HL Deb 16 February 1978 vol 388 cc1524-30

3.50 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Lord Dunleath.)

Schedule [Membership of School Management Committees of Controlled integrated schools]:

Lord BEAUMONT of WHITLEY moved the following Amendment: Page 4, line 32, leave out ("so far as practicable").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is an identical Amendment to one which was put forward at Report stage by the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken. Its purpose is to remove any possible doubt that the elections referred to for school managers will be by secret ballot. The noble Lord, the Minister, had some technical objections at that stage. Because of the exigencies of the Report stage, the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, added his support for the Amendment, I think, after the Minister had spoken. The noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, came to feel that possibly he had acted a little over-generously in withdrawing his Amendment. Of course it would not be our purpose if there were a serious technical objection to this Amendment to try to take it any further. But the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken (who unfortunately cannot be here) and I thought that, in the circumstances, it would be right to raise this matter again. I beg to move.


My Lords, since the Report stage of the Bill, I have had the opportunity to do as the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, suggested, and I have looked at the Amendment again. Having done so, I should be happy for the Amendment to be made to the Bill. My advice is that it will not make a great deal of difference in practice; but I agree with the noble Lord that it will make the matter clearer and therefore I shall not raise any objection to the Amendment.


My Lords, for my part I am quite happy to accept this Amendment. I realise the spirit in which it was made and, as the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, said, we have no worries about it now.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass. If I am in order, may I take this opportunity to express my gratitude to noble Lords who have participated in the various stages of this Bill, particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, and his officials who have been very ready and willing to give me any information I required and to discuss the various elements of the Bill with me. There is no doubt that, had it not been for that help, my job in piloting this Bill through your Lordships' House would have been infinitely more difficult.

I am also most grateful to other noble Lords who have participated at the various stages. I must confess that, at the start, I was hoping that no one would think of any Amendments to put down, because, having attended an uncontrolled integrated school, I feared that my own educational advancement might be insufficient to handle the Amendments proposed by noble Lords more qualified than I. In the event, however, I was very grateful that there were so many Amendments proposed because it meant that we had, in my respectful view, three very useful debates occupying something like four hours of your Lordships' time. I greatly appreciate the fact that this time was made available.

The result is that no one can now allege that this Bill was slipped through an almost empty House, and that the noble Lords who were present were as uninterested as they were uninformed. No one can say that, because the debates revealed that all noble Lords who took part had taken the trouble to acquaint themselves very carefully with the circumstances of the Bill. The consent of their speeches revealed the high degree of interest which they had in it. Speaking personally, I was more than grateful that all noble Lords who had spoken were clearly sympathetic towards the Bill, and the interventions that they made were entirely designed to help me get this Bill through in as smooth a way as possible. Therefore, if the Bill ever reaches the Statute Book, it will be in the best possible form; and, when it comes to implementation, it will be as practical, effective and equitable as possible.

As I said right at the start of the Second Reading, at no stage have I been so unrealistic as to think that the passage of this Bill will provide any instant solution to the problems of Northern Ireland or any panacea. But, at the same time, if this Bill is passed this afternoon, the significance of that step should not be underestimated. Similarly, if this Bill has a successful passage in another place, the significance of that step will be great indeed. I hope and fervently pray that that will be the case. But even if it is not, the fact that it is now on the record that noble Lords from all quarters of this House have expressed frankly, clearly and in a most informed way their views about integrated education will in itself be of great value.

If I may continue for a moment more, there are two matters I should like to mention to your Lordships. First, those of us who have been working for reconciliation and an end to sectarianism in Northern Ireland realise what a long, hard slog it is. There are times when it is difficult to see any light at the end of the tunnel. I have been pursuing this for very nearly five years now. Many of my colleagues have been doing so for 10 years, and there are moments when it is difficult not to feel a little depressed, to feel that, for all the work which has been involved, the results are perhaps not all that gratifying. I must say in mitigation of that statement that a very gratifying result appeared in an opinion poll the other day. It revealed that only 19 per I cent. of the entire electorate in Northern Ireland was in favour of segregated education. That is less than one-fifth.

Opinion polls are not, of course infallible, but they provide an indication. Other interesting statistics were that 63 per cent. of the entire sample favoured partnership or power-sharing of some sort. Even more interesting, 49 per cent. of those who declared themselves to be Unionists favoured this. That indicates something that I had suspected already; that is, that the public are less reactionary than the politicians, and that the politicians are in many ways irrelevant.

