HL Deb 16 June 1953 vol 182 cc952-92

3.25 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time. It is now just short of ten years since the Education Act, 1944, was passed, and there have already been two amending Acts. This, therefore, is the third attempt to improve and clarify that main Statute. There are certain clauses in the present Bill which have assumed very great importance in that they deal with the vexed question—though it is not as vexed as it used to be, I am glad to say—of the voluntary schools. If your Lordships will look at the Bill you will see that Clauses 1, 2, 3 and 8 deal with that question. Now Clause 1 amends the definition of "displaced pupils." That definition was originally given under Section 104 of the main Act. As your Lordships are already aware, Section 104 was inserted in the principal Act to cover cases in which the establishment of a proposed new aided or special agreement school had been shown to the satisfaction of the Minister to be due to the need for providing education for a substantial number of displaced pupils. The section goes on to define what is meant by displaced pupils, and, broadly speaking, it covers pupils who would have attended some other aided or special agreement school, but cannot continue to do so because that school has been reorganised or else substantially reduced in size.

We all appreciate the difficulty of the subject with which we are dealing. I think it is right to say that any Government who intend to deal with it are not standing on the edge of a precipice but are walking on a very narrow plank. In connection with this question, it is easy—and I say this with the particular difficulties clearly in my mind—to make to one side concessions which may seem fair in themselves, but which, in fact, completely upset the balance of agreement or compromise that has been so wisely achieved during the last generation or so. Let me make it clear at once that there is no intention whatsoever of altering or extending the general conditions covering grants to schools for displaced pupils. What we are doing is simply to amend the definition of pupils who can be counted towards grant, once the eligibility of the school has been settled. I want to make that very clear.

While it is possible to amend the definition of a pupil without great controversy, it becomes a very different matter if we start amending the definition of a school. That is, I think, one of the main points of difficulty that may crop up during the course of the debate which we shall have to-day. One of the main problems facing the promoters of voluntary schools is the need for schools on new housing estates where there has been a shift of population. Schools of this type can be aided under the present definition, if the pupils are moved in blocks of a substantial size, because this enables the size of the school in the old area to be reduced. But, in actual practice, that is not always the case. In these days I think it would be true to say that, with the increasing school population, the pupils come—though perhaps not often—in small groups which do not affect one way or another the capacity of the old school. It is to meet this point that we propose to extend the definition to cover any pupils who move as the result of housing or town and country planning developments, and who would have attended an aided or special agreement school in the old area. That is the interest and the purpose of Clause 1.

Clause 2 deals with a slightly different problem. At present, a local education authority can be authorised under the 1946 Act, which was an amending Act to the main 1944 Act, to pay for the enlargement of a voluntary controlled school if that enlargement is needed wholly, or even mainly, to replace accommodation in some other voluntary school. The sort of case contemplated in that Act is one in which there is a group of schools, one or more of which is to be closed on account of bad premises. If it were not for the 1946 Act, the enlargement would have to be provided wholly at the expense of the voluntary body. That Act enabled the enlargement to be made from public funds. But there may be no convenient school which can be enlarged, and it may be that what is wanted is a new school altogether, centrally situated, that will take the place of one or more other voluntary schools. That possibility is not covered by the 1946 Act. We propose, with the full agreement of the local education authorities, to cover it in this Bill.

Clause 3 carries this principle a stage further. The enlargement of a controlled school under the 1946 Act, and the provision of a new controlled school under Clause 2 of this Bill, assume that some accommodation in other voluntary schools has been surrendered. There are, however, quite a number of cases in which it is educationally right, and economical, for a local education authority to enlarge an existing controlled secondary school in preference to building a new county school, even when accommodation (and this is the point) has not in fact been given up. I do not think that cases of this character will occur very frequently, and generally they will arise in the field of grammar schools, especially where there is a rise in the school population; but we feel it is right and desirable to cover this arrangement, and no objection has been raised on any hand to the proposals. I turn next to Clause 8 because it deals with the same aspect of our problem—voluntary schools. Owing to building shortages, the promoters and managers of schools have sometimes found it best—indeed, they have sometimes been driven to this—to take and adapt existing houses, instead of building new schools. The wording of the principal Act does not allow such cases to count for grant under present legislation, and we have therefore sought to put this right, with retrospective effect, by substituting the word "provision" for "construction." Clause 8 also deals with a minor difficulty in the granting of loans by the Minister, but with this matter I do not think I need bother your Lordships.

I pass to the second group of clauses, Clauses 6, 10 and 15, and the first Amendment in the Schedule. These are intended to correct anomalies under the principal Act and were recommended, though not necessarily in precisely the form in which we have included them in this Bill, by the Local Government Manpower Committee set up by the last Government in 1948, which included representatives of the Ministry and the local education authorities. Clause 6 empowers local education authorities to pay in full the fees of pupils for whom places are necessary at independent or non-maintained schools. I think your Lordships will agree that that is a desirable provision. The clause implies no change of practice on the part of the authorities, but gives the necessary legislative sanction to what is being done. Clause 10 deals with school attendance orders. I think your Lordships are aware that under the present Act a local authority which is satisfied that a child is not receiving efficient education has to serve upon the parent a school attendance order, but before doing so has to give the parent an opportunity of naming a particular school. The Local Government Manpower Committee recommended that the education authority should choose the school to be attended, subject only to the right of appeal by the parent. We have not felt able to accept that recommendation, but we have improved the wording of the section and have put a limit of fourteen days on the parent's right to name a school to be included in the school attendance order. Your Lordships will realise that there are a variety of reasons for nonattendance at school. In some cases it may be a perfectly bona fide disagreement about the school to which the child is to go; in many other cases it is simply a lack of care. Your Lordships can take it that this provision is intended to deal with cases of the latter kind.

Clause 15 reduces the period of public notices for new schools and closures from three to two months. This is a compromise. The Local Government Manpower Committee recommended a reduction to one month. We felt that while the existing period of three months is on the long side, it would be going too far to reduce it to one month. Therefore, we have adopted the compromise of two months. I think your Lordships will agree that while that increases the period, it does not make it too long. If your Lordships will turn to the first Amendment in the Schedule, you will see that this deals with a curious anomaly in the principal Act. Section 13 of the Act requires that, once proposals for a new school have been approved by the Minister, the local authority or the promoters are bound to proceed with their plans. But circumstances can change, and often change considerably, and then it would be foolish for an authority to carry on as proposed. This Amendment, therefore, breaks what I might call this statutory chain of duties.

I think I need not detain your Lordships for long on the rest of the Bill. Clauses 4 and 5, in which some of your Lordships may have a particular interest, places beyond doubt the duty of the local authorities to secure an efficient dental service by a staff of school dentists or by making arrangements for specialist treatment with a hospital. Your Lordships are no doubt aware that the school dental service has fallen sadly behind in numbers lately, and it may be necessary to resort to many methods for ensuring that children receive proper dental treatment. I should like to say that it is the policy of the Government—I believe it to be the policy of all Governments—to rely primarily on building up an efficient school dental service. Clause 7 extends to further education the provision for recoupment by local education authorities of expenditure incurred in providing education for pupils for whom they are not responsible.

There remain two other clauses which perhaps I ought to mention. Clause 11 enables a local education authority to bring a truant child direct before the juvenile court, instead of bringing the parent before a magistrates' court and getting a directive from that court. I think your Lordships will agree that, in some circumstances, that may well be the better course to take. Then there is Clause 12, which was added in another place. This clause will make it possible for teachers to serve on children's committees. I should perhaps offer a word or two of explanation here. Under the Local Government Act, 1933, and the London Government Act, 1939, as amended by the Education Act, 1946, teachers in maintained and assisted schools were prevented from serving on any committees of a local authority except an education committee and certain other committees, such as mental deficiency committees. Now that children's committees have been set up, it is only reasonable that the ban on teachers' being elected to serve on them should be removed.

