§ Mr. T. P. O'CONNOR
I beg to move:That the present system of imposing upon the Catholics of England the burden of building their own schools is contrary to religious and economic equality, and that the system of complete educational equality existing in Scotland should, with the necessary changes, be adopted in England.There are only 25 minutes left for this important discussion, and I think I shall best consult the convenience of the House and the interests of the Motion by simply reading its terms, and leaving what has to be said to my hon. Friend the Member for the Seaham Division (Mr. Webb) who has very kindly offered to second it. My views are so well known that I need not say more.
§ Mr. WEBB
I beg to second the Motion. It would not be right now to be otherwise than extremely brief. I would just refer to two points in the Motion, the one with regard to the question of equality of Catholics in law, and the other in the matter of equality of treatment in administration. I think it would not. be quite so easy to adapt the Scottish system, in which practical equality has been obtained as between all denominations, for in this country, perhaps, matters are 2201 a little more complicated than in Scotland. There are, however, certain practical equalities and practical grievances in the nature of inequalities of administration which I wish to bring to the notice of the House. At present the Catholic schools, even where they are promoted by Catholics, have to satisfy the Board of Education that the schools are not unnecessary. If so, the promoters have to provide what is necessary—[HON. "Speak up!"]before the school can be admitted to the grant list and be maintained under the Education Act of 1902.
During recent years the Board of Education has not only been requiring the Roman Catholics to erect their own schools as the law requires, but has been displaying actual reluctance, even when the population has increased and evidence as to the need for Catholic schools has been shown, to put those schools on the grant list. I have particulars which I have privately put before the representative of the Board of Education showing how the case stands. The need for accommodation for Catholic children has been shown, and the buildings are provided or are ready to be provided. There is the case of a school at Putney where, I am informed, it was actually decided by the Board of Education as being not unnecessary, and yet it has been refused admission to the grant list. I believe the explanation, to be quite candid, is that it would be more economical if all the children could be brigaded together into one school. In London there is an idea that the schools might very well hold 1,000 children. The Catholic schools, like most other denominational schools, however, are usually smaller, and the suggestion that you must force Catholic or Anglican children into other schools, because it is more economical to staff the larger schools, is merely defying the spirit of the Act of 1909. I do not think that the Board of Education would contend that that ought to be done. A number of small denominational schools have latterly been admitted by the Board and put on the grant list, but the Catholic schools in case after case have been refused. I second this Resolution on the ground of the equality of treatment to Catholics which is guaranteed to them under the Act of 1902, and I urge that equality should be 2202 extended to them in the cases which I have submitted, and on which I should like to have the reply of the representative of the Board of Education.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of EDUCATION (Lord Eustace Percy)
The hon. Member who has just sat down very courteously gave me notice of the various cases which he intended to raise. He has not raised them in detail on account of the late hour, and he has been content with mentioning only one particular case, and I will deal with that at once. In the first place, the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Webb) rather misunderstood the position in regard to brigading the children together in a large school. The proposal was, that a new Roman Catholic school, for about 200 children, should be provided, of whom 71 were already attending public elementary schools in the neighbourhood; 49 were attending a private school, and 22 were attending a school one mile away. It was a proposal not for scattering Catholic children but to bring a large number of children, who are now being educated in other schools, into one fairly large school. The hon. Member for Seaham and the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. O'Connor) allege that there is some special discrimination against Roman Catholics in this matter. I do not think that these two hon. Members really mean that they believe that the Board of Education or anybody concerned in educational administration are discriminating against Roman Catholics as compared with other denominations. I need only give the actual figures.
During the last 31 years, from the 1st January, 1920, to the 31st March, 1923, there have been 72 applications for recognition by Roman Catholic schools, and, of those 72, we have granted recognition to 55. That, surely, does not bear out any charge of discrimination. During the same period we have not granted recognition—I admit we have not received so many applications—to as many Church of England schools; and, as regards council schools applying for recognition, as regards local education authorities asking for recognition for the provision of new schools, we have in certain cases disapproved, while in many cases it has not come to the actual formal disapproval that is usually the case where a 2203 denominational school is in question, because usually the proposals in the case of council schools are damped down before they come to the final stage. To take, however, one of the instances notified to me by the hon. Member for Seaham, that of the Tipton Roman Catholic school, that proposal was declared to be unnecessary by the Board at the very same time that the Board declared to be unnecessary a new central school which the local authority was then proposing to provide. These cases, I may say, are nearly all cases dating back one, two or three years, and that shows that there is, and can be, no discrimination under the Act, and no one believes for one moment that there is, against Roman Catholic schools. The 17 Roman Catholic schools that we have declared to be unnecessary have been declared to be unnecessary after careful inquiries. I have not been long enough in office to claim infallibility for myself or my Department, and these inquiries have to be decided upon a nice balance of considerations one against the other. They are very difficult matters to decide, but they have been fairly decided, and I think that the hon. Member for Seaham himself, or the hon. Member for the Scotland Division, would, in many of the cases at any rate, have decided in the same way themselves.
