HC Deb 09 February 1978 vol 943 cc1656-8
13. Mr. Freud

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what representations he has had regarding recent proposals in respect of comprehensive education in the Province.

Mr. Carter

The Government have received a number of representations about the decision to eliminate selection at 11-plus through a restructuring of secondary education. Some of these have been in favour of the proposals, including those from the larger teachers' unions and the Association of Education and Library Boards, and some have been against the proposals, particularly those from people who are concerned about the future of grammar schools. Other representations have been directed towards issues of detail and timing.

Mr. Freud

Will the Minister accept that he has our support on the desirability of ending selection in education? Will he also bear in mind that, as all tertiary education in Northern Ireland is interdenominational, he should keep an open mind to any suggestions aimed at furthering this approach into the secondary sector, even in respect of day release between the two denominations?

Mr. Carter

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his support, which is in accord with the broad majority of opinion in Northern Ireland. As for his second point, we are proceeding on the basis of voluntary agreement, and in any respect where we can improve interdenominational teaching the Government will lend their support.

Mr. Flannery

Will the Minister accept that comprehensivisation of education is democratisation of the education system? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Opposition protestations show how far their democracy goes. Will the Minister accept that democratisation of education would be a good harbinger for the whole democratisation of Northern Ireland? Does he not agree that the Opposition should think sincerely about this matter.

Mr. Carter

The Government intend to extend opportunities, and we believe that the abolition of the 11-plus selection system would be a considerable step towards that end.

Mr. McCusker

Does the Minister agree that the majority of people in Northern Ireland, on both sides of the sectarian divide, are opposed to the proposal? The only explanation is that this is aimed at bringing Northern Ireland into line with Great Britain. If it is possible to treat Northern Ireland as a special case in the elections to the European Assembly, why is it not possible to treat it as a special case in this instance also?

Mr. Carter

As a member of the teaching profession in Northern Ireland, the hon. Gentleman should know better. He is forgetting history. These proposals are based on the recommendations of the Burgess Committee's report in 1973. Therefore, the matter goes back for a period of five years. We as a Government are doing nothing more in Northern Ireland than putting into practice the report of an indigenous educational body.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

On what basis does the Minister say that these proposals have broad support? Is he aware that the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) knows a little more than he does about public opinion in the Province? In view of the Secretary of State's appeal to politicians to calm the Province and for a bipartisan approach to Northern Ireland questions, will he put these proposals in the deep freeze?

Mr. Carter

The simple answer to that proposition is "No". I am prepared to believe that anybody who is an Ulsterman and who lives in Northern Ireland knows rather more about education than I do. The hon. Gentleman heard my response to the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker), but he got it wrong. This proposal—the direct rule system of government—stems from the recommendations of the people of Northern Ireland and not from us.

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