There is one further point to which I would venture to refer, although it is not actually in the Bill. I hope that I may have an opportunity of discussing it with your Lordships at a later stage. Your Lordships may have noticed that on the Committee stage in the other place a clause was moved to make it possible for local education authorities to allow pupils, for whom no transport arrangements to schools had been made, to occupy vacant places on a school bus, and to charge them reasonable fares. I am sure your Lordships will agree that, if it is possible to agree with local education authorities, and other authorities as to this, it is a most desirable arrangement. As I have said, I hope to say something about this matter on the Committee stage of the Bill.

I should like to conclude by saying that the most important clause of this Bill, as of all preceding Education Bills, must depend on a spirit of good will and co-operation on the part of all concerned. We have heard a great deal of the immense task that the Roman Catholics, in particular, have had to face in providing new schools for their community. My right honourable friend asks me to say that she fully recognises those efforts which they have made and the contribution that they are making to the whole educational system of this country. We are all aware that building and other problems sometimes make it difficult, if not impossible, to accept in full their proposals for new schools. Delays in their provision are bound to be irksome. Nevertheless, the Government are as determined now as they were in 1944 to ensure that the voluntary schools shall play a part in our educational system, and they are prepared to do all they properly can to help. They believe that the present measure will be a valuable instrument in achieving this end; and they would remind your Lordships that every provision in this Bill that affects voluntary schools does, in fact, give an improvement in their position.

It is just on fifty years since we had the original compromise about religious education. I would say—perhaps it is unnecessary to say it in your Lordships' House—that the essence of compromise is that concessions to one side are quite impossible without considering the views of the other side. I know that noble Lords who speak for Roman Catholics, who are worried on a certain point in this Bill, would wish no more than I would to say or do anything to upset the basic agreement that exists, which represents a great British achievement of the last fifty years, in reducing a subject that was surrounded by the bitterest controversy to a point where, though we admittedly have some disagreements and difficulties, and have our amendments to legislation, and so on, we are all resolved to maintain the essential balance of that compromise and understanding. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a—(Earl De La Warr.)

3.45 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that all your Lordships are grateful to the noble Earl for the clear lucid and careful statement which he has just made. I observed that he stuck rather more closely to his notes than he normally does. I cannot blame him, for this is a technical and difficult topic, on which, no doubt, it is quite excusable that the speech should be not entirely extempore. This is a remarkable topic. I cannot go back as far as fifty years, but it is, I am sorry to say, over thirty years since I first became a Member of the other place, and certainly at that time—whether there had been a compromise as long ago as fifty years or not, I do not know—this subject was surrounded with difficulties and considerable Party bitterness. So it continued, as any Member for Lancaster will tell you, for a considerable time. It was one of the great achievements of the Coalition Government, and of Mr. Butler in particular, with Mr. Chuter Ede as his able lieutenant, to be able to introduce this Act of 1944. I was entrusted by Mr. Butler with a small part concerning the Part III education authorities, which was by no means the most easy part of the matter. It is a matter of great satisfaction that to-day, in a perfectly calm atmosphere, without any bitterness of any sort, the question of these schools can be discussed. I am grateful to the noble Earl for the part that he has played in regard to this matter, both now and in the past.

For my part, having looked carefully at this Bill, I have n a doubt that the House will give it a Second Reading. I thank the noble Earl for various provisions, which I feel are undoubtedly improvements, in the Bill. I propose to discuss with the House merely one matter, and to discuss it rather on the basis of making an appeal to the noble Earl to see whether, between now and the Committee stage, he will look again at Clause 1 (perhaps we can have discussions with him, or with the Minister, who I am sure is always ready to meet Members of Parliament) with a view to clearing up an unfortunate point which is standing in the way of that sort of agreement which I believe is desirable in a Bill of this kind. I am not going to discuss any of the clauses of the Bill other than Clause 1, and only a somewhat narrow aspect of that clause. Clause 1 deals with the old difficulty about displaced pupils. You may look at this from the point of view of a definition of "displaced pupils," or, as it always seemed to me, a definition of the words "proposed school." When does a school cease to be a proposed school and become an actual school?

The history of the matter is this. When the Education Bill, which became the Education Act, 1944, left the House of Commons, the definition of "displaced pupils" in relation to a proposed school—because it is in that sense, and only in that sense, that you have to consider it—contained a phrase which said: in consequence of their parents having ceased to reside in the area served by… and so on. When that Bill came to this House the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, who was in charge of it (and let me make it plain that I am not making the slightest suggestion against the good faith of the noble Earl: anybody who knows him would think any such suggestion quite ridiculous) proposed an Amendment to that clause. He said, and no doubt he was instructed to say, that the Amendment was of a drafting character which clarified, without altering the intention, the definition of "displaced pupil," and so, of course, everybody believed. But, in fact, the Amendment had the effect of leaving out altogether from the definition of "displaced pupil" the phrase, in consequence of their parents having ceased to reside in the area served by the school. In the result, I think there can be no doubt that this drafting Amendment, which was merely intended to clarify, had the effect of making a substantial alteration of the original proposal. That alteration has been, as noble Lords who are interested in this matter know, the subject of heartburning and some little controversy.

When, in 1951, a General Election was looming ahead of us, both Parties made statements in regard to this matter. The pronouncement made by the Labour Party was perhaps rather more specific and precise than that made by the Conservative Party; but both great Parties made pronouncements as to what they intended to do. In the result, of course, it became important to consider not what the Labour Party had promised but what the Conservative Party had said. Consequently, in January, 1952, the Minister of Education circulated a memorandum containing proposals for amending legislation. With regard to voluntary schools that memorandum contained a passage—I am shortening it, but I think not unfairly, and I can read it if it is necessary—which included this sentence: It is therefore proposed to amend the definition of displaced pupil so as to include pupils who have attended, or would in the opinion of the Minister of Education have attended, an existing aided or special agreement school if that school had not ceased to be available for them in consequence of their having ceased to reside in the area served by the school as a result of the movement, voluntary or compulsory, of population in any way consequent upon action taken, or proposed to be taken, under the enactment relating to housing or town and country planning. So it came about that on February 12, 1952, the Minister arranged to meet a deputation representing the Catholic hierarchy. I am not a Catholic; I am a member of the Church of England, and therefore on this matter I do not speak from the particular religious point of view which the members of the Roman Catholic faith would perhaps adopt. But I do speak about this seriously, because I feel that a very important issue is here involved.

It has been my lot as a Minister for many years, particularly when I was Minister of National Insurance, to receive a large number of deputations. It is always wise in receiving a deputation to try not to tie yourself down to any definite proposals. If you do tie yourself down with a deputation, and if it becomes necessary for you to retire from the position you have taken up, then I conceive it to be incumbent upon you to call that deputation before you again and to explain to them that you have made a mistake and that you cannot make good the promise that you gave. It cannot, I venture to think, be right simply to get up in the House of Commons and, without any further discussion with anybody, introduce a Bill in fiat contradiction of the statements which you made to the deputation. That, it seems to me, owing no doubt to error, is what has happened, and the appeal which I am making to the noble Earl is this. It would be very much better (there is not very much money at stake here, I understand) if the Minister could be induced to make good the statement which she made, in the utmost good faith, to that deputation. I propose to the noble Earl that, between now and the Committee stage—and this is why I am mentioning it to-day—he should look into this matter; and, of course, he will have ample opportunity of discussing it with the Minister. I feel certain that the Minister will be prepared to meet some of us who care about this matter, and the only satisfactory solution is to get an agreement by consent. That is what I should like to bring about.

As I said, the Roman Catholic hierarchy went to the Minister and were anxious to get various concessions. The Minister made it quite plain that she would not be prepared to grant certain concessions for which they asked. She made it quite plain, and was perfectly right in so doing, that the whole question was covered by the words "in the opinion of the Minister." There is no matter of right about this. It is simply that the Minister should have power to consider whether or not a particular school should or should not receive a grant. She also made it quite plain that the legislation was not going to be retrospective. What she said, if a school had been finally dealt with and completed, the accounts closed and the children were there, and it was an established school, was "I am not prepared to go back. If this has happened between the passing of the Act in 1944, and this present Bill which amends the Act, I am not prepared to make grants, nor have I even the power to make grants, in respect of such schools."

