HL Deb 23 June 1977 vol 384 cc809-47

5.49 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time. Both the principle and the purpose of the Bill are simple and in my view indisputable. The Bill itself is a lot of nonsense unless one makes continuous reference to the Education and Libraries (Northern Ireland) Order 1972, because although the principle is simple, the technicalities of it are fairly complicated. With your Lordships' permission, I shall not go into them today, but rather deal with the rationale and generalities of the Bill. Perhaps the Committee stage—if it gets that far—would be the right moment to deal with the technicalities of it.

While we were contemplating this measure, we realised that there were several ways in which we could go about it. After much deliberation, we decided that this fairly tightly drafted, and certainly not over-ambitious format, would be the best. But it is not the only one, and I shall welcome suggestions from noble Lords if there are better ways they feel we could go about it. In particular, I look forward to hearing the comments of my noble friend Lord Melchett, who I think undoubtedly has a deeper first-hand knowledge and more up-to-date first-hand knowledge of the education system and the problems thereof in Northern Ireland than any other noble Lord in this House.

At the start—and I apologise if I repeat this later on in my speech—there are two things I ought to make absolutely clear. The first is that this is a purely enabling Bill. Any element of compulsion would be completely foreign to the spirit of it. Secondly, rather than in any way weakening parental choice it strengthens it. Rather than coercing parents into sending their children to a school that is not of their choice, it would involve them more in the decision-making process.

Perhaps I ought to explain at the start that in the main there are two principal systems of education in Northern Ireland. There is the State system which, in the 1972 order, is described as controlled. This is a State system but the schools were, in many instances, built originally by Protestant landowners or Protestant millowners. At the time of the 1930 Education Act, they were transferred to the State, but the transferors still have the right to at least 50 per cent. representation on the school management committee. For this reason, though they are technically non-denominational schools and no religious education of a denominational nature is allowed, their teacher and pupil affiliation is essentially Protestant and they are looked upon by the Roman Catholic community as being "Protestant schools".

The second category is the voluntary maintained school, which is almost completely Roman Catholic. Following an agreement arrived at by the then Ministry of Education in Stormont and the Roman Catholic Church, a four and two committee was set up whereby the Church was represented by four trustees, or their representatives, and the Ministry by two. Under this agreement, the schools receive 85 per cent. of capital grant and 100 per cent. of running expenditure. The trustees, or their representatives, are appointed by the bishop or parish priest, and those trustees, or their representatives, have complete control of appointment of teachers, unlike the situation which obtains in Scotland. Since 1968 it is a matter of some disappointment that more progress has not been made towards incorporating greater parental representation.

The purpose of the Bill before your Lordships' House today is to explore means whereby a measure of integration can gradually be introduced into the education system of Northern Ireland, hopefully with the good will of the Churches, when the desire so to do is expressed by parents of differing religious and cultural backgrounds. It would also create a legal framework to safeguard those schools where some integration is already taking place voluntarily. This is referred to in subsections (4) and (8) of the Bill. There are already some controlled schools which have a relatively high proportion of Roman Catholic pupils, but it is difficult at the moment for the management committee, in these circumstances, to reflect the integrated aspect of the school. I should add, perhaps, that at the moment I can see no reason why the proposals contained in this Bill should entail any further expenditure.

The Bill therefore suggests that, where such circumstances exist, if three-quarters of the transferors of a controlled school are in favour of its becoming a controlled integrated school, then it is up to them to make a request to the Area Board. An obligation would then be placed on the Area Board to ascertain the views of the parents. If at least 75 per cent. of the parents are not opposed to the school becoming controlled and integrated, then the management committee would be reformed as set out in Clause 2 of the Bill.

This, in a few words, means that there will be increased parental involvement in the management committee, because the parental proportion would be increased from a quarter to one-third; the Church representation would be decreased from a half to one-third; and the Area Board representation would be increased from a quarter to one-third. I should like to make it absolutely clear that by decreasing the Church representation from a half to one-third—and that third to be evenly split between Roman Catholic and Protestant, one-sixth each—there would be no intention whatever to sacrifice, or even dilute, the element of religious education. We certainly do not want to sacrifice that, a good thing, for another good thing which is integration. We want to have both things, both of which are good.

I strongly sympathise with the feelings that Roman Catholic parents have about religious education. It would be our intention that denominational education should continue in controlled integrated schools for as long as this is desired. We would expect that the new management committees would ensure that religious education was given, if not by ordained priests or clergy, by teachers who are known to be committed Christians. We would certainly not want diluted religious education, but full-blooded religious education, which is what the parents desire. Unlike the circumstances in certain parts of Great Britain, there are many committed Christians competent to give such education.

Those who favour integration, such as the All Children Together Movement, who were responsible for initiating the drafting of this Bill, feel that another worthwhile measure would be to consult the parents in the area—not just the parents of the school itself, but the parents in the area—whenever a school is faced with a possibility of closure because of falling birthrate, because of movement of population, et cetera. It is a nonsense and a waste of resources to have a school about to close on one side of the road and another school, maybe a maintained school, bursting at the seams because it is in urgent need of extension. It is so much better to share the pupils between the two schools. Here again, if the parents were in agreement, machinery would be set up to bring it about.

It must be recognised that in recent surveys in Northern Ireland more than two-thirds of parents have declared that they are in favour of integration, yet at present 98 per cent. segregation still exists. The Bill is designed to provide a framework whereby integration can be brought about without treading on anybody's toes. I am not so naive as to think that a measure of this sort would be an instant solution to our tribal problems, but I sincerely believe that integrated education is an essential element in breaking down the social barriers which exist in our society.

The benefits which this measure would bring about could well take up to a generation to work through, but a start must be made at some stage, and I say the sooner the better. Indeed, it is fortuitous and appropriate that my noble friend Lord Melchett made a full Statement on education last week which, on the whole, received a general welcome and I would like to think that the Bill might be complementary to some of the proposals made in his Statement.

A start should be made as soon as possible because communication is one of the biggest problems in Northern Ireland. Discussing the sad situation there with a Protestant friend of mine the other day, in a complete breakthrough of liberalism and ecumenism he said, "I once knew a Roman Catholic and, to be quite honest, he wasn't a bad chap at all." One side knows so little about the other; in my view it is the communication gap that we must bridge because lack of communication, lack of knowledge, provides a fertile breeding ground for misconception.

If Protestants and Roman Catholics knew more about each other they would realise that there was far more that they had in common than separated them. If you learn in the same classroom and play on the same sports ground as your neighbour, you cannot grow up thinking that he is some sort of foreign body. The myth, the shibboleth and the imagined stereotype never have a chance under those circumstances because you know that your friend is a fellow human being, and religious adherence is an irrelevance. Some very timely words were spoken by Dr. Doyle, a former Roman Catholic Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin. He said: I do not know of any measures which would prepare the way for a better feeling in Ireland than uniting children at an early age and bringing them up in the same school, leading them to commune one with another and to form those little intimacies and friendships which often subsist through life". Unfortunately, that was not a recent statement of policy; it was delivered in 1826, when the climate seems to have been somewhat more liberal than it is today. In overcoming our problems we have a long, hard road in front of us, but if your Lordships would agree to give the Bill a Second Reading I believe that it would be a major, indeed perhaps an historic, step in the right direction. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2ª—(Lord Dunleath.)

6.5 p.m.


My Lords, I am extremely grateful to my noble friend Lord Dunleath for giving us the opportunity to debate an important issue that has been attracting increasing public attention in Northern Ireland over the last few months. I wanted to intervene at an early stage in the debate so that I could give noble Lords a full statement on current Government thinking on integrated education.

