlement in the context of a debate upon this Bill, and this has been echoed in other parts of the House. He said that there is a continuing dialogue among those intensely interested in this question, and that revision, if there is to be a revision, should only be made after very full consideration; I would add, after consideration in the spirit of tolerance which we have seen manifested in this debate and which I believe is very largely the product of the 1944 settlement.
My hon. Friend also expressed concern as to whether N.U.T. accepted the principle of this Bill. I can confirm his own impressions in this respect. It was consulted, and we are given to understand that it accepts the broad purposes of the Bill, subject to some reservations which may arise in Committee on points of detail. The testimony of my hon. Friend the Member for Durham Northwest of his experience in voluntary aided schools and the nature of religious guidance, as distinct from indoctrination, was very reassuring and accords with my observations of the broad approach which is increasingly to be found because of greater inter-denominational tolerance now shown in many quarters. This is an approach based not upon dogma but rather upon the social aspects of faith and religious belief.
My hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger) expressed anxiety about the immortality of my right hon. Friend. She will no doubt pardon me if I say that, notwithstanding the analogy drawn between myself and the Archbishop of Canterbury, I would not care to venture 917 a comment on that particular aspect of my right hon. Friend's future. The hon. Lady raised the question of the inadequacy of statistics in this matter, which she felt were important. We have not got the statistics because of the very real difficulties in obtaining them. I think that she should appreciate the difficulties in identifying areas in which there is genuinely no alternative school.
Circumstances are constantly changing, transport arrangements alter, schools close and others open, and all of this makes it impossible to compile and maintain a list of schools which are of a single character in any area. We will however attend to her desires if possible and try to arrive at some more authoritative guidance.
§ Mrs. Lena Jeger
If it is difficult to define a single-school area, how does the assurance make sense that it is not the intention of the Church to establish more single-school areas? How can they give this assurance if they do not know what they are to begin with?
§ Mr. Redhead
It is easier to establish whether there is a problem in any given area than to have a precise definition which will enable us to produce authoritative general statistics.
I welcomed the support for the Bill of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson), who agreed that there were still possibilities of the enlargement of freedom of choice. I hope that this will be done in due course, but I am sure that we shall not facilitate it by passing the Amendment. On the contrary, despite the restrained and moderate way in which it was moved, I think that the Amendment would be construed by many as going back on what has been assured by the 1944 settlement, and we should make no progress towards the ideal by suggesting that that settlement is to be vitiated in any degree.
It was encouraging and reassuring to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner) paying tribute to the desire of the denominational interests, with which he associated those of the faith of which he is an authoritative representative, to play their full part in the raising of educational standards and in modern educational development. For my part, I acknowledge that this has been in- 918 creasingly manifest, and we are intensely grateful for it. But if we are entitled to expect that from the denominational interests, then clearly we must take the practical steps that are necessary to ensure that they play the full part which they desire to play.
I was impressed by the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Brian Parkyn), although moved by personal conviction and experience in the direction of desiring completely secular education, was sensitive to the rights of the minority of religious interests among his own constituents and therefore pleaded that the Amendment should not be pursued. He rested his case on the fact—which is our case today—that as long as Section 25 of the 1944 Act remains—and clearly this cannot be disposed of and should not be dealt with in the context of a Bill of this limited character—it is just and equitable that there should be the provisions made in the Bill.
I was glad to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) pay tribute to the help given to voluntary schools by local education authorities. I have recently had the pleasure of visiting his constituency and observing how justified was this tribute, in that neighbourhood, to the close co-operation and full support that there is, and which I believe to be matched in many parts of the country. He commented, as did others, including the right hon. Gentleman, on the welcome character of Clause 4. I agree that seldom has a Clause with that mystical number been welcomed in such reasonable terms as today, and I express the hope that this experience will have broken the spell which has been on us for so long in that connection.
My hon. Friend the Member for Preston, South (Mr. Peter Mahon) was right when he drew attention to the archaic and unsatisfactory character of many voluntary schools. No one who travels up and down the country seeing schools, particularly many in rural areas, can be unmindful of this fact. Perhaps they have suffered for the very reason that they were pioneers in education. This is so often the penalty of pioneers. What they achieve, of great merit and great value, is outstripped by developments, but they are still saddled with the outdated 919 buildings and equipment with which they started their ventures. I know that, while preserving the right that they have for their children to be educated in conformity with their own religious faith, denominational interests are eager that they should be able to raise these standards, and this Bill is a contribution to that end.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, South (Mr. Orbach) sought to divert what he thought to be the implied criticism of the denominational schools contained in the Amendment, and a criticism of religious instruction as conducted in the county schools—a point to which the right hon. Gentleman later returned. This is not the occasion to discuss this subject in detail, although the right hon. Gentleman referred to it as one of the items not included in the Bill. I am aware of this difficulty. I share with him the degree of concern he has expressed as to the continued applicability of the agreed syllabus to pupils in that wider range for which we now have to cater.
This has been brought home to me quite recently in trying out some youngsters who had left school quite recently in order to see what kind of impact religious instruction had had on them. To speak quite frankly, I was appalled, as I am sure were some of the instructors, to find that the instruction had had quite the opposite effect to that which was intended and desired. This is obviously a matter for concern, thought and consideration, and I am approaching it in the spirit in which we have approached the provisions of the Bill; that eventually, in co-operation and full consultation with all those concerned, we shall be able to remedy what may be amiss in this regard.
In conclusion, I must emphasise that I very much agree with the right hon. Gentleman—who by his own contribution to this debate has spared me the necessity to answer many of the points that have arisen in it—that Clause 1(2) represents a change in the basis of the 1944 settlement, though not being in any way a challenge to the concept of the dual system. As he rightly says, subsection (2) does not offer a blank cheque to guarantee to Roman Catholic or Anglican parents that a child shall be found a 920 place in the appropriate denominational school. As he emphasised, there must in the circumstances be compromise and reconciliation between what is ideally desirable in the matter of right of choice and what is educationally viable.
This is the whole approach that has been used in the construction of the Bill; the basis of trying to find a balance that will be just and reasonable, preserving the freedom of choice enshrined in the 1944 settlement and acknowledging that we may yet find cause to look for an extention of that right of freedom of choice, but ensuring, nevertheless, that having gone so far advantageously, as I think we have done in this respect, those who have that right and exercise it shall also have the opportunity to maintain their children's educational standards on a level that is just and comparable with that of those in all other kinds of school.
This is the purpose of the Bill, which I believe to be equitable and just. I welcome the fact that the Bill should have been framed on a basis of common agreement, as it has, that the significance of that should not be overlooked, and that nothing should be done in any way to call in question the tolerance and mutual understanding of recent years in what was, unhappily, in the past an area of violent and disruptive discord.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Commitee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).