HC Deb 10 March 1977 vol 927 cc1617-8
9. Mr. Townsend

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what new plans he is putting forward to encourage integrated education in Northern Ireland.

19. Sir Nigel Fisher

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will convene a conference to consider integrated education in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Carter

My noble Friend the Minister of State has nearly completed the process of taking soundings from interested bodies on this matter. The suggestion that a conference should be held on the subject is still being considered.

Mr. Townsend

Why do the Government not shelve their unwanted and outdated plans for more comprehensive schools and concentrate their minds on breaking down the religious barriers in education? That would be more worth while.

Mr. Carter

Both those matters are the subject of continuing consultation.

Sir N. Fisher

Does the Minister recall that the former Secretary of State promised a conference on this matter? Will he at least set up a working party seriously to consider the idea? Does the Minister agree that in the special context of Northern Ireland it is extraordinary that the Cowan Report on comprehensive education hardly mentions the subject, despite the fact that the, latest public opinion poll revealed that 86 per cent. of the people of Northern Ireland want it, including 65 per cent. of the Roman Catholic population?

Mr. Carter

Everyone doubts the forecasts that are made by opinion polls. All I can say is that this is a sensitive subject and that consultations are being carried out. On the basis of the evidence derived from those consultations we shall consider whether a conference or perhaps even a working party should be established.

Mr. Kilfedder

Is the Minister aware that everybody that I have spoken to in the education world wants this conference to be held as soon as possible? Why is there this delay in holding the conference?

Mr. Carter

The hon. Member cannot have been listening to my answers to the previous two questions. We are having consultations. They began only last autumn, and there are other people and organisations to be seen. Until we have seen everybody nothing definitive will be said by my right hon. Friend on the subject.