HC Deb 03 December 1975 vol 901 cc1875-93

12.55 a.m.

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

I beg to move, That the Education (Northern Ireland) Order 1975, a draft of which was laid before this House on 20th November, be approved. This Order has three broad purposes. First, we are increasing the capital grant for certain voluntary schools from 80 per cent. to 85 per cent. The majority of the voluntary schools in Northern Ireland—more than 90 per cent. of them, in fact—have public representatives on their management bodies, and provision is being made to increase the rate of capital grant for these schools in Article 13 of the draft order.

In the case of maintained schools in Northern Ireland, the increased grants are in respect of the provision of alteration of premises. These schools are voluntary primary schools, including nursery schools, secondary and special schools managed by a committee of which one-third of the members have been appointed by the education and library board for the area concerned.

In the case of those voluntary grammar schools which have one-third of their governors appointed by the Northern Northern Ireland Department of Education, the increased grant will be in respect of provision or alteration of premises and provision of equipment.

This provision parallels the provisions of Sections 3 and 5 of the Education Act 1975, which increased the rate of grant payable to similar schools in England and Wales, and arises from representations from the voluntary school authorities concerning the financial difficulties facing them—increased building costs, higher interest rates, and so on—which have affected Northern Ireland as much as England and Wales.

It is estimated that the cost of the proposed increase will be about £200,000 in the current year. In subsequent years, the increased cost will depend on the size of the building programme which the prevailing economic circumstances will allow.

We had a proposal that the increased rate of grant should be payable on all work done after the operative date, 6th November 1974, but we have decided that it will be on work begun on or after 6th November 1974, since this brings us into line with the situation in England and Wales. The main object of the Order is to ensure parity between the situations in Great Britain and in Northern Ireland.

The second purpose of the Order is to give the Department of Education for Northern Ireland power to alter school leaving dates. Article 36 of the Education and Libraries (Northern Ireland) Order 1972 provides for two dates in the year on which pupils are treated as free to leave school. First, pupils whose 16th birthday falls between 1st September and 31st January may leave school at the end of the spring term following—that is, at Easter. Secondly, those pupils whose 16th birthday falls between 1st February and 31st August may leave at the end of the summer term. The present leaving dates in Northern Ireland are the same as those in England and Wales.

Last July my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science announced the Government's intention to introduce legislation to bring forward the present summer term leaving date in England and Wales from the end of the summer term to the Friday before the Spring Bank Holiday, and he hopes to make the change next year. It will mean that pupils whose 16th birthday falls between 1st February and 31st August in any year will be free to leave school on the Friday before the Spring Bank Holiday. Since the school leaving age was raised to 16 some pupils who in earlier years could have left school on finishing the certificate examinations are no longer free to do so, although it is very difficult to seek to enforce continued attendance for a brief period thereafter. The raising of the age has meant that pupils who do not take these examinations, and who previously would have left school at 15, are now required to remain at school over the period when many of their fellow pupils are taking examinations and when normal school work is affected.

While in Northern Ireland the problem is less serious than in England and Wales, in that the summer term ends some three weeks earlier than in England and Wales, there is general support for bringing the leaving date in Northern Ireland forward to the Spring Bank Holiday.

Article 4 of the draft Order empowers the Department to make the necessary amendment to the 1972 Order. Then we are left with a situation in which there would be two school leaving dates in any one year, separated by a very few weeks. In consequence, the proposal has been made that we should have one school leaving date for the year, and that would be the Friday before the Spring Bank Holiday. We are consulting all interested parties in Northern Ireland on this particular point, and a final decision has not yet been reached. But we are taking the power to have one school leaving date for the year.

I now turn to the remaining provisions of the Order.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)

Could the Minister state whether the reference in Article 4 to affirmative resolution in respect to such an Order is valid at the moment, or is it another of those "might-have-beens"?

Mr. Moyle

As far as I am advised, this is valid at the moment and is not a "might-have-been".

The Education and Libraries (Northern Ireland) Order 1972 was a complete recasting of the education administration in Northern Ireland. Hon. Members will not be surprised to learn that one or two rough edges have been revealed in the last two years of operation. The rest of the Order is a way of polishing those rough edges and, I hope, making the machinery work more smoothly in the future than in the past.