This was a glimmer of light, something to give us hope and encouragement. I should like your Lordships to know that the support which I received regarding this Bill in this House is a tremendous morale booster to those who are working for reconciliation. My people at home will be thrilled if they hear, after today's business, that the Bill has passed successfully through your Lordships' House. I should like your Lordships to know how grateful I am for this.

My second point—and this is my last one—is that I should like your Lordships to be in no doubt whatsoever that, in aspiring towards our goal of reconciliation and an end to sectarianism in Northern Ireland, we are going to make it; we are going to get there; we shall do it. We are determined to do it. Let there be no doubt about that whatsoever. It may not happen immediately, perhaps not next year or the year after, perhaps not in my lifetime, but we are going to make it because we are determined to do it. As I say, there are glimpses of light and hope such as the support given to this Bill in your Lordships' House. On the other hand there are things that depress us from time to time. None the less, as John Bunyan wrote: Who so beset him round with dismal stories, Do but themselves confound, His strength the more is". I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass—(Lord Dunleath.)

4.11 p.m.

Viscount LONG

My Lords, may I from these Benches say a few words of congratulation to the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, for presenting this Bill to your Lordships, and say that we have thoroughly enjoyed working with him and working through the Bill. We hope that in the long run it will produce a good end result. There was a need and a reason for it. We on these Benches were particularly pleased by the great harmony as this Bill went through. The Government were very kind to the noble Lord, and no doubt the noble Lord helped the Government and, indeed, helped us all. We hope that the Bill will be able to go through another place and that time will be found for it, so that the noble Lord's and our own efforts in this House will not be wasted. We congratulate him on all the work he has done towards it.

4.2 p.m.


My Lords, may I from these Benches say that we too would like to express thanks and admiration for the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, has introduced and succeeded in pushing this Bill through your Lordships' House to its present stage. It has been enjoyable to be involved in the various stages and from all parts of the House there has been welcome accord in support for its aims. Of course there have been no divisions but quite a lot of give and take—I think mostly give by the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, and take by the Government—but the overall harmony has remained. I think if we did not have it before, we have all learned considerable respect for the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, and his involvement with the affairs of Northern Ireland. I find it a sobering thought for those of us who call ourselves Christians that neither he nor the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, who have both played a considerable and constructive part in our debates, I believe, claim allegiance to any Church.

As an outsider to the Northern Ireland scene, I still remain amazed but encouraged that such a high percentage of parents there really seem to favour integrated education for their children. If we accept that that is the position—and it is clear that we do—then it seems to me absolutely essential that the necessary steps are taken, and taken quickly. I have been told on a number of occasions that there is little chance of this Bill getting through the Commons. I have little experience of the working of the other place, but I should like from these Benches to make this plea to the noble Lord, Lord Melchett: please take every step to see that the Bill does not founder through mere apathy. The affairs of Northern Ireland are just as important as those of Scotland and Wales, about which we read and hear so much. I ask him whether he is prepared to give such an assurance in so far as it lies within his power.


My Lords, as one who has many connections in Northern Ireland, and as a family over many centuries both in the North and the South, and as having a lot to do with Ireland generally, may I say how very pleased I am about this Bill. I should like to add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, for steering it through this House. So far as I am concerned, the more controlled integrated schools we can get in Northern Ireland the better. I only hope that this Bill will get through the Commons. It certainly deserves to do so, but of course the religious differences are not by any means the only problems in the North of Ireland. As I have often before said in this House, if they can only get integrated schools, where the two religions and any different cultures or traditions can get together among school children, the happier Northern Ireland and Ireland generally will become.

I once again congratulate the noble Lord for having brought this Bill to the House. I must apologise for the fact that I have played no part in it. Unfortunately, on the days the various stages were put down to be considered it was impossible for me to be in this House or even in this country.


My Lords, bearing in mind that this discussion is on the Motion, That the Bill do now pass, there is very little more that I should say except to add my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Dunleath and my thanks to him for the kind remarks he made about myself and my officials. I shall certainly ensure that the sentiments that have been expressed about what should happen to the Bill in another place are passed on to those in another place who have responsibility for these matters.

On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.