HC Deb 12 April 2000 vol 348 cc347-8
1. Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim)

How Northern Ireland schools and colleges will benefit from the additional funding for education announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer; and if he will make a statement. [117340]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. George Howarth)

As you are aware, Madam Speaker, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State cannot be here today, because he is attending the Queen at Hillsborough as she awards the George Cross to the Royal Ulster Constabulary. I am sure the whole House will join me in welcoming that honour: it is richly deserved, given the RUC's dedication and courage, and a fitting tribute to the 302 officers who have lost their lives.

I announced on 6 April that additional resources totalling £14.7 million were being distributed to primary, post-primary and special schools for the current financial year, largely on the basis of pupil numbers. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is consulting Northern Ireland political parties on how further resources might be deployed, and I hope to be able to make a further announcement shortly.

Mr. Beggs

I echo the Minister's opening remarks, and thank him for his reply. I regret to say, however, that the additional funds will not solve the problems in Northern Ireland. School governors throughout the Province experience great difficulty in managing within their budget allocations, especially when teachers are on the top salary scales. Many well-managed schools are in deficit for the first time, and are cutting the services that they used to provide for pupils. Will the Minister further review funding for our schools, and undertake to meet the full cost of teacher salaries at each school?

Mr. Howarth

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the sum to which I referred is the additional amount earmarked specifically for schools in the Chancellor's Budget statement, and it will go directly to them. The hon. Gentleman will probably also know that an extra £18.8 million is to be distributed across the public services in Northern Ireland. He will be aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is consulting party leaders on where priorities should lie with regard to the extra money, and I am sure that what he has said, as well as other competing demands, will be taken into account.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Hull, North)

I join my hon. Friend in congratulating the RUC, and those members of it who have impartially upheld the rule of law over the past 30 years. Is he aware, however, that beneath that umbrella of congratulations are those who stood idly by while Belfast was burned and the ghettos were bombed, and those for whom a former Secretary of State and Attorney-General had to use the royal prerogative to prevent them from being prosecuted for perverting the course of justice—

Hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. Has the hon. Gentleman a question that relates to the substantive question on the Order Paper, on education? If so, I should be pleased to hear it.

Mr. McNamara

I have, Madam Speaker; but, given my hon. Friend's introduction, and given that Robert Hamill was kicked to death in the presence of RUC officers who did not intervene, it must be seen that the award is a matter of controversy. While we applaud all RUC members who impartially uphold the rule of law, those who did not should not be covered by that.

As for the substantive question, will my hon. Friend arrange for schools to publish the details of how they are spending the extra money? There is concern about that.

Mr. Howarth

Schools will, of course, be asked to account for the £14.7 million. However, the reason why we gave the money directly to schools was to enable them to decide for themselves what their priorities should be. Although we hold them accountable for the way in which they spend public money, it would not be appropriate at this point for us to direct their resources. As for the additional expenditure, it will be in line with the public spending priorities set by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, following consultation on what those priorities should be.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

Has the spending increase proposed for Northern Ireland been subjected to the same double and triple counting by Government as has applied in relation to both England and Wales?

Mr. Howarth

As the hon. Gentleman's premise is entirely false, it would be inappropriate for me to answer in terms.

Forward to