HC Deb 11 July 1996 vol 281 cc554-5
3. Mr. Pickthall

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on education and library boards in Northern Ireland. [35382]

Sir Patrick Mayhew

My right hon. Friend the Minister of State announced on 25 June that he proposes to bring legislation before the House which would reduce the number of education and library boards from five to three and change the membership of the three new boards to increase the proportion of district councillors on boards from 40 per cent. to 48 per cent.

Mr. Pickthall

Is it not odd for the Government to claim that they are making administrative savings by reducing the number of ELBs at the same time as they are putting aside about £8.3 million for the administration of the nursery voucher scheme and are about to create a new bureaucracy with the incorporation of Northern Ireland further education colleges? Is it not outrageous that a dying Administration are trying at this late stage to push through three items which would be far better put to the people of Northern Ireland at a general election?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I may be retiring, but I am not dying—unless the hon. Gentleman knows something that I do not. The important thing about the proposal is that it is not primarily a cost-cutting exercise, but an exercise in greater efficiency and in directing resources to the classroom. The expected savings from my right hon. Friend's proposal amount to some £2 million, or the equivalent of 90 extra teachers. Parents and children in Northern Ireland will welcome that.

Rev. Martin Smyth

Will the Secretary of State look again at early-day motion 1074, which expresses the objections of all parties in Northern Ireland to the change? Are not the estimates referred to just guesstimates? Shall we really get savings, as a new headquarters may be required? Does he accept that although the proportion of local councillors has increased, the numbers have been reduced?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

The location of the new headquarters is very much a matter for consultation, and that remains to be decided. There has been a diligent process of consultation on the separate phases of change. In March 1992, we announced the review and invited the submission of views. From February to June 1993, the document "Educational Administration in Northern Ireland" was produced, which set out the broad options. From April to June 1995, "Proposals for Change" was published, suggesting the four-board model. Objections to that were received, and discussions with local parties took place from October 1995 to January 1996. The system is seriously over-administered and its application to Belfast is inappropriate, as the Greater Belfast area is served by three education and library boards. We must have regard to the need for change in a system that has been unchanged for 20 years.