With the permission of the House, I do not intend to go into all those minor alterations—they are fairly technical in most cases—but if hon. Members have questions on them I shall do my best to answer them at the end of the debate.

1.3 a.m.

Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)

The Lord President of the Council has announced that housing in Northern Ireland is to be discussed in the Northern Ireland Committee. The House may also desire to debate education in Northern Ireland at length on some future convenient occasion.

I was glad to hear that there is to be consultation on this question of the school leaving age. In my own constituency the inflexible system that we have had has caused inconvenience and even distress.

Could I ask the Government's opinion on two controversial educational questions? First, with reference to Article 13 of the Order, that on integration of schooling, through which some seek to bridge the so-called sectarian divide—not a phrase I like very much—whatever I or any right hon. or hon. Member may think, such integration does not appear to be practical politics at this time.

However, in the spring of 1974 Mr. Basil McIver, who was Minister of Education in the then Executive, put forward his proposal for shared education, under which children of different denominations would be educated in the same schools under joint church management. Mr. McIver wanted to start with nursery schools. What has happened to that scheme and what is the attitude of Ministers to it?

Secondly, may I ask the Minister to confirm that whatever the Government's views have been on the 11-plus, which is often a red herring across the trail of discussion of the reorganisation of secondary education, it is still his view that the final shape of secondary education in Northern Ireland will be left to be decided by a locally elected assembly?

1.5 a.m.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

The hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) touched on matters which I, too, wish to refer to briefly.

Article 13 of the Order bolsters, solidifies or strengthens a system, two features of which deserve special consideration. One of them is selection in education and the fact that we still have in Northern Ireland a system based on selection at the age of 11. Even a brief indication of how far the Government are prepared to move on this and of how they can use the concept of parity, as they have just done in financial terms, when they have a radically different policy on education in Northern Ireland from that in the remainder of the United Kingdom would be welcome. There is at least some demand in Northern Ireland for a move away from selection. I have seen corre- spondence of this kind seeking a change, and the evidence from Craigavon suggests that there is a feeling amongst some parents that alternatives should be available to them as they are to the rest of the United Kingdom.

The other issue to which I refer is that of sectarian education, and the continued existence in Northern Ireland of a system which effectively ensures that the two religious communities are not educated together and that formative growing years are spent narrowly confined within the schools of a denomination or in State schools attended largely by members of the Protestant community.

There cannot be many of us who would deny that this separation has an effect in limiting the understanding that members of one community have of the other and that less separation is desirable. This could not be achieved in a short time. Nor would it be achieved by simple alterations in the management structure of schools. What is important is whether children at some stage in their education have the opportunity to be taught in company with or perhaps by teachers who normally teach members of the other community. The importance is not in the management of schools but in the mixed opportunities of children and the extent to which they can learn something of the other community and avoid a one community view of history, which seems to be perpetuated in some schools.

But the ending of this kind of sectarian education would not be the panacea that some people believe. Even if, by some miracle, we could accomplish a change in the pattern of education, it would not reverse the problems that we face in Northern Ireland. I am convinced, however, that the persistence of this system over a long period and the extent of the separation which exists in childhood undoubtedly exacerbates the problems that we face and makes it more difficult for members of one community to understand the problems and attitudes of the other.

In that context, I want to quote what the Minister said in an Open University broadcast which suggests much less of a desire to change the system. The interviewer put it to the Minister that some people felt that not only should the social classes mix by a move towards compre- hensive education in Northern Ireland but that different religious groupings should be mixed as well. The Minister said: I would react against that very much. I think that you can have two separate comprehensive systems, a Catholic one and a State one side by side, as you've got in certain areas of this country"—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman. Strictly speaking, the Order does not deal with integration of the school population in Northern Ireland. I ask the hon. Gentleman to relate what he is saying to the contents of the Order.

Mr. Beith:

With respect, I suggest that Article 13 increases the aid for the voluntary sector of education from 80 per cent. to 85 per cent. In my view, it is a clear strengthening of the system in Northern Ireland whereby a large part of education is conducted by voluntary schools drawn from the minority religious community.

