HC Deb 01 March 1990 vol 168 cc373-4
4. Mr. Allen

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what steps he is taking to encourage religious toleration in Northern Ireland.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Dr. Brian Mawhinney)

Steps have been and are being taken to improve relations between the two sides of the community in Northern Ireland. These include measures directed at increasing contact and co-operation across the community; increasing greater mutual respect and understanding; and ensuring the existence of equality of opportunity and equity of treatment.

Mr. Allen

I know that the Minister agrees that one of the main ways in which to combat religious bigotry is to ensure that it does not get a grip in schools. I thank him for the work that he and his colleagues have done in this matter. Is he aware of the problems being encountered by integrated schools? Can he assure the House that sufficient money will be allocated to the programme to ensure that it is fulfilled? Will he take time to look at yesterday's Belfast Telegraph, which highlighted some of the problems, and to write to me with his views on how to counter them?

Dr. Mawhinney

I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for his consistent support for measures taken in Northern Ireland to try to reduce community division. I am aware that one or two of the integrated schools are having difficulty financing the borrowing that they made before they were given maintained status. I shall certainly look at the article to which the hon. Gentleman referred and write to him.

Mr. Andrew MacKay

Is my hon. Friend aware that Conservative Members strongly support integrated schools in the Province and that we are delighted with the measures that he has brought forward to ensure that they prosper?

Dr. Mawhinney

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind words. Since we last discussed the matter the Education Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 has become law and, for the first time, parents have a third schooling option—integrated education—available to them.

Mr. A. Cecil Walker

As the question is one of religion, not of culture or nationality, which can also pose problems, does the Minister agree that tolerance can come about only if there is a clear understanding of how to teach the principles of the various denominations in Northern Ireland? Will he ensure that those who teach children about religion are fully qualified in matters concerning theological inspiration?

Dr. Mawhinney

I share with the hon. Gentleman the understanding that at the heart of the Christian gospel is an emphasis on tolerance. By way of encouragement" I remind him that under the new education reform legislation, for the first time school boards of governors can bring inspectors into schools to inspect the teaching of religious education. That is a major step forward and I hope that he will welcome it.