During the time I have spent in Northern Ireland I have discussed integrated education with a very wide range of individuals and groups, including the main political Parties, teachers' organisations, education and library boards and, of course, the Churches. This is a sensitive issue and one which touches on deeply-held feelings not only, but perhaps especially, in Northern Ireland. Although we must at the outset face up to the fact that the Roman Catholic hierarchy remain opposed to integrated education, all the other organisations and groups I have consulted are, to some extent at least, in favour.

The Government's attitude to integrated education in Northern Ireland is clear and simple. We believe that in a divided community only good can come from greater contact and better understanding between people of different religions. A greater degree of integration in the education of school children is clearly one way of increasing this contact. The Government's policy is therefore to encourage integrated education where there is a local wish for it.

But the Government also believe—and believe very firmly—that they ought not, indeed cannot, enforce integration against the wishes of local communities. They must have regard to the genuine desires of those communities and of individual parents. Given the attitude of the Roman Catholic Church, any attempt to force integrated education on Northern Ireland could only be counter-productive. So there is no question of the Government attempting to force anyone to act against their will, nor any question of withdrawing public financial support from denominational schools.

There is one firm conclusion that I hope noble Lords will draw from what I have said so far. If there are any barriers to integrated education in Northern Ireland that are of the Government's making, we would wish to see them removed. We wish to encourage integrated education, but we will not force it on people. I believe that that is the right policy and one that would be agreed by the vast majority of the people of Northern Ireland.

It also follows from what I have said about the attitude of the Roman Catholic Church that it would not be realistic in the short-term to expect major changes in the existing pattern of largely segregated education in Northern Ireland. And it is important for those who comment on these matters, in particular from outside Northern Ireland, to remember both the deeply held religious views of many Roman Catholics on this subject and the genuine apprehensions of some of the minority community in Northern Ireland, that they would not play a sufficient part in the control of the institutional bodies involved.

There are two other important points I should like to make. First, while theoretical debate on this subject is reasonably easy, the issues involved are not academic but intensely practical. In practice, there are no easy solutions which Government can impose. The matter is one which is very much in the hands of the people of Northern Ireland themselves. Secondly, I think it is important for people to come to terms with the fact that there are no easy solutions to the problems that lead to communal conflict in Northern Ireland. We also need to remember, first, that in Northern Ireland possibly more than in Great Britain, the views of children tend to mirror those of their parents and, secondly, that schools alone cannot counteract the influences of the home and the community in which a child lives. Integrated education is not some sort of panacea that can solve all the problems overnight.

I stress that I am making these remarks in the context of the wider debate on integrated education, rather than about my noble friend's Bill. I readily acknowledge that all those in Northern Ireland who favour integrated education see it not as the immediate answer to all our problems, but as an inevitably gradual but important means of bringing the two communities closer together.

As noble Lords will know, educational provision in Northern Ireland has its roots in the fact that, when the Government of Northern Ireland became responsible for education in 1921, the overwhelming majority of schools were under denominational control, even though they were financed chiefly by the State. When State schools were introduced, the right of any Church or group to maintain its own schools was not disputed. All were given the same choice, to continue to function as voluntary schools, assisted by the State, or to transfer the school to the State system and join with the State in the running of the school. Over a period of time, a clear pattern developed. The Roman Catholic community preferred to continue to maintain their own distinct and separate schools. On the other hand, the Protestant Churches more often opted to transfer their schools to the State while continuing to play a part in school management.

That extremely short account of educational developments in Northern Ireland is inevitably oversimplified, but I hope it will serve to explain how segregated education evolved. It is understandable that a school provided by Roman Catholics, emphasising Roman Catholic teaching, and largely staffed by Roman Catholics, should not prove attractive to the majority of Protestant parents. Conversely, the State schools, or the controlled schools as they are now called, seldom proved attractive to Roman Catholic parents. So a self-perpetuating pattern of attendance has developed.

This pattern has remained unaffected by the fact that in Northern Ireland there are specific statutory provisions which safeguard the right of parents in the religious education of their children. Any parent can withdraw his or her child from religious instruction in any school, and all schools must in law be open equally to children of all religious denominations.

I said earlier that integrated education could provide no quick and easy solution to Northern Ireland's problems. There are many cultural differences between the two sides of the community and I certainly do not believe that it would be possible to obscure these by imposing a single system of education, even over many generations. However, people may wonder what the difficulties are, given, as I have said, and as my noble friend Lord Dunleath has indicated, widespread support for the principle amongst the people of Northern Ireland.

The problem is that, in spite of a degree of theoretical agreement, there remain considerable practical difficulties. For example, in many parts of Northern Ireland there has been a strong tendency for Protestants and Roman Catholics to live in separate areas. Historically, this was partly due to the desire of each group to be close to its own churches and schools. In recent years, as a result of communal conflict, this tendency has increased. In the more troubled areas, it is now common to find the population of entire districts clearly segregated along religious lines. Since schools are essentially local institutions reflecting the characteristics of the locality which they serve, this amounts to a substantial practical obstacle to integrated education. It is a perverse fact that integration is least practicable in those areas where community relations are most strained, and where many would therefore feel that the potential benefits of integrated education were most needed.

It is a fact that the Roman Catholic Church in Northern Ireland wishes Roman Catholic children to be educated in Roman Catholic schools; the three main Protestant Churches are not opposed to integrated schools as such, but are concerned that schools should not be secular and that the teaching of religion should be an integral part of the education of children. Different parents have different views, and it has to be said that there is no very reliable way of knowing exactly what people think about the practicalities as opposed to the theory. On the one hand, all the bodies and organisations, with the one major exception, and indeed all the surveys of public attitudes that are available, show a large majority in favour of integrated education. On the other hand, many parents undoubtedly want their children to be brought up in either the Protestant or the Roman Catholic ethos. I would also have to say that a theoretical acceptance of integration may in practice occasionally amount to the view that "they" are free to come to "our" school if they wish, and, of course, to be taught in "our" way by "our" teachers.

However, while we have to be realistic, I would not wish to make too much of these practical difficulties, which I know are fully recognised by all those—including my noble friend—who have studied the problem in Northern Ireland. I have said that the Government's policy is to encourage integrated education wherever there is a demand for it, and to ensure that no barriers to integrated education exist. In pursuing such a policy, it has been suggested, as noble Lords may well know, that the Government should hold a conference on integration. I have carefully considered this suggestion during recent months. To be a success, such a conference would require a climate of opinion within which all concerned would come together for discussion in a co-operative and constructive spirit. There would be no point in a conference in which major interested parties would not take part and, in particular, such a conference would be meaningless without the involvement of the Roman Catholic hierarchy, to whom the vast majority of the voluntary school authorities would look for a lead. From my consultations, I am satisfied that the Roman Catholic hierarchy are not in favour of a conference and would be highly unlikely to participate in one.

Given the fact that integrated education cannot be imposed by Government and that Government cannot force changes in the attitudes of those who are opposed, and given the fact that the sort of general views of almost all the interested groups that might he expressed at a conference are already well known, I do not believe that such a conference would carry us very much further forward in practice. If there is to be progress—and I very much hope that there will be—it will be achieved only by facing the facts and by adopting a strategy that shows some promise of practical results.

As I have said, our strategy is based on two beliefs. The first is that it is not for the Government to seek to impose integration. The second is that the Government should not stand in the way where there is a wish for integrated schooling, either of an individual family or within a community. "Not standing in the way" means ensuring so far as possible that there are no obstacles, either within the current legislation or arising from administrative practice to prevent the family or the community from fulfilling this wish.