The Minister indicated that there are financial reasons for the difficulties faced by those schools which argue for an increase, as in the United Kingdom. It seems to me that an increase from 80 per cent. to 85 per cent. does not represent any lessening of the Government's determination to maintain this pattern. It is with that in mind that I quote the Minister of State's remarks. He said: …in certain areas of England, Wales and Scotland you have had the Catholic authorities coming to the local education authority and saying we'll go in with you in your comprehensive scheme. If Catholic bodies in Northern Ireland genuinely volunteered to take part in that sort of exercise well I would be only too delighted to assist, but there is no intention of using comprehensive secondary education as a way of tackling the sectarian separation of Northern Ireland schools. I'd be totally opposed to that. In the context of increasing the support to voluntary schools and strengthening that system, it might be opportune and helpful if the Government could give some clear indication whether they would like to see some elements of integration across this sectarian divide—that may be an unhappy phrase but it has some real meaning in Northern Ireland—or whether they wish to defer any further consideration of this matter until a new system of government has been established in the Province.

1.12 a.m.

Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)

I only rise to congratulate the Minister. Under Articles 5, 6 and 7 it appears that the education boards are now permitted to give financial assistance to the children of poor parents throughout Northern Ireland. For many years children of poor parents, whatever academic qualifications they attained, were sometimes placed in the embarrassing position, on passing an examination, of transferring to a different school, and their parents were put to great hardship in trying to find the money to pay for their new uniforms. That problem affected children from both the majority and the minority communities. The hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker), I am sure, has experience of these matters.

Free school dinners sometimes cause grave embarrassment not only to the children who receive them, but even more so to their parents. A certain stigma is attached to such children because they come from poor families and their parents cannot afford to pay for their dinners. The education boards throughout Northern Ireland are taking a progressive step. Throughout my political life I have been aware of the severe hardships imposed on families when children are transferred after passing an examination to—for want of a better word—a superior school. There was more class consciousness.

In Northern Ireland there are many labouring families and they do not attain the same type of wages as people in other parts of the United Kingdom. Many of those working-class families are in receipt of family income supplements, but even so they are unable to afford the necessary uniforms to enable their children to attend school.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows that local tribunals were unable to give grants for uniforms. They could give grants only if the children's clothing was inadequate. This point is covered in this Order, and it is most acceptable to all sections of the community.

Mr. Fitt

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. He, like me and most hon. Members, has attended local tribunals in the interests of constituents. On many occasions I have put forward a case similar to the one which he has illustrated and the appeals tribunal has been unable, because of the regulations, to grant any financial assistance towards the provision of a uniform for a certain child.

This is helpful legislation, and I congratulate the Minister on introducing the Order. However, I find some confusion in the Order. The articles to which I have referred relate to grant-aided schools. I wonder whether there is a division between grant-aided and voluntary schools. If help is to be given, it should be given to the children or the families who are in need. It should not be restricted to any one type of school. I feel sure that in reply the Minister will allay my fears by saying that the education boards will consider the welfare of the children involved and will take every possible step to help them in this rather embarrassing position.

1.17 a.m.

Mr. McCusker (Armagh)

One always gets some satisfaction when rising to welcome an Order, one hopes, for the improvement of educational facilities in the Province.

I agree with the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) about wanting parity with the rest of the United Kingdom. We do not normally need to ask for educational parity. There are already moves afoot to eradicate selection at 11-plus in Northern Ireland. However, we want parity on such things as the Shipbuilding and Aircraft Industries Bill, on devolution, and so on.

I particularly welcome Article 13, which raises the grant from 80 per cent. to 85 per cent. for the voluntary schools. However, my welcome is tinged with regret, because, until quite recently, Northern Ireland was always in advance of England and Wales in its assistance to voluntary schools. Indeed, hon. Members from Northern Ireland could take people on trips round their constituencies and show them the benefits of grants not only to voluntary schools, but to State schools.

