HL Deb 02 July 1953 vol 183 cc170-82

5.59 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3ª.—(Earl De La Warr.)


My Lords, we have got a very mixed grill to-day, and it seems to me that I am talking on nearly all subjects which arise. It is my misfortune, and your Lordships' misfortune, not my fault. However, I want to say something about this Bill, because on Second Reading I suggested to the noble Earl in charge of the Bill that it would be well that we should have an interview with the Minister in order that she might realise the point of view that we desired to put forward and might state her point of view. I should like to say at once that the Minister was quite agreeable so to do, and received us the following day with the utmost courtesy. She listened to what we had to say, and put before us her point of view—at least, I presume she told us her point of view: I am bound to say that I came away completely confused about what her point of view was and why that original statement had ever been made.

May I remind your Lordships of these simple facts? The right honourable lady met a deputation and to that deputation she made a statement—this was on February 12. She was most anxious that I should not represent it as having been an undertaking or anything of that sort: she preferred the word "statement." But when you have a deputation of this sort and read out a statement, it is not the sort of remark which thrown out in the course of a conversation; it is a carefully considered and carefully prepared statement. What the right honourable lady said, in regard to the definition of displaced pupils, was this: The new definition would not be retrospective in the sense that grants on completed projects could be re-assessed, but grant claims on schemes in progress or for which the accounts have not been closed would be eligible for review in the light of the new definition. On that assurance, the test was that "if accounts had not been closed" the schools would be eligible. So far as I can gather, before the Bill was introduced the Minister discovered that she could not carry out that undertaking—I now quote her own words from the proceedings in Committee in another place: I want to say quite frankly to honourable Members that not until this was looked into just before Second Reading was it found that the Amendment we were suggesting would not include schools defined as those whose accounts had not been closed. I am quite prepared to admit it was a great pity that neither we nor those with whom we were having discussions nor their legal advisers had seen this point before. The Minister having made a statement to a deputation that the basis of the scheme was going to be whether the accounts were closed, and then having found out just before Second Reading that that promise could not be made good, the thing to do was to send for the deputation and tell them she was exceedingly sorry but she found she could not carry out her promise. Nothing of the sort was done, however.

The Bill was there. One needs to be an expert on this matter to find out why the undertaking is not implemented in the Bill—I realise it now, of course, to the full. And I can understand the people in the deputation, to whom that assurance had been given, relying on what had been said by the Minister. Then, at a later stage, some question is asked, some problem is propounded, and it becomes plain that the undertaking cannot be made good—or rather, that the form of words which the Bill contained does not make good the undertaking. With the greatest respect to the Minister, I would say that I still think that, if a Minister makes a statement to a deputation of this sort, it is very desirable that the statement should be adhered to and carried out. It should not be lightly made; and, if made, should be carried out. And if a Minister finds that an undertaking that has been given cannot be carried out, then I think the first people who ought to be informed of it are the people to whom, erroneously and under a mistaken view, the undertaking was given. They should not be allowed to discover it during the course of discussions on the Bill.

That is the position I desire to adopt. On the last occasion, the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, suggested that the accounts referred to were not building accounts but were accounts as between the school and the Ministry. I have ascertained, as I anticipated, that the second account mentioned must come after the first, because before the account between the Ministry and the school is settled, the school has to produce the final building account which has been paid; only then does it secure the appropriate grant from the Ministry. Therefore, the account which is contemplated is the latter and not the earlier of the two accounts. The noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, made these excuses; but what is the point of trying to make excuses when the Minister says quite plainly, and admits quite frankly, that it was found that the Amendment we were suggesting did not include schools defined as those whose accounts had not been closed"? All this shows how careful one ought to be in this debatable subject, with which both the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, and I have had something to do at one stage of the Bill. May I say that this is a perfect example of the way in which not to do it?

6.8 p.m.


My Lords, I regard this Bill as a recognition by the Government and by both Houses of Parliament of the justice of certain claims which the Roman Catholic Bishops and their people have been putting forward ever since 1950. Those claims have been pressed by every proper and constitutional means at two Elections, and by deputations to the right honourable lady the Minister of Education. To-day, in 1953, we pass a Bill recognising that those claims were just. I am exceedingly glad that this recognition has been given. Justice is being done, but it is tardy justice. Because it is tardy justice, and because Her Majesty's Government are so hypnotised by the phrase "no retrospection," justice is incomplete. Some schools which should have received grant have not received grant, and will not receive it under this Bill. In saying that, I am not indulging in any recriminations; I am certainly not making any Party point—far from that, indeed. I say it in order that I may express the hope that, the next time the Bishops of my Church have something to say, they may obtain the ear of Parliament somewhat earlier, and that, if a case is made out, redress may be somewhat more prompt.