As regards administrative arrangements, I can give a practical example of what is possible. It is a relatively small change in the arrangements for school transport. I recently reviewed these arrangements and was able to broaden the discretion which the education and library boards have to assist parents with school transport costs. In doing this, we were able to provide that in suitable cases it is now possible for school transport to be provided to help parents to exercise their free choice to support integration, a choice which I believe they have a right to make. For the future, we will, as in this case, bear in mind the implications for integration when considering changes in what are often long-standing arrangements, and we will make similar improvements where possible.

My noble friend's Bill is, as I understand it, primarily designed to deal with what is seen as a legislative obstacle to integrated schools; that is, the existing statutory provisions for school management. I believe that school management in Northern Ireland is a subject which now needs to be carefully studied. As noble Lords will know, school management in Great Britain has been under examination by the Taylor Committee, whose report is, I understand, about to be submitted. In Northern Ireland, the decision that I announced last week to proceed with the restructuring of secondary education has implications for school management, particularly for the comprehensive secondary school and the sixth form and tertiary college.

I therefore announced the setting up of a small independent Working Party to take a completely new look at the way schools should be managed in Northern Ireland. Noble Lords may be interested to know that this Working Party is to be chaired by a Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Queen's University, and has as its members the chairman of one of the education and library boards, the chief officer of another board, the Professor of Educational Studies at Queen's, and a leader writer for the Belfast Telegraph. I propose to invite this Working Party, in considering the form of the new management structures that will be required, and, indeed, the management of all schools in Northern Ireland, to have special regard to the Government's policy to ensure that integration, where it is desired, should be facilitated and not impeded.

There are, I believe, particular opportunities for the future. To take one example, I should say that the Working Party will need to give thought to the management arrangements for any sixth-form colleges which may be created in Northern Ireland as part of a new comprehensive system. Because there are no existing sixth-form colleges, there is no current provision for their management, and we thus start with a clean slate. The sixth-form colleges are a particularly good example in the context of today's debate, because it is an inescapable fact that in many parts of Northern Ireland such colleges will be able to provide broader educational opportunities if they are catering for all appropriate pupils in the area they serve, irrespective of the religious denominations of their pupils. I am greatly encouraged by the fact that none of the interests which I have consulted has ruled out in principle the idea of an integrated sixth-form college in appropriate cases. Clearly, it is most important that there should be nothing in the management arrangements for these colleges which could stand in the way of integration.

I am very conscious that I have already spoken at some length without touching in any detail on the content of the Bill of my noble friend Lord Dunleath. I was anxious that before doing so I should explain as fully as possible the approach which the Government are now taking to the central issues with which the Bill deals. May I first of all congratulate my noble friend on the care with which the Bill has been drafted. The idea of using redundant school premises to broaden the range of choice of schools is certainly an interesting one, but I regret to say that the Government would see some snags in this provision, which I should like briefly to outline. The first and most obvious difficulty is that schools are closed only when there is good reason to do so. It may be that the premises are very old and in poor condition, long past being worth preserving; or it may be that the population in the area has declined, or moved away. In either case, retention of the premises would involve substantial additional expenditure, and we would often be duplicating provision.

The cost in itself might not be a prohibitive factor, but there are other practical difficulties. The Bill envisages a poll of parents in the area of such a school to see whether it should be kept open as an integrated school. However, it is not at all clear how the area of the school should be defined, or what would be the natural catchment area for such an integrated school. I have already mentioned that, because much housing is segregated, most schools in Northern Ireland draw their pupils from only one section of the community. More importantly, the procedure could lend itself to abuse. It is a fact that, however compelling the reasons for the closure of a school, local people are often inclined to regret and dispute the closure. There is, of course, already statutory machinery for allowing such views to be considered. However, I would be afraid that the proposals in this Bill could be used as a means of keeping open a school which properly should close. A school might in fact have absolutely no prospect of attracting an integrated enrolment, but parents in the area might well prefer to see it kept open as such—if only integrated in name—rather than see it closed.

I have one or two other problems to raise. One is the concept of a "controlled integrated school". This seems to imply that all other controlled schools are not to be expected to he integrated. This is not an assumption that I think we should accept, nor is it one supported by the degree of integration that already exists in some controlled schools in Northern Ireland. My own consultations about integration would also lead me to wonder whether there is any real prospect that the Roman Catholic Church would be prepared to be represented on the management committee of a controlled integrated school, as provided in the Bill.

I am afraid Government spokesmen at Second Readings of Private Member's Bills often have to register the sort of doubts, that I have about this Bill, but I certainly do not do so in any way as a criticism of the principle behind the Bill. As I said at the start of my speech, I very much welcome this opportunity to discuss this vital issue, and I look forward to hearing the views of other noble Lords during the debate. I hope that noble Lords will agree that what I have said today about the Government's attitude to integration is entirely consistent with the spirit behind this Bill.

The Government fully support the general objectives that the Bill seeks to achieve. I have some doubts on the particular provisions for keeping open redundant schools, but the Government have, in the last few days, set up a highly qualified, independent Working Party to look in part at the main issue raised by this Bill—the need for school management structures in Northern Ireland that will enable integrated education to occur wherever there is a demand for it. I also hope that the approach to integration that the Government are now adopting will contribute to the continuing evolution of a climate of opinion within Northern Ireland that will enable that demand to continue to grow from local people of all denominations.

6.26 p.m.

Viscount LONG

My Lords, first, from this side of the House I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, for introducing this very important Bill on integrating schools in Northern Ireland. I also want to thank him for helping me in the past few days over some of the thoughts he had regarding his Bill, and for the way in which he presented the Bill to us this afternoon. I also wish to thank the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, who has just given us a very good account of what the Government are intending to do regarding education in Northern Ireland. I have heard from numerous quarters how kind and generous the noble Lord is in helping people, not only those in your Lordships' House, over Northern Ireland educational problems and so on, and how he throws himself into his job in Northern Ireland; and if I may say so, that is not easy. From these Benches we support the noble Lord's Bill, but obviously we have one or two reservations. In principle, it has everything which we are seeking in integrating schools in Northern Ireland.

For a number of years now crime and violence have persisted throughout the Province of Northern Ireland without any let-up, and one of the tragedies, as I sec it is that children have become involved, believing that it is great fun to throw stones at soldiers or vehicles; or through either their parents or other adults holding religous or political beliefs which they have been unable to retract. Many of these children are growing up in a society full of hatred and bitterness, and it is, I understand, a fact that a whole generation has now grown up in this horrifying world of crime, violence, fear, bitterness and hatred. It can only have a lasting damage psychologically on these children later, when they grow up.

Therefore, we are bound to turn to education to help and to start to build a new generation of children for the future. I believe that it was in the early 1970s, in the Government of the late Lord Faulkner (I think it was about 1973 or 1974) that Mr. Basil McIvor brought out a plan to begin with shared schools at the nursery level, which would thus allow a new generation of schoolchildren to begin growing up together. I think his idea (and the noble Lord will probably remember) was to catch them young; to educate both the Roman Catholic and the Protestant children together, so that they could mix with each other without always fighting and throwing stones and be able to walk down the streets together instead of walking down on opposite sides. But, as we know, his plan fell through when the Assembly collapsed.