Our educational facilities in Northern Ireland are second to none, as I am sure the Minister will agree; but I have reservations, as he has, about the effects of what might be called sectarian education. I have personal experience of childhood friendships being wrenched apart by sectarian education. We must concern ourselves with the problem which has undoubtedly created that situation. I do not want to make too much of it. Sometimes such problems need to be looked at and questioned by people from outside Northern Ireland.

I am sure that many childhood friends would have grown up into adult friends, but those friendships were destroyed between the ages of 4 and 10 because we went our separate ways and developed new friendships. Those friendships which had perhaps been formulated on the street corners were destroyed by the educational system, and that is a cause for concern.

Like the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), I have personal experience of the provision made in Article 7. I must be careful what I say now. I have a very proud working-class mother who will read with interest what I say tonight. I was granted a scholarship to a grammar school. My mother, who was a widow, could not afford to provide the uniform which would have been demanded. Of course, I was adequately and warmly clothed, but not always in the uniform demanded by the school. I am thankful for the understanding of the staff at the school and of colleagues. I never felt any sense of injustice or grievance that I did not have the complete school uniform. It may be that I had a thick skin even then. However, I am sure that there are some sensitive children and, indeed, parents who feel the effects of such a situation.

I am slightly concerned that Article 7 is not specific. It says Subject to a scheme which shall be framed by a board and approved by the Department… I would have preferred the Minister to have come to the House tonight and said that he was introducing a scheme which would give assistance across the board and that individual boards administering education would not be given discretion in this mater at all. I do not know why this provision has been introduced in this fashion, but I welcome it, along with certain of the other provisions.

In looking at the difficulty of the school leaving age, the Minister is tackling a very difficult problem. Although be may bring the school leaving age closer to the end of May, for some children he is still, as he says, going to be confronted with the two-date situation. Will the Minister say to those children who want least of all to remain at school after Easter that they are going to have to wait a further six weeks, as it might be, or is he going to move the date back to Easter for everyone?

If adequate provision had been made to train teachers to deal with average and below-average 15-to-16-year-olds, and if adequate financial provision had been given to the schools to develop courses for these children, perhaps we would not be faced with the problem of 16-year-olds breaking their necks to leave school. They would have been staying on to get some benefit from it. Perhaps we should be bending our mind to that matter instead of tackling the problems created by that situation.

If we are going to have one school leaving age, it should be at Easter, because the majority leaving on that date will, in all probability, be average and slightly below average ability. They might well be moving into the construction industry, because there is usually an up-turn in that industry with opportunities for employment before the peak of the summer leavers arrive on the scene.

One or two things concern me. The suggestion that we make payments to the chairmen of these boards brings us to the thorny problem of undemocratic boards. These are boards appointed by the Minister, answerable to no one, and they frequently comprise people rejected by the electorate when they stood for office in local government, or at other levels. I do not know why we should consider paying chairmen. I do not know whether we have got our priorities right. If we have not been paying them up to now, why should be start? The whole question of payment for people serving on boards is under close scrutiny. I do not want any extension of it.

Article 11 provides for the insertion in the principal Order of the following article: Subject to any direction which may be given by the Department, a board may either alone or together with another board or other boards defray or contribute towards the expenses of bodies to which the Board is affiliated or of which the Board is a member. What are these other bodies? May we have some specific examples? If we have them, I may accept them without question. I do not like the blanket, open-ended way in which this is phrased.

Paragraph 5 of the Schedule says, In Article 68(b) before the word "incurred"— which obviously means further expense— there shall be inserted the word 'reasonably'"— at least someone is being prudent now; it is to be "reasonably incurred expenses"— and after the words 'distinguished persons' there shall be inserted the words ' residing in or'. I presume that is a means whereby one intends to reimburse or grant reasonable expenses to certain distinguished persons whether or not they reside in Northern Ireland. I should like clarification as to further expenses. I am concerned about another matter. When we talk about educational expenditure. I wonder if some of the expenditure being considered here should not be going in another diection, which may have equal bearing on education in the Province. I was told by the Minister this week that there are approximately 400 teachers in technical schools who do not have a contract of employment. If they do not have a contract—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is raising a matter that is not in the Order. Even though we have plenty of time, he ought to keep to the actual Order that we are discussing.