I have to thank the right honourable lady the Minister of Education for her courtesy in receiving my noble friend Lord Perth and myself. In particular, I have to thank warmly the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, for the great assistance he has given, both at that deputation and in the House. One impression I carry away from the conference—and it is a strong impression—is the need for precise, well-defined phraseology in any negotiations connected with educational finance. The introduction of the phrase, "accounts not yet closed" was, I think, admittedly unfortunate. If it had to be used, then it should have been clearly defined; but it was not. Let us hope that in future negotiations and discussions much greater care will be taken to ensure that all parties—because there are many parties to these discussions—are perfectly clear in their minds what meaning is to be attached to the phrases used. There will have to be further discussions if the dual system of education is to stand the test of the future.

This Bill cannot possibly be regarded as a settlement. It is not a settlement, though I am willing to recognise it as something substantial on account. In the course of my speech on Second Reading I ventured to point out that under this Bill no assistance will be accorded to our secondary schools. I am most anxious that that point should be carefully considered, and that in future—I hope the not too distant future—some assistance to denominational secondary schools may be found to be possible. That is a field in which I believe the Roman Catholic community can be especially useful, and in which we can make a really great contribution to national education, if it is made financially possible for us to do so. In many respects we are a very poor community, but in one respect we are rich—we have a lot of nun power. What with one thing and another, it is evident that the nuns and teaching Orders can make a substantial contribution to secondary education. I very much hope that the Ministry will feel able to consider the points which I have already made regarding the need for assistance in that field. I will conclude by thanking all those who have devoted time to this Bill, and by expressing the satisfaction that is felt at the arrangements which will in future bring substantial relief to a hard-pressed people.

6.12 p.m.


My Lords, as the other Catholic here who took part in the discussions arranged after the Second Reading, I should like to say a few words. First, I should like to thank all those who have paid attention to the particular aspect of this Bill which affects Catholic schools, and, in particular, to thank the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, for his advocacy in our discussions on this aspect of the case. I should also like to thank the Minister of Education and the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, for the patience and courtesy with which they heard our point of view. The discussions lasted a long time—probably over an hour and a half—and I know how difficult it is to give so much time to such discussions. Before going further, I wish to say that, whatever has happened under this Bill, and whatever has happened on one particular point, we most sincerely appreciate the general purpose behind the Bill and the work the Minister of Education has put into it, and how much she has the general cause of the schools at heart.

I do not think that any purpose would be served by my going into great detail about what happened in the discusions, or rehashing the arguments which we have all heard in this and in previous debates. The Minister promised that she would consider most sympathetically the case of eleven schools which did not appear, at first sight, to come within the orbit of the Bill; and we, for our part, are searching most diligently to find the grounds which will satisfy her on this point. I might sum up my feelings on the discussion, and indeed, on the whole question, by way of an analogy—although I recognise that analogies are dangerous, because they are often incomplete.

A poor student, who is hard up, as students often are, receives a letter from his uncle who is abroad suggesting that he should come and spend the holidays with him. The uncle writes: "While you are on holiday I will pay all your expenses." The student, very much pleased, accepts the invitation, scrapes some money together to buy his ticket to go abroad, and joins his uncle. There he has a wonderful time, and his uncle pays all expenses. But there is one question which has still not been broached, and that is the cost of the ticket to go out and join his uncle abroad. One day he plucks up courage and says, "Uncle, what about paying for that ticket?" The uncle replies: "Oh, no. I said I would pay all your expenses while you were on holiday. You incurred that expense before the holidays began. I am sorry. I will certainly pay for your ticket back, and I will see if I can pay some of the expenses, such as the tips or the taxi-cab fares, but I cannot pay for that ticket." The student is grateful to his uncle, because, after all, he has had a really good holiday which he could not have afforded otherwise, but…That, I think, represents my feelings on this Bill. We, as Catholics are extremely grateful for the relief that the Bill affords us, but we do wish that it had been made to cover all the schools which are building. I do not wish to say anything more on the point, because there are still some slender hopes that we shall find grounds for including further of the schools—and then my analogy will be false, which will be splendid.

The noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, speaking in the Second Reading debate, referred to the great compromise on religious education which has been worked out and the need for us to maintain an essential balance. He appealed for good will and co-operation. Subsequent speakers made the same point, and I know that I and others of our Faith fully subscribe in welcoming that appeal. But I do beg the present Minister of Education and other Ministers of Education not to press us too hard. The burden, when we first faced it, ran into some tens of millions of pounds. To-day, owing to the cost of starting buildings and other costs which have risen during the intervening time, we now have to face an additional burden of some tens of millions of pounds. Somehow we will find that money. We must find it. But this is the point I want to make. I see a real danger developing that Catholics may be driven into themselves. Every week at church we shall find that the parish priest has to make a special appeal for a collection for the schools; and if, with that reminder and with that collection, there comes a feeling that somehow we have been singled out for harsh treatment, I am afraid of the result. I am afraid that we may feel driven into a corner rather as a minority than as a community; and that would be something disastrous for us and for the community. I hope that that point will be remembered.