My Lords, 1973 again saw the creation of an organisation which the noble Lord has mentioned already this afternoon; that is, the All Children Together Movement. I understand that this movement, which was formed to press for voluntary integration in the Northern Ireland school system, has been working behind the scenes, slowly but surely, in order to bring about the idea which is contained in the Bill we are discussing today. The idea of this group, brave as they were, and are, was to bring all the political Parties and religious denominations together, and to try to form a basis on which to build the mixed school system. I congratulate that group. It has presented its Bill through the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, this afternoon, and this is, yet, a step forward. But I am afraid—and I have listened to the noble Lord, Lord Melchett—there is always a slight streak of pessimism. It takes an enormous time to get the movements going, to arrange conferences and to get people round a table; and I believe that even if we pass this Bill this afternoon—and the noble Lord has made it only an enabling Bill, which is quite right—it will be manyyears before even the first steps can possibly be taken.

My Lords, I was born under the stars of Aquarius, my blood is Irish and I am not generally pessimistic; I am always optimistic. This afternoon, I have a fraction more optimism. Having listened to the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, and to the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, I have that little bit more optimism this afternoon, even if the idea behind this Bill takes years to materialise. I understand that in a recent poll over 80 per cent. of the people, taking both Catholics and Protestants, were shown to be thinking now that integrated schools should come about. I do not say that they said that they will; they are thinking of it. I am trying to be careful, because every time I, the noble Lord or anyone else takes a step forward we might take four backwards. My Lords, 80 per cent. of the people are now thinking that integrated schools should come about, and as few as 13 per cent. of Protestants and Roman Catholics are against the idea. I am prepared to be corrected on these figures because, as we all know, percentages in Gallup polls move day by day. But it is interesting to note that there is a high percentage of people now thinking of trying to correct the problems of Northern Ireland through education and integrated schools.

There are, of course, barriers in the religious sector, and the Roman Catholics, especially those in the hierarchy, are bound to be suspicious, though one sometimes wonders why those in senior positions should be suspicious all the time. But I was interested to read that the Second Vatican Council had demanded—and I quote—that, parents should enjoy the freedom of their choice of school. Through it public authority will see to it that parents are genuinely free to follow their conscience". It seems, if anything, a tragedy that there we have a message from the Vatican that they want this, and yet in Northern Ireland we find the Roman Catholic hierarchy still being a part of the stumbling block.

My Lords, these facts are a basis to go on and to continue arguing about; but while we have the Government now throwing their full weight into a new educational programme, which I shall come to in a moment; while we have the ACTM working along the lines of bringing about integrated schools; and while we have other private people, religious denominations or political Parties on the move, then I am sure that, slowly but surely, a further step is being taken. But I keep on emphasising, as did the noble Lord—and I listened to him carefully—that it is going to be very slow indeed.

My Lords, I turn now to the noble Lord's comments on the new comprehensive secondary modern educational programme, the abolition of the 11-plus and the forming of new Working Parties under the Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Queen's University—and I personally hope that they have every success. I wonder how long they are going to be able to take; and one wonders how much, at the end of the day, is going to be the cost of producing the new comprehensive schools on which they are to report. There were some figures given, but they were only approximate and are not worth suggesting at this stage. I am bound to feel at this moment that it is a little early to comment on this new programme of comprehensive schools, but I am wondering how it will eventually take place. I look at the mixed family first. At the moment, the Roman Catholics are not allowing their children to be integrated into all mixed schools. I look at the Protestants. They are fairly happy with comprehensive schools, I should think. But as to the Roman Catholics, I wonder.

My fear is that we may well have to build two comprehensive schools unless we get at the root of the evil, which starts in the nursery schools, and educate the children early on in life in order that, once they get to comprehensive schools, they can mix. It seems to me a massive and delicate programme, and I hope that the working teams will be able to come up with the answer. It probably will take a long time and by then other ideas might well come forward. But, as the noble Lord has spoken, I will not ask him—since it is not his Bill but that of the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath—but I will cast a few ideas, So long as he keeps smiling and working there must be an answer to some of it somewhere.

My Lords, I feel that I ought to finish now. I think I have said enough. The fact is that this Bill is a step forward. There could be larger steps taken later on: the parents on the management committees, the children being allowed eventually to integrate; but without force. No force! That is why I like this Bill. As the noble Lord said, if you once use the word "force" then up goes the balloon and nothing will get done. Suspicion will come into it.

Of course, there are other problems. There is the problem of housing: that if a school is in a Roman Catholic area it does not mean to say that Protestants are not going to use it. But, in theory, from these Benches—and I say "in theory"—and, I think, with a little practice, it can work. We from this side of the House support it. I feel it would be workable if the noble Lord did not press too hard with it; and I think the Government have set their sights on a Working Party to look into this. I think the thing to do is to tread carefully and let the Government work it out. I have nothing more to say about it. I congratulate the noble Lord. It is a step in the right direction and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, for his help.

6.42 p.m.


My Lords, it is a pleasure to support the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, on this Bill and to pay tribute from these Benches to those of his Party, the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland, who are working on this matter in conjunction with the All Children Together Movement. This Bill seeks not to compel, as has been said, but to facilitate integrated education in so far as a decided majority of parents wish it. The noble Lord also stated—and it is worth repeating, and the noble Viscount, Lord Long, supported this—that recent surveys in Northern Ireland have revealed that more than two-thirds of the parents would favour integrated education yet 98 per cent. segregation still exists. If these figures can be substantiated, as I believe they can, there are grounds for cautious optimism and, I submit, a need for early action.

Briefly, I will say why I believe such action to be essential. It is clear that many of the people in Northern Ireland are living in a situation of appalling stress. In wartime, there is a feeling of unity against a common enemy, a sense of camaraderie and a breaking down of barriers; in Northern Ireland today there is often hatred on the doorstep, division and agony in the streets. In the gheto areas one reads of the harrowing daily spectacle of files of youngsters, flanked by soldiers, going to and from school—the Catholics on one side of the street and the Protestants on the other.

The Protestant child and the Catholic child are taught to distrust each other even to hate. And these children have no opportunity to learn otherwise. What is more, my Lords, as Morris Fraser writes in his book Children in Conflict: It seems that a cut-off point exists after which age neither explanation nor real life contact with the feared group can modify the basic hostile stereotype". If this view is accepted, as I believe it must be, then it makes it vital that the vicious line of bigotry and distrust passed from parent to child must be broken. No one can believe that it can be done overnight but that does not lessen the urgency to start. A directive passed to IRA members read: Youngsters and older children are ideal material for the work of planting bombs and rigging booby traps. They attract less attention and suspicion than adults, are more sensitive to rewards and ask no questions … British Army patrols can be lured into ambushes more easily when children, youngsters and women are the bait …". My Lords, that was written a little time back, the Army have learned their lesson the hard way. An officer I know who has served in Belfast and Londonderry on a number of occasions tells me that he actually caught young children being taught how to riot by a member of the Provisional cadet force. Children of four and five are not too young to start. On one occasion, he was sworn at in the most vile language by a two-year old child who did not know what it was saying; but it was probably the first sentence it had been taught.

I am ashamed as a Christian to be reminded of the words used by a clergyman in a Protestant paper a little time back: With all the recent outrages…more bitterness and anti-Catholic feeling has been generated than ever before…I thank the Provisional IRA. God will use it for good". I will quote again from the book Children in Conflict. In his introduction the author, to whom I pay tribute as a man of understanding and compassion, uses these words: It isn't so easy to teach young people not only to bombard an army scout car with rocks, but also to jeer and stone the ambulance that carries away the body of the young driver. Yet it can be done…". The appalling tragedy is that it not only can but still is being done four years after those words were written. I am sure that while we consider those children who become active participants in the struggle, we must not forget the large numbers of passive, involuntary spectators. One can find recorded all too many tragic cases.

