§ 8.37 p.m.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE, NORTHERN IRELAND OFFICE (Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge) rose to move, That the Draft Community Relations (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Order 1975, laid before the House on 13th February, be approved. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of this Order is to make changes in the statutory machinery for helping to improve community relations in Northern Ireland. It proposes to amalgamate the Department of Community Relations with the Department of Education; to dissolve the Northern Ireland Community Relations Commission and to transfer certain functions of; the Commission to the Department of Education. The former Northern Ireland Executive announced in April 1974 that in the context of a power-sharing Gov-ernment there was no continuing need for an independent Community Relations Commission, and proposed the abolition of the Commission and the absorption of its functions by the Department of Community Relations. Before going further, I should like to pay tribute to those men and women who served as members and as chairmen of the Community Relations Commission throughout a very difficult period. Their work deserves our respect and our gratitude, 260 and I am sure that noble Lords will join me in this tribute to their efforts.
§ After the fall of the Executive, the Government considered the position of the Department of Community Relations and decided that it was too slender to continue as a separate entity and would be more efficient if its functions were transferred under the umbrella of a larger Department. The purpose of this Draft Order is to give effect to these proposals. Article 3 abolishes both the Department of Community Relations and the Community Relations Commission and pro-vides that any residual property, rights or liabilities of these bodies shall be inherited by the Department of Education. Article 4 transfers to the Department of Education all the statutory responsibilities of the Department of Community Relations and also the principal responsibilities of the Community Relations Commission.
§ The Department of Education was considered to be the most appropriate recipient of these responsibilities. Community development work is part educational and part a social service; the work of promoting better understanding between Catholics and Protestants is in the broadest sense educational in nature; but it involves, and indeed to a larger extent depends on, the provision of social facilities such as community centres and facilities for sport and recreation. The latter were the responsibility of the Department of Education until 1st January 1974. It is therefore natural that they should return there. Accordingly, Article 4(1) transfers to the Department of Education the responsibilities of the Department of Community Relations in respect of social need and of sport and recreation. Article 4(2) gives to the Department of Education the function of "formulating and sponsoring policies for the improvement of community relations in Northern Ireland". This general duty was the original statutory function of the Department of Community Relations. It is re-enacted here in order to make it clear that the Department of Education will continue to pursue the same overall ends and objectives as the Department of Community Relations.
§ We intend that in future there should be a much greater emphasis than before on involving local government in 261 Northern Ireland in the solution of the social problems which have exacerbated community relations problems. District councils are already deeply involved in the provision of sporting and recreational facilities for their localities. The Government intend to give encouragement to district councils to extend the scope of this work, in improving social life in their districts and in supporting community activities in the broadest sense. In recent years there has been a remarkable growth of active community groups in Northern Ireland, often stimulated and guided by the Community Relations Commission. The general objective of these associations is to act as pressure groups on behalf of the needs of their area, and to work with the statutory agencies in meeting these needs. I believe that the Government's proposals will be of great help in cementing good social relationships in Northern Ireland, and I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Draft Community Relations (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Order 1975, laid before the House on 13th February, be aproved— (Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge.)
§ 8.43 p.m.
§ Lord BELSTEAD
My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, for explaining the reasons for this Order, because under its dedicated Permanent Secretary and staff the Department of Community Relations in Northern Ireland has undoubtedly brought a great deal of help to many parts of the Province. It has done so promptly and effectively. May I also join with the Government in paying a tribute to the Community Relations Commission.
I should like to give a particular welcome to three aspects of the Order. First, that the Department of Education is henceforward to exercise the functions under the Social Need (Grants) Act 1970; secondly, that under paragraph 4(2) the Department of Education will be responsible for policy; and, thirdly, that recreation and youth services are to be returned to Education. My reason for welcoming the first two provisions is that, as the noble Lord said, it is the intention that the work of improving community relations should continue unabated, and this 262 is the prime point on which to satisfy oneself in looking at this Order.
May I ask the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, whether any staff are being transferred to the Department of Education from either the Department of Community Relations or the Commission, for it is surely important that staff who have been working closely in the field of community relations should be transferred to afford an element of continuity in the new Department. May I also ask what other arrangements are being made in respect of staff whose positions cease under the Order, and who are not being transferred; in other words, those who will lose their jobs.
Regarding the third fact which I particularly welcome, that the recreation and youth services are to be transferred to the Education Department, these functions have historically come under Education and I know that the Department has their interests very much at heart. With those few questions and observations, I warmly support this Order.
§ Lord DONALDSON of KINGS-BRIDGE
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his welcome of this Order. He really asked me only one question, which is very easily answered. The staff of the Department of Community Relations has moved over into the Department of Education, I think without exception. The position of the Community Relations Commission is rather different. The staff were given notice quite a long time ago and all except three have now accepted the situation happily, or at least without complaint. We have three "unsatisfied customers" and we are hoping to achieve a settlement in those cases. Many of the 16 outside workers and the 10 inside workers are still doing the same kind of work but in different areas, having been taken on by area boards and other people. We have only three who are not yet fully accepted. I think I have answered the only question which the noble Lord asked. I am glad that he approves of our choice of the Department of Education—a Department in which I know he has a special interest—to undertake these important duties.