HC Deb 14 May 1981 vol 4 cc877-8
12. Mr. Kilfedder

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will take steps to end the present segregated system of education in Northern Ireland as soon as possible.

Mr. John Patten

The present educational system in Northern Ireland, like that elsewhere in the United Kingdom, reflects the wishes of local communities and of parents and there can be no question of the Government attempting to force integrated education on anyone who does not want it. The Government will, however, support integration wherever practical proposals are put forward and there is a local wish for it, and I must stress that there is no legal bar to children of different religions being educated together.

Mr. Kilfedder

Is the Minister aware that there is no basis for what he has said, as no official assessment has been made of the opinions of Ulster parents? Will the Government take action to tackle the division in the community, which will persist as long as the monstrous religious apartheid in schools is sustained by the Government with taxpayers' money?

Mr. Patten

I do not accept that there is educational apartheid in Northern Ireland supported by the Government. Parents can choose where they wish to have their children educated, and in Northern Ireland the vast majority wish to have them educated in a school with a particular religious flavour.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

How can we seek to deny to our fellow citizens in Northern Ireland the right to have their children educated, if they so wish, within their own confession, a right that we vindicate in the remainder of the United Kingdom?

Mr. Patten

I entirely agree.

Mr. Christopher Price

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the only part of the Northern Ireland education system in which both communities can mix is in higher education? Is he further aware that if an attempt were made to take out the University of Coleraine or to damage public sector higher education it would be a serious setback for the opportunities of the two communities to come together?

Mr. Patten

I am aware of that and of the public concern about the New University in Coleraine. However, it is not the role of Government to force integration upon parents if they do not wish to have their children educated in integrated schools.

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