My Lords, I am convinced that there will not be a real solution to the problems of Northern Ireland until children of different religious, ethnic and cultural groups are encouraged to go to school together. As has been said, I believe that "the common features in practice far outweigh those that are alien". It may be a slow process, particularly alas! in the ghetto areas where it is most necessary; but if children can learn to work and laugh together and to play the same games, then, I believe, the forces of evil will steadily lose power. The parents should be helped so far as possible, that is why we on these Benches support this Bill.

My Lords, I end by quoting the headline: Ulster at last gets green light to go comprehensive". But the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, has expressed no positive commitment to integrated schooling. I understand that he is not prepared to set up a Working Party on the issue. I am not convinced that the Government are facing this issue as it should be faced. I shall listen with the greatest interest to what the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill of the Maine, and subsequent speakers have to say.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord a question before he sits down. He quoted something from the paper about the statement last week on comprehensive reorganisation. It is true that at that stage that Statement did not deal with the subject of integrated education. But I feel that what I have said at some length and with some considerable care to the House this afternoon amounted to a commitment to integrated education from the Government. It is true that that may not have been said last week, but it has, I hope, been said this afternoon.


My Lords, I understand also that the noble Lord was not prepared to set up a Working Party on this issue. That was the point that I meant to make.

6.50 p.m.

Lord O'NEILL of the MAINE

My Lords, if I have stayed a little later than I usually do on a Thursday night, it is purely to support the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, in his continuing efforts to improve the situation in Northern Ireland. Tribute has rightly been paid to the great work which the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, is doing; and I should also like at the same time to pay tribute to the courage which the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, has always shown. The one bright spark from the local government elections was the increase in the power of the Alliance Party which all of us with any good sense must welcome.

This brings back many memories to me, and if people think I am in a nostalgic mood, I have always regarded it as my job and duty in your Lordships' House to try to educate your Lordships a little on the appalling problems, difficulties and extraordinary situations which arise in Northern Ireland. I just arrived at Stormont in time, very shortly after the war, to support the Government in the Education Bill, which was extremely controversial. If I remember rightly, at that time grants for voluntary schools in Britain stood at 50 per cent. and we were introducing a system where grants for voluntary schools would be brought in at 65 per cent. This led to tremendous extreme Protestant protest and eventually the Government got the Bill through, but only with the greatest difficulty. I made my maiden speech on the Committee stage, which was highly improper, but we got the Bill through.

Years later, I mentioned this in a little book that I produced. I received a furious letter from a Liberal Catholic in Ulster saying: "You are one of the people who is responsible for separate education in Northern Ireland. If you had not given these large grants to the Catholic schools, they would not have been able to continue and we might have started on integrated education earlier.". I merely tell you this, my Lords, because this is an example of what happens in Northern Ireland.

May I move on to my next point. I was extremely gratified when I saw that Cardinal Hume had come out in favour of integrated education in Northern Ireland. May I tell another story of my own experiences to show how little effect I am afraid that will have. I remember that in one of my early speeches in Stormont I thought it my duty to try to strike a new note. I became slightly historical. I said, addressing the Nationalist Party opposite, that if only they could find some way to recognise the existence of Northern Ireland, then they would find themselves accepted and it would be far better for their community. I gave as an example the case of Lord Howard of Effingham, commanding the British Fleet at the time of the Armada, when he had to decide whether his loyalty was to his Church or Queen Elizabeth. He decided that his loyalty was to Queen Elizabeth. I was just working up to my peroration when a dear old Nationalist MP shouted from the other side of the House: Ah! sure, he was only a bloody Englishman, anyway". That is why it is so difficult for British people to understand the situation. Sometimes my good Catholic friends in Britain feel that they themselves can help—and of course naturally they all try to help—but because they are not Irish they are not accepted, and this is something which it is very difficult for people to understand. While I welcomed Cardinal Hume's statement, I must tell your Lordships that fear it will have no effect whatsoever.

Now let us get on to opinion polls. How do opinion polls work in Northern Ireland? Usually, in my experience, the very opposite to the way they work in England. About two months before I was forced out of Office, in early 1969, an opinion poll was held by the Belfast Telegraph which showed that an overwhelming majority of people in Northern Ireland of both religions wanted me to stay on and carry out my policies. Within two months I was out, and another two months later the whole of Northern Ireland went up in smoke. The British Army became involved and have been involved ever since. That is only one of my experiences of opinion polls. What the Northern Ireland people do when they are polled is that they give what they think is a respectable answer, the kind of answer which would be appreciated by middle class moderates. It is not the true answer. What they really feel, they keep to themselves and use at election time. This is one of the tragedies of the situation.

A little time ago—I am sure the noble Lords, Lord Melchett and Lord Dunleath, saw it—there was a very good article in the Belfast Telegraph explaining the difficulties—I am speaking as a person in favour of integration—of bringing about integration. If you come to think about it, it is a difficult problem. The State schools which, as the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, explained were originally Protestant schools and are regarded by Catholics today as Protestant schools, naturally are all in favour of Catholics coming to their schools.

I remember that one of the arguments put up in this article—I am sorry I do not have it with me tonight—was this: What happens after that? Are these Catholic children to be educated solely by Protestant schoolmasters? If Catholic schoolmasters are going to join these State schools, there will be endless arguments and rows as to which ones they should be, and so on. So while I am fully in support of integration, fully in support of this Bill, nevertheless the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, is fully entitled to point out some of the problems which will arise.

May I therefore end by suggesting to your Lordships that while obviously immediate integration is totally impossible, I regard this Bill as an enabling step towards the slow beginning of integration. For that reason, I commend it to your Lordships' House and I hope that it will receive a Second Reading. I should like once again to thank the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, for introducing the Bill.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I hope he will forgive me if I ask him one question, which is this. What would be the Catholic opinion, if perchance he was speaking on the Catholic cause in Northern Ireland at the moment, so far as the integration of education is concerned?

Lord O'NEILL of the MAINE

My Lords, I do not entirely follow the noble Lord.


My Lords, what I am trying to say is that I should like to know the opinion of the Catholics so far as integration is concerned, as opposed to what I gather is that of the Protestants, who are the Establishment over there.

Lord O'NEILL of the MAINE

My Lords, the opinion poll showed that many Catholics are in favour of integration; but that does not mean to say that, if this were to be an issue at an election, the Catholics would vote for it. Unfortunately, fear is one of the dominant influences in Northern Ireland, and people do what they are told or what they feel they must do in case of the consequences. I can see already that I have failed tonight in trying to explain the problems which exist in Northern Ireland. It does not matter what views I hold, it is the views of the people that matter.


My Lords, could that ever be overcome?

Lord O'NEILL of the MAINE

Not for a long time, my Lords.

6.59 p.m.


My Lords, in joining in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, for introducing and moving a Second Reading for this Bill, I notice that I am the only ecclesiastic whose name appears on the list of speakers. I can also imagine that some Members of your Lordships' House might think: "A very good job too", on the grounds that whatever view one may take of the details of this particular problem, it is very closely identified with religious issues. Those religious issues, if not the prime cause of the troubles from which Northern Ireland people and Irish people in general are suffering, are one of the dominant elements in any understanding of that problem. I noticed with interest that my noble friend Lord Melchett—and I do not accuse him of a Freudian error—used the phrase "different religions", as discriminating between Protestants and Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland. That is a terrible indictment of those who perforce claim to believe in our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ; and if it is possible to say this, it is an alarming comment on the way in which religious animosity has almost eroded the fundamental principles of the Christian faith.