I will make one other point which arises from it—namely, that if we do get into the feeling of being in a minority, that something is wrong, that it is a hardship which we have been singled out to meet or to carry, there is a very real danger that the next thing we shall start to do is to agitate in a political way. I do not want to see that happen. None of us wants to see it happen. One of the most satisfactory things in these debates has been the avoidance of political controversy on this question. I, speaking from a neutral position, am very pleased to note that. But I am fearful that if the burden is too heavy, or we find it almost insupportable, then there is a real risk that it will become a question of Party politics, however hard we all may try to avoid it.

To end, I would again sincerely thank all those who have taken such an interest in this question, and in particular I wish to thank the Government for what they have given us in this Bill, according to their best judgment. I could only wish that their judgment had been a little more elastic. We will continue loyally to carry out the task we have assumed, and I remain with the strong hope that, when new financial problems arise in the future, as they inevitably will, what has passed in these debates will be remembered by the Minister of Education at the time.

6.24 p.m.


My Lords, in a very few words I should like to make three points. First, I wish to say how completely I agree with the remarks made by my noble friends Lord Iddesleigh and Lord Perth. Secondly, I wish to how grateful we of the Catholic community are to the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, for the sympathetic way in which he has handled this difficult question. Thirdly, desire to congratulate the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, on putting our point of view in regard to this matter with such clarity. It is obvious that nothing more can be done at this moment, but we earnestly hope that it will be possible, in the not too distant future, for the Government to enable us to carry the very heavy burden which falls upon us as a community in a more equitable way than at present.

6.25 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh, said that the Catholic community were not very numerous but were not deficient in nun power; and after the last few speeches we are certainly not very deficient in lung power. I hardly feel that the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, can be a very happy man this evening. He was extremely sympathetic on the last stage, and I am sure that at any time he would do all that he could to see justice done. I asked him on Second Reading whether it would be possible for him to explain in what sense, if any; the undertaking of the Minister in one important respect was going to be honoured. I ended my remarks by saying that, whether to-day or later, we should have to ask in terms whether the promise was to be carried out; and if so, in what sense. The noble Earl and the Minister were kind enough to arrange conversations which lasted, apparently, one and a half hours. Although I think few of us in this House would regard my noble friend Lord Jowitt as lacking in acumen and power of cross-examination, it seems that after an hour and a half cross-examining the Minister nobody was any wiser as to what the Minister's intention was, or how she proposed to explain away her under taking. That is the position in which we find ourselves to-day.

I do not think I need say much more. The noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, cannot be altogether happy for another reason—and, heaven knows! it is no fault of his. On the last occasion he said that it ought to be clear to the whole country, especially the Roman Catholic community, that in this Bill the Government are doing everything that the Roman Catholics have asked them, except in regard to retrospection, which would not have been necessary if the last Government had, during their term of office, done as the present Government were doing new. Even on the noble Earl's own showing, these schools were not to be allowed to receive a grant, as we understood they would be, if justice had been done to them since the war. He defends that position by placing the blame on the last Administration, which I cannot accept. But even the noble Earl says it is a great pity that that Government did not move in regard to these schools. So there again he car not be very happy. I think it is a very sad thing that this Bill, whose general intention is good—we again give full credit to the Minister and the Government—should have been marred in this way by this unfortunate misunderstanding, to use no worse a word. I realise that what is past is now past, though the Minister is apparently going to examine these matters in as sympathetic a way as possible. I only hope that the noble Earl will convey to the Minister that, while we realise that she is a lady of good intentions, we hope that when she proceeds to these matters in the future she will be able to arrive at a more successful, a more impressive and a more just result than has been possible on this occasion.

6.30 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that we have all appreciated the spirit of the speeches of the noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh, the noble Earl, Lord Perth, and the noble Lord, Lord Sempill. I should like to thank them for their generous appreciation of the Minister's hard work on this matter, and of her endeavour to meet their point of view, although we know that shè has not succeeded to the very last point. I think we all appreciate these facts, even though the speeches of noble Lords who attended the meeting were skilfully interlarded with requests for more. However, that is very human. But I cannot help feeling just a little regret that on a Bill which, on the whole, is, like the spirit of the speeches which have been made, so very non-political. Lord Pakenham and Lord Jowitt should have felt it necessary to use this occasion for a personal attack on the Minister.