At once there arises the question, What is the dividing line? What is retrospective? With regard to that, the Minister made a perfectly categorical statement which she read out and which no doubt had been most carefully considered. It was this: The new definition would not be retrospective in the sense that grant on completed projects could be reassessed: grant claims on schemes in progress or"— this is the other category— for which accounts had not been closed would be eligible for review in the tight of the new definition. Your Lordships will observe that there are two categories there. First, there is a scheme that is still in progress. Second, if the scheme does nor come within that category and cannot be said to be in progress because it is completed, it still comes in if the accounts have not been closed—that is to say, if the accounts have not been paid. I think the words can mean nothing else. That was the undertaking which the Minister gave.


May I interrupt the noble and learned Earl? Is he saying that if a part of a builder's account is still outstanding the Minister's words would cover that case?


Certainly. Suppose that, for the mere sake of qualifying for the grant, you held up an account which otherwise would have been paid—I am not seeking to include such a case as that. The position is made quite plain in a letter from an official of the Ministry who was present at the meeting. The letter makes the very point which the noble Lord has just made: I think what Mr. Leadbetter intended to suggest was that there is clearly a distinction between the Minister's assurance that the proposed new legislation would apply to schools for which the accounts had not been formally closed, and any suggestion that the accounts of a school for displaced pupils should be kept indefinitely in suspense, solely in order to qualify for the benefits of the new legislation. I should not myself press the Minister to extend the concession in the latter category because that would be to take advantage of a technicality. If, on the other hand, the accounts have not been formally closed, I should follow the definition of the official of the Ministry of Education and say that that does come, and was intended to come, precisely within the Minister's formula. If that be thought not to be so, surely the course for the Minister to take would have been to re-summon the deputation and state that she wanted in some way to qualify what she had said. What I think is quite wrong is to do nothing of that sort but to get up and introduce a Bill in the House of Commons, posing a wholly new criterion. Perhaps I may be allowed to quote some words of the Parliamentary Secretary in introducing the Second Reading. He said (OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons. Vol. 509, Col. 110): If I may repeat the words from my notes, the crucial question is whether the school has been established and is being maintained. That may or may not be a good test, but the point is that it is a wholly different test from that propounded by the Minister with regard to the accounts not having been closed; and that is what has given rise to this trouble.

I suggest to the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, that by far the most satisfactory way of dealing with this is not by seeking to move an Amendment or anything of that sort; I would beg him to look into this matter and to consult the Minister about it, in order that he may see exactly what is involved—I believe, as I have said, that it is not a very large sum. I beg him to consider, in consultation with the Minister, whether or not it is possible to introduce words into the Bill to meet the case. It would not be difficult to find words that are appropriate. If we may have talks with the noble Earl or the Minister, we shall be most ready to help to find a form of words which would be appropriate. That is the right way to deal with the matter, and I hope the noble Earl will be prepared to meet us in this respect. Now, my Lords, I have put the case fully, and I have made it on this one point only. I think the Bill certainly deserves our support, and we shall give it our support—and much more readily if that which has become an unfortunate point of contention between the Parties can be satisfactorily dealt with. I hope that between now and the next stage, the noble Earl will be able to go into the matter with us in an attempt to arrive at a satisfactory solution of these problems.

4.3 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to join with the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, in thanking the noble Earl for the clear way in which he has explained the purpose of this Bill. I wish to refer to two clauses, Clauses 4 and 5, which deal with dental treatment for schoolchildren. I was pleased to hear from the noble Lord that it is the intention of the Government to encourage the formation of the school dental service to the utmost, but I think it may perhaps take some time before that can be brought to fruition. I believe there are at the present time about 1,000 dentists, or the equivalent of 1,000 dentists, in the school service. I am told we shall want another 1,000 before the service is complete—that is to say, to provide a service of one dentist to about 3,000 children. This can be done under the Bill by the regional hospital board or the board of governors of a teaching hospital.

Another problem is the building of enough clinics for the school dentists to do their work. At the present time, with the restrictions on capital expenditure, it is difficult to see much hope of that being done in the immediate future. I suggest to the Government, therefore, that until the school dental service is available in full strength the Minister might encourage the employment by local education authorities of the general dental service available in the rest of the country. I think it would be wrong to leave this matter entirely to the parents, and that a great deal of good work might be done if the authorities would make use of the general dental service. Perhaps this matter could be referred back to the local education authorities. That is all I wish to say on the Bill, except that I support it on behalf of noble Lords on these Benches.

4.6 p.m.


My Lords, the first expression of any Roman Catholic speaker on this Bill must be one of gratitude. We are indeed grateful to this Government, as we should have been to any other Government, for providing this relief. The truth is that we have for some time been feeling the pinch very acutely. Although I do not think it occurred to any one of us to doubt that we should be able to fulfil the programme which we had set before ourselves in 1944, yet when you come to consider that building costs are estimated to have risen two and a half to three times over prewar costs; when you consider the very high standard rightly and correctly set by the Ministry for the building of new schools (many of the old public schools at which your Lordships were educated would not pass any modern inspector of school buildings); and when you consider, too, the great delays in getting anything built at all in these days, your Lordships will appreciate that we have been very much stretched to maintain our programme of school building. It was, therefore, a great consolation to me to hear from the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, that this problem of school building is appreciated.

In 1950 the Ministry of Education were good enough to work out for us what approximate figure we should have to envisage for the completion of our programme. It was £51 million—and I am told that that figure relates only to private schools and does not take into account the grammar schools and technical schools which we intend to build. That is a large sum for a community which is a poor one with very few wealthy members. The relief afforded to us by this Bill will amount perhaps to £2,500,000. For that, many thanks: we will endeavour to carry on in a big task for which I am quite sure there is much sympathy in your Lordships' House. Our gratitude is, of course, tempered by a measure of disappointment. I will not traverse again the ground that has been covered by the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, in his account of the negotiations between the Ministry and the Roman Catholic Bishops, but, so far as I have been able to learn, the noble and learned Earl's account was strictly correct. I will say no more than that hopes were raised and have been grievously disappointed. I share the desire of the noble and learned Earl to see whether by some conference, perhaps with my noble friend, Lord De La Warr, perhaps with the right honourable lady, the Minister of Education, we cannot yet arrive at some solution that will be acceptable to a Committee of your Lordships' House or, at any rate, even if we cannot do that, succeed in understanding each other better than we do at present. I would not in any way attempt to pre-judge those conversations. Willingly, and with relief, I pass from that topic.

There is one oilier matter that is troubling us in connection with the new definition of "displaced pupils." I mention the matter because, though we may not be able to obtain any satisfaction on the present Bill, it is a matter for which we shall have to go on asking and pressing. The definition of "displaced pupil" in the Bill before your Lordships is a very great improvement on the wording of the Selborne Amendment. It is not perhaps quite so good as the original wording of the 1944 Act, as it passed another place, because in the 1944 definition emphasis was placed not upon the moving pupil but upon the moving parent. May I explain to your Lordships just where our difficulty lies? Mr. and Mrs. Hogan move up from the docks to a new housing estate and they bring with them Bridget anal Michael. Bridget and Michael are aged twelve and thirteen respectively and they are ready to go to a technical or grammar school. Unfortunately, owing to the time taken to get anything planned and built nowadays, the Roman Catholics have not a grammar school ready for them to go to. They are told, "We are building one. The site has been arranged and has been blessed by the Bishop, but we have not got the grammar school actually going." Therefore the Hogan children cannot go to it. Under the present definition, we cannot get any grant on account of those Hogans.

What else? The Hogan couple celebrate their arrival at the housing estate by giving birth to little Teresa, and Teresa is coming on. In eleven years' time she will be going to a technical or grammar school. After all, the fact that she is demanding technical or grammar school education on the housing estate is simply and solely a consequence of Mr. and Mrs. Hogan's original move there. But little Teresa cannot possibly count as a "displaced pupil." Therefore we should have preferred a still wider definition of "displaced pupil" so as to include the parents of a Catholic family who have moved into a district. We do not mean to include, and we are not, obviously, trying to include, an indefinite series of unborn children, but we are trying to provide for the establishment of a Roman Catholic community in a new housing estate. That is a point on which we have not yet succeeded in getting any satisfaction at all, and on which we are anxious to have some satisfaction if in any way possible. Otherwise, we feel that our technical schools and our grammar schools are not going to get any displaced pupils grant at all and the whole burden of their establishment will fall upon us.