I believe it is quite improper to regard the intransigence as entirely to be found on one side or the other. There is a convention in your Lordships' House that no one here should make an aspersion upon a Member of another place. That will shorten my speech, but it no way diminishes my enthusiasm for the proposition that any kind of totalitarian, ecclesiastical, hierarchical religion is not to be found only in one quarter, but that there are just as many intransigent representatives of a hateful kind of totalitarianism on the side of Protestantism as there are within the Roman Catholic camp. It is one of the most alarming and, I think, dispiriting of all the comments to which we have listened today that so many people, with a wealth of experience which I covet but do not possess, are convinced that it will be a very long time before this long and terrible period of misunderstanding, futility and violence is abated, let alone completely finished.

I believe that the noble Viscount, Lord Long, was entirely on the ball when he represented to your Lordships the fact that no scholar of under 16 has known anything in Northern Ireland but violence, hatred and suspicion, and that these particular differences have been set in focal order and are represented, sometimes falsely but always categorically, in terms of, on the one hand, Roman Catholicism, and, on the other hand, Protestantism. I do not believe that fundamentally many of these issues are ecclesiastical or religious, though I believe that they have been exacerbated by churchmen. They are very often a mask for economic and political issues, and they are hitched to a particular matter of ecclesiastical importance, as if that completely diagnoses their condition. I do not believe that it does.

What I do believe is that if there are to be any resolutions of these differences among young people, they must enjoy the controversy in fellowship—because it is a controversy which is not to be overcome merely by dogmatic assertions on either side, or intentions of godliness or of goodness on either side. They will be finally overcome only when those who have settled opinions, or have been exposed to settled convictions, are able to test them out in fellowship with others, and in particular, with those who may radically disagree with them. Therefore, the principle of an integrated educational system is, I think, inseparable from the possibility of the rising generation improving upon the failures of its fathers and mothers and being able to discriminate between that which is ecclesiastically unimportant and that which is morally imperative.

I may say that I am under the strongest injunction from all quarters to speak very briefly, and I do so—but having one thing to say, let me make it, as I believe, a penultimate or an ultimate conviction rather than just a contribution to a debate. I do not believe that this problem of education will be soluble in terms of a new spirit among youth today in Northern Ireland unless it is radically associated with that primary concept of Christianity, which is not metaphysics but moral and ethical behaviour. If, within the integrated schools—and I recognise the difficulties and am well aware of the hesitations—there can be the beginning of that which is already evident, if not at the hierarchical level, either Protestant or Roman Catholic, among an increasing number of Roman Catholics and Protestants, that is, the acknowledgement that they are sick to death of this ecclesiastical rancour, which is the midwife with all kinds of animosity, hatred and bitterness, whether or not their hierarchical superiors tell them so, they will eagerly welcome what, after all, Mr. McIvor was able to introduce into the power-sharing Executive of 1974, namely, an agreement to set about this particular task of which the Bill speaks—an agreement to which the Members of the Executive, both Protestant and Roman Catholic, agreed and of which they were enthusiastically in support.

I believe that at the grass roots there is a possibility of reversing the processes of the past. Therefore, though I am quite sensible of the difficulties that face us, I am a little more optimistic than some, because I have noticed that within the last few years there has been a measurable transition from the acceptance which was so general in past days. There is a new spirit of adventure, to which I hope this Bill will give added acceleration.

7.5 p.m.


My Lords, I hope that I can be as short and as succinct as the noble Lord, Lord Soper, but I come from the North of Ireland and feel that some of the remarks I have to make may be important, especially as some of them probably will contradict other remarks that have been made. Certain of the points which my noble friend Lord O'Neill mentioned are slightly out of date.

First, I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, in bringing in this Bill. It was certainly time this was discussed in your Lordships' House. Also, before launching into matters concerning the Bill, I should like to welcome the statement by the Minister. I always find that I take a great deal of time to absorb these long Statements made from the Government Front Bench, but this one is clear to me. The noble Lord has made a very great step forward. But even if he had not done that, I should still like to pay personal tribute to him, because, by his energy, his patience and his frankness to ordinary people, he has really been a breath of fresh air to the people of Ulster. I have seen him working with groups of parents who have had problems. To those parents those problems were very important. To the noble Lord, with his huge Department, they may have been small, but he made them feel that to him they were important; and they left delighted after having spent time with him.

In the midst of violence, Governments quite often find that a proper course is not possible, because the violence makes the proper course undesirable in other ways. I believe that integrated education is one area where we can make progress. There is general agreement across the board: that is shown by opinion polls but, more than that, in my personal experience—and the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill, has not had the experience that I have on that—parents are prepared to stand against intimidation of the worst variety and still continue to send their children to mixed schools. So things are not as black as they have been painted in that way.

I can speak of the courage of parents who face these problems. I do not think anybody doubts that segregated education is a contributory factor to the problems of Northern Ireland. It is not the only factor, of course, and when I say that we may respect the Roman Catholic Church for its determination to preserve Roman Catholic Schools, I think we must remember that it is an enshrined part of our legislation that parental choice shall exist. That is supported by VaticanII. The noble Lord, Lord Soper, made the point that it does not lie only with one denomination. I would entirely agree with him about that; but still that is one area in which segregated education is a contributory factor and where there is one denomination which is not contributing at the moment towards its removal.

Even if it is right to have your own churches in one part of the world, surely, in the state of violence that Northern Ireland suffers at the present moment and considering the problems that exist and with the general agreement that segregated education is a contributory factor, some modification and some attention should be paid to public opinion. That would be a help. All my own children went to the local school in Brookeborough for some time. I would ask your Lordships to try to imagine what it is like for children who are walking up the street to their school while a stream of other children —Roman Catholics in this case—are going up the hill to the other school. Your Lordships can imagine what the language is like, because children of that age are extremely abusive and not slow in coming forward.

In July last year, the Government produced a consultative document which is known as the Cowan Report. The noble Lord, Lord Melchett, widened the debate a little, and if I also do so I think that it will be in keeping with what he said, because we cannot isolate these matters. In many ways, this was an excellent report but, entirely due to its terms of reference, it did not deal with the problem which we are discussing tonight, which is the gradual voluntary integration of education. In Northern Ireland, plenty of people have said that integration is a very sensitive subject, and I know as much about that as anybody. But the Cowan Report classified the schools into two completely different categories: first, denominational schools; and, secondly, Roman Catholic schools. The result was that it was made to look to the outside world—and I believe that some speakers today have made it look to this House—as if there is no integration of schooling in Northern Ireland. It looks as though all children are in totally opposed, irreconcilable camps, which is not so.

If the Cowan Report had been accepted and implemented, the rigid catchment areas which had been proposed would have made for totally segregated education. By not recognising the amount of integration that already exists, the Cowan Report upset a great many people who have been working for a very long time to maintain the integration that exists. What we are talking about is not only beginning integration, but maintaining integration that already exists over a large area of Northern Ireland. Belfast and Londonderry are not Northern Ireland. There is a vast area outside. Of course, the problems are centred there, and I do not deny that. But many of the so-called Protestant schools have very large intakes of Roman Catholics. To take but one, Methodist College has over 300 pupils who are Roman Catholics. The noble Lord, Lord Stone, asked about the introduction of Roman Catholics, and the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill, said that he did not know what would happen if a Roman Catholic teacher was introduced. Quite honestly, my Lords, there are Roman Catholics in many Protestant-controlled schools, or State schools. Many State schools have Protestants. The Five Mile Town school, about which I shall speak later, has always had a high proportion of Roman Catholic teachers to pupils.

