HC Deb 25 July 1974 vol 877 cc1788-9
1. Mr. Beith

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what discussions he has had with the Roman Catholic authorities about the possibility of introducing non-sectarian nursery education to replace segregated education; and whether he will make a statement.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Roland Moyle)

I have not yet seen any of the Church authorities on matters concerning education. I am making arrangements to do so.

Mr. Beith

I am grateful for the Minister's reply. Is he aware that priority should be given to the development of nursery education in Northern Ireland and that in the long term it is to be hoped that there will be discussions leading to the reduction of the disadvantages resulting from the division of education between the two communities?

Mr. Moyle

A programme of nursery education was agreed by the Executive in Northern Ireland before it was dissolved, and many people in the Province have shown an interest in moving away from segregated education. But obviously it is a matter that I shall have to discuss with people before I make up my mind.

Mr. McNamara

Is my hon. Friend aware that there is a great deal of support for the idea that nursery education particularly should be non-segregated? In rural areas especially there is a great deal to be gained by a non-duplication of public expenditure, even if it is looked at only in these terms and not in terms of the positive contribution that it could make to community welfare?

Mr. Moyle

I am aware that a number of people in the Province support the idea of non-segregated nursery education. But the possibility of introducing it may be exaggerated, because in many areas of the Province the various community groups live in their own communities. That tendency has been accentuated over the past five years or so. Therefore, the number of areas in which non-segregated nursery schools could be established, bearing in mind that obviously the pupils live in close proximity to the schools, is rather more limited than some people believe.

Mr. Kilfedder

In any discussions that the hon. Gentleman may have with the Roman Catholic authorities, will he emphasise that the controlled schools are legally non-sectarian and could easily be made so in practice if the Roman Catholics relaxed the ban on parents sending their children to these nursery schools? Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind the efforts made in my own constituency of North Down by many leading Roman Catholics who are trying to persuade their Church to do this?

Mr. Moyle

Obviously all facets of the problem will be considered when I meet Roman Catholic and other Church authorities.

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