It is often said, and I am afraid it is true enough: "The Roman Catholics are always asking for something." Perhaps I have asked for enough, but I am going to ask for one thing more. I am going to ask that the spirit which animated the concluding remarks of my noble friend, Lord De La Warr, should be more widespread in this country and, in particular, that it should become more prevalent among the local education authorities. There are, thank Heaven! many local education authorities with whom we are on happy and co-operative terms, but there are also some who, to a greater or lesser extent, seem to be perpetually grudging and hostile in their attitude towards the dual system. I am anxious to see that spirit die. We on our side have our own touchiness, our own defensive attitude, which perhaps sometimes impedes co-operation; but, for the good of the education of all our children, we are most anxious for better relations all over the country. After all, the dual system of education is not a mere compromise forced on an unwilling State by pressure from sectional interests: it is part of our British way of life. It is a free system of education. It is untidy, I daresay, and it is inefficient; but it is free. It is the only way in which the majority of parents can get any choice at all in the schooling of their children. How greatly we value our right to choose our children's schools! By maintaining the dual system we give parents some choice—call it a poor choice, if you will, but some choice. That is a feature of our British way of life which I am perfectly sure no one, whatever his sectional views may be, would wish to alter.

4.20 p.m.


My Lords, I do not wish to bother the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, but I want to take up the point raised by my noble friend Lord Amulree with regard to dental treatment. I have a special interest in dental treatment inasmuch as a good many years ago, when I was one of the consultant medical officers to the London County Council, I actually started the first dental clinic in London, at Blackfriars, and it has continued up to the present time. I think it is difficult to over-estimate the value of dental treatment for children. Before teeth were attended to in the way they now are the health of children suffered very seriously indeed from the condition of tooth decay, and worse, that was frequently seen when children were inspected in schools. That is how I came to bring the matter to the notice of the London County Council, who acknowledged the necessity for setting up a school clinic. It is one of the great changes in the health of the children in this country that for the most part their teeth are at least much better now than they were in those other days.

But I want to say to my noble friend Lord Amulree that when dental clinics were started we did not first of all think of the new building; we just took a house and used the ordinary rooms in that house for the work of a dental clinic. It had to be a large house and it had to provide a room for the children to wait. There is no great difficulty in finding such accommodation; it certainly can still be found. I do not suggest that the first thing is to get a new building; the first thing to get is the dental service which is set out in Clauses 4 and 5, because I am sure that that will be of great benefit. It is one of the misfortunes that have overtaken us since the war that, for various reasons, partly in connection with the establishment of the National Health Service, the number of school dentists at one time decreased very greatly indeed, to such a point, in fact, that children's teeth were not being looked after properly. In many areas the situation has now changed and school dentists are being appointed by education authorities and are doing their work adequately. But we need more than we have at the present time.

The Bill in its present form provides that dental treatment shall be available in primary and secondary schools and for children undergoing further education in a school or county college maintained by the education authority where free dental treatment can be provided. That is to be done by dentists engaged, whether whole-time or part-time, at the expense of the local authority. Secondly, it is to be done under arrangements made with the regional hospital board or the board of governors of a teaching hospital within the meaning of the National Health Act, 1946. It is important that as far as possible the work should be confined to those two groups of people, and any work which is done outside of that by dentists privately employed should be carefully supervised, because unless dentists are carefully selected it is by no means certain that they are necessarily accustomed to doing work for children and know the technique.

It is most important that children's teeth should be looked after adequately, so that they do not at an early age have to get rid of their ordinary natural teeth, which, so to speak, are provided as part of their bodies, and have to be provided with artificial teeth which unfortunately at the present time such large numbers of people have. It should be the rare exception in the future that artificial teeth are provided, and it should be the normal procedure that sound teeth are guaranteed to every child in the community, with the exception, of course, of those who are stricken by serious disease which undermines their health and constitution. In the normal course every child ought to be guaranteed the inheritance of good sound teeth. Undoubtedly, that will make a great difference in the health of children, in their resistance to disease, in their physical development and, correlated with that, in their mental and intellectual health also. I believe that the proper safeguarding of the health and of the teeth is one of the most important things that we can do for our children. The great task of the medical and dental professions at the schools is to see that at the time when the child leaves school or college it does so with a better prospect of good health and a better prospect of a long, vigorous and useful life than ever before.

I want to ask the Minister whether he will give an assurance that in cases where it is quite impossible to get a dental service arranged in a particular area, or to get dentists appointed by the regional hospital board, he will see that there is adequate supervision of any dental work carried on by private dentists whose work has not been examined from the point of view of their knowledge of the particular technique required for children. It is essential that that particular aspect of the matter should be locked into. That is the only point to which I wish to draw attention. Other points in this Bill, many of them of the greatest possible importance, may well be dealt with by other speakers; but if we can ensure that care of the physical condition of our children will reach a very high standard, it will certainly have a great effect on the future of every child who goes to school.

4.28 p.m.


My Lords, I do not wish to address the House for long, but I should like to revert to the point touched upon by the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt. It would be a great misfortune if, by any alteration of agreed settlements, we were to reopen the settlement of the religious question in regard to schools. Thinking back to the days of my teens, I recall that that was one of the most thorny political controversies of the time. Luckily, as the years have gone by, and by careful handling, especially by successive Minister of Education, that controversy has now practically settled down, and in the educational sphere we can see harmony between the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church and the Free Churches. Mr. Butler and Mr. Chuter Ede, who at that time was his Parliamentary Secretary, effected in the 1944 Act what we all thought was a good compromise. That Act has been found to need some amendment. As Acts come into practice very few of them are comprehensive, and from time to time they need some amendment. During the time of the Labour Government two amending Bills to the 1944 Act were introduced, one in 1946 and one in 1948. The noble and learned Earl seemed to be saying to-day that the Labour Party want this provision to be retrospective. May I point out to him that the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, was not able to persuade them to put it into one of those two measures, which are amending Acts to the 1944 Act. Nothing like Clause 1 of this Bill appeared either in the Labour Government's amending Act of 1946, or in the Act of 1948.

It might have been proposed that the amendment should be retrospective to 1944; but that, in this case, was never the Ministers suggestion, and I, for one, very much deplore criticism of Miss Horsbrugh on this ground. At one time, Miss Horsbrugh was Parliamentary Secretary to me when I was a Minister, just as Mr. Chuter Ede was to Mr. Butler—though, of course, the Ministerial posts were different ones; mine was at the Ministry of Food. I very much deplore that Miss Horsbrugh should be in any way accused of lack of good faith. I am certain that that is the last accusation which could be made with any justification about the right honourable lady. What, in fact, did this memorandum to which the noble Lord has referred, say? There are two passages I want to read.


May I interrupt the noble Lord for a moment? I am sorry that I was called out of the Chamber just now: we have been considering the little topic of the Enemy Property Bill which is coming before us again this week and it is a very difficult subject. I hope the noble Lord did not think that I accused the Minister of any lack of good faith. I did not mean to do so at all. The error of which I accused her was that, having found out that she could not make good promises she had made, instead of calling the people concerned back and telling them that she could not implement her promises she introduced a Bill concerned with wholly different criteria from that which she had herself enunciated. That is my criticism of her, and the only criticism I make.


I am glad that the noble and learned Earl has made that clear. But I rather doubt whether Miss Horsbrugh ever made a promise that has not been implemented. However, that is a different matter. Now how do these passages from the memorandum to which I have referred read? The first is as follows: The two suggestions made by Bishop Beck would widen the scope of the suggested Amendment in a way that would make the justification more difficult to explain to other interested parties. She would prefer not to tamper with the wording of the memorandum which had now been sent out to all the interests which she had to consult. She did, in fact, have consultations with the National Union of Teachers, the local education authorities, and the Church of England, as well, of course, as the Roman Catholic Church. The passage which I began quoting continues: The new definition would not be retrospective in the sense that grant on completed projects could be re-assessed. What is a completed project?


Will the noble Lord continue the quotation?