Mr. McCusker

The Order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is obviously concerned with specific expenditure on education, and I am arguing that some of its provisions ought to be delayed and that the expenditure could be better used in other directions. However, I shall deal with the matter briefly.

If 400 teachers in technical schools in Northern Ireland do not have a contract, are we not in grave danger of getting our priorities wrong? If it requires £250,000—which is what the Minister has told me is required—to settle the grievances of the technical school teachers, would not the Minister do better by using the money that he has to settle those grievances instead of considering reimbursing the chairman of committees and spending money in other ways, for distinguished persons and so on?

1.30 a.m.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

I support what has been said by the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) with regard to the provision of clothing for pupils under Article 7. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) that it is to be regretted that no firm proposals are put forward in the Order.

I take it that when the Order refers to "the board" it is referring to the Education and Library Board of the particular area. Will the Minister tell us the type of scheme upon which his Department would look favourably, because Article 7(1) says, a scheme which shall be framed by a board and approved by the Department."? Therefore, the Minister must already have certain criteria in mind. We should like some information on this matter as a guide to this provision.

I am totally opposed to payment for the chairmen of these boards. The people of Northern Ireland do not like these boards because they are not democratically elected and the majority of their members have no standing in the community. They have submitted themselves to the electorate and been utterly rejected. Some have forfeited their deposits. Because of political pressure they are entered on these boards. What is more, the part of which I have the honour to be the leader and which came third in the total number of votes cast at the election for the Convention, the Democratic Unionist Party, has never had one member put on any board. It is completely discriminated against. That is the type of thing that is happening in Northern Ireland.

Furthermore, these boards are taking decisions which are against the interests of local people because they do not represent them. They are closing down schools which should not be closed. I was making representations to one of these boards the other day when people from outside the particular district were trying to close a primary school against the wishes of the parents in the area. That is the sort of thing that we shall not tolerate in Northern Ireland. It is time that the Minister took a hard look at the democratic composition of these boards and tried to get local people on to them, people who know what the residents of the area require.

I am totally opposed to giving any money to the many chairmen of these boards. They are not even elected members. They get into their positions by political skulduggery and by certain pressures that are put on them.

Perhaps the House does not know that there is no Protestant school system in Northern Ireland. There is a State school system. Some hon. Members talk as though there were a religious divide, with Roman Catholic schools and Protestant schools. There are Roman Catholic schools and State schools. Some Roman Catholic children attend some of these State schools, and some Roman Catholic teachers teach in some of the State schools. Let us get that matter absolutely right.

The sad thing, however—which I raised many years ago, when I first became a Member of this House, and which was not accepted by the then Government—is that the dead hand of the old school management committees is still controlling the State schools today. If a school had its foundation in a particular Protestant denomination, the majority of the management board still reflects that—even though the school may have moved its location and have different denominational connections. The Minister must face up to this problem.

We all appreciate that the problems in education in Northern Ireland are difficult, and I hope the House will be informed of all the details of the situation.

I agreed with my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh when he spoke about priorities in education. In my constituency I am worried about the number of people who should be attending teacher training institutions, but have not received the grants enabling them to go. This is very serious and concerns all sections of the community. Classes in Northern Ireland schools are getting far too big and we need more teachers.

1.32 a.m.

Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim, South)

I will not attempt to compete with my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker), who brings to this subject unrivalled experience and knowledge, but I know he will not take it amiss if I add to his list of priorities our greatest priority—equal representation in this House.

I do not need to underline the discrimination being practised against my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) and his followers. He has certain vocal powers which enable him to speak for himself, but, if at any time he is in difficulties, I will be only too willing to lend him any assistance within my power, if he likes to come south over the border between our constituencies at Kells and Connor.