We ask for two things today: first, let us have some voluntary move towards integration; and, secondly, let us make sure that parental choice is exercisable and that no administrative device will be allowed to stand in its way, thereby making sure that the integration that exists today is not further eroded. Those are very important matters and, for my book, the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, has satisfied us on them. I think that at the end the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, might he advised to withdraw his Bill, because I believe that he will have made his point absolutely clear to Northern Ireland and to the rest of the world; the Government have accepted it and we shall see action at a later date.

I should just like to mention my own area. As the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, knows, County Fermanagh is the best part of the United Kingdom, not just of Northern Ireland. It is a country area, and I am not talking from experience of the cities where there are these interfaces, and where the situation is completely different. For over 100 years, education of the children has been at a mixed school, with teachers of mixed denominations. For the benefit of the noble Lord, Lord Soper, I crossed out the word "religion", in order to make sure that I was right. This mixed education was further extended when the high school was built, as a result of the 1949 Act. In the neighbouring village of Lisnaskea, and throughout Fermanagh, the same thing was happening. At one time, the attendance at this high school, which is not a large one, was 160 Roman Catholics and just under 500 Protestants, which was roughly equivalent to the denominational practices of the area.

My community throughout the whole of these troubled years has been unaffected by sectarian violence from within itself. I do not like quoting too many figures, but I was interested in one survey which questioned children about their friendship with Roman Catholics, and asked whether Roman Catholics counted Protestants as their friends. The 28 per cent. who could not count other denominations among their friends were more inclined to accept violence as reasonable. What greater reason can one have for saying that there should be integration? I have asked as many questions as possible in my own area, and I can find no case where people educated in integrated schools have been convicted of crimes of violence.

In the last few years, we have seen a Roman Catholic comprehensive school being built 17 miles away, with a Roman Catholic primary school 200 yards from the gate of that high school. The attendance of Roman Catholic children at the high school has now dropped to 60. It is interesting that the head boy—this is quite coincidental, and has nothing to do with this debate—is a Roman Catholic, and it is purely because he has the ability that he is there. This high school, or State comprehensive school, is first-class academically. Its past teachers have been very far-sighted and its present staff are brilliantly led by John Burrel, to whom I certainly owe a great deal.

I hear daily, from the lips of churchmen, pleas that we must all come together and be reconciled. If we do not come together as children, whenever can we come together? What a tragedy it would be for my own community if, for administrative or other reasons, the integration which exists at present were broken up. The noble Lord has covered the two points which I consider this debate has raised; but I should like to see whether or not he nods his head on this point. When the Roman Catholic pupils finish at the primary school, which is 200 yards from the gate of the high school, will they now be able to go to the high school if the parents exercise their parental choice, or will they have to bus 17 miles? That is a test which his Ministry will have to face.


My Lords, rather than nodding, may I put it on the record and say that I certainly do not see any reason at all why, if the parents so choose, and the high school is able to take the pupils, they should not go there. As the noble Lord knows, if there is a need for transport to be paid for by the State, that will now be available under the amended school transport arrangements.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord very much indeed for that absolutely clear statement. I can only repeat to the House that the noble Lord has already done an enormous amount for the cause of integration in Northern Ireland. I want to come to a slightly sour note now, because the problems of the opposition of the heirarchy, about which the noble Lord has spoken, were highlighted the other day by Bishop Philbin, who said that he would not confirm children in one school because they were attending a State school. The reason was not put quite like that, but the implication was that by attending a State school they had not reached a high enough religious standard. But he did not examine them to see whether they had done so. This seems to me most inexcusable, because the first precept of Christianity is that children should obey their parents—at least, I keep on telling my children that. If they have obeyed their parents and gone to a State school, how can he punish them, because confirmation ought to be something that they value. I say this because I do not think that people realise what a quite extraordinary state of affairs we sometimes encounter when we meet really educated people and people who have this authority in the community.

May I end by once more paying a tribute to the Minister for his Statement on 15th July. This Statement altered the emphasis in the Cowan Report. This was a masterpiece which has broken away from the rigidity which was set by the 1976 document and pays a very warm tribute indeed to the achievements of the past. If this approach is continued, I believe that it should enable the best features of our grammar schools still to be retained in the State system. I can assure the Minister that my friends and I will remind him continually of the need to press forward on these lines, and also to push forward with integration so that we in Ulster can have the best education system in the world. Before I sit down, I should like to repeat that the noble Lord has gone such a long way towards meeting the situation that I believe the Bill should be withdrawn.

7.21 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure we can all draw a great deal of encouragement from what my noble friend Lord Brookeborough has just said about what might otherwise appear to be a rather gloomy situation. May I make clear the standpoint from which I approach the debate. I speak as a Christian who was born and brought up in the Catholic community in England. However, all my school years were spent in what will be called Protestant schools, and I think that I derived at least some benefit from that. My eldest son goes to a Protestant preparatory school, while my younger son goes to a Church of England voluntary-aided primary school where I also have the privilege of serving as a manager. I fully take the warning that was given by my noble friend Lord O'Neill of the Maine, that this does not make one acceptable in Ireland. One has to put up with that fact and do whatever one can.

May I go on to welcome the Bill and all that the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, has said, particularly concerning parental choice and the importance of consulting and involving parents. I so much agree with him that a start has to be made somewhere and that perhaps direct rule provides certain opportunities. Also I very much welcome the noble Lord's statement, that in future there should be no dilution or sacrifice of religious education. The noble Lord indicated that instruction in denominational points could and should continue in shared schools, and this is something which we should all welcome. He asked for full-blooded religious education, which is also important and ties in with much of what was said during the recent debate on religious education in England. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, for drawing from the Government such a major statement as we have heard today.

I should like to put it to the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, that the training of teachers will be very important. Many people will agree that teachers in training— and, indeed, later on during in-service training—should be prepared for their future roles in mixed and shared schools. In passing, perhaps one might also observe that there is a role to be played in education by those who are rather loosely known as the peace people, for they have made an impression and captured the imagination of many. I feel that they could help forward the work of integration.

I was very interested to hear my noble friend Lord Long use a very well-chosen quotation from the Second Vatican Council and emphasise again parents' freedom of choice. I agree with him. I feel that the fundamental influence is likely to be that of the home and the example set by parents and the family. Some parents in the Northern Irish situation may even see it as their duty to send their children to shared schools as their own personal contribution towards helping to heal ancient and longstanding communal wounds.

At this point may I appeal to the authorities within the Catholic Church in Northern Ireland to try to help such parents to ground their children in their own faith so that they can take a construc- tive part in a shared or mixed school without in any way abandoning their principles. With that, may I wish the very greatest success to this Bill.

7.27 p.m.

Baroness SEEAR

My Lords, I take part in this debate with considerable hesitancy, not only because I know that there is another quite long debate to follow—and I will therefore be brief—but also because there seems to be something slightly indecent in a comfortable Anglican in the South of England suggesting how religious education should develop in the fraught atmosphere of Northern Ireland. However, the courage of Lord Dunleath and the importance of the subject make me overcome the reluctance I feel about entering into this field.