For myself, I think the position is perfectly clear. It has been clear from the beginning, not only in the mind of the Government but certainly in the mind of the Chairman of the Catholic Education Council. At the risk of repetition I am going to read your Lordships the words of the Chairman of the Catholic Education Council. When he wrote on December 4, he said: In the first place I would like to tell you how much we welcomed the main provisions of this Bill, and how grateful we are to you for having gone so far to meet us. He then went on to say—and this is really the whole point at issue: We appreciate that when you received the delegation … on 12th February, 1952, you said that you found it impossible to make this clause retrospective. On examination, however,"— he went on to say: it has been found that there are a few cases where considerable hardship will be suffered if this clause does not have retrospective effect. It is quite clear, therefore, that from the beginning the Catholic community realised that there could be no restrospective effect—and for a very easy, obvious and simple reason. We have talked about the spirit of compromise. I was glad to hear the noble Earl, Lord Perth, say that he very much hoped that this would never become a political issue, because, as he knows, there are strong forces in this matter on both sides; and if one side were to make a political issue of it the other would, and we should be back in a maelstrom of controversy.

But if my right honourable friend were to admit the principle of retrospection, it would mean amending Section 104 of the Education Act of 1944; and every noble Lord in this House knows perfectly well that that could not be done without the agreement of all the people concerned in education, some holding very different views from those expressed in the speeches made to-day. It is for that reason that my right honourable friend has made the point, whilst endeavouring to do everything in her power to meet the Catholic community on this matter, that she will do nothing that will necessitate amending Section 104 of the Act of 1944.


Since the noble Earl has been kind enough to refer to me and accuse me of making a personal attack, perhaps he will answer me one question. He said that in the beginning the Minister had said there would be no retrospection; but at the same time the Minister made this statement, which was understood as an undertaking. She said: Grant claims on schemes in progress or for which accounts have not been closed would be eligible. … Was that a retrospective pledge or not? I put this quite bluntly—


Will the noble Lord repeat that?


Yes—this is now a famous phrase: Grant claims on schemes in progress or for which accounts have not been closed would be eligible. … It is a question of dialectics whether you call that retrospection or not, but that was the Minister's promise.


Now we get down to interpretation, and it was that interpretation which enabled the Minister to cut down a considerable number of schools which, in fact, would otherwise have been precluded from receiving grants.


The Minister, to the best of my belief, has thrown over completely these latter words: Grant claims on schemes in progress or for which accounts have not been closed would be eligible … To the best of my belief she has now thrown over these words completely. If I am wrong, no doubt the Minister will put me right.


The right honourable lady has not only fulfilled her pledge but she has gone even further. The noble Lord knows that she has been able to cut down the number of schools from twelve to eight by stretching the interpretation of the legislation and of any words that she has used. In fact, she knows a particular school that is absolutely completed, but she has stretched the interpretation of the words because it was completed before the holiday and was not occupied. She has made a concession in favour of the Roman Catholics, and thereby reduced from twelve to eight the number of schools precluded from grant. If the noble Lord is going to say that he cannot accept responsibility, I can only say that it is recognised that this was prepared in the time of the late Government.


I certainly do not shirk any personal responsibility for what the late Government did. That is entirely a misunderstanding. I said that I could not accept the view that it was the fault of the late Government that these schools were open now—it is a question of interpretation.


The 1944 Act was amended in 1946 and 1948, and on both occasions noble Lords opposite could have inserted in those two Bills the self-same words that we have inserted in this Bill. Then these schools would have received grants without any question of retrospection. However, do not let us get into an atmosphere of unnecessary controversy. I simply wanted to make that point quite clear.

The trouble in which my right honourable friend finds herself is really this: that she has so scraped the tin already, and gone so far in making concessions, that when noble Lords met her the other day she just could not manage to find anything else. But she does authorise me to say that she will be quite ready to consider sympathetically any grounds that may be put forward for regarding some of these schools as covered by the principal Act, provided that she does not have to amend the principal Act. I think the noble Earl, Lord Perth, used the word "slender," and I think the hope of being able to do that is very slender. Nevertheless, she definitely gives that undertaking.

May I close by expressing our appreciation of the assistance given to us by the Roman Catholics in discussing this very difficult matter. There may have been misunderstandings, and we realise that the Roman Catholics have not achieved all that they wished. Yet I think there is no doubt, as has been said from all sides of the House, that this legislation will bring considerable financial benefits to the Catholic community. The present Government have lost no time, I think it will be agreed, in legislating, and from now onwards schools on new housing estates will receive substantial benefits of which they were previously deprived. I thank the noble Lords who have spoken for their generous recognition of this fact.

On Question, Bill read 3ª with the Amendment, and passed, and returned to the Commons.