I really only rose because, as I have said, I had to answer the specific charges or questions put by the hon. Member for Seaham, but, before I sit down. I think I ought to say one word about the broad general proposition which is contained in this Motion, and which goes far beyond any criticism of the administration under the Act as it now is. The hon. Member for the Scotland Division states his opinion that the settlement in regard to religious education which was come to in 1902 is unsatisfactory, and that we ought to adopt the Scottish system. That is not a proposition on which I feel called upon to express any opinion from this Box. Everyone who knows anything about the subject appreciates the energy and self-sacrifice and devotion shown by all the members of the Roman Catholic Church in providing, or attempting to provide, religious education for their children. That is true of all other Churches, but it is, perhaps, particularly true, in these days, of the Roman Catholic 2204 Church, and we recognise the difficulties under which they labour under the present law. But let this be remembered, that the present system in Scotland is not a thing of this year or last year. It was not established in 1902; it was not established even in 1872; it grew up with the development of the country. There has never been in Scotland a prohibition of religious education in provided schools. Denominational education, from the Act of 1872 onwards, has been part of the inherent system of Scottish education which is natural to the country. It was for that reason that when, under the Act of 1918, the Government provided that after two years no further grants could be paid to the voluntary schools, they provided for the transfer of denominational schools to local education authorities under favourable conditions for the denominations concerned. It was for that reason that that transfer was carried out with the cordial co-operation of the local education authorities and the authorities of the different denominations concerned. If, in all these cases—in all these, I think something like over 200 cases of Roman Catholic schools—the Board had had to exercise its powers as arbiter, to decide the terms of transfer, it would have been impossible to have carried it out.
The settlement in England in 1902 has worked for 20 years. The opposition which it caused at the time—an opposition in a directly contrary sense to that now urged by the hon. Member for the Scotland Division—has, perhaps, to a considerable extent, died down. But does the hon. Member think that we have yet reached such a concensus of agreement in public opinion that such a proposition as his would be generally and universally accepted in the cordial spirit which alone could make it possible to make any change throughout the country?
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
As the Noble Lord asks me, I would say that I think it would be generally accepted. I do not say universally.
§ Lord E. PERCY
I think hon. Members generally will probably be of the opinion that while we have, in the last few years, advanced very far toward a much larger measure of agreement between all sections of opinion on this subject, and while—this is the important thing, at the present moment—that growing agreement is being manifested in many attempts at agree- 2205 ment, many particular experiments, and many ideas of arrangement in various parts of the country, it would surely be premature to vote upon a Motion of this kind, especially after half an hour's discussion. It might be premature, in view of the state of opinion, and might prejudice and hinder, rather than assist, the growth of agreement in many quarters on this subject.
§ Mr. GAVAN DUFFY
It is most unfortunate that this important question has had to be debated in the short space of half an hour. If we had had time to put the case properly before the Noble Lord and the Department that he represents, which we have not been able to do, I am perfectly sure we should have a far more sympathetic reply. We appreciate, very keenly, the tribute which the Noble Lora has paid to the zeal, devotion and sacrifice of the Roman Catholic people in this country in the erection and maintenance of their schools. On the other hand, I want to point out that it is unfair on the Roman Catholic population of this country to have to pay their ordinary education rate and, having done that, to have to put their hands in their own pockets and build their own schools. In the County of Cumberland, which I represent, I have been a member of the Finance Committee of the Cumberland County Council. I have got our estimates for the forthcoming year, and the education rate, per head, will be 2s. 4d. in the pound for next year. I shall have to pay it; every Catholic in Cumberland will have to pay it; but when we have done that, we shall also have to put our hands in our pockets and build our own schools. That, in itself, is a gross inequality. It is one of those inequalities which ought to have been wiped out long ago, and I feel certain it is the wish of the people that it should be done. The Noble Lord asked whether there was a general consensus of opinion as to this problem. How are our Catholic schools often built and maintained? By bazaars, concerts, and whist drives, by asking for donations, often not from our own people, who are the poorest of the poor. I am pleased to pay a tribute to the toleration and generosity of our Protestant and Nonconformist friends all over the country for the splendid way they have responded to the 2206 appeals made to them for the maintenance of our schools. But there again there is a double tax upon their generosity, because they have to pay the education rate and then come and help us to maintain our schools. The suggestion that the Scotch system should be introduced, with the necessary modifications, has not been touched by the Noble Lord. A scheme which is good for Scotland cannot be bad for England, and it would have been a great thing for this country if the Scotch system of education in its entirety had been brought into operation in this country. You see the result of it in the fact that Scotchmen rule England to-day, and I do not think it fair for the Noble Lord, who adorns the representation of that country, to be so selfish as to keep that system to himself and to his country.
§ Mr. SPARKES
I desire to deal with this question on elementary, primitive Christian principles. As a member of the Church of England, I myself am a Catholic and I wish to steer a clear course between the Protestant negation of everything the Church of Rome believes, and also that ultramontanism of Roman Catholicism which regards the Archbishop of Canterbury as an unbaptized layman. What we want in religion is what we have for the time being discarded in polities, a "coalition" against the common enemy of Atheism and I want to show a good example to the sister Church of the Roman Catholics by voting in favour of this Measure in the hope that they in their turn will be more tolerant in their doctrine and practices towards the Church of England.
§ Sir WILFRID SUGDEN
I, a Nonconformist, shall support the Resolution—[HON. MEMBERS: "Divide! "]—that has been introduced by the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool, for certain definite reasons. The first reason is that the divorce of the religious teaching of any section of the Christian Church from the denominational curricula has been the cause of traducing the high principles of religious toleration in 2207 this country, and giving our children the highest ideals, which can only come through such denominational teaching by all sections of the Christian Church. [HON. MEMBERS: "Divide!" "Do not talk out the Motion!"] I do not intend to do so, but I say deliberately that such divorce of denominational teaching is the, reason why to-day only 21 per cent. of the people of this country attend church, whereas in the old days, not 30 years ago, 45 per cent. of the population attended church. [HON. MEMBERS "Divide! "] Hon. Members opposite will not shout me down. I gave a definite pledge to my constituents, both Catholic and Anglican, that I would support such a Resolution as is now tabled, and I intend to fully redeem my pledge and support my hon. Friend's Motion in the Division Lobby.
§ Mr. STURROCK
rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put": but Mr. Speaker withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.
§ It being Eleven of the Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.