I was very interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, had to say. I can well understand that he could not go further than he did this evening, although I wish he could have said that he is able to give the Bill his wholehearted backing. I can understand, too, that he feels he has to adopt a very even-handed approach. I wonder, however, whether he could show slightly more bias, because I believe that he really does feel a very strong bias. The noble Lord said that the Government would not be prepared to enforce—and of course they could not enforce—integration; neither, he went on to say, would the Government stand in its way. Could not the Government be a little more positive than refusing to stand in its way? Could not the Government say that they would put their weight behind all voluntary effort to move in this direction?


My Lords, at one point in the speech that I made I said that the Government's policy was not to stand in the way, and I went on to say what I thought that meant in terms of administrative and legislative practice. However, at the beginning of my speech I said: The Government's policy is therefore to encourage integrated education where there is a local wish for it. I hope that this is the kind of positive statement that the noble Baroness is after.

Baroness SEEAR

My Lords, I was hoping—and I think I have been successful—to give the Minister the opportunity to modify the remark that the Government would not stand in its way, which, taken out of context, surely would be seen as a more negative approach than I believe the Minister meant to indicate. While one is not speaking in the hope of getting the Government to agree to give their support to the Bill, I believe it is very important indeed that it should have a successful Second Reading in this House, for three reasons. The first is the obvious intrinsic merit of shared education. I am not going to speak on the subject; other people have made the point that, in the long run, surely it can only be through shared education that the bitter, deep-rooted problems of Northern Ireland will be overcome. None of us believes that anything which can be done immediately can have an immediate effect.

There are two other reasons. One is the importance of publicity for the idea of shared schools. I speak as a representative of the widespread ignorance on this question which dominates so many people on this side of the Irish Sea. I believe that very few people would recognise that there is even the possibility of a development of shared education, which would be thought of as Utopia. Yet it is, as the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, has told us, already a reality, even in Northern Ireland. If people could see this as something which is already going on, as a hopeful possibility towards which they can work, and work in confidence that they are not just whistling in the wind but are working for something which really can be brought about because it is already happening, and if publicity can be given to this, that by itself will have made it worth while to have held this debate, as also would publicity for the fact that although no doubt the attitude of part of the Roman hierarchy is a real obstacle, not all the Roman hierarchy everywhere takes this line. Only this morning an Irish Roman Catholic said to me: "We envy the fact that in Redhill in Surrey"—and of course I recognise that Redhill in Surrey is light aeons away from Ulster—" with the approval of the Roman hierarchy a shared education is going on". It has happened, and if there are some members of the hierarchy who can accept it, then surely we can he hopeful that the time will come when greatly increased numbers, if not all, of the hierarchy can accept it.

Next, publicity for the idea. It is good to see members of the Press in the Press Gallery tonight. Is it too much to hope that the Press which, understandably and probably rightly, gives so much space to violence in Ireland, will give space to this very hopeful development that in the House tonight, led by a leader of the Alliance Party, supported by both Catholic and Protestant speakers, the idea of shared schools has been given so much solid support?

Then, publicity and also support for the courageous people in both Protestant and Catholic communities who are taking the risk of going ahead with the idea of shared schools. It is a risk; it must be very difficult indeed for people who have been brought up in the Catholic faith, who have been disciplined by Catholic ideas of teaching, to risk sending their children to schools against the wishes of the hierarchy. That in some cases is true. Seeing their children refused confirmation and refused communion, which means a very great deal to people who have been brought up as good practising Catholics from their earliest days. So give support to them, that they may know that other people believe that this is the right and courageous thing to do and that we admire them greatly for it.

7.33 p.m.


My Lords, I do not want to speak for long at the end of this debate, but I should like to add all my support to the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, for having moved the Second Reading of this Bill. The point of the Bill is to try to restore more peace to Northern Ireland by means of integrating education, and the noble Lord and several other speakers tonight have noted that maybe some of the hierarchy in Ireland regard this as a dangerous thing to happen because it might detract from the religious content of their education. I should like to assure your Lordships that there are other Catholic hierarchies in the world who have moved to integration. Take the hierarchy in Switzerland, where they have 26 cantons: the education system is entirely integrated in some cantons although it may be denominational in others and it works perfectly well.

The hierarchies of that noble and great country, Poland, have intensely integrated education. In the Polish Catholic schools there are other denominations of Christianity, and I need hardly say that in other parts of the European nations there are integrated schools. I understand that an encouraging feature is that Mr. Lynch is not against the integration of schools and I think that might be of considerable importance. I made inquiries about this the other night and was assured that this was so.

Finally, I want to try to be optimistic and encouraging about the outcome of this debate. I think it has revealed an immense (shall we say?) groundswell of opinion in favour of trying to helpNorthern Ireland to attain peace, and after all, my Lords, Northern Ireland is similar to Lancashire in its religious divisions. In Northern Ireland there are one-third Catholics and two-thirds Protestants and the ratio is the same in Lancashire. In Lancashire—and I know this because I came hack from there only the other day, and I go there frequently—the integrated and the denominational going side by side produce the most successful Catholic education, and I do not believe that the Catholics of Lancashire are any less fervent in their religion after being educated beside Protestants, and in the atmosphere of our country than the Catholics of Northern Ireland need be if they attended integrated schools.

7.37 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank all those who have taken part in this debate for their very constructive, interesting and well-informed contributions. The hour is late, so I hope they will forgive me if I do not refer to all the points that were made in their speeches. Indeed, perhaps I might be forgiven if I were to pick up just one or two points made in the significant speech of my noble friend Lord Melchett. I should like to thank him for the fullness of his response to my opening speech and, incidentally, I should like to take this opportunity of endorsing the tributes that were paid to him this evening. I can endorse them from my own personal experience at home in Northern Ireland.

Both the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, and other noble Lords recognise some of the difficulties, and indeed it would be foolish and short-sighted not to recognise them. But it is one thing to recognise difficulties and another to put something into the "too difficult" file. We must see how those difficulties, such as they are, can be circumvented. For instance, the point was made that where integrated education is most needed, where it can perhaps do the most good, where community relations are most in need of reconciliation, it would be least likely to work and there would be least likely for there to be a will for it—some of the ghetto areas, so to speak. I accept that, but equally there are just as many cases where it could work and, as the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, said, it does work. I would go so far as to say that it does work, despite the fact—and I say this with respect—that in my view the existing management laws are not a help towards integration, and indeed in certain cases can be a barrier.

I would further say that there are schools which tomorrow would opt for controlled integrated status if this enabling measure were law. There are schools where it could start working tomorrow, and I can foresee it spreading out from there. So let us not take a hopeless look at this just because there are some areas where quite clearly it would not work at this stage.

My Lords, the point was also made that it might never be possible to get a controlled integrated school off the ground because the Roman Catholic hierarchy might not be prepared to nominate a member or members to the management committee. Careful study of the Bill—and I know it is a difficult one to read—does indicate that the Bill allows for the school to go ahead even if that nomination is not made. So that is another difficulty that could be got round.

I will not continue and speak on the other interesting points that were made, but rather I would sum up by saying that I would like to make it absolutely clear that I fully accept that Her Majesty's Government are in principle in favour of integrated education in Northern Ireland. But without casting any aspersion whatever on the membership of the Working Party or committee—I cannot remember what the title is—that the noble Lord announced this afternoon to look into school management, I. would say that the terms of reference of it are so much wider than the specific topic that we have been talking about this afternoon that I would doubt that it would be possible to hope for either expeditious or meaningful results from that Working Party. Therefore, I am afraid it will make my noble friend sigh deeply, but I cannot bring myself to withdraw. My Lords, I beg to move.

On Question, Bill read 2ª, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.