I am going to do so, but perhaps I may be allowed to finish my remark. I was asking, what is a completed project? There can be no more completed project than a school which has been finished, a school in which pupils are studying and which has been handed over to the local education authority for maintenance, as are all these schools. There was never any suggestion of including a school which had already been taken over by a local education authority. As to the accounts, surely these are not the accounts with the builder; it is the settlement of the question as to who has to pay what proportion of the cost: whether it is a matter of the Church paying part of it and the Government paying part and the local education authority paying part. I am informed that it was never the intention to make this retrospective in the sense that it would apply to schools which were already open and in which pupils were already being taught. That is the definition, as I understand it, which is now in Clause 1 of this Bill—namely, that it will not apply back to schools when all the pre-paraphernalia has been settled and pupils are already assembled and working in them. It is true that not a great number are involved, as I understand.


Will the noble Lord please read on? He told the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, that he would give us the rest of the passage, and we are now coming to the critical words.


I will certainly read the critical words. Here they are: The new definition would not be retrospective in the sense that grant on completed projects could he reassessed: grant claims on schemes in progress,"— that is all right; that is covered by the Bill— or for which accounts had not been closed would be eligible for review in the light of the new definition. The noble Lord said it is the account with the builder. If it is found that an architect has still to settle something with the builder, the noble Lord said, that means that the account has not been closed. In my opinion, that was never the intention at all. An account which was from the Roman Catholic Church authorities building the school and their builder, was not the one. It was a question of the proportion different people were going to pay before the final business about preliminaries to the school were settled and it was handed over to the local education authority for maintenance.


If it is that account you mean, that must come much later. That is a much more onerous burden on the Minister than the account I suggested.


I do not mean the actual payment of the account.


It is the settlement which must be much later.


The settlement, so far as I understand it, is arrived at on a much earlier matter—I mean the settlement as to who shall pay what proportion at the time, and before the school project is approved by the Ministry. But let us get down to what this actually amounts to. There are, I understand, seventy-six schools in the Catholic school building programme. Of these, forty-nine would have got grants, anyway, under the 1944 Act. Sixteen will clearly always have come under this amending Bill, but there are some which would never have qualified, as I understand it, and at one time there were about five schools left over. That was mentioned by Mr. Chuter Ede in another place. I understand the Minister now thinks she can include three or four of these. But the important thing, of course, in this matter is not to go back on the memorandum sent out generally to everyone, promising that it would not be retrospective. A passage I have quoted referred to a letter from Bishop Beck which was also quoted in the House of Commons. There is also this passage written by the chairman of the Catholic Education Council, which I should like to quote: We have now had an opportunity of giving careful consideration to the text of the Education (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, 1952. In the first place I would like to tell you how much we welcome the main provisions of this Bill and how grateful we are to you for having gone so far to meet us. It then refers to Clause 1, and continues: We appreciate that, when you received the delegation…on 12th February, 1952, you said that you found it impossible to make this clause retrospective. Surely that can only mean retrospective for schools that were already open. That must be the meaning of the word "retrospective." The chairman then goes on to say: On examination, however, it has been found that there are a few cases where considerable hardship will be suffered if this clause does not have retrospetive effect. There was no complaint that there had been any breach of undertaking, but when they had seen the text of the measure—and I think the noble and learned Earl was a little unfair to suggest that the first communication to them was on the Floor of another place, because this correspondence had been passing—theythen asked that this clause should be retrospective.

That is not just a matter between the Minister and one Church. It is a matter she has to take up with all whom she had consulted before, some of whom have sent letters already, saying that they do not agree that this should be made retrospective. That is the position. There are many of us who admire the Roman Catholic Church for what it does in the way of education and I am certainly one, of those. But I do not want us here to do anything which once more will arouse in other people's minds this extremely delicate topic and lead to that kind of controversy between perhaps the teachers or perhaps the local education authorities and the Catholic Church, which we had all hoped we had seen settled once and for all for the good of education and for the good of the people of this country.

4.42 p.m.


My Lords, as the second Catholic to speak in this debate, I should like to join with the noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh, in thanking the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, for the way in which he explained this matter and for all that has been done by the Minister for those of the Catholic community. The noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh, explained the situation very clearly from our point of view, and therefore I will not detain your Lordships by going over the ground again, except to say how glad I was to hear the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, say, in his final words, that the voluntary schools shall play a part of importance in our national system of education. It is good to hear that from the representative of Her Majesty's Government.

The speech of the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, was admirable in its tone and in its presentation of the situation as we of the Catholic community see it. I agree with it wholeheartedly, and I beg the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, to give careful thought to the suggestion so clearly put by the noble and learned Earl that at an early date some suitable conference may be convened to discuss these matters. I beg him to recommend this to the right honourable lady who presides over the Ministry of Education. I hope that something along these lines will be done, because it is obvious that the issue at stake will not be solved in the time of the debate now taking place in your Lordships' House. The noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, referred to this matter as a bone of contention, and I think that is true. The noble Earl also referred to differences between the two Parties. I am sure he meant between the Catholic hierarchy and the Ministry of Education, and not in any sense any difference of opinion between the two main Parties of this country. I beg the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, to give careful thought to Lord Jowitt's suggestion, to which I trust he will give effect without delay.

4.46 p.m.


My Lords, this Bill is very miscellaneous, as its title suggests. It is difficult for us not in close touch with the day-to-day work of the local education authorities to deal with it adequately, but I should like to say a few words on one or two points. I read the Report of the proceedings in another place and was impressed by the tremendous experience and sincerity of all the speeches made there, particularly on the subject of Clause 1. We have already had a good deal of discussion about this clause and I do not want to repeat arguments on whether or not the clause should be retrospective in its application. It seems to me that retrospective legislation is, prima facie, a bad thing—there, I think, we shall all agree. It is for those who want to make this retrospective legislation to make their case. It is natural for those who want this change in the grants made to schools for displaced pupils to seek to make it retrospective, because clearly they would get more benefit from it. But I think their case is weak unless they can show that some obvious mistake was made in the past.

There was talk in another place about the introduction by your Lordships of an Amendment to the original Act of 1944 which prevented these grants from being made, as now suggested; but it seems to me that there has been ample time in which any mistake made at that time could have been corrected. There were many years during which the late Government were in power during which the original Act could have been amended. Retrospective legislation is bad because we have all had the benefit of the law as it stands to-day. In the past, certain bodies have felt that they could not afford to build these schools, and others have been deterred by lack of certain grants from the Ministry. If we now make a change that is retrospective, it seems to me that we should almost certainly create as many anomalies as we solved.

Clause 1, as it stands, will do much to help denominational schools, particularly Roman Catholic schools. I understand that after a long discussion with the Minister—and we ought to be grateful to the right honourable lady for the trouble she has taken over this—a compromise was arrived at, and I feel that it would be wrong to tamper with such a compromise because of pressure from one particular side. If we embark on that type of change, of running away from a compromise that has been made, it seems to me that we shall undermine the whole basis of the 1944 Act. It is always difficult to know where to draw the line in these cases, but on the merits here it seems to me that the Minister has gone a long way in this Bill towards meeting the arguments of the Roman Catholic community and other denominations. As I understand it, grants are payable for uncompleted schools and schools in the course of construction for which all contracts have been signed. It would perhaps be more logical if the line were drawn at the point at which the contract for the building was signed, because that is the point at which the decision is taken as to whether the school can or cannot be built. But the Bill goes further than that, and the determining factor, as I understand it, is whether a school is in operation. As I say, I feel that we should not go back on this compromise, although I am sure we are all sorry if there has been a misunderstanding due to the actual words used in a statement by the Minister, as the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, explained.