I wish to refer to the closure of the Aghagallon Victoria primary school. When the proposals for a school replacement programme were formulated in 1970, the population pattern of the village of Aghalee, in which this school is situated, was very different from that of today and that of the near future when extensive housing developments are completed. Work on these houses is already under way, and it is clear that the village will become the largest in the south-west corner of County Antrim. It may be more economical in some circumstances to amalgamate several small schools and replace them with one modern building, but in this case so many children will have to be bussed that savings could be rapidly outweighed by escalating and continuing transport costs. The Minister of State was kind enough to write to me on 29th October pointing out that the statutory development scheme was followed in this case, but that only one formal objection was submitted—from the Rector of Aghalee, the Rev. S. J. Brennan—so it was decided that an inquiry need not be held. In the strictly legal sense, this may have been correct, but surely it was clear to the authorities that Mr. Brennan was submitting a collective objection on behalf of all the parents who were present at the meeting, to which the Director of Education was invited and which he attended. I appreciate that the Minister may be in some difficulty since the new replacement school is in the course of erection, but I urge him to take no steps which would tie his hands and prevent him from reversing this unpopular decision.

1.35 a.m.

Mr. Moyle

The hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) said that he hoped that we would be able to debate education more fully in the Northern Ireland Committee at some stage in the not-too-distant future. I am willing to take part in a debate of that sort whenever it can be arranged, if that is the wish of the House. I have no doubt that the Lord President, who is responsible for these matters, will take note of the remarks which have been made.

We have had a general discussion of the question of shared schools and selection in education which apparently revolved around an incerase in the grant from 80 per cent. to 85 per cent. for voluntary and maintained schools, and on the proposal which was put forward by Mr. Basil McIver. When I arrived in Northern Ireland this proposal had been made. It was not for the integrated education of any schoolchildren but for a new form of management committee which would represent the religious interests on both sides of the sectarian divide and to which children of both major persuasion could readily resort when they wished.

I encouraged consultations to proceed on that idea, but I concluded that there was insufficient support for blanket legislation along those lines and I announced this at the conference of Association of Education and Library Boards in the summer. We are not proceeding any further along that line.

On sectarian education, it should be made clear that the situation in Northern Ireland is not all that different from the situation elsewhere in the United Kingdom. If Roman Catholic or Anglican parents in England and Wales want their children to receive a religious education they are entitled to set up their particular schools, assuming that there is a need. They are entitled to receive appropriate grants and have separate education. A system which works without too much difficulty on this side of the water, however, might give rise to implications in Northern Ireland. I accept that this helps to sharpen the division in the population, as the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) said, but that division already exists and it would not be solved by the forcible mixing, if that could be achieved—and it could not—of children of the various religious persuasions. For that reason it is just not on the cards to combine comprehensive and secondary reorganisation with the abolition of the sectarian divide.

This is entirely a matter for parents in Northern Ireland. Personally, I should like to see the children come together, but that is only a personal point of view, and it would be counter-productive to try to force them into secondary schools which eliminated not only the class division but the sectarian division as well.

The abolition of the 11-plus and selection at that age was referred by my predecessors to a committee of educational experts chaired by the Vice-Chancellor of the new University of Ulster, Alan Burgess, and it came up with a report which said that selection at the age of 11 should go. That was the situation when I arrived in Northern Ireland about 18 months ago. The committee suggested various means by which this educational reform could be brought about, but did not produce a firm recommendation for the practical abolition of selection itself. Therefore, I have appointed the very respected Senior Chief Inspector, Mr. Tom Cowan, to go round the Province and work out a practical plan by means of a feasibility study for achieving the abolition of selection at this stage. He will probably report about March next year. When that takes place I shall be committed to consultations with the various educational interests, including the governors of voluntary grammar schools, as to how we should proceed.

That is the stage that the exercise has reached in the reorganisation of secondary education. I was asked if I planned to leave it to a locally elected assembly. It was certainly my ambition that the matter could be dealt with by a locally elected assembly. That is why we had a Convention and why the Convention has reported. However, it is a matter of time, and one cannot hold up indefinitely in Northern Ireland the general advances in education which are prevalent in the rest of the United Kingdom. I should like to leave the matter there. Whether it takes place at a locally elected assembly is a matter very much for hon. Gentlemen.

I thank the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) for his kind words about the provision of clothing for children, and I thank other hon. Members who have made similar remarks. We are grateful for those thanks. Children attending all schools will be included because in practice almost all schools in Northern Ireland are grant-aided. However, we shall be examining in particular schemes for those over 18 years old.

The hon. Members for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) and Armagh considerably criticised the area boards. There was also a reference to the reorganisation of primary schools in the Aghagallon area. I do not have any quasi-judicial functions to exercise in that case. I visited the schools after I had received a letter from the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux), and, to my prejudiced eye, they looked very small. I appreciate that there can often be a great gain in human contact in such small schools, but, on the other hand, we can give children a better education in schools that are a little larger than the three affected by the particular reorganisation scheme to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

The idea that irresponsible education boards go around closing down schools left, right and centre is a description of the situation which bears no relationship to reality.

Rev. Ian Paisleyrose

Mr. Moyle

The hon. Gentleman has had his say. Every time a school is closed a public procedure has to be followed which involves the parents. If the hon. Gentleman had listened carefully to the hon. Member for Antrim, South he would have realised that the parents were given an opportunity to exercise their objections in that case.

A number of members of area boards are appointed by district councils, which are elected, and others are appointed by me on the advice of Government machinery. The bona fides of people are thoroughly investigated before they are appointed to area boards.

Rev. Ian Paisley rose

Mr. Moyle

In any case, area education boards were introduced into Northern Ireland with a view to being a substitution for the local government system, which, quite frankly, was not accepted by a large number of people in Northern Ireland on both sides of the sectarian divide. It is, indeed, difficult to get general acceptability of elected local government in Northern Ireland. I am trying to give extra powers to district councils which, in the sphere of sport, recreation and community provision, they will be able to undertake. However, I have to drag about half the Province along with me when I try to give them these extra powers, and there is no great enthusiasm for democratically locally elected government in Northern Ireland.

Rev. Ian Paisley

It is not right for the Minister to put words into my mouth. I never spoke of the closing of schools right, left and centre. The hon. Gentleman should be careful in what he says. What I said—I repeat it and I defy the Minister to contradict it—is that these people on area boards who are not in any way connected with the local districts in which the schools are closing, and they form the majority on the boards. People who have absolutely no say in a local parish come along to an area board meeting, and when representations are made by the parents and by local clergymen—I have led some of the deputations—these people vote to close those small schools. I can give examples from Canalbana. I can give a whole series. The Minister knows about it.

I made no accusation about closing down schools right, left and centre. I said that the people who were helping to close them, nominated by the Minister or by his predecessor, are people who know nothing about local circumstances in the area. That is all. Also, I say that of—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I shall certainly not allow a second speech to be made in the guise of an intervention.

Mr. Moyle

It all depends on what one means by local. The fact is that all members of area education boards are selected from the area covered by the board on which they serve. The whole of Northern Ireland is not all that large. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman's idea of locality is different from mine.

The hon. Gentleman said also that there are no such things as Protestant schools in Northern Ireland, and there is a State education system. I think that that argument might be maintained, but it is worth while recalling that a number of schools which entered the State system were originally owned by various churches, and in pretty well all cases they were Protestant churches. The Protestant churches concerned were quite rightly at that stage given representation on the governing bodies of the schools. The hon. Gentleman will be aware, however, that when those schools were replaced by other schools, those representatives of the Protestant churches were transferred to the new schools as well.

Therefore, there is to that extent some justification for, perhaps, humantarians, Roman Catholics or others having some reservations about sending their children to such schools. Although it was impracticable, that was the idea behind Basil Mclver's proposals in May 1974.

I turn now to another matter. The shorthand intervention by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) and my shorthand reply to it may not have led to the meeting of minds which I thought it had achieved, so I shall read out a definitive statement of the position, lest there be some confusion. The provisions for affirmative resolutions contained in the Education and Libraries Order, while the Northern Ireland Act 1974 remains in force, mean that the statutory rule will be subject to annulment by resolution of either House at Westminster—that is, a negative resolution, and there can be a Prayer against it.

I am glad that, generally speaking, hon. Members have been favourably disposed to the Order, and I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Education (Northern Ireland) Order 1975, a draft of which was laid before this House on 20th November, be approved.