I should now like to say a few words with regard to Clause 6. Under Clause 6 (2) (b) the local education authorities have an obligation put upon them to pay the whole of the fees of pupils who are sent to a boarding school because there is no suitable school in their own district. Not only are the local education authorities to pay for the tuition fees, hut they have also to pay the whole of the fees for board and lodging. That paragraph says that the local education authority shall, where board and lodging are provided for the pupil at the school…pay the whole of the fees payable in respect of the board and lodging. I realise that it is the duty of the local education authorities to provide suitable education for every child, and that if they cannot do it in their own locality they have to provide it somewhere else. However, it seems to me to be going rather far to make it essential for the local education authority to pay all the fees for board and lodging of a pupil where the family will be saved considerable expense by having the child away from home. There are obviously cases where that is necessary, but it seems to me only fair that, in most cases, the parents should be required to pay something towards the cost of food, at least, because that is saved at home. I feel that in these days—and this is often said—we are rather apt to forget the responsibility of parents for their children. To look at it on, perhaps, a rather low plane, except for the first child, parents are paid children's allowance to help towards their maintenance. It seems to me a little illogical to pay that allowance to a parent, and then to say that for a large part of the year much of the expense of maintaining the child will be taken from the parent.

But that is not the most important point. I feel that there is a great danger to-day that we are whittling away parental responsibility too far, and we ought to beware before we take any further steps in that direction. I feel, also, that we should beware of adding unnecessarily to the burden of the cost of education. But it is on this first point, what you might call the moral point, more than on the financial aspect, that I desire to place the emphasis. It seems to me that we should all pay a little, according to our means, towards the education, the clothing, or whatever it is, of our children. That, I know, is an ideal which is almost impossible to attain, but, as I have said, in this case the home is being saved expense, and surely the parents should be asked to contribute, according to their means, particularly to the cost of feeding the children living at a boarding school. I hope that noble Lords on the opposite side will not accuse me of proposing a means test. It is, to some extent, I know, a mean test if you have to ask parents what their means are; but that is already done in other parts of the educational system—in grants to universities, the scholarships for supplementation and other awards. That seems to me to be reasonable; otherwise, with the fixed amount of money available, there will not be sufficient for those who really need it.

Further on the cost of education, it seems to me that we ought to look carefully at any increase in expenditure of this sort. This increase may he small, but I feel that it is of the utmost importance that any expenditure on education should be put into the right channels. We are all aware of the grave lack of teachers, and particularly those qualified to teach scientific subjects, and of the huge classes so often being carried on in magnificent buildings. I feel that we ought to try to cut out expenditure on frills at every point, and this may be a small point on which it is worth saving a little money. I do not suggest that the money saved should be used for purposes other than education, but that it should remain in that sphere and be used to improve the recruiting and pay of teachers, so that we may reduce the numbers in these hopelessly big classes. I hope it will not be thought that I am proposing cuts in education. I am only suggesting that we should economise where we can do so without I doing harm, and divert the money to where it will do the most good. Just as in the Fighting Services and in the Church, so in education: it is not the buildings and the frills that matter, but the men and women who are doing the work—they are far more important than the material equipment. If I may digress slightly from the subject of the Bill, we see these magnificent schools being built all around the country, with playing fields, swimming baths and so on—all excellent things in themselves—but we find in these schools classes of perhaps forty, or more, in which children of tender age cannot be properly taught and looked after. I would ask the Government to consider those points in the widest sense. The question is: Are we not neglecting the human and the moral factors involved, both as regards teachers and the encouragement of parental responsibility?

My last point is that in another place there were some rather ill-informed criticisms of the public schools, as it seemed to me. It was said that the public schools had failed to carry out the obligations put upon them in the Fleming Report; that they had failed to offer places to pupils from State-aided schools. As I understand the position, that is quite untrue. I was hoping that we should have an opportunity of discussing that, together with other important points about public schools, on the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, which was down on the Order Paper, but I understand that that Motion is to be put back until the autumn. However, I hope that we may then have a full discussion of the matter. Be that as it may, I understand that the public schools in general are willing to take often up to 25 per cent. of their boys from State-aided schools; that these places have not been filled, and that a minute percentage has been taken up; and that the boys who have been taken have proved most successful and have got on well with the other boys, and that there has been no difficulty. I understand that the scheme, so far as it has gone, has been a great success, and certainly there has been no reluctance on the part of the public schools to take the boys. It may well be that we shall have to reconsider the scheme under which these scholarships and grants are made. I think that many local education authorities feel that they cannot afford the rather large fees that are required to take up these places. I hope that we shall discuss that in the debate which will take place in the autumn. I wanted to make this point to-day, because I feel it is most unfortunate that it should get abroad that in this connection the public schools are not fulfilling their obligation.

5.0 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Viscount who has just touched upon a number of interesting points will forgive me if I return to the one particular aspect of the Bill which has come under the main discussion this afternoon. Like those who have given the lead among Catholic speakers, I would echo a sense of gratitude for what is being done, not only, it seems to me, for Catholics, but for all who value denominational education. That does not mean for a moment that we consider we are receiving full justice. I myself believe that those who value a particular kind of denominational education should suffer no penalty at all as a result of that belief except, if you like, in very extreme cases, where a handful of such people might live in some inaccessible spot. Therefore I cannot for a moment agree that full justice is being done, or is likely to be done in the near future.

Like other Catholic speakers, I welcome the good will shown by the Government—it was, indeed, being shown by the late Government—towards this question, and towards the claims of the Catholics in particular. I welcome just as heartily the improved atmosphere in which these matters are being discussed to-day. My other opening reflection is this. It seems to me most important that these informal discussions which have been suggested by the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, and supported by the noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh, should be held. I do not think anybody can read through those interminable debates which they had in another place—conducted as they were with much eloquence and good humour—or even our discussion here to-day, without feeling that there is still a certain amount which is still unexplained and which needs clearing up. For that reason alone, I beg the noble Earl, no doubt after discussions with the Minister, to see whether these informal conversations can be arranged.

The noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, will forgive me if I describe as rather challenging his suggestion that a certain compromise was reached and that now there is some danger or possibility of its being overthrown as a result of Catholic pressure. That seems to one speaker at least—I refer to myself—a very strange way of describing what has occurred, to the best of my understanding. May I take up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, in reply to the noble Earl, Lord Jowitt? May I say that if ever I get into trouble in this House—and I have been in trouble before now—I hope that the noble Lord, irrespective of Party, will leap to my assistance, though I shall not have the same claims as his old Parliamentary Secretary. If anybody could make something out of a thankless case it would be the noble Lord with his calm benevolence and reasonable manner.

Let us go back to what seems to me to be the essential of this rather unhappy dispute, unhappy though not tragic, because we hope that we shall eventually clear it up. There was this discussion between the Minister and the Catholic hierarchy, and the Minister made what I venture to describe, and what certainly has been widely understood to be, a promise. That word itself may be questioned, but until it is disputed—and it was not disputed by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin—we can say that the Minister made a certain promise to the Catholic hierarchy and that presumably she was in a position to make a promise. She is a Minister of experience and good sense and, I need hardly say, good faith; and I have, of course, no doubt that when she made the promise she meant to keep it. Let us see what this promise was. It has been read once by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, but I felt that not all members of your Lordships' House grasped what it amounted to. The Minister promised this: The new definition would not be retrospective in the sense that grant on completed projects could be reassessed: grant claims an schemes in progress"— we need not argue about them, because they are accepted— or for which accounts had not been closed would he eligible for review, in the light of the new definition. Now if there was any kind of compromise, clearly this was contained in it, so, with respect, the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote must not talk of a compromise being reached and then suggest that our attempt to include this is adding something to the compromise. This was certainly included in any compromise that was made. There is a promise and those are the terms.

Now this is the question on which I would venture to ask the House to focus its attention, and I shall not expect too definite a reply from the noble Earl. I only hope that he will be good enough to keep the door open. Can anybody in the House say—and certainly I do not think the noble Earl will say—that this promise is going to be carried out under the Bill as it now stands? Let us see whether it can be seriously argued that it is going to be carried out. The noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, and the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, laid great stress on the fact that the new definition would not be retrospective. They say, "The Minister said all along that it would not be, and here are the Catholics saying that it must be retrospective. Clearly it is the Catholics who are going back on something agreed." But when one reads all these contributions in Hansard, that will seem to be a thin presentation of the case. The Minister said that it would not be retrospective in a special sense, but it was widely appreciated that the question was: What is meant by "retrospective"? In order to clear up the point further, she made this promise: that grants to schools for which the accounts had not been closed would be eligible for review. She did not promise they would receive a grant. She said they would be eligible for review if the accounts had not been closed. Now here I am looking for enlightenment quite seriously. Again, I do not want too much this afternoon, because it might be imparted perhaps too hastily, but at some point we are bound to ask what meaning is to be attached to the phrase for which accounts had not been closed.


If I may interrupt the noble Lord, I think that is where we are not quite ad idem. What is referred to is a grant claim for which accounts have not been closed. It is an account on the grant claim, and I am told—although I am not expert in these matters—that grant claims are put in early in the proceedings, and that accounts are put in which justify the grant claims. When the grant claim has been settled, it cannot be retrospective.


I am grateful to the noble Lord. We have had a great many different interpretations of this clause and this, if I have understood him aright, is another.


It is how the words read.


The noble Lord is at any rate amplifying the sentence in the clause which he will agree I have read out: Grant claims on schemes in progress or for which accounts had not been closed would be eligible.… The noble Lord says that the word "accounts" refers to the grant claims and not to the schemes.


Yes. That is how it reads.


As a matter of fact, it could be read either way. It is completely ambiguous in that respect. It was obviously not a very happy remark to make in the first place, as that complete ambiguity exists on the face of the words. But whatever it means, let us ask whether this phrase is now to be honoured—whether the phrase as now explained to us by the noble Lord is to be honoured and the promise put into execution. That is the point which must be put. I am informed that there is nothing in any reading of the disputed phrase under which the Minister, so to speak, would benefit. I do not want to suggest that she is scoring off the schools in any sort of way, and therefore I do not quite like putting the matter in the way I have. But I am told that in any obvious use of this phrase the Catholic schools would tend to benefit more than, or at least as much as, on our reading of it. Perhaps the Minister will kindly tell us to-day in what sense this is going to be read, and whether the phrase as now before us will be honoured in any sense: and, if so, in what sense. Until I came to the House this afternoon, I was under the impression that it was going to be thrown over. I may be wrong: the intention may be to carry it out in some sense which is lost on me; but I understood that it was to be thrown over; I understood that the Minister had said, in effect, that this phrase could not be carried out without prejudice to the other parts of the Bill—in other words, that she had felt bound for some reason to scrap this promise. We may be wrong, but we should like to know in what sense, if any, this promise is going to be carried out.

I do not want to labour the point any further, because the Minister will see that, after all that prolonged discussion in another place, the minds of many of those most keenly and genuinely interested in this matter are still very much in the dark. If I press the Minister to-day on this point, it is not that I desire to force an answer. I should prefer that the spokesman of the Ministry of Education, that is to say the noble Earl, indicated this afternoon that he would be prepared for discussion and would rather not deal with the matter in greater detail to-day. But, whether to-day or later, we shall have to ask in terms whether the promise is going to be carried out and, if so, in what sense.

5.13 p.m.


My Lords, during the passage of this Bill through another place discussion developed on the principle of Clause 6—the spending of public finance on the provision of places at independent schools. The noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, has postponed his Motion on this subject to the autumn to suit other interests but, unfortunately, I shall then be serving a long way overseas. I have the noble Lord's permission to trespass in advance upon his Motion. As this, I think, is the first debate on educational matters in your Lordships' House since February of last year, I hope that I shall be forgiven for opening up on a theme not previously dealt with in this debate.

I will plunge straight in by setting out the arguments of those who oppose Clause 6. The purchasing of a privileged form of education is, they say, as indefensible as was the purchasing of seats in the House of Commons or of Commissions in the Army, in the past, and so public money should not be spent to buttress this system. The money should rather go, they say, to the improvement of State schools, to reducing the size of classes, to the improvement of the salaries of teachers and of the scale of equipment, playing fields, and so on. Thus, they say, the State schools could so compare with the independent schools that no parent would spend money on educating his children when the same product is going free. Others go further and say that they would abolish the public schools altogether. "Let the nation take them over" they say, "and run them as technical schools or boarding schools, at which every child in the land can have an opportunity to spend one year of his or her school life as a boarder."

I should like to follow these drastic arguments to their logical conclusion. First of all, what are the public schools? One answer might be, the 200 schools represented on the Headmasters' Conference. But it may surprise your Lordships to know that no fewer than 78 of these are predominantly day schools. I cannot see on what grounds you could, by Act of Parliament, abolish one group of independent schools and not all independent schools. There are some 1,300 independent schools recognised by the Ministry as efficient and a further 4,000 that have not sought recognition. Altogether, 400,000 children—one in every fifteen of the children of compulsory school age—are being taught in independent schools, at a cost, on the average, of £40 a year per child. If you took those children away from those schools it would mean an annual bill of £16 million, to start with. In addition to those of compulsory school age, another 51,000 children between the ages of fifteen and eighteen, are at independent schools. That represents one in every five persons at schools between those ages. So again, those persons must either in part displace those already at grammar schools, or, since the country could not afford to lose that educated manpower, it would have to find and pay for another 51,000 new places. All this does not take into account capital assets. Half the pupils at independent schools are boarders. Many of the boarding schools are situated far from centres of population; so that either these school places must be filled by boarders, which would cost the State the same practically as it costs the parents now, or new places in day schools must be built. So in one way or another it would cost the State at least £25 million annually to abolish independent schools—apart from the other arguments against that plan.

The noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, has explained that the public schools have offered a large number of places but that many of these places have not been taken up by the local authorities: they have not felt themselves justified in finding the money. Well, my Lords, these matters are inevitably discussed on a parochial and, indeed, almost on a personal basis: "Is Master Brown worth spending five times as much on as Master Smith?" But in the aggregate this is a national issue. Is the situation just to drift? Are we just to wait until there is a spare £25 million available to take over the independent schools, or until the State schools match the independent schools in sizes of classes and the rest? That will take a long time. Meanwhile, 150 separate local authorities settle the principle of these scholarships in as many separate ways. All the community may suffer if there is a rift between our leaders—between the man from the State school and the man from the independent school. This rift has found expression once again in recent months and cannot be ignored.

Although seventy out of 200 of our leading independent schools are day schools, it is the boarding school, and all the community life that flows from it, that is associated in the minds of most people in distinguishing the public school from the grammar school. The familiar claim is that it is boarding school life that develops leadership. I am not sure that this idea is so tenaciously held to-day. I have described to your Lordships before how I selected a man in my company of highly educated men, as the most natural robust leader among them. I only discovered afterwards that he was an only child; he had been to a mixed day school, and he had not spell: one night of his life away from home, not even out camping, until the day he joined the Army. Yet he was a natural robust leader. Some of your Lordships may have seen a diverting play in London called Escapade. A man and wife, who have recently sent their three sons to boarding school, are seen in the first act quarrelling with one another. Later on, one of these sons, rather a precocious boy, says that boarding schools of course do the boys a lot of good but that they do not do the parents any good: that boys can get on without the parents, but that the parents cannot get on without their children. There is a solemn truth behind this, and one can understand the view of those parents who do not want a boarding school life for their sons. So the principle is not whether one type of school is better than another, for there are good and bad schools of all kinds. The point is that they are different, and different schools will suit different boys. One boy will be happier at a day school, flourishing in the company of his brothers and sisters; another boy may need the comparative peace of a school study, instead of a crowded kitchen, in which to do his work. The boy of outstanding ability in a scattered country district may need the competition and range of teachers not available at the day school in his area.

What, then, can be done? I suggest that the problem is a national one and must be transferred from the local authorities to the centre. I suggest that the Minister of Education should award 500 State scholarships each year to boys attending State schools to go to independent boarding schools. At an average fee of £300 a boy, this would cost £150,000 in the first year, rising to £750,000 in the fifth year, taking five years as the school life of each boy. These scholarships, building up to 2,500 by the end of the fifth year, would be sub-allotted on a regional basis, roughly according to population. Those schools willing to enter the scheme would offer places. I would rather see fifty selected schools offer fifty places over the five years than a thinner spread over more schools. Such groups of fifty boys might exercise a considerable influence in their schools.

By this proposal, boys from the great industrial centres of the North and Midlands would get many of the scholarships, whereas at the moment the majority of public schools are situated in the South of England and make arrangements for scholarships only with local authorities in the Southern counties. This is particularly important in relation to the Fighting Services. We are getting very disturbed that there are so few officers who come from North of the Trent. The allotment of scholarships on a national rather than a local authority basis may gradually alter this false balance in the officering of our Fighting Services. I do not believe that there are not just as good potential officers in the North of England but, for some reason, they have not the same family traditions towards soldiering as the schools in the South. If they earn scholarships down in the southern schools, that may gradually change.

I should like to say a word about the selection of boys to take up these scholarships. They should not necessarily be boys with a natural force of character. These boys are needed as leaders in the grammar schools and, robust already, will not benefit from the rough and tumble of a boarding school life as much as the type of boy who needs a certain clash and conflict to bring out his potentialities for leadership. Nor do we want to select boys exclusively on their scholarship. A caste of intellect is worse than a caste of wealth. It is far worse to be proud of one's brains than to be proud of one's veins. The value of a community is in its mixture of the stupid and the clever, the athletic and the clumsy; and, as your Lordships know, the idle rebel is often the most valuable of all. The final selection must, I think, lie with the headmasters. My proposal would cost £750,000. I contrast this with the £9 million already being paid by the taxpayer in awards to universities. Some argue that the State should not spend money upon these scholarships. The boys are changed, they say, and not the schools. There is some force in this criticism. Experience has shown that boys from working homes fit in at the public schools very well: but do they find it so easy to fit in with their friends at home when they return on holidays?

It would be made far easier for all these boys to do that if at the same time there were a change of spirit in the public schools. This change, I suggest, must come about by all types of schools in each district working more closely together within their own community. An illustration of what I mean is with games. The public schools, and the grammar schools too, need to sweep half their cherished house cups off their mantelpieces, scrap half their school fixtures with other public schools and other grammar schools a long way away, and arrange to play more games with the other schools in their locality, and with youth clubs, factory sides and Service sides in the area. I see no reason why there should not be an exchange of staff among the different schools in one locality, and even some senior pupils, for a term at a time, with mutual benefit to one another.

So also with various school societies. I imagine that some of the technical school and secondary modern schools, with their farming clubs and aeromodelling clubs, could teach the academic boy something. For many years, colleges at the universities have rented their rooms in the holidays to various study groups. I cannot see why the public schools should not extend the hospitality of their buildings and playing fields in the same way during the holidays. In all these ways, these schools must dispel the notion that they are remote and closed communities. Just as much is being done, much remains to be done. Some will say, "Let the schools give evidence of the need and their desire to rake these changes before the State spends money on scholarships." That may be logic, but it is not human nature. I believe that the changes will go together. The presence of State scholars in goodly numbers, fifty altogether, in a school, will infuse a positive purpose and an impetus to a change that, once it starts, will be welcomed as exciting.

If this kind of change gets under way, other problems may solve themselves—like the need for comprehensive schools. Every year, the Home Secretary awards 7,000 State scholarships to boys at approved schools, and they cost just as much a head as the 2,500 scholarships for which I am appealing. Those boys probably possessed a grudge against the well-to-do, and were starved of companionship in their leisure hours. I think much of this crime would be prevented by a livelier social understanding of their problems by the more intelligent boys which will be brought about if those changes get under way. Some will say that State scholarships mean spending public money without public representation. I think again of the example of the universities. The University Grants Committee has worked very well, and has in no way threatened the independence of the universities. Surely the Minister of Education could likewise appoint an Advisory Board, widely based and acceptable to all Parties, to watch over the selection and allotment and future progress of these scholars. Perhaps one member of that Advisory Board could be invited to join the governing body of each of the schools concerned in the scheme.

We as a nation cannot escape from our history and our sense of history. It has always been our virtue to change our institutions with the times. I said that I hoped the scheme of scholarships would start first of all only about fifty schools. I hope that many of the oldest of our schools will be chosen as the pioneers in such a scheme. Then boys from the busy machinery and smoke of our great industrial cities, which produce so much of our wealth, will bring their vigour and blunt, practical I common sense to blend with the old sleepy traditions of our cathedral cities and ancient seats of learning, to the mutual enrichment of one another. The time is ripe. Clause 6 of this Bill is no: enough, and the Government must give a lead to such an enterprise.

5.31 p.m.


My Lords, first may I thank all those who have joined in this debate for the manner in which they have dealt with the complex and difficult subject of this Bill? It is a real contribution to the spirit that must prevail if we are to solve all our difficulties. Before dealing with that subject, may I deal with one other point that has been brought up by Lord Haden-Guest and Lord Amulree? The policy of the Bill is that local authorities shall provide dental treatment by having a full dental service; for specialist services the children naturally go to the hospitals; and if parents wish their children to go to a private dentist, then, of course, they are prepared to give advice. In the meantime, while we are building up the service various devices must be resorted to. I think noble Lords who are interested in this subject will be pleased to know that during the last eighteen months the school dental service has increased from 713 to over 900. That, I think, is most gratifying.

Now, on the subject contained in Clause 1, which is in all our minds, let me say straight away that I agree strongly with the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, and the noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh, that discussions might very well be most helpful. Not only can I say that to your Lordships as an expression of my own opinion, but during the debate I have had an opportunity of putting this matter to my right honourable friend the Minister for Education, who has authorised me to say that she would be pleased to meet Members of your Lordships' House on the proposed informal basis. In such a friendly atmosphere as that in which we have discussed this matter, I hope the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, and the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, will forgive me if I say what a terrible pity it was that the Government of which they were both eminent and distinguished members did not feel able to deal with this problem in 1946 and in 1948, when they presented to Parliament legislation amending the main Act. Indeed, even in their Election Manifesto they made no promise to the Roman Catholics on this matter, until some time during the course of the Election when they issued a special Manifesto.


I think I must remove any suggestion which I feel sure was not intended by the noble Earl, that the attempt to do justice to Catholic and other denominational education was a last minute thought on the part of the Labour Government. He is fully aware of the fact that those discussions had been continuing for a long time.


It was obviously a most unfortunate coincidence that they finally came to that conclusion during the course of the Election. Of course, in 1946 and 1948, indeed even up to January, 1951, had they felt able to deal with this problem, there would be no single school in regard to which retrospection would have to be claimed now. I very much hope that I am not saying anything controversial, because I am anxious not to do that, but it is important that the whole country, and especially the Roman Catholic community, should realise the facts of theposition—namely, that in this Bill we are in fact doing everything that the Roman Catholics have asked for in this matter, except in regard to retrospection, which would not have been necessary if the last Government had, during their term of office, done as we are doing now.

I think we all appreciate the fact which was made clear by the noble and learned Earl that he was not suggesting any bad faith on the part of the Minister. He made that very clear. But he did use the words "flat contradiction." Even those words in themselves are fairly serious words, and it is very disturbing to a Minister to be told that he or she has been guilty of the flat contradiction of undertakings given to a deputation. One can well understand it being said—although I myself think that the words show complete clarity—that there was a misunderstanding about the interpretation of the word "completion" but that is a very different thing from accusing a Minister of flat contradiction. I examined the record of these interviews and the debate in another place, and it seemed to me that the matter was perfectly clear. As the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, said, it was clear from the beginning that neither side thought that the Minister had promised a retrospection. In fact, on December 4, Bishop Beck said quite clearly: We appreciate that, when you received the delegation on February 12, 1952, you said that you found it impossible to make this clause retrospective. Nothing could be more clear than that.

However, my Lords, I think it would be a pity if I went into this matter in too much detail, because it might well be that I should close some door that the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, would wish to keep open in regard to the discussions we envisaged. It might well defeat the main purpose of these discussions if I said more. I will therefore close by saying, once again, that I thank your Lordships for the spirit in which you have conducted this debate and received the Bill. Perhaps I may say that we particularly welcome the note struck in the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh, and the appeal which he, in common with other noble Lords, made for the maintenance of that spirit of compromise and good will which we are all anxious to show in these difficult discussions. We shall certainly try to arrange discussions with the Minister at the earliest moment. I, for one, express the hope that they may lead to a complete understanding